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Shotguns for Christmas

The gun you produce in the field says a lot about you. Is it a pure game gun built for tackling high pheasants, or a ‘jack of all trades’ as useful on the grouse as on the clays? How much is the bearer concerned with appearances? Do you yearn for utilitarian efficiency or deep carving and beautiful stocks?

Given the sheer breadth of options available, it does seem something of a shame that we see the same names in the field every season. But then the likes of Purdey, Holland & Holland, Beretta and Browning are not market leaders in their respective fields for no reason.

Of course, there are great reasons for owning guns from these makers, not least reliability or stunning good looks. But it is very difficult to find a bad European gun from the last 20 years. Modern examples from the likes of Caesar Guerini or Rizzini are similar in price and just as reliable. Moreover, any new gun will come with a collection of spares and any gunsmith worth his salt should be able to repair them.

The advice below, from Bill Elderkin, was originally published in December 2012 and any prices are likely to be different.

English or non-English?
With side-by-side guns many people tend to think about AYA if they are buying a new non-English gun. Though AYA do indeed make some superb guns, being well finished and based on tried and tested actions, they are not alone in the market. Arrieta, Grulla, Fabarm and even Beretta produce some lovely side-by-sides which are well worth a look.

The choice here in new guns is somewhat more limited, since fewer side-by-side guns are being made today, but the second-hand market for side-by-sides has huge depth. An English hand-made and finished Webley & Scott 700 in good order, for example, is all the gun you will ever need at £1,500.

At the top end of the market buyers tend to be extremely brand conscious. There are plenty of guns of various ages from Purdey or Holland & Holland around, and these will almost invariably sell well. Guns from Boss tend to be snapped up very quickly indeed, as few of these have been made, and output of new guns has always been very small.

But these best British guns really don’t have to cost the earth. You could pick up an old Purdey for £8,000-£9,000 that will have a lot of life in it. Whether or not you go for the Purdey will depend on how much shooting you plan to be doing. I would steer a customer away from putting an old English gun to heavy use, but for one or two special days a year then a Purdey is surely among the best things to produce from a gun slip on the first drive. There are also some superb guns out there from lesser-known names.

Shotguns as presents for others
Normally I would suggest a gun should be properly fitted before making a sale. If you’re planning on buying something a little special as a Christmas gift then you’ll no doubt want to be able to surprise the recipient. As such, most retailers will be quite happy to allow the gun to be swapped for something of equal value should the wrong choice be made. Of course, any cost for alterations and personalisation to be made on the guns after the sale should also be included in the overall price.

Few guns these days are sold in leather cases, since when a gun is not in use it needs to be locked in a cabinet. That being said, a good leather gun slip makes an excellent gift to go with a new gun.

I would also suggest that you buy a proper cleaning kit, as proper gun maintenance requires more than just sweeping out the barrels and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Dickson round action
£8,950


This beautiful gun was made in 1904 in Edinburgh. It features rose and scroll engraving by Sumner, which is really among the best you will ever see, making it a collectable but also useable antique. It is quite unusual in that it has been made with Damascus barrels, which have then been blacked. This is a purely cosmetic decision, and as the barrels are in good condition we will be taking them back to their original condition before it is sold.

The round-bodied action is a bit like a trigger plate action with the lock work virtually all inside the wooden parts of the gun. As such it features very little metal work compared to a standard boxlock, giving the gun beautiful, slender lines. This has the added benefit of removing a lot of the weight of the gun. It has 28” barrels with 2½” chambers, and a spring-opening action.

This gun was built as number one of a pair, and has the double triggers you would expect of a classic game gun such as this. The stock has been extended and painted to match the grain of the wood to great effect. You are unlikely to find many 108-year-old guns in as good a condition as this. The gun has been superbly well built and is a joy to look at and shoot. As a gift at Christmas this classic gun would be very hard to top.

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Merkel 203 E
£4,950


This 12-bore gun was bought together with a 20-bore of the same model type and hails from Germany. This gun is stamped “GDR”, alerting us to its Cold War origins – but don’t let this put you off. These guns are superbly reliable, and continue to be made today.

This gun was bought as an unmatched “pair” with a 20-bore of the same model type, both being made in Suhl in 1989. They have been finished superbly with engraving covering the whole action and carried out totally by hand. The quality of construction really shows off the high standard of German engineering.

This model features full detachable sidelocks and a three piece fore-end, as well as a single selective trigger, unusual in that the switch to select which barrel fires first is located on the bottom plate of the gun next to the trigger guard. This allows quick barrel selection even when the gun has been mounted for those who are particularly swift of finger and thought.

This 12-bore has 28” barrels, 2¾” chambers and a 14½” stock, easily adjustable for any buyer. These guns come in just below the price of a Beretta 687 EELL, but new would cost something in the region of £15,000.

Michael Perdeaux Magnum
£2,950


This is an unusual English boxlock ejector that was made in 1988 really as a wildfowling gun. It has 30” barrels and 3” Magnum chambers, and is based on a best Midland boxlock action with side clips. These types of gun are extremely rare, and though you might not be much of a wildfowler, today it would be superb as a high pheasant gun for less money than an AYA Number Four.

It is virtually new and looks almost unfired, being nice and tight and with good tight chokes. It has best Southgate ejectors and is extremely well stocked, with excellent checkering and a straightforward fore-end with push rod mechanism. The gun has double triggers and auto safety, and there is a lovely tapered file-cut rib.

Though the gun is very heavy, being built as it was for wildfowling, it is very comfortable in the hand. There is plenty of weight in the front hand, which is ideal for maintaining a good swing on driven birds, and the solid overall construction should mitigate for much of the felt recoil inherent in the heavier loads used for high birds.

It retains virtually all its colour case hardening, which given the subtlety of the colouring looks to have been carried out by Ray St. Ledger, who is a master of the craft. Though a customer could request we build a gun like this today, it would likely cost at least £10,000.

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