In the history of African safari there are the names of individual hunters that should need no real introduction, F.C.Selous, Captain James Sutherland, W.D.M.Bell and J.A.Hunter to name but a few. Whilst some hunted professionally for ivory, others hunted as professional guides taking the emerging elite of the world on lavish safaris into the heart of East Africa.
Amongst this elite group of Professional Hunters can be counted one Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke (1886-1946), Swedish aristocrat, serial womaniser and husband of famed writer Karen Blixen who wrote one of the greatest books ‘Out of Africa’, so immortalising what many consider the golden age of safari hunting.
The J.Purdey & Sons sidelock underlever double rifle in .500/.465 calibre.
Now Blixen was not your usual run of the mill professional hunter. His reputation for securing huge elephant trophies and for ensnaring beautiful women came in equal measure, only surpassed by his legendary drinking skills! That all said and done, he was without question one of the toughest, ethical and courageous big game hunters who ever lived who had a client list booked many years in advance to hunt with him.
As with all professional hunters of the time, Blixen had at his disposal an assortment of both bolt action and double rifles with which to tackle the multitude of game that inhabited the vastness of the African continent.
Whilst he clearly owned several rifles of his own, legend has it that he also borrowed the occasional rifle including the rifle shown here. This particular Purdey double rifle in .500/.465 calibre was originally built in November 1908 for the Earl of Landisborough, before finding its way into the hands of a Swedish businessman who regularly took to hunting in East Africa. It is said that rather than travel back and forth from Africa with the rifle that it was left in the capable hands of Blixen ‘on permanent loan’.
Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke on safari.
The rifle certainly seems to have seen some ‘bush use’ judging by the many subtle knocks and scrapes that it displays, all suggesting that it was used, not abused. The rifle has fantastic crisp rifling and appears as tight today as the day it was made. Interestingly the rifle features a bold scroll engraving pattern as opposed to the more traditional house rose and scroll engraving design found on the large majority of Purdey guns and rifles. The ‘bolted’ safety was a common feature of Purdey rifles, a double safety mechanism to stop the accidental discharge of a rifle should the safety button be innocently pushed off.
The rifle undeniably makes for an interesting piece of history and Africana, we only wish that it could tell a story or two!
The ‘bolted’ safety system as used on the majority of vintage Purdey nitro express double rifles.
‘African Hunter’ by Bror von Blixen-Finecke published in 1937.
Wilderness – noun – definition – an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. On our small island that we call home, there are few, if any places you can truly call a wilderness. The cities and towns are forever expanding into the countryside with the government’s relentless obsession of building thousands of houses on productive farmland, the dog walkers who see the woodlands as an extension of their garden for their beloved pooch to run riot wherever it so chooses and not forgetting the ramblers who exercise their ‘right to roam’ as if their lives depended on it. For the game, and those of us who chose to pursue it, we’re coming into contact with other people more than ever.
However in saying that, the Scottish Highlands is, in my opinion, our last true wilderness and one that befits its definition. Uncultivated – definitely, uninhabited – mostly, inhospitable – more often than not. An area and landscape that should need no introduction, it still offers a truly wild hunting experience for those who wish to escape the crowd, be surrounded by utter beauty and work hard for their trophy.
My latest hunt took me to a remote and central part of the highlands where my friend from college is the head stalker on a 20,000 acre hunting estate. The vast open hills, lochs, rivers and forests make up this sporting paradise where the Red Stag is king, or monarch of the glen as he’s more famously known. The enchanting hills are steeped in Scottish history and folklore, once home to hardy and violent clans such as the Robertsons, Macdonalds and Campbells, they have in recent history been made famous by the location for films such as Harry Potter and was the setting for the dramatic finale to the James Bond film, Skyfall.
The stalk is a hard one, the terrain is difficult to traverse, the hills are steep and the weather is often miserable, but that’s what I love about it. You have to put in the hard yards and be willing to graft for your game. The sodden ground is energy sapping and the peat hags that crisscross the moor are an obstacle course in themselves. The deer, however, can cover the ground like it’s not even there. They lie up on knowles which provide great vantage points, meaning the final approach to your chosen stag is more often than not a long and wet crawl through the soaking moss, mud and peat.
