Some of us season like a fine wine, only improving with our advancing years and reaching our pinnacle after some 60-odd years.
Alas, age does little to improve a poor quality wine and for many sportsmen advancing years bring aching joints, reduced mobility and frustration on the shooting field.
But advancing years need not be the end of a storied sporting career. I am lucky enough to see customers at every step of their sporting lives, and at the centre of it all is good gun fit.
Without good gun fit you will never be successful, but perhaps what many people don?t realise is just how much and how quickly your gun fit can change ? particularly as we get older.
Some of the most common complaints come from sore shoulders and reducing strength – as we reach our later years it becomes increasingly difficult to carry a heavy 12-bore all day and cope with the recoil over a day?s driven shooting.
An obvious choice, therefore, would be to switch to a 20 or even 28-bore, but the drastically reduced weight and wildly different handling characteristics of guns in these bores bring their own set of problems.
These problems are, of course, not insurmountable as long as you have a good shooting coach.
But more must be done to ensure accurate shooting with a lighter gun than a few extra lessons: alterations must also be made.
Bear in mind that these could be carried out on an existing gun, saving considerable expense when combined with a lighter load for reduced recoil.
With age generally comes reduced flexibility – particularly in the neck, shoulders and back.
Obviously these are key components when shooting, and stiffness here makes mounting and moving the gun very difficult.
ALTERING YOUR EXISTING GUN
It becomes increasingly trying to push the gun forward for a good mount, and it can become very easy to catch the heel of the stock in your armpit.
A solution here is simply to shorten the length of the stock, an operation easily carried out by any good gunsmith.
This may not be enough on its own, however, as it can also become difficult to bring the eye level with the sighting rib.
Here again, a simple alteration can be made to raise the height of the comb of the stock, bringing the barrels up to the eye line rather than pushing the head down to meet them.
Some guns may also require a little more cast to be added to the stock depending on overall flexibility. All of these alterations require proper measurements, which can only be taken during a proper gun fit session – either at a shooting school or with a good gunsmith.
Indeed, this really ought to be your first port of call when you have any difficulties with your shooting. Your body shape can change drastically from month to month, let alone in 40 years.
Even weight loss or gain can have a significant impact on your gun fit.
A SMALLER BORE
If, even after this, you are still insistent on going to a smaller bore gun, then it is certainly a viable choice – but it is not one I would recommend to a customer unless they specifically ask for it.
It takes many years to become a consistent shot, and such a significant change in the gun you use and the requisite change in style required may take a long time to recover from.
Some may not recover it at all and the last thing I want is to lose a customer!
Bear in mind that a traditional sportsman might be going from a traditional English 12-bore side-by-side – with its classic weight distribution and double triggers – to a modern continental over-under.
Dealing with a change in barrel orientation, the number of triggers and the new bore size on top of major changes in gun handling characteristics can be overwhelming.
It is worth noting there are some really superb light loads out there for 12-bores, as well as heavier loads for 20-bores, and that the modern recoil pads which can be easily fitted by any gunsmith can make a massive difference to felt recoil, so these might be worth a try as a relatively low-cost option too.
For some, serious health problems or loss of eyesight may require shooting off the opposite shoulder. Although tricky, learning to shoot off this opposite shoulder really is the best way – time consuming though it may be.
Custom-built cross over stocks are another option, though these can be expensive to make, depending on the size of the bend and can have major ramifications in terms of increased recoil.
Ultimately, advancing years or injury are no barrier to shooting as long as you are patient and take the right advice.
Churchill Coronation XXV £4,500
For obvious reasons, shortening the barrels of a gun is a very quick and easy way of reducing its weight. Though 28″ might be a good place to start for many guns, you might also consider the English, hand-built Churchill XXV, so named thanks to its 25″ barrels.
This style of gun was extremely popular in the early- to mid-part of the 20th century, and this particular model was most likely built in celebration of the coronation of King Edward VIII in 1936.
It is a boxlock with ornamental sideplates engraved with game scenes and foliate scroll work, and features really lovely wood. These guns were built on a very strong and reliable spring opening action and include Churchill?s quick sighting rib.
This is where the rib is very tall between the barrels, quite close to the height of an over-under, giving the optical illusion when mounted that the barrels are much longer than they really are.
It is light and quick handling thanks to its short barrels and 14½” stock and, like most of these guns, features a rubber recoil absorbing pad.
Weighing in at just 6¼lbs, this would be a great gun to use with a 24gram cartridge.
A slim straight hand grip thanks to the boxlock action makes this gun a real pleasure to use, and the high quality of finishing makes it a great investment.
Browning B2G 20-bore £4,500
These guns have an excellent reputation, and for good reason. Hand-made in Belgium, they have been one of the best performing guns available for a number of years, and I believe them to be one of the best balanced guns on the market.
This is accentuated with a 20-bore gun, where they have a real snap about them when coming to the shoulder, but still swing consistently well.
With 26½” barrels significant weight has been removed, meaning any sportsman should be able to happily use one of these guns for a full day with little trouble.
Given the reduced recoil inherent in an over-under shotgun, you may even find you want to go back up to cartridge loads around the 26gram mark without experiencing discomfort.
The straight hand-grip will be instantly familiar to those used to classic English shotguns, though this gun features only a single selective trigger.
The barrel length marks this gun out as being built around the 1970s.
The design has aged extremely well, and the signed engraving and high quality wood and finishing make it something to behold at this price point.
They are incredibly reliable, and open and close like new. This is an excellent gun for anyone to own.
Browning 525 Classic Lightweight £1,650
The B525 is one of the classic over-under sporting shotguns, with a tried and tested action famed, like all Brownings, for its strength and reliability.
This is an excellent gun, available in lightweight form with virtually all of the metal parts of the gun made from alloys.
Only the detonating face of the action is made from steel, a steel billet inserted to provide strength. This gives added security but also keeps the weight down to 6¼lbs ? remarkable for a 12-bore over-under shotgun.
The 28″ barrels are standard chopper lump steel numbers, with multichokes.
These ?standard? barrels do lend the gun a certain weight to the front hand – certainly forward of the hinge pin.
This may be something of a boon, however as this will help in creating and maintaining a good swing and also helps reduce muzzle flip when firing.
It is excellent value for money, and is a good looking tool, with foliate and game scene engraving on the boxlock action, though the weight saving measures can leave the gun feeling a little synthetic in the hands.
A full pistol grip might be a bit off-putting for those making a change late in life, but otherwise this is a relatively inexpensive and flexible tool.