It was a fine winter day, in the duck season. I had my pickup loaded with all things for an afternoon hunt. My Labrador, Miss Feather (Miss Duckhill Sheba’s Bournebrook Feathershower) had already occupied her place in the passenger’s seat for several hours as she always did on these days. I had worked through the never-easy task of selecting the gun and this one was well beyond ordinary. It was a Scott Premier 10 bore, with Damascus barrels. It was all done up in ducks as they often were, but this one was decorated with several odd and unusual species of sea ducks. I was almost out the door for the 1 ½ hour drive when I received word that Simon had gone to the other side.
My first reaction was not to go hunting, but then realized that was a very foolish notion, one that would disappoint him deeply. Instead, the day and the GUN would be a tribute. The Scott was befitting almost any occasion, but today it had to be a Westley and not just any Westley, but the finest one I knew. One only has to witness the title of these pages to know Simon valued Exploras and I value them as well. In fact I see them as the most complete and sophisticated firearms ever made. The gun today would be “The Queen of Birmingham” a Deluxe Explora and the most wonderful Explora and Westley I have ever met.
It came to me in a rather unusual way; out of an auction. I saw the gun, held it and crushing-love at first sight would be an understatement. It was glorious and essentially new… and I knew I could not afford it. A mutual friend liked the gun equally, but he had something I did not, an invincible purse. He told me simply to bid and buy the gun. If in the end I could afford the hammer price I could have it, if not I was to continue and buy it for him. I wrote a number, my very last number, down before the bidding began. The hammer fell on that number.
With it I began to perfect Explora ammunition, ammunition that would be ballistically identical to that which the great Leslie B Taylor had created. I used a ballistic technique similar to the originals to get 735 grains (1 ¾ ounces) to go 1250 fps at normal shot gun pressure. Then I developed bullets that would fly like the L.T. Capped originals. In the end I had a cartridge driving bullets that would fly exactly to those glorious sights, each and every one of them, all the way to 300 yards; and be deadly when they arrived.
The Queen performed wonderfully as a shot gun; taking valley quail, rare mountain quail, and ducks with perfection. Its crowning moment came late one autumn afternoon in the Sheep Creek Valley. The great yellow 6 x 6 bull elk walked out of the thick young timber into a room-sized open meadow and stood broad side. I was sitting with The Queen on my knees and made my best estimate of 250 yards and turned up that leaf. I looked at those massive shoulders over the sights, sights that were strangely rock solid and crystal clear. My son was beside me and I whispered, “250 yards????”… “Yes, very close”, was his reply. I pressed the front trigger. The big bullet arced across the valley and landed with a mighty “wok” as the bull lurch into the black timber. We listened, for there was nothing to see and suddenly there was a huge fir-rending crash in the timber, followed seconds later by another when the big bull slid out into a little clearing. The bullet struck the top of the front sight with laser precision, dead center and completely through both of his shoulders. She is a very, very special Westley.
I thought back on these things as we watched the sky over the pretty little pond. It was a still cold, a day without ducks. And then he came, the loan magnificent mallard drake with the most brilliant orange feet I have ever seen. He circled twice and levelled across the far side of the decoys; at 40 yards… almost too far for an Explora barrel. The same right barrel spoke and he folded; the only duck we saw that day. Feather broke ice to retrieve him. To me there was a perfection about it all.
It may seem odd that I waited so long to write this, but it took me time to heal and find the courage to fully address the loss of this wonderful man. While he was a bastion of the trade and a truly passionate gun person I think I miss that dry humour and wit most of all. Some time ago I addressed my Selvyt Pad and Tin for preserving the Westley Detachable locks in these pages. When he received this he feigned being stricken and stunned. He thought he had the only tin and I had poached in this sacred space. But then in virtually his last notes to me, he won the day as always, “Well only real Westley men have a tin”!
He does not know this yet, but a Hundred Pounder is making those tracks he is following.
I think this is a nice and fitting conclusion to the story of the pair of Damascus Barrel guns, which both I and new owner Gary Duffy have both posted about, to show that they have made their way through the restoration and on to a new life in the field doing what they do best!
Somewhere, in USA I believe, lies the 3rd matching gun of this set of three Joseph Lang 8g guns. These were purportedly built for 3 wild fowling friends to the exact same specification and on consecutive serial numbers in 1911. The only noticeable difference you will spot is the case label initials, every other detail is that of a paired guns, minor stock measures aside, which are hardly noticeable!