The 8 wheeled Argocat, which handles the hills like no other machine, is probably the most unpleasant vehicle to ride in but you’re certainly glad of it after a full day on your feet. It is also the means by which the game is extracted from the hill. Ponies were always traditionally the method used to get stags back to the larder but they are time consuming and often extremely stubborn. There are many stories of pony boys who have hiked miles to retrieve a stag, only for the pony to slip its lead and bolt all the way back to the stable, closely followed by a cursing, irate pony boy.
We spent the first 5 hours stalking and glassing the wide expanse, only to come across several small groups of hinds and young stags. The south west side of the glen was facing a strong and bitter wind, so we hiked over the ridge and dropped down into the sheltered corrie looking for a shootable stag. After a further hour of bumping hinds we spotted a good stag which was bedded down on a knowle, surveying his land. The wind was right but his view spanned nearly every direction, so it took a further hour and a half of stalking and maneuvering the edge of the loch to get into a good spot from which to take the shot. The rut has just started and a few stags were jostling for dominance, sorting out who was the boss amongst them. My stag was still bedded down when a younger and better stag approached him for a challenge, upon getting to his feet, the shot presented itself and the .270 cleanly dispatched him. The stag, which was roughly 8/9 years old, was past his prime and was certainly going back, the right beast to take and a good representative of a Scottish hill stag. No match in terms of size compared with their lowland cousins due to the hard life and poor diet but every bit the worthy trophy.
For me it’s hugely important to explore, hunt and experience these wild lands. To reconnect with what it is that we enjoy and treasure about the sport. To refresh your enthusiasm for adventure and savour in the solitude of such a place that will hopefully, always remain, a wilderness.
One of my personal favourites in the magazine rifle calibre realm is the tried and tested Holland & Holland .30 Super or .300 H & H Belted Magnum cartridge as it is also known. A forerunner to the later .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Weatherby Magnum, the original was a devastatingly effective rifle for long range shooting and more than capable of taking medium to large soft skinned game.
Introduced in 1925, various bullet loadings were available from 150 grain through to 220 grain. Most settled for the 180 grain load as the most generally effective, but the heavier loads were very good for tackling heavier African plains and North American big game where deeper penetration was required.
The cartridge came to fame in the USA when it won the 1000 yard Wimbledon cup in 1935. It was a great favourite with famous American gun writer Elmer Keith who shot some super North American sheep and other big game with it pre World War II. His book ‘Keith’s Rifles For Large Game’ is a great reference on the calibre in the USA and is an otherwise interesting read on big game rifles and calibre’s in general.
Whilst often overlooked today, I can vouch for its outstanding abilities having used one in both Africa and Alaska over the years. My rifles have always been slightly beat up examples like the one shown here which tend to show the rifle has been put to good use rather than consigned to a gun cabinet. In today’s world of stainless steel and synthetic stocks there is a real pleasure to be derived from using one of these vintage rifles. If ever you get a chance to hunt with one take it, you’ll be surprised by how much fun it is whilst safely reassured that it still packs a deadly punch.
The Holland & Holland quick detachable scope mount system.
Completed in 1934 this rifle has been back to Holland and Holland for upgrades over the years, adding to the character and history of the rifle.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting one Tyler Sharp, a journalist and photographer from the USA. I first met Tyler earlier this year at the Safari Club International convention when he casually and rather shyly wandered onto our stand holding a copy of some new publication. My initial thoughts were of some mildly eccentric character, better placed in a Western movie than the floor of the worlds largest hunting show.
Waiting for some lame sales pitch and preparing to savage all that he might say, I took the volume from his hand and began to flick through the pages. First impressions were of a beautifully produced publication, the like of which I had yet to see in the hunting world. This was no throw away magazine, this was something different and as the Texan boy told me his story I knew that this was someone with real passion for what he was doing and that we had a common interest in the future of our sporting heritage.
Since that first meeting I have found Tyler to be a uniquely honest and immensely passionate individual with genuine enthusiasm for the outdoors and the wider hunting world. This month we spent a couple of days here at the Westley Richards factory before heading off on a fabulous hunt for Roe Buck in the heart of the Wiltshire Downs.
