Imagine a quiz evening for the local shooting community and the question is, ?What do you call a double-barrel side-by-side 12-bore with 3in chambers, full-choke barrels and weighing 8lb?? Eager, knowing looks would be exchanged and the answer delivered in a flash ? a wildfowling gun. But in this case it would be wrong. Consternation reigns and the quizmaster drops the hint that it is far from being a plain working gun. It is likely there would be a nodding of heads among the older element and the tentative suggestion of a live pigeon gun ? wrong again. Then the quizmaster delivers his verdict ? a high-game gun ? and the participants look at each other a little puzzled.
A gun of substance
So what is this new category that requires a specialist tool? The answer is ultra-high birds. The perceived rights and wrongs of this type of shooting have been well aired in the pages of Shooting Times, but as a variation on a sport it exists and some manufacturers have risen to the challenge. The philosophy is that it is much better to have a gun tailored to do the job than to put big loads through a lightweight open-bored game gun that will still be lacking in performance.
The truth of the matter is that you actually finish up with a shotgun that incorporates many of the elements of both a wildfowling and live pigeon gun. The William Powell Linhope appears to be a gun of some substance, long barrelled and heavily choked, yet with delightful carved fences and dainty engraving. It is quite a handful to throw to the shoulder, but stocked in beautiful walnut. A wildfowling gun for size and handling, but a game gun in appearance, it really is the decoration and styling that makes the difference because it would be as out of place on the salt marsh as an elegant young woman in stiletto heels.
The Linhope is built around the classic form of the sidelock ejector gun. Refinements include intercepting safety sears in the seven pin locks and assisted opening. A dinky but eminently practical safety button, articulated front trigger and disc set strikers fitted with locking vents are all features to be found on Best game guns.
The quality of the walnut is stunning. Both stock and fore-end have a warm glow that comes from a good piece of oil-finished wood. Dark veining over golden brown with just a hint of fiddle-back, it appears to be what a stocker might refer to as a ?kind? piece of wood that cuts and shapes cleanly and does not take the edge off the chisels. Certainly the panels and teardrop around the locks are nicely cut and the fit of wood to metal is, in the main, impeccable.
Fine, hand-cut chequering is always the icing on the cake and this gun has a good-sized panel on the fore-end and crossing over the stock at the top of the pistol grip. It is a little fine for my taste, but nonetheless a highly skilled
expression of the chequerer?s art.
The decoration is extensive but still restrained in very much the English style that became the hallmark of good taste. It is basically rose and scroll, and the scrollwork is tiny and of a neat and simple style that suits the gun. It extends over and around the action body, lockplates, top-lever, trigger-guard, grip cap and the minor pieces of furniture.
The bouquets of roses appear, as one would expect, on the lockplates and action body, but with extensive coverage on the fences, which is a little more unusual but very effective. This is all set off very well by the colour-case hardening of the main components with a deep black for most of the furniture.
This is all very well, but is it really a case of handsome is as handsome does? Styling and handling aside, ballistic performance is, especially with a gun for this intended use, rather important and very much a matter to do with the barrels.
The barrels are built on the chopper lump principle, following what might be thought of as traditional best practice. The tubes are not especially heavy at the breeches, but fairly thick-walled further along their length. This, along with the raised rib, helps impart some of the necessary weight to a gun chambered to handling heavy loads. The barrel length is 760mm, or about 30in short of a full 30in ? so little, in fact, that it makes not a jot of difference. Proofed at 18.6mm, they gauged slightly tighter, which is a good sign. There are a lot of ideas circulating at the moment about the shape and dimensions of barrel bores, but these are made in a manner that has served well over the years since the development of the choked breechloader.
The chamber forcing cone is fairly standard and certainly not overlong, and the main barrel bores have just a hint of taper. The chokes at a full 0.04in are quite short, rather in the manner of some older London guns. It was
going to be interesting to see how this old technology performed.
A comforting feel
Out in the field you do notice that it is not a lightweight game gun and, while I am a fan of carrying a gun broken and seen to be empty, if much walking to stands is involved, the use of a gunslip would be a bonus. Having said that, when closed and held expectantly with both hands ready to raise to the shoulder, it has a most comforting feel. To shoot, with the ?hot? game loads I was using, it really was a pussycat.
The pistol grip gives a good hold and the wide comb, which I initially viewed with mild suspicion, works well because the stock carries a practical degree of cast. At more than 15in, the length of pull from the front trigger helps to balance the barrels, and Powell?s idea is that it is easier to shorten a stock than lengthen it. The drop is modest and for me it meant that the Linhope shot high but nicely centred on the pattern sheet. With the foresight bead just at the centre point, the bulk of the shot pattern sat within the outer circle on the sheet.
I tried several brands of cartridge and finished up with Express Super Game with 36g (1& 1/4oz) No 5s. These proved comparatively gentle to use in the Powell Linhope, but performed well out past 50 yards. As both barrels are choked, the same patterning was carried out at 40 yards, normally regarded as the maximum for a 12-bore, and 50 yards as a test more suited to those extra-high birds. At either distance, it has the potential for clean kills and showed that traditional technology still works.
I found this gun very easy to get on with as it added a different dimension to shooting. As for the name, in a real quiz that would have been a clue, as Linhope is a famous high-bird shoot in the Cheviot Hills of Northumbria.