These, once again, like the Lancaster guns and Howdah pistols I showed recently are in remarkable condition and show no sign of use. It is always exciting to find guns in this condition now, a condition which is seemingly so scarce now and guns and rifles found of this quality easily form cornerstones of a collection. These are the types of guns which I have always considered ‘bullet proof’ when it comes to future values, they are guns which no dealer can ever pick fault with in an attempt to realise a (lower) value!
J.Lang 8g Sidelock Underlever side by side shotgun #15061. 34″ chopper lump barrels bored .840 in both with extra full choke. 3 1/4″ chamber. Concave game rib with single bead foresight. Sidelock non ejector action with dolls head third fastener, double triggers and manual safety. Full fine scroll engraving with 95% plus colour remaining. Rounded pistol grip stock with horn extension and engraved oval. English splinter forend with push rod release. Weight 13lb 1oz. Complete in best oak & leather case with velvet lining and compliment of tools. Stock measures 13 1/2″ pull, 1 13/16″ x 3 1/8″ drop, cast off 1/4″ at heel and 5/16″ at toe.
J.Lang 8g Sidelock Underlever side by side shotgun #15062. 34″ chopper lump barrels bored .840 in both with extra full choke. 3 1/4″ chamber. Concave game rib with single bead foresight. Re-proofed in 1980 but only logical reason is that this gun was originally proofed as a 9/2 bore. Sidelock non ejector action with dolls head third fastener, double triggers and manual safety. Full fine scroll engraving with 95% plus colour remaining. Rounded pistol grip stock with horn extension and engraved oval. English splinter forend with push rod release. Weight 13lb 1/4oz. Complete in best oak & leather case with velvet lining and compliment of tools. Stock measures 13 1/2″ pull, 1 13/16″ x 2 13/16″ drop, cast off 1/4″ at heel and 1/4″ at toe.
I think we have only made a handful of pairs of 16g hand detachable lock guns during my time here. As I have mentioned in the past the 16g is a fantastic gauge of gun, filling the position of weight and power so well between the 12g and 20g. The wide variety of cartridges available for 12 and 20 doesn’t cover the 16g as well, which has perhaps dampened the popularity of the gauge, that said there is an increasing rather than decreasing offering now available and we seem to be making more 16g guns now than ever previously over the last 30 years.
This pair of guns were completed in 2008. The guns have 30″ barrels, 15″ stocks which are currently cast on and can be altered cast off. The 2 3/4″ guns are choked 1/4 & 3/8 in both pairs of barrels and they weigh in at 6lbs 1oz. Bore and barrel measurements are as new.
With the £ value against the $ so low now these guns are a rare and excellent opportunity for an as new cased pair of game guns. This pair of 16g guns are on our used gun sitewith full selection of detailed photographs.
For any destination you travel to shoot a gun slip is an essential piece of kit with which to protect and carry your gun or rifle during the non hunting periods. What you choose to put your gun in at this time comes in a multitude of varieties and options from very basic and cheap to exotic models made in clients own game skins.
Westley Richards has always taken the view that the gun slip should match the quality of the gun it will look after, it should also be capable of doing that job for the life of the gun. We achieve this brief by using a very expensive organic tanned leather which has deep absorption of natural fats that will keep the leather in fine condition for many years with only a small amount of annual attention to reintroduce wax to the grain. The leather we use will patinate and mature quickly becoming unique in its own way. I can always recognise my gun slips at a distance, the colour and distinct burnish marks gained over many years use of travel and use make them unique.
Hand made in our workshops using traditional saddlery skills the range of slips we offer is very comprehensive and each model can be found ‘off the shelf’ at popular lengths or made to order at specific lengths. We only use premium leathers, solid brass fittings, RiRI non scratch Swiss made zips and premium fleece lining to protect the guns. These fine components are stitched together using a combination of machine and hand sewing skills utilising strong waxed threads designed to last. The muzzle box is hand blocked for a perfect finish complete with hanging tag.
Why am I throwing this product into the pile just now? It is because each year as we approach Christmas the Deeley Slip is a very popular item and is often one that people want personalised as a gift. A variety of leather or shape or special length may be asked for and of course the initials, crest or name of the future owner. Our leather shop is a small department and we want to handle all our holiday orders in good time so this is an open hint to order early if this is a gift you may have been considering for yourself or someone else! The full range of standard gun slips can be seen here and we welcome discussing any special orders or requests you might have.