I would encourage you, perhaps even urge you to subscribe to this great publication, or at the very least obtain a copy. You’ll be surprised at just how good it is and how the future of the sport we enjoy so much is going to rely on a refreshing new perspective. The world is a fast changing place and we face many new challenges as outdoor sports men and women.
I’ll now leave it to Tyler to give an insight into his mission and that of the ‘Modern Huntsman’.
Greetings Westley Richards readers, I just wanted to introduce myself, as I’ll likely be contributing some ongoing stories from the field. My name is Tyler Sharp, and I’m a photographer and writer based out of Dallas, Texas. I’ve spent the majority of my career documenting hunts, adventures, and conservation efforts all around the world, which has all led to my recent charge as Editor in Chief of a new publication called Modern Huntsman.
It was this that led me to the Westley Richards team, and we quickly realized commonality in virtue, ethical hunting pursuits, and creative storytelling. I’ve recently returned from a trip to visit the factory in Birmingham, England, which we’ll further detail in a future installment, but for now wanted to give you a bit more background on Modern Huntsman.
For those of you who don’t already know, Modern Huntsman is a biannual publication for like-minded conservationists, creatives, and outdoor enthusiasts. Born out of frustration with the way hunting is often misrepresented today, this publication is told from the perspective of hunting purists and philosophers, unaltered by the skews of mainstream media, corporate interests, or misinformed emotional rants. In short, we’re returning to the root traditions, in hopes of improving the perception of hunting in modern society.
For many of us, hunting is a way of life, a tradition passed down by our grandfathers, fathers, and brave mothers. It’s a way of staying connected to the land, harvesting wild food to sustain our families, our souls, and is a shared passion and pursuit in many countries the world over. Hunting also plays a majority role in conservation, which ensures that expanses of land stay untamed, and that wildlife populations thrive — something we’ll be prominently focusing on as we move forward with the publication.
But this isn’t just for hunters, and while we know that there will be opposition, we believe that through our collective stories, photographs, and films, we’ll be able to educate some folks about overlooked realities, and win the minds and hearts of those who still have them open. Through presenting stories based in virtue, ethics, personal growth, and statistical merit, our aim is to inspire, educate, challenge, and set the record straight in some cases.
We’ve assembled some of the best photographers and writers in the outdoor world, many of which you might already know. These are folks who’ve spent their years living off the land, enduring extreme conditions, and have sometimes risked their lives to ensure that wildlife thrives, and the traditions of hunting survive the modern age.
From the mountains of the American west to the fields of south Texas, the savannahs of East Africa to the governmental councils on regulation, Volume One covers a diverse range of topics, all unified by common ethics. Printed on thick matte stock, and bound into a substantial book of over 200 pages, it is more of an art portfolio than a publication, and a fitting showcase for the breathtaking work everyone has produced. We have no advertisements in the first issue, and as we move forward we’ll begin to integrate select brands and organizations to partner on stories of hunting history, conservation success, and notable characters, outfitters, chefs, and artists in the community. These will be collaborative, integrated stories instead of intrusive and heavy-handed ads, which will help us keep the message pure, and the conversations constructive.
We’ve sold through our first print run of 5,000 copies in three months, and have just re-ordered another 5,000 to continue sharing our mission with both hunters and non-hunters alike. Volume Two is scheduled to release in the fall of 2018, and will be centered around a theme of public lands, which is a hot topic in the United States to be sure. Apart from the political applications, we’ll also be exploring the realities of land access in other parts of the world, and how that affects land use, wildlife management, and hunting access. We’ll also be focusing on how these issues can bring folks together under common cause to protect what’s important, rather than squabble over something potentially insignificant.
This is just the first step in a long, important journey for Modern Huntsman, and we’d be honored to have you join us. To conclude, I’d like to leave you some parting words, which is the epilogue in the last few pages of Modern Huntsman Volume One, as a sort of call to action in what has become such an emotionally charged debate:
For hunters, we ask that you carefully consider the effect that your actions can have on not only your environment, but on the perception of this tradition. Whether through deed, word, or photograph, we feel that care should be taken, and respect given, for how quickly news can be spread in today’s world for good or ill. Therefore, choose your steps wisely, and wherever possible, see that they aim in a direction of positive progress and accurate representation, instead of confrontational detriment and further divisiveness.
