Access to, and the availability of, game shooting has never been more egalitarian than it is today. Whether you’re a single gun looking to join a team, a group of friends from overseas wanting your first taste of British game shooting or you are a collection of experienced shots seeking sport on a variety of different estates around the country, there are numerous sporting agents and websites that offer shooting, in all its forms, in every part of the British Isles. And, should you want to be involved in the day without taking part in the shooting; wives, children and (very) well behaved dogs are welcome.
Your actual time on the peg; pulling the trigger, is, in fact, but a small part of the overall day. While it is the sport that brings people together, for many, it is the enjoyment of spending a day out in the great British countryside with like-minded people that brings the real enjoyment. The camaraderie between the guns, beaters, pickers-up and gamekeepers is second to none.
There is more to a day’s shooting than merely reaching the bag as Westley Richards former Gunroom Manager explains.
The cold morning chill; fluorescent, autumnal colours; the smell of gunpowder hanging in the mist; the gentle whimpering of over-excited dogs, the first sip of soul-warming sloe gin; pre-drive nerves followed by an injection of adrenaline at the first flush; the majesty of a towering cock pheasant, wings set, effortlessly gliding across the valley; the quiet admiration of the stylish single shot that folds a super-high bird; and the belly-laughs at that unfortunate friend who can do nothing but clean miss. Just a few emotions that I conjure-up, when thinking about a great passion of mine: driven game shooting. Not only a sport but a way of life for many; a sport deeply ingrained in the history and landscape of the British Isles.
Its not often these days that we get to see a really great hammer gun by Westley Richards pass through our hands. There are clearly notable collectors of hammer guns out there and there must be some wonderful pieces tucked away, but truth is we just don’t see them.
Last week at the factory a simple stunning and elegant 12 bore black powder proof centre-fire hammer gun came in. Not just any hammer gun, but the one used in our 200 year history ‘In Pursuit of the Best Gun’. This gun has remained tucked away in a private collection for many years and we have always coveted it. This gun is about as good as it can get from Westley Richards, especially when you consider that it was built as late as 1885, 10 years after the invention of our famous Anson & Deeley hammerless gun!
Mixing elegance, exuberance and subtleness is something Westley Richards has mastered the art of like no other gunmaker. The skill of producing a fine pair of exhibition grade guns that possess all the qualities of ‘collection grade’ with the attributes and modesty of ‘field grade’ is evident in our latest creation, this superb pair of hand detachable lock 20 gauge shotguns.
Quite where this year has gone, I am not sure and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow marks the start of the red grouse shooting season here in the UK, famously known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. However, I find it near impossible to describe anything that 2020 has given us so far as glorious! If 2020 was a gun it would be a left handed, short stocked, double discharging, weak ejecting, thin walled, out of proof piece of junk made in London. And sadly, she’s not done with us yet!
At the end of July we would have attended the annual Game Fair and the excitement for the coming season begins from there. So quite what the season has install for any of us, is as unknown as the pandemic itself. Each estate and shoot will have carefully planned social distancing measures in place and I’m confident they can keep us all safe and well, of course, it won’t be like any other season and we will undoubtedly see a small reduction in enjoyment but any shooting is better than nothing, right? We will need patience and more importantly, flexibility which I appreciate is not that easy for the scores of international sportsmen and women who travel to our shores to wing shoot. But fingers crossed the virus is temporary, the shooting industry will weather the storm and we look forward to welcoming back teams of guns from all over the world next year.
Prior to World War II, the demand for small bore shotguns, namely those in .410, did not exist like it does today. One reason was the perception that the .410, the smallest of the shotgun bores, was considered a cartridge best suited for a new shooter like a child or a smaller frame shooter such as a lady. However, despite its size, in the right hands the cartridge can be lethal on even the heartiest of small game such as wood pigeons or rabbits and hares.
In a late 1920’s Westley Richards catalog introducing the “Westley Richards .410 Shot Gun and its Cartridge”, the catalog highlighted these same sentiments:
“For occasional use about the place, and for Ladies. Carefully bored – even and deadly effect”
the catalog continues…
“We say that the .410 is an excellent little weapon for the beginner…yet even the old hand need not despise this little gun…it is a most useful addition to the gun room if only for the express purpose of keeping down the vermin in the close season.”
The latest guns to be offered for sale at our UK factory is this fantastic pair of 20g droplock shotguns. Completed in 2000 they feature scroll back actions with our patent hand detachable locks, Westley snap lever work, beetle back safety and double triggers. Expertly engraved by Peter Spode with bold floral scroll, Westley name in gold banner and numbered 1&2 in gold in the usual places. Both sets of 27″ barrels have 1/2 choke in them, with 2 3/4″ chambers, engraved in gold ‘Westley Richards England’ on both ribs. Highly figured, handsome walnut stocks measures 14 3/4″ to the centre of the chequered butt, a bend of 1 3/8″ at the comb and 1 7/8″ at the heel, cast off 1/4″. Straight hand grips and gold stock ovals, splinter forends with horn tip and Deeley catch release. The guns weigh 5lbs 10oz and come in their mid tan leather case with tools. They will be on the used gun site shortly.
It’s rare for us to have a pre-owned Westley 20g for sale and even more so a pair in such great condition and specification. The 1/2 choking in all barrels makes the guns a great pair of all rounders and 1/2 choke is ideal for pretty much any type of game shooting, open enough for grouse and early season partridge but tight enough for January pheasants. Many shooting instructors recommend having the same choke in both barrels as often driven targets are shot at the same distance and it also helps to focus your mind on your shooting rather than thinking about what barrel is what choke and the inevitable blaming of the gun for your poor shooting! The stock measurements are ideal for driven shooting with a slightly higher than average comb height, this enables you to see more of the top rib which encourages lead on straight driven birds, helps you keep sight of your target throughout and also enables you to keep your cheek glued to the stock to maintain a proper gun mount, aim and a consistent line on your target.
When I first arrived at Westley Richards, one of the areas that really impressed me was the quality and depth of photography the company had produced over the years. This in large part began with Simon Clode, the former Chairman & Managing Director of the company, who as a young man developed a keen interested in the medium while studying art at the British Institute in Florence. It was during this time of experimentation with cameras, darkrooms and composition that Simon established his uncompromising eye for fine detail and appreciation of aesthetics.
As another busy week draws to a close, we’ve brought you a selection of photos from the Westley Richards factory floor. Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, in accordance with government guidelines and strict social distancing measures, the gunmakers have not stopped working and the factory has been running full bore! A steady flow of new guns have reached completion and we are very grateful to our gunmakers and outworkers who have kept the wheels turning through such a difficult time. Fingers crossed we are through the worst of this virus and we are pleased to say the showroom is now open and the majority of WR is business as usual. So please feel free to drop us a line to discuss anything gun, clothing or hunting related!
The traditional gun making skills, which are unchanged for the last 100 years, are still very much common place in the factory. A smoke lamp is used by each gunmaker on a daily basis to identify the bearing parts of two adjacent surfaces.
As some of our dedicated readers of The Explora are aware, since 2014, TEAGUE Precision Chokes has proudly sat as a key part of the Westley Richards Group. From that moment the company has grown in prominence and is now used by shooting legends Peter Wilson (British Olympic Gold Medallist and World Record Holder for Double Trap) and Richard Faulds (British Olympic Gold Medallist and 22 times World Champion across English Sporting, FITASC Sporting, Compak Sporting and Sportrap).