The time had come for another long awaited holiday at my Mother’s Cousin’s farm, near to Uncle Pat’s town and I was going to be able to run loose for a while again.
Not that I was exactly constrained at home but even when we went off fishing, my mother wouldn’t allow us to cook and eat the carp we caught in the golf course dams, despite our pleas. These dams were fed by the ‘Jukskei’ river and although it looked deceptively beautiful when pooled and fringed by weaver-nest festooned willow trees, the metal ‘catch grill’ through which it entered the golf course told another story. Here the plastic bags, empty cans, occasional dead dog and other detritus from the city piled up and that wasn’t even counting the unseen and unknown spills from the industrial area further upstream.
I suppose it was also not a good idea having us kids running around with pellet guns upsetting the neighborhood, in a suburban setting. So even though we enjoyed our catapults, lovingly made with forks cut from the neighbor’s ‘Pride of India’ tree, it didn’t quite have the same tang of adventure that striding through the veld with your trusty pellet gun has.
From my then narrow perspective, life on the farm was uncomplicated and exciting and I was fortunate that the adults who populated my world at that time, allowed me to turn this illusion into reality.
The farm has been in the same family for three generations and consequently, has that comfortably mature look. The old house sits on a very gentle rise looking east, down the dirt access road that stretches straight away for nearly a kilometer, before curving down to the unseen tar road. On either side of the dirt road, lie some mielie fields, which in turn lie below the old fruit orchards and some rickety farm buildings. You have to go over a few cattle grids to get to the house and these were designed with elephant in mind, because they very nearly stopped my Dad’s Chev as well.
The old farmhouse sits in the middle of a large garden surrounded and screened on three sides, by a variety of densely growing mature trees. The number of birds attracted to the garden is astounding; just about everyone’s favourites, were the Lesser Striped Swallows that nested under the eaves each year. Mine though, were the small Laughing Doves that thronged the surrounding trees and filled every morning and afternoon with their slightly mournful cooing. The sound of their call today, is still enough to bring on a bout of nostalgia.
People built solid homes in those days, but they were not always particularly pretty or even well designed and as a result, some of the high ceilinged rooms were hardly ever used, being very cold in winter. Consequently, one part of the sunny ‘stoep’ or veranda had been bricked off, a fireplace installed, filled with overstuffed furniture and books and called, ‘The Snuggery’. This is where adults, dogs, cats and children congregated on winter evenings and where knitting, reading, dreaming and snoozing got done.
Behind the house, the rest of the farm stretched up to a far ridge of low hills on one side and up to the tip of a higher point on the other. You could see a very long way from this point and sometimes, it even snowed up there in winter. Since it was primarily a cattle farm, the only cultivated fields were the mielie lands and these were surrounded by natural grassland, cut through with thorn-tree lined dongas. Small farm dams, stocked with bass by Uncle Pat, were dotted around as sources of water for the cattle. There was even an atmosphere of history lingering around, because if you looked long and hard enough, you could still find old cartridge cases from some long forgotten skirmish during the Boer war and the one boundary was a stone wall built way before posts and wire were available.
We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, after what seemed an interminable drive – there appears to be a limit to the adult sense of humor when a boy enquires for the hundredth and fifty-second time, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, so it was with relief on all sides that we poured ourselves out of the Chev and stretched our legs.
Some adults have the gift of talking to children in such a way, that the child feels important, so when Nora smiled and told me how happy she was to see me, I started melting. When she admired my pellet gun and told me she was really glad that I had brought it along because she just couldn’t get anyone to supply some doves for a pie she had been thinking of making, she had me deep in her pocket. It was with a sense of purpose and responsibility that I set off early the next morning.
Cattle were moaning in a far paddock, a black cuckoo was giving its characteristic, drawn-out ‘mid-mar…sloooop’ call way off in the bluegums and my pocketful of lead pellets felt reassuringly heavy as they made my khaki shorts sag to one side. I was after Red-eyed Turtle Doves, which although being rather wary and not nearly as plentiful as the Cape Turtle Doves that also lived there, they are plump and designed to fill a pie – I was to learn the virtue of perseverance that day.