For non-hunters, we appreciate your open-mindedness, and willingness to hear what we feel is a different, yet very important side of the hunting narrative. While we can’t speak for everyone, it is our aim to give voice to the overwhelming amount of like-minded hunters and conservationists who often lead quiet lives, in hopes of connecting with more folks like yourself, and finding common ground. We’d ask that as situations arise, you recall the beauty and honesty on these pages, as compared to the message that the mainstream media presents, and let respectful passion and conservation statistics win out over the often skewed biases and violent emotions.
And while some of you may never pick up a bow or a shotgun to harvest your own food, know that should the day come when you decide to, this community would jump at the opportunity to show you the ropes. Where you may have once felt opposition, you’d now find comradery, and a sense of belonging in one of the oldest traditions known to humankind. In short, we’d love to take you hunting.
Whether in the field, or in metaphor,
For more information, to order a copy, or subscribe to Modern Huntsman, you can visit one of the links below.
An update from a great Westley Richards enthusiast in the USA
Now, with a fair number of rounds on targets both circular and winged I’m perhaps in a position to look back on the shooting season just past and understand a bit better what a remarkable thing a really good Westley Richards .410 bore gun can be.
I’ve shot something over 4,000 targets with it both on the skeet field and from a three trap trailer which we position along a river while we stand beyond and above the traps on an old pumping station over the river. The wobble targets here are all crossing shots, some level, some climbing and some well below. The latter being about as sporty as any I want to try. At any rate, they all are a real learning experience with a .410 and I’ve never run a 25 straight.
In the “winged” department, a fair number of doves fell out of the sky. Good conditions and picked shots required. We were fortunate enough to be invited back to King Ranch once again. Bobwhites and more bobwhites. Wonderful dog work and wonderful people. South Texas in the winter time is my favorite place on this earth.
Winchester’s 3″ AA load of 3/4 ounce of #8 1/2 shot at only 1,100 fps will kill quail and doves with no foolin’ about it. Teague insert chokes at .10″ constriction seems to be the ticket in this particular gun on game. On the skeet field 1/2 ounce of 9’s again in AA’s work the best. Probably all in my head but the Winchester loads give me better scores than the same loads from Federal. Go figure.
To sum up, a heck of a lot of clay targets, quite a few doves, I’m not telling anybody how many bobwhites, one armadillo and, two weeks past, a small, by Texas standards, diamondback rattlesnake have been accounted for with this little gun. Varied bag in any company.
Point being, I’ve shot this gun enough to where, with a good night’s sleep and proper alignment of the stars, things just work. Never has the gun failed to go bang, eject and the triggers are as crisp as on day one. The wood has a few small dings now which bother me not at all. What a wonderful thing it would be to shoot it long enough and often enough to wear the checkering off. I think in the end shooting is about memories and that’s the real gift of a gun like this.
You may have found us a bit quieter than usual of late. Well, that is because we have been hard at work on an exciting new project. After considerable time and effort, we at Westley Richards are proud to announce the launch of our brand new website.
Featuring the finest imagery and design, and industry-leading technology, it showcases the world of Westley Richards like never before. Designed and developed especially for those with a passion for fine guns, hunting, bespoke leather goods and the very best shooting clothing and products, the new site is a reflection of what we do here at Westley Richards in our relentless pursuit of perfection. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to welcoming you all into our world.
For those of us in the gun and outdoor industry, we find ourselves in the thick of the show season. My colleague, Ricky Bond, and I returned to the U.S. Agency after the Dallas Safari Club convention only to unload and re-pack for what will be a month on the road attending the Antique Arms Show and the Safari Club International Convention, both held in Las Vegas. Westley Richards has been a mainstay at both shows for many, many years and it is always a time of year that we look forward to. While Simon owned and operated one of the best gun makers in the World, he was a gun dealer at heart and he always spoke fondly of the Antique Arms show. Recalling a blog post of Simon’s where he asserted that at no other time, anywhere in the world, is there a larger gathering of fine guns under one roof, this is quite obvious as I walk the isles of the show. It is a cast of colourful characters, historic and collectible firearms and it remains one of the few, and really the best, of the true gun shows left in the U.S. Safari Club International’s convention is two weeks later and it is the largest outdoor show on U.S. soil.
