Another Image: Crook

I dug this up recently for a gun scholar and to refresh my memory. General Crook, famed in the Indian wars in the southwest, and a fair man, was also an amateur but serious ornithologist, and poses here with a “lifter” Parker, so combining at LEAST three blog themes.

Gun Quote with Examples

A bunch of 37’s and a 17

“If an ancient Athenian had to choose between an M12 and an M17-37, he would no doubt have chosen the sexier looking of the two, the Winchester.  On the other hand, an ancient Spartan would have grabbed the Remington or Ithaca and shot the Athenian while he oogled the M12.  Then the Spartan would have walked off with both guns.”
(Gil Stacy, who is the MAN on the M37).

Hemingway with Model 12

Gil’s gun with snipe

Guns: Keepers and Projects

In any realistic sense I have “enough” guns but I like to keep things rolling, preferably without spending any (or at least any significant) money, in order to keep my brain stimulated. Besides I like looking at them, just like my art and even the spines of my books– seeing them in the rack is like browsing the spines in a bookcase, (so I suppose shooting is more or less equal to reading…?)

 I also like to keep niches filled, which in my case means mostly working hunting niches; to be able once in a while to give a friend a gun or a screaming deal, since I have often been the beneficiary of others; Karma if you will. I practice selling what I don’t need, and am always up for bartering– whaddaya got? Having bought sensibly in the past helps, though obviously, as Burnham’s 4th Law has it, “You can’t invest in retrospect.”

And you have to drop your preconceptions and buy quickly if the right thing comes along, which is how I got my little Remington Model 17 pump 20 bore (the only gauge it was ever made in). The Model 17 was designed by no less than John Moses Browning, and is a close ancestor to today’s still extant and traditionally American- built Ithaca Model 37, which comes in all gauges but 10.

This is the first time I have ever seen one for sale since I became aware of them many years ago– they are not common. It is slick and but for slightly faded blue seems all original, and athough it weighs only 5 1/2 pounds its long 28″ barrel means it does not poke but swings like a mini trap gun. I am glad I picked it up and can’t even think of a reason to get rid of it– it cost virtually nothing. And to any who wonder about a pump gun’s value– three people have offered to take it off my hands for significant $$, and every one already has an English gun…

Another project is this English hammer “short” ten,  a classic back- action sidelock  with rebounding locks and chambers of 3″ for the old (but available even in expensive bismuth) 2 7/8″ shell. It has a set of modern proof marks for Nitro powder from between the 50’s and the 80’s ( I know the decades but I am not going to get up to look!)   So even if you couldn’t see or measure the massive thick walls of fancy Damascus figure*, you would know that it is safe. It is a big gun but not a monster, a bit over 8 1/2 pounds, and well balanced. The trigger pulls are excellent, with rebounding locks; the barrels unmarked. It has good figured walnut, but  rather masked and darkened, so is up for at least a partial refinish.

Most interesting thing is that it is the first Nitro proof gun and maybe the first gun period I have seen with NEW Damascus tubes sleeved onto an old (different pattern) twist steel bloc. The pattern on these tubes is wonderfully intricate, but the browning on the barrels (like bluing for steel guns; no relation to the inventor)) is so dark I thought it was blue until I got it outdoors. I need to get some but not all of this off to show pattern better, but I want to retain the rich color. In the photos I have tweaked the color to bring up the pattern– if they were already like that I wouldn’t do a thing. Worth it to double or right click to see better…

* If you are of the dwindling minority who think Damascus is inherently unsafe, step away from this box and read the 6 part series by Sherman Bell in Double Gun Journal between Summer 2005 and Winter 2009, called “Finding Out for Myself” (there were other experiments under the same title but those years covered the relevant issues), in which he and an engineering – minded team of friends, “Mythbusters” for the classic gun set, attempted for several years the task of making a Damascus barrel explode– this using repeated PROOF loads, too long for the chambers, on pre- wrecked or at least battered– some were loose, some held together by copper wire– American waterfowl double guns. And failed, period, stop. Not one, not one, even expanded. Now add modern English proof for Nitro in any gun so marked…

I think the consensus was that guns that did so blew up because someone had inadvertently dropped a twenty bore shell in ahead of the 12– which condition could and did blow up both Damascus and steel barrels.