The hunt started by scouting the old orchards and then through and around the mielie lands. There were certainly enough doves about, but despite careful stalking, they were on the lookout and I watched in frustration as they craned their necks in my direction before taking off with a clattering of wings just as I got within range. Uncle Pat’s trusty BSA had seen a lot of action and the spring was so weakened, that if you shot straight up into the air the pellets’ flight path was easily visible to the naked eye against the light background. This meant that any successful shots further than twenty meters out, were verging on being miraculous and I had only managed to work one miracle before lunch. Now a pie needs more than a single bird, but Nora told me not to be discouraged as she was sure I’d get enough in due course but that she’d ‘put a roast in the oven just in case’. Her cheerful faith in my ability to feed the ravenous hordes, had me really determined and excusing myself from the lunch table quickly.
The day had grown hot and the sweat tickled down my back as I headed off behind the house to explore the thorn-clad dongas, where succulent aloes grow in the open patches and the water runs fast and muddy after heavy rain. That day though, the ground was dusty and the air had become still. Grasshoppers flew up with a ‘click-click’ and a ‘whirrrrr’, to land ahead of me, only to repeat the process as I got closer again. As a couple of hawks soared lazily high above me, the only other sounds were a low, scolding chattering from a sunbird and the scuttling of a lizard as I went by.
Eventually, by way of another minor miracle, a second careless dove fell to my shot, snagging high in the branches of a thorn bush. Fifteen minutes and many scratches and youthful curses later, I emerged from the embrace of the thorns to consider my options; at the rate things were going, certain starvation stared us in the face.
Sitting on an anthill gloomily contemplating this state of affairs, I absently watched two Red-eyes circling and then dropping to ground towards the old implement shed far away in the distance, to the side of an old orchard. I took a bit more notice when another dipped in two minutes later and really sat up when they were followed in by three more. The old BSA again felt light and the scratches forgotten, as I hurried with renewed energy to take the most direct route to the shed.
A prospector finding a fat nugget, probably gets close to the feelings I felt, as my eyes slowly inched over the top of the grass separating me and the area in front of the creaky old building. There must have been at least forty-five dove-pie ingredients pecking over the heap of bare maize cobs strewn over the ground. After a long aim to calm my pounding heart, the closest bird slumped at the shot and the rest took off in mild puzzlement to a nearby tree, only to reappear in dribs and drabs soon after. A quick reload and I was another bird richer.
Not being able to see me, they never became alarmed enough to get going permanently. Instead, the interval between the ‘thwap’ of the pellet gun and their return just took a bit longer as time went on. I stopped at twelve doves, reckoning that a grand total of fourteen had dented the population enough for then, while at the same time ensuring that hunger would not be a factor for that day at least.
The guineafowl were calling each other and it was starting to get cold fast, as I slowly made my way up to a warm kitchen and some adults, who for some reason looked surprised at the pile of birds tipped onto the kitchen table. After dinner, I plucked doves till my fingers ached, and then staggered off to bed and one of those toasty, feather eiderdowns that they don’t seem to make anymore.
The following evening after a long day fishing in the farm dams, I returned to the farmhouse to some tantalising smells and later, a large, oven-blackened dish covered with brown, crisp, flaky pastry emerged from the kitchen. Inside, fourteen plump doves simmered in dark gravy, together with kidneys, potatoes, onions and some other magic ingredients. When this fragrant mixture was served over rice, accompanied by large hunks of fresh bread smothered in salty farm-made butter, silence descended on the table till the last lip-smacking morsels were gone – the left-over lamb roast was put back in the refrigerator untouched.
Thinking back, that pie was so good it has made me scour my memory for the recipe and it goes like this:
Firstly take one small, keen boy. Send him to a farm where plump doves live and…….
After a couple thousand targets, a few doves and one armadillo who insisted on digging under everything in our yard, I’m down that road far enough to have formed some opinions about .410 guns and one Westley Richards gun in particular.
First and foremost, this gun has given me more enjoyment and just plain fun than any gun of any sort I’ve ever had. Super quick, super light, no recoil and super unforgiving if I don’t pay very strict attention. When the stars align and things seem right with the world, targets break and birds come tumbling down. When they don’t, they really don’t.
For me, at least, the lesson is pay attention to all the little details; leads, follow through and especially gun mount. The slightest error in any of these things and my success rate drops, really drops.