For those of us who are in pursuit of the outdoor lifestyle there is really no other place where one can meet outfitters, taxidermist, gun makers and equipment companies from all over the World in one place. It truly is a spectacle to behold and the four days the show runs is barely enough time to take it all in. Prior to my employment with Westley’s I would notice how many people frequented the Westley Richards booth and I am looking forward to meeting these faithful clients as well as catching up with old friends.
One other aspect of this time of year that Ricky and I are looking forward to is the week between the shows that allows time for visiting clients. Simon and I often discussed being accessible to our customers not only in the Agency but to travel to see them as well. To that point, we schedule time to visit our clients and offer showings in the comfort and privacy of their homes or offices. This also provides an opportunity to pick up items for our used gun inventory. This is a service we offer year round and we are happy to schedule such visits at the convenience of our clients. I encourage any readers of The Explora to make it a point to visit both the Antique Arms show and the SCI convention and this year is as good a time as any. I would also encourage the readers of the blog to feel free to contact us to schedule a visit and private showing on their home turf. This is a great way to see, up close, what Westley Richards offers as well as to discuss their personal collection and how Westley Richards might be able to assist in buying and selling guns for their firearms portfolio.
Antique Arms Show: Jan 20th – 22nd, 2017
Westgate Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
On our travels we are always on the look out for any interesting ephemera, photos and journals that may have a link to either the history of Westley Richards or the sport of hunting itself.
Last week in the US we picked up several vintage postcards that certainly make for fascinating viewing. Published in 1910 they depict various hunting scenes from the epic safari of Theodore Roosevelt’s which was conducted from 1909-10. At the time this was the largest safari ever conducted in Africa and involved some of the greatest hunters of the day including F.C.Selous and R.J.Cunninghame.
Over 500 animals and birds were collected by the former US President and his son Kermit, all of which were carefully skinned, prepared and shipped to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. This huge safari set the standard for the luxury safaris that were to follow and clearly put East Africa on the map for the dedicated US hunter.
Today Africa remains a magical safari destination where sportsmen from around the world can still participate in one of the last great adventures. Whether or not you would be able to send postcards such as these today is another matter altogether!
In the new year, we will be making our annual trip to the USA to attend the Dallas Safari Club Show from the 5th to the 8th of January, the Antique Arms Show in Las Vegas from the 20th to the 22nd of January and finally Safari Club International also in Las Vegas from the 1st to the 4th of February. We will be showcasing the full range of bespoke guns and rifles available to order as well as a large selection of used guns and rifles, together with our range of W. R. & Co. leather goods. We look forward to welcoming customers old and new and hope you are able to meet us at one of the shows. Should you be unable to make it to any of the shows, my colleagues Ricky Bond and ‘LD’ will also be available at our Florida agency from the 10th to the 13th of January and on the West Coast from the 23rd to the 28th of January where appointments can be made to view our selection of new and preowned guns and rifles.
Here at Westley Richards there’s really only one or two topics of conversation that consumes the lunch breaks or after hours chat between work mates and it’s not who is playing football at the weekend or what you’re buying your girlfriend for Christmas, it’s hunting! Where we want to go next, what’s left on the bucket list, what rifle you would take and what trophy is most desired. While having this familiar yarn several months back the discussion of driven Wild Boar shooting came up and featured highly on several of the guy’s ‘must do’ hunts. Fortunately for us, Romain Lepinois, one of our stockers here is French and kindly offered to organise three driven days for myself, Jason Morris, Sam Banner and Stuart Richards in his home region of Bourbonne Les Bannes, which is roughly 3 hours drive east of Paris.
Safety briefing before the afternoon stalk.
As we were all completely new to shooting things on the run with a rifle and having had no previous experience of Wild Boar, the first day was spent stalking the hunting area on foot to get an idea of what game there was in the area as well as identifying what we were allowed to shoot. They have a strict policy on what size boar could be taken. Only females up to a size of 50kg could be shot, to conserve the larger, prime breeding females. Although large males were fair game too, our identification skills were not good enough to be able to determine the sex of the pig as it passed you at 30mph on a woodland ride no wider than a pickup truck, so we decided to stick to shooting the smaller ones.
