By Mike Yardley
Friday, 19 September 2008
This William Evans Wildfowler shotgun is an unusual best London gun, built with a specific quarry in mind.
This William Evans gun is interesting because it is a 30in-barrelled, 3in-chambered wildfowler (though it might double as a high-bird gun).
Built on a Holland & Holland-style, sidelock action, it has a straight-grip stock and an H&H-type plunger assisted opening system.
Evans has long had a preference for making its sidelock guns on the Holland type of action, which many in the gun trade think is an amalgam of all things good (especially when combined with Southgate ejector work).
Alastair Phillips, the enthusiastic and extremely committed William Evans gunroom manager, told me: "We are absolutely delighted with our new Wildfowler. It is always interesting to work on a gun that is being designed with a specific quarry in mind. We do not make a huge number of guns per year, so we can put a lot of time and effort into each project."
By the standards of London makers today, Evans's guns represent reasonable value - the test gun came in just over the £40,000 mark with its special engraving (a repeat would cost a little more). Another advantage of buying from this long-established firm is the chance to benefit from a reassuringly old-fashioned approach to service.
There is absolute commitment to customer requirements, combined with old world manners and trade dedication.
Back to our test piece. First impressions are good. The gun is classically styled but has some interesting features - long barrels and long chambers as noted, a single selective trigger, Teague interchangeable chokes and a pigeon-style rib with an elegant, smooth top surface.
The action has been colourcase hardened then struck off to a coin finish to highlight the engraving (with colour hardening remaining on the action flats, the breech face and the inside of the trigger guard).
The engraving is by A.J Miles. As well as Evans's attractive house scroll forward, there are Canadas coming in to land on the left side of the action. On the other side, the customer's dog is depicted. The belly of the action, the fences and the top strap have more beautifully executed scrollwork.
It has been impeccably finished - best London blacking, gold-line cocking indicators on the locks, gold serial numbers on the trigger guard, a nicely formed button-style safety and a perfectly formed top-lever.
All details pass muster.
The stock is as impressive as the metalwork. The traditional shapes are well conceived. There are well cut drop points. The gun has a more
Purdey than H&H-style grip. It feels secure in the hand - the proportions of the grip are good.
My preference, however, with longer barrels and a single trigger, would have been for a semi-pistol or Prince of Wales grip. The oil finish is well done and not too shiny. Chequering is at 24 lines to the inch and neatly cut with good borders.
Stock measurements are classical (though you can order what you want). The length of pull - slightly shorter than the modern average - is 14.5/8in including a leather-covered pad.
Drop is 1.1/2in at the nose of the comb and 2in at heel - typical shelf dimensions for a London side-by-side.
There is 3/16in of cast at heel and 3/8in at toe (again, standard).
The 3in-chambered barrels are chopper lump. The bores are both marked up at 18.5 and bear London SUP marks for 2006. These 'superior' marks are the equivalent of the old magnum proof but are not the same thing as high-performance steel-shot proof.
There are additional 2007 Birmingham marks, stamped after fitting the special Teague chokes. The gun is compatible with standard steel loads and non-toxic equivalents (such as Hevi-Shot) as well as ordinary lead.
When using standard steel shot, one should use no more than half-choke, however, as in any English gun.
The action was made by an ex-Holland & Holland man and the intercepting safety sear locks by York & Wallin. The mechanical design is relatively straightforward and noted for its reliability.
It was born out of the success of the Purdey Beesley gun of the 1880s, and was, in essence, Holland & Holland's reaction to its success. Refined into more or less its modern form in the 1890s, it has since been used by many other makers.
I put it through its paces on both driven targets and some rather tough teal birds.
Not much, if anything, got past the Evans.
The single trigger functioned perfectly and the gun seemed lighter than its 7lb.
In short, it was an excellent piece of kit, though if I ordered one to this wildfowling spec, I might have been tempted to go 1/4lb heavier and an inch longer in the barrels.
It comes in a maker's oak and leather case with tools by Mike Marsh.
Delivery time for something similar would be two to three years depending on engraving and specification.
Although £40,000 is a lot to spend on a working wildfowler, the beauty of a bespoke gun is that you can indulge your fantasies. Moreover, built at this weight, the Evans would be usable on a driven day as well.
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