Clapton’s Guns

Apparently Eric Clapton has commissioned and sold  more guns than I have (and each and every one was probably worth more than my house). Many articles out there, a few by gunnies, some by folks horrified he would buy guns at all, some just concerned with auction prices. I assume we can all use Google, though I found fewer pix than I had hoped. One of the better is here.

Actually he seems to acquire and get rid of things the way many of us do, just on an inconceivably expensive level, so both MDMNM and I are right on what his taste is like: eclectic.

“I start out with a fairly broad spectrum – got obsessed, then engulfed, and finally narrow the collections down.

“I built a gunroom that can house a certain amount of guns, and now I have to clear the decks for the new guns I have on order.”

Here are a couple of classic Bosses (I think I would have kept one!) and a rather gaudy Evans.

Sin agua…

James Wentworth Day and big shoulder guns

Perhaps because I grew up on the New England coast, living a hunter- gatherer’s life and shooting magnum twelves and tens like my father before me, I  have always been fascinated by England’s big bores– defined here as the gauges above ten that were made illegal when the first legislation to protect waterfowl from commercial gunners was passed after the first world war.

Looking back, one suspects that it was almost a class prejudice thing that spawned such an arbitrary rule; the wealthy eastern gentlemen who drafted the new rules associated big guns with uncouth Chesapeake Bay watermen, and they made an upper limit of ten gauge because nobody they knew shot anything larger. I would argue, as did conservation writer George Reiger, that bore is irrelevant; the only factor in saving birds is the number of a species you kill, and the big bores were difficult specialist’s guns used by experts to bring down single birds at a distance. If I could shoot an eight and had access to a place where I could pass shoot at high geese, I would. It is worth mentioning that you might “lead” such a goose by ten goose lengths at distances above sixty yards, where specialist 8’s and 4’s come into their own. (One of the few American masters of the big bore, Idaho’s Elmer Keith, shot a magnum ten, a gun with the shot load of a light eight, and I know two people who saw him make seventy yard shots).

Today, the working big guns that once were shot by the humble as well as the educated romantic are being “commodified” and disappearing into collectors hands, never to be shot again. (see the Holland below, which is expected to go for over $20,000 at auction). A few lower- priced big guns have been made in Spain or Italy or as English one- off guns like the big two I wrote about last week. The classic English guns are mostly being retired and hoarded or sold to the US where they can’t be shot at migratory birds, so I was delighted with the news that James Wentworth Day’s huge Roaring Emma, an 8- bore of the heaviest configuration, had gone back home to hunt on the English coast.

And yes, “she” is big. Shooting friends know my exasperation at the Nash Buckingham/ George Evans- promoted fallacy that our magnum twelves were eight bore equivalents; they didn’t equal light eights, never mind magnums like Emma, built in the early 1870’s and shot today.

Pete Humphreys on her specs : “4 1/4 chamber with brass cases made by Allen Meyers. 3 ozs of bb’s. The gun is approx 18lbs but short in the stock and handles like a 20 bore. Note that the stock has hole in it and the triggers have drilled holes so they can be wired together and fires simultaneously on a punt boat. The hole in the stock is for a rope to hold the gun on the punt.”

Further on this particular load: “… dad met Jimmy WD in the later years of his life. Dad visited him at his home and spent an afternoon with him. WD was almost blind and health failing. Dad was possessed with Emma and JWD’s writings.  They talked in great detail about the Emma.  WD had sold it on long ago.