Chokes and loads have been an education. While I have neither the patience nor the statistical background to properly dissect the mathematical meaning of all those little dots on our plating board I can determine if the centers of patterns are where they belong and if a bird or a target is in danger at various distances in those patterns. Loads go where I point, no question and with both barrels. Half ounce loads of number nines will break every target on the skeet field if I do my part but much beyond 25 yards with .004″ constriction skeet chokes things fall apart very quickly. In my opinion this is simply not an adequate combination for game shooting. However, thankfully there is a three quarter ounce of number eight and one half loads from Winchester which is another story indeed. I’ve shot several hundred of these loads at various distances at targets both feathered and clay and I see little difference between success rates with the .410 Winchester loads and with standard 28 gauge loads. If the Quail gods smile this season I fully intend to do as much damage to the population as I possibly can with this little .410 as the primary weapon.
By this point the gun has been pretty well vetted and I can say as an absolute fact that the function has been perfect. Ejectors always work, trigger pulls consistent and lock up is the same after a couple thousand rounds as it was with the first box of cartridges.
For whatever it might be worth, the view that a .410 is a silly, useless toy is simply wrong.
A really good .410 with the proper chokes and loads used under reasonable conditions can be as enjoyable a gun as one could hope for.
Proof of the pudding being I run my eye over a group of pretty nice guns almost daily and recently realized I’ve used almost nothing else for the past two months. That is something that has never happened with me prior to this Westley Richards .410 showing up at our door. I’m fortunate indeed.
I read somewhere, it’s when you’re young and before the brain gets too cluttered -somewhere between 5 years and girl chasing age – that people you meet and things you experience, influence your values, character and behavior from then on. Therefore my parents, various relatives and friends, but especially my Uncle Pat, have a lot to answer for.
Pat grew up in a rural environment in South Africa during part of the depression. He found that the simpler pleasures in life like hunting and fishing, not only put food on the table, but also encouraged an appreciation of the incredible variety of nature.
Despite working and travelling widely in Southern Africa, he always came back later to the same small town he grew up in. Pat was not a complicated or pretentious man and everyone who knew him, liked him. He had a wiry build, a dry sense of humour, bushy eyebrows and whiskers that grow high up his cheek bones, giving him a slightly rakish air. He also had an enormous network of farming friends who were only too happy to let him fish and shoot on their farms. Apart from the fact that they enjoyed his company, he stocked their dams with bass, gave them some of the game bag, reported on the general health of their wildlife and complimented the farmer’s wife on her cooking in return.
My luck was based on the fact that Pat resisted all advances of marriage until the respectable age of 48, when a woman managed to get him to rise to the prospect of living with a wife who likes fishing more than he does – the fact that she was a former beauty finalist probably had less to do with it.
During his bachelor years, he took a keen interest in his nephews’ and nieces’ development, never once forgetting anyone’s birthday – this changed the moment he got married, which says a lot for the distractions of women. In his successful attempt at sowing the seeds for my future appreciation of the mysteries of angling, I received a trout rod and reel for my 9th birthday.
Then there were the books. Pat bought and collected books on hunting, fishing and natural history over the years and saw to it that I was the recipient of various magnificent books about the avian population, to incubate the interest that I was beginning to show in bird-egg collecting. Egg collecting is illegal today because habitat loss and too many people, have pushed many bird species’ numbers to a point that no small, egg-collecting schoolboys could ever have done. At that time however, many happy kilometers were spent walking through the veld, or wading up to the nostrils in some oozing vlei for the thrill of finding a new species’ nest, keeping us fit and igniting a life-long interest in birds.
Living so far from Pat’s town, meant that I only got to do the really exciting stuff on the odd school holiday, but it’s funny how a few things stick so vividly in the memory of a small boy; on a visit to Pat one winter holiday, it was announced that it was time to take me rabbit hunting as my grandmother ‘needed’ to taste a game pie again. The night before this important expedition I could hardly sleep, knowing that I would be carrying the .22 rifle, despite the fact that it was nearly as long as I was tall. Pat said he wanted to give his little Belgian-made .410 ‘side-by-side’ an outing, seeing as we would be near a river and that maybe an ignorant duck would be flying low enough on what turned out to be a clear, cold day.
Hours have a habit of moving really slowly for a boy awake since the milkman set the dogs barking, waiting for the afternoon and for the adults to realise that lunch and endless pots of tea should be wolfed down, not savoured, in order to get to the important stuff.