The hunting area was a fenced 250 acre block of mixed broadleaves, commercial spruce trees with some clearfell areas and tall grasses, with several strategically placed high seats to shoot from. We saw a good deal of pigs in the afternoon and had a few small ‘practice’ drives. A couple of the lads got some shots off but the pigs were too good for them on this occasion. The evening was feast of wild boar meats, locally produced cheeses and superb wines. The excitement was high for tomorrow and our first proper driven day.
The guns heading to their pegs.
A cold but dry day greeted us and after a hearty breakfast we drew pegs and headed out for the first drive. Around 20 people were shooting and about 6 or so beaters with dogs, split into two teams, planned to keep the game moving through the drives. Having drawn peg one I was a little anxious I wouldn’t see much as peg one, in pheasant shooting terms, tends to be the worst out of the bunch. This turned out not to be the case and fortunately for me right at the start of the drive one of the beater’s dogs marked some boar around 50 yards from my peg. A beater ran over to me, shouted something in French which I could only guess was ‘get ready’ and they flushed a group of 20 boar, 15 of which headed down the wood towards the other guns and 5 came out past me onto the clearfell. Too far away at first but not wanting to be out in the open, the boar turned and headed back towards the cover of the wood. As they headed closer to my position, I measured them up through the scope and managed to take a nice 40kg male with my 6.5×55. Two of the beaters joined me to make sure the boar was retrieved and I was duly blooded and congratulated. A fantastic experience I shall never forget. The excitement of the drive continued with a volley of shots further down the wood, hoping it was my colleagues also joining in the action. There were plenty of game around with some larger females crossing the clearfell and the odd Roe deer and occasional fox passing by too quick to get a shot off. Just as I thought the drive had nearly ended, I decided to take a seat on a tree stump, no more than 5 minutes had passed when out of the corner of my eye I spotted another 40kg pig was headed straight for me, again trying to head back into the wood, on rising to my feet and aiming the rifle it took off at a rate of knots and I luckily managed to catch it up and shoot it before it made the thick cover.
Congratulated by the beaters on taking my first wild boar.
Sadly my comrades had not had quite such good fortune, only Romain had shot one, although they had seen plenty of game, a suitable shot did not present itself. Such is hunting.Stuart Richards keeping watch from his high seat.
After another fantastic feed we set out again and Romain and I decided to join the beating to line to see the action from the other end. After a few frantic hours following the dogs and flushing boar to the waiting guns, the day came to a close, not before Romain and I shared a nice, larger male boar. We met up for the final count and to exchange stories. Luckily Stuart had been successful and managed to bag himself a brace of boar from a large wooden highseat using his over & under double rifle also in 6.5×55. Total was 11 Wild Boar and a Roe deer.
The final bag on the first day.
The next two days hunting were done in much larger blocks of unfenced mature broadleaf woodland, extending to several thousand acres, about an hour from where we hunted on the first day. Hopes were high after an amazing first day. Red deer and Sika were both present in the area and should a large stag present itself we had permission to shoot it, adding a new level of trepidation. Around 30 people in total each day joined the hunt which was made of up of French, English, Belgium and Portuguese nationalities.
The view over a clearfell from a high seat.
Although we didn’t see a huge amount of game passing our stands, by the noise of the dogs and sounds coming from the woods there certainly was a good number of boar in the drives, but like any game we hunt, they are totally unpredictable and knew all too well how to evade the hunters. Although the Westley team didn’t shoot any boar in the larger hunting areas, a few of the local French hunters managed to take a few nice pigs and we shot a few equally challenging Roe Deer. The whole experience of the hunt and hospitality shown to us by our hosts and fellow hunters was superb and it was very special to be able to share their hunting heritage.
The excitement and anticipation of each drive is something none of us had experienced before and we’re certainly hooked on driven rifle shooting, something which is pretty much absent from the UK. The lunch break chats are still full of our boar hunting tales but will soon turn to planning the next adventure.
Westley Richards gunmakers Jason Morris, Sam Banner and Stuart Richards.