“At one point during the visit he asked dad to located a rusty old cookie box (biscuit tin). The box was tucked in a mass of clutter as WD was a hoarder. On the tin in pen it had the words “Emma” written on it. WD told dad to open the box and inside were a handful of the original 4 1/4 inch ELEY cases that were his loads for Emma. WD told dad to take 2 for his collection. I remember the cartridges vividly. I’m sure they went with the gun to its new home.  Dad wrote JWD’s obituary for the Shooting Times.

“Dad originally had a 3 1/4 inch 8 bore and had lots of modern loads in that case length. He would shoot those through Emma to save on the good brass loads as he only had 20 cases made in 4 1/4 brass. He couldn’t figure out why his kill rate was awful with the shorter loads. He realized, with help from my father in law and a pattern plate that the pattern was being “blown” with the short cases. The combs [forcing cones?] on the 4 1/4 chambers are so big, the gases would escape around the shot and blow the pattern of the shorter 3 1/4 cases. 

“He only shot 4 1/4 cases from then on and the gun came back to life and a real hard shooting gun. Would kill geese at 50 yards like a 12 bore kills pigeons at 20 yards.

“I was standing next to my brother David when he dropped a right and left at pinks with Emma. Brilliant stuff.  We were taking it in turns to shoot her w dad watching on from the depths of the ditch we were hiding in.  Tall birds that threw their heads back and folded up stone dead to smack on the field with a loud thud. “

When I was researching this material, I came upon this photo of JWD and assorted paraphernalia in the postwar edition of his Modern Fowler.

When I looked at it I wondered about the gun and when I put it under a magnifying glass I saw the stock hole. Emma!

And here is a Holland and Holland hammerless eight, doubtless headed for some rich man’s collection. I wouldn’t mind if I thought he might shoot it.

Still to come: the story of Emma’s return to England… and better photos of “her”.

New Damascus Steel

Purdey has reinvented Damascus, using a process I don’t even pretend to understand. From Michael Yardley’s site: “Powder steels have around twice the fracture strength of normal steels. The molten steel from the refining furnace runs into a nitrogen-filled vacuum chamber. In the chamber powerful gas beams atomize the alloy into a fine powder. The… powder is mixed in layers just like a marble cake in a special mould. The mould undergoes a Hot Isostatic Melting Process under vacuum pressure and the powder then welds together… The material is hot rolled to size in a series of passes on a rolling mill. During this process, it is subject to much higher stresses than normal, so production must be done in small volumes. The final stage before work on action and barrels commence is the twisting process. This not only gives a unique pattern to the steel but also increases its strength… After twisting the chopper lumps and action component parts are forged to shape in a traditional blacksmiths shop (in Sheffield). The forged components are x-rayed and certificated to ensure that the materials used in the Purdey Damascus steel gun are perfect. The process combines the use of the best 21st century steelmaking technology with ancient artisan skill. Needless to say, it is costly and time consuming.”

Yeah, well, there is that. But if you have $100,000 or so free, you will get what may be one of the most beautiful guns ever.

Big Shotguns

One of the odd American cultural blinkers is that shotguns above ten bore are poacher’s tools, or else pre- modern (Buckingham’s remarkably obtuse and inexplicably influential “Are we shooting 8 gauge guns?”)

HE wasn’t, but the Brits made them til WW2, and still shoot them– and will pay good prices. Three examples from a 1996 Bonham’s auction catalog; page weights a Portuguese percussion pocket pistol Betsy brought back on a Pan Am Clipper in the 60’s, a boot knife courtesy of a loyal reader, a modern obsidian skinner by Callahan…

Best Scott 8, Best Rigby 8, Westley Richards single FOUR (click for bigger):


Whoops– Lost and Found

My old friend Steve Grooms, author of two fine books on pheasants (here and here), as well as ones on wolves and cranes, called today. We probably haven’t talked in over twenty years. After much catching up, he gave me an email for more– but it keeps bouncing!

He has a good- gun- and book combo he is interested in placing, and I have offered to help. Can any of Q’s readers put us in touch?

Update: all fixed and back in touch. Here is a youthful Grooms with his great spaniel Brandy, and his pheasant gun– more to come…