We finally did see a rabbit that day, and when Pat hissed ‘Get it!, I put down the .22 and tried to run that rabbit down – I didn’t realise I was supposed to actually use the rifle, thinking rather that I was merely to be the trusty gunbearer. I don’t think Pat had laughed so much for a while and how he managed to shoot that high-flying duck while sniggering and wiping tears from his eyes, I’ll never know.
It seems like yesterday, going off to the ‘lock, stock and barrel’ farm auction where the smell of fat cattle and dust mingled with the odour of sweaty bidders standing in the sun, while the women pored over the contents of the kitchen. There was an old, broken-down ox-wagon behind the auctioneer’s table and it was piled with all sorts of useful looking equipment. Sticking out from under a dusty tarpaulin, were two slightly scuffed, polished leather cases with buckle straps undone. I managed to lift the top one’s lid high enough to glimpse sleek twin barrels, a burnished dark, warm, wooden stock and to just get that smell of ‘adventure’, before the auctioneer got going and I was asked with an empathetic grin to move away from behind him. The books Pat had his eye on came up under the hammer before those two leather cases did, so we left early but to this day, I have a feeling that we missed out on the bargain of a lifetime.
A few holidays later, we were staying on my Mother’s cousin’s farm, close to Pat’s town. This farm is one of Pat’s favourites and seeing as the bird season had opened, it was decided that it was time for me to be initiated into the art of guineafowl shooting. In winter, these gamebirds form flocks that can number in the hundreds and when so sociably associated and not distracted by the urge to impress the opposite sex, their many eyes look out for predators very sharply and they are not easily surprised. They are also one of the gamebird species that are not very effectively hunted with dogs, since they have the habit of heading for the nearest trees, from where they cackle down abuse at the canines while often ignoring the hunters. It is not considered very sporting for grown men to shoot them sitting in trees!
This all means that it takes more strategising than Napoleon had to do at Waterloo, to figure out a way of getting them to fly over or past the guns. They like flying downhill, but like flying with the wind even more and they don’t like flying over you if they can see you, so there are always a number of variables to consider. If an initial successful flush is achieved, it can be a much easier job of following them up and flushing them out as singles or small groups, but the first big flush is the most exciting as they take off with a concentrated, muffled rustling of massed wings. If they do come over you as planned, it takes an enormous amount of disciplined concentration to pick only one bird at a time, when the sky seems dark with them.
The farm supported a relatively modest number of birds that year, due to a reduction in the acreage of maize being grown, but we reckoned we knew where they would be that early winter morning.
Sure enough, as we quietly crept through the dewed grass towards the maize land at the bottom of the old apple orchard, we could hear their metallic ‘chink-chink’ call as they sociably picked their way across a bare piece of land between their roosting spot and the field, with us positioned directly in their path. All that needed to be done then, was to wait a short while for them to get closer and for me to have a go at them with the .22 on the ground (acceptable since I was a beginner), which would put them in the air for Pat and his 12 bore side by side. The trap was perfectly set.
The trap was sprung when the herdsman, Elias, and his skinny dog came whistling down the track on his way to move the cattle. If it had been Elias alone, the guineas may have just hesitated a while, but they took one look at the mongrel and flew off in a flurry, to a clump of wattle trees about 300 meters away. That dog must have seen something in our expressions as we rose out of the grass, because it took one look at our faces and headed off to less murderous places.
After a short session of re-strategising, we decided to try the direct approach and headed straight for the wattles; two guns were not enough to surround them and the wattle patch was on flat ground with no nearby cover. It was a desperate plan from the start, because the birds already thoroughly alarmed, saw us from miles away and peeled out cackling in one’s and two’s. By the time we got there, it seemed to be round one to the birds.
It never pays to be too hasty though, because as Pat lit a thin cheroot and I looked mournful, we spotted a lone bird that had decided to attempt an invisible pose, skulking high in a far tree. Uncle Pat unexpectedly took the .22 from me, thrust the 12 bore into my hands and whispered softly, ‘Shoot!’ I don’t remember aiming, I don’t remember the bang or the shoulder-thumping recoil, but the sight of that guineafowl toppling out of the tree, the smell of burnt powder and the ‘thud’ as my backside hit the dirt, remain as clear as a trout stream to this day.
