Like pigeons (which I will soon be writing about again) big bore shotguns are a constant recurring interest of mine shared by few contemporaries– those mostly coastal wildfowlers who used tens in the US, something I was at least born into.
When it comes to Big Guns US shooting society tends to live in the state described in that ancient Firesign Theater skit: Everything you Know is Wrong. Bores larger than ten are not primarily poachers’ or market hunters tools, and are by no means all crude; most English firms including Purdey’s made them. The recoil of many is not particularry hard, because they are heavy enough– some modern four bores weigh 16 pounds, though of course you have to lift the huge thing. Fowlers rarely kill whole flocks of ducks– more common to paddle in reach and flush them all before you can shoot. And no, Mr. Buck, we were NOT “shooting eight bore loads” out of our big twelves; starting in the 1870’s, long case (3 3/4 – 4 1/4 inch) eights like the one pictured below were shooting loads of three ounces of shot, more than any imaginable twelve, out of each barrel; “light eights” with 3 1/4 inch shells could still manage 2 1/2 ounces!
I had a muzzleloading double four with rather short barrels back in the eighties.
Recently the English wildfowling writer John Humphreys, who had rescued James Wentworth Day’s legendary 8 bore “Roaring Emma” from the collection of a wealthy American, * placed the gun with the Hull and East Riding Wildfowling Association, who will rent it out to hunters on the coast. It is an original and welcome concept and I would like to see it spread, or go to East Anglia, stay with “Johnny UK”, see the field my father flew out of during the war, and rent that cannon.
Wentworth Day was a prolific writer and flamboyant character who survived into the Sixties but cut a figure from another age– here he is with the 1870’s Joe Lang magnum eight Roaring Emma and his retriever, Mr. Soapy Sponge. after the Surtees character.
I have books by Day on everything from waterfowl to sporting dogs to shooting in Egypt and I bet I don’t have a fifth of what he wrote. Kipling could have made him up, or Conan Doyle. He may be prone to exaggeration, and I would not rely on him for sober history, but you can’t fault him on old guns. I think his newest was built before the turn of the (nineteenth) century.
English enthusiasts still build big guns. Walter Hingley, the Canadian scholar who is one of my best sources for both gun and scientific stuff, sent me the above and enough material to research for a month, including another fascinating link about a new TWO bore. I had thought that fours were the biggest “shoulder”– that is, non- punt– guns, but some people are never satisfied. It shoots eight ounces of lead. They pattern it at seventy yards.
I am delighted there are still people crazy enough to do this, especially as everything old becomes commodified, costs too much, and disappears into collector’s vaults.
*Remember, we are not allowed to hunt with these here. To quote from the article on “Emma”: “The gun subsequently ended up in the USA, where many of our old big bores go even though they cannot be used, and was eventually bought and brought back to the UK by John Humphreys. Due to his ill health he decided to sell the gun but did not want it to go back to the USA or to sit unused in someone’s collection. By selling the gun to HERWA he has ensured it remains in this country and that it will continue to be used for wildfowling. In an incredibly generous act a long standing member of the wildfowling club bought the gun and donated it to HERWA.”