It was a very proud boy who arrived back at the farmhouse, where everyone agreed that it was probably the biggest guineafowl they had ever seen; in fact judging by the size of its crest, a trophy in all likelihood. The next evening around the dinner table, it was also agreed that it was extremely well shot because there were no pellets to break your teeth on. Thinking back now, maybe it died of fright.
Two days later, in the absence of Elias, we ambushed the guineafowl coming out of the maize land again. I missed with the .22 but watched the rest of the plan unfold properly, as Pat took a high left and right – the birds fell within seven feet either side of him.
The .410 and the 12 bore are on permanent loan to me now. Every time I admire them, I am reminded why I love the sound of guineafowl calling in the evenings, fishing for speckled trout and the reason why I am ever searching for scuffed leather gun cases.
Eating game is not everyone’s cup of tea but I suppose like many aspects of life, it’s how things are done that is important. A succulent dish of venison prepared by an expert chef is not out of place in the finest restaurant, while an overdone fillet of beef tastes like leather, so it must be a case of preconceptions overriding our taste buds. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got friends who can really cook game and ‘Blighter’s roast bushpig’ rates up there with one of the best, especially when served with good company and quaffing wine.
Similarly, not everyone appreciates stuffed animals and a lot of women seem to have a strong aversion to the whole idea. The end result is that many hunters proudly take home their spoils and then have to eat it themselves, or hide the ‘poor dead things’ away in the attic to keep the peace.
Over the years, I have seen really well presented trophies that have enhanced the ambiance and atmosphere of a study or bush camp and one day, I had to decide whether to take a bird to the dining table or the taxidermist…
Ring-necked pheasant were introduced to New Zealand during the 1840’s and go under the scientific name of Phasianus colchicus. Not being a Latin scholar, I reckon this probably means ‘Clever bugger’, because in the off-season you see them sunning and preening themselves on the side of the road or in the paddocks. Come opening day however, they instantly become alert, secretive and unbelievably cunning and stay that way till the season ends.
A lot of people here consider them a delicacy and I began thinking I was forever doomed to only appreciate them at great distances, because I had been chasing them around unsuccessfully for a few seasons. Then on one rainy day in May, my luck changed when a friend and I ambushed a cock bird that took off like a red-faced rocket from a small ridge above me. Zipping past from right to left it faltered at my second shot but I had to subdue my self-congratulatory thoughts because it then rallied and headed strongly for a huge patch of gorse way down a steep gully.
Gorse is one of the worst imports this country ever made as it is difficult to control and can quickly choke up vast areas of productive land. It also has an impenetrably vicious armory of thorns, so I gloomily negotiated the steep, slippery decline anticipating a fruitless search, but the day suddenly turned shiny bright when I found that it had fallen dead, just inside the gorse patch. I staggered up out of that donga to stand in the drizzle and admire my first ever ring-necked pheasant. It’s a bit difficult to describe those feelings of elation and remorse but gazing awestruck by its beauty, I decided there and then to forego the gastronomic side of things and have it immortalised and to hell with the cost.
Merv modestly would never admit it, but he was a master taxidermist who worked entirely alone, specialising in bird and wild pig mounts. He would not be rushed when practising his craft, telling you up-front that ‘It will take a while’. The eventual cost and the wait of three and a half months were worth it in the end, because he faithfully followed my request to “Please mount the bird in an alert pose”. In fact to me, it looks like it could take off with a clattering of wings and a hoarse cackle at any moment. Spending some time with Merv in his workshop was fascinating and made me appreciate what an art taxidermy really is. It’s hard to believe that the bedraggled bird I dropped off with him was the same one that emerged from his shed looking like a dazzling jewel. Even my wife was impressed and it now stands in the lounge.
The final product of the taxidermist’s trade belies the messy, finicky and sometimes smelly work that goes into transforming your trophy into something to treasure and rekindle those memories. Apparently, how the animal is treated or handled before it reaches him is very important and Merv at times had to try and make a ‘purse out of a pig’s ear’, so when I asked him what tips he had for ensuring a good quality bird trophy he said “Try not to shoot them too much and get them into a freezer as soon as possible”.
Now that good advice really got me thinking as it also applies to eating gamebirds, because when birds for the pot are ‘shot too much’, they are either pulverised or your guests complain when breaking their expensive dentures on shotgun pellets. It is logical therefore, that preparing birds for the table (or the taxidermist), starts with squeezing the trigger, because how you shoot the birds will affect your meal or mount. Considering myself a minor expert on these matters, I’d like to pass on some tips on the all-important process of shooting gamebirds for the table:-
Every biltong hunter knows that shot placement is vital and that a clean kill using a minimum of shots (preferably only one), results in the most useable meat. Using a rifle of suitable calibre for the quarry plays a big part, because not much of an impala is left over if shot in the shoulder with a .458 soft nose at close range. The same goes for gamefowl, because being hit with too many pellets really spoils the meat – have you ever tried to eat a gamebird that was shot with 8’s at fourteen meters using a full-choked 12 bore? So choose your shot size to suit the bird.
Pattern utilisation is also usually totally overlooked but extremely important and too many wingshooters don’t know what spread and pattern their gun produces with the different size shot available. Do you ever see a biltong hunter going into the veld before taking some practise shots and checking his rifle’s grouping? Shotgunners would do themselves a big favour if they followed suite, but to really get it right, you need to practice a bit more intensively than the rifle shooters have to. What you need is a good supply of large sheets of cardboard, draw a 60cm diameter circle on all of them and then pattern both barrels of your gun, separately on these sheets, at a distance of 15 and 30 metres. For those with very choked bores, another patterning at 40 metres is a good idea. This should be done a number of times with the same make of cartridge and shot size that you plan to use on the chosen gamebird species. Having done this, take very careful note of the diameter of the pattern from each barrel, at each distance.
You must then go to a clay pigeon range and shoot at clay’s, letting them fly out to 15, 30 and 40 metres before pulling the trigger. It does take some practice, but here the idea is keeping the pattern diameter of each barrel in mind and to get the edge of your pattern to break the clay birds. ‘Dusting’ them may look impressive, but is not what you want to achieve because if they were real gamebirds they would then be inedible.
It’s just about now that I imagine anyone reading this will start rolling their eyes or snorting cynically, so I’m going to stop while I’m ahead. It’s just that my own wingshooting skills so often result in relatively few pellets hitting the mark that I’d like to put it down to my deliberate ‘pattern utilisation’, but that’s a fantasy and is being rather economical with the truth! So to redeem this story and to make up for pulling your leg, here’s a guineafowl recipe that takes a while to prepare, but which some of my friends seem to enjoy. It should work well on pheasant too.
2 guineafowl 250g bacon
4-6 cloves garlic 125ml milk
3 large onions 125ml cooking oil
1 can mushrooms 1 egg
200ml dry white wine (not more) 100g cake flour
15ml Worcester sauce 10ml baking powder
10ml mixed herbs 1 pinch salt
10ml dried parsley
5ml curry powder
2 whole cloves
salt and pepper to taste
200ml fresh cream
1 packet brown onion soup
Joint the birds and then boil until tender. Bone and flake the meat. Shred bacon, chop onions, garlic and fry together until just cooked. Drain mushrooms and stir into bacon mixture together with meat. Add wine and Worcester sauce, herbs, parsley, tumeric, curry, cloves, salt and pepper. Stir until blended. Mix soup powder and cream and stir into meat mixture. Spoon into large casserole dish.
Pastry:- Beat together milk, oil and egg. Add flour, baking powder and salt and beat again until just mixed. Pour this over the top of the meat filling and bake at 180 deg C for 20-25 minutes until golden. Ideally, the birds used in this recipe should be a couple that I have shot (or someone else’s who shoots like me), because that way you’ll have minimum meat damage.
Oh yes, Merv also said my pheasant only had two pellets in its neck, which made his job much easier. He was pleased about that.
Once you have your Tweed shooting suit and your green waterproof jacket there are little areas left to create your own style. To that end I have always been annoyed at the lack of choice of caps and shooting stockings when you visit shops.
In an effort to change that for this season we have had made a wide variety of hand knitted shooting stockings which will add a splash of colour to every outfit. I would like to think people will now be spoiled for choice with this range beautifully designed and produced stockings which are each hand knitted on 4 needles by home based workers in England using the finest Cashmere and other high quality wools.
Each pair of Westley Richards shooting stockings is presented in a specially designed tube package which makes for an easy to wrap, perfect gift!
Our range of caps now has 20 different tweeds in 3 styles. All our Tweed comes from the Lovat Mill in the Scottish Borders and are made in England by one of the countries oldest hat makers.
These new products will be online in our web shop later this week and I hope that you will find something you like!