William & Son 16-bore shotgun
Many sportsmen have a passion for fine English guns, and they don?t come much finer than this exquisite William & Son 16-bore sidelock side-by-side.
It was built for stock by the London firm, which is based in Mount Street, Mayfair.
The company was founded and is chaired by William Asprey, a well-known sportsman.
Under his direction the firm strives to make beautiful things to the standards of a bygone age.
Their gunmaking operation is overseen by Paul West, a 40-year veteran of the trade who was trained at Holland & Holland.
I have yet to see a William & Son gun that is anything less than finest quality.
This 16-bore impressed immediately, with a very fine finish and characteristic William & Son deep scroll engraving by Peter Cusack.
The floral work is accentuated by blacking to the background surfaces, which really brings out the beauty of what might truly be described as stunning engraving.
It is not over the top, it does not even qualify as flash, but it is definitely sumptuous and is as pretty as anything I have seen recently.
Paul tends to keep the same team working on his guns: Mick Kelly for barrels, Mike Sullivan and John Craven doing the action work, Stéphan Dupille on stocking and Colin Orchard finishing.
There are no compromises; it is all done the old-fashioned way.
The bottom line is not quite as frightening as some at £46,000 plus VAT – a best London gun with a similar deluxe finish will cost you around £10,000- £15,000 more.
A few guns are usually available from stock, but it goes without saying that a fully bespoke service is available at no extra cost unless you want a single trigger or an extra set of barrels.
This gun has a classic spec.
The 28″ chopper lump barrels, which are London proofed, are perfectly straight and beautifully struck up without a visible blemish.
The sighting rib is concave, with a traditional metal bead at the muzzles.
The black is as good as anything I have seen recently, with a depth and richness which others seem to have such difficulty emulating.
This is probably because the concoction that creates it is highly toxic and many cannot be bothered to brew it up.
Chokes are fixed at three-quarter and full and await regulation, if required, to customer requirements.
The action is elegant and well proportioned as a true 16. It is a full eight-pin sidelock with a gold line cocking indicator, the detail of which is a joy to behold.
The finish on the metal parts is impeccable, and the jointing maintains this high standard. The top-lever and safety catch function well, and the triggers are crisp.
If I was to pick, I would question why there is no articulation to the front blade. The gun is an assisted opener on the Holland & Holland-style system, with a plunger bearing against a spring in a tube beneath the barrels.
The ejector work, similarly, is all built to the Southgate over-centre pattern, which is the preference of most gunmakers because of its simplicity and reliability.
This design of gun works and although it was perfected by about 1900 it has been subtly improved since, not least in the manner in which major components are made by techniques such as spark erosion.
William & Son guns still have a great deal of handwork in them though, with 1,000 man hours going into every gun.
The stock is classic English with a straight, oval grip, though you can have whatever you fancy.
It is quite long on the test gun at 15½” since it was built for the shelf, and having longer dimensions allows for easy modification.
The drop is a classic 1½” at the front of the comb relative to the rib axis and 2″ at the rear.
There is a full splinter fore-end, which is deep enough to be useful, and the wood overall is excellent, being dense, well chequered and oil finished.
Though relatively rare, 16-bores have a dedicated band of enthusiasts – and I am one of them.
I own a 16-bore Holland & Holland hammer gun and a non-ejector Lang best boxlock with 30″ barrels.
The old norm was for a 15/16 oz load, but today I tend to use a lot of Lyalvale Express 1oz cartridges.
I used to especially enjoy bringing my 16-bore guns out when the British Side-by-Side Championship was held at Broomhills, and scooped six or seven cups with my old hammer gun.
I have also used it for partridge and pheasant shooting, and 16-bores are well-suited to both walked-up and driven grouse too.
The 16-bore used to be considered an old man?s gun, but now, like the 28-bore, it has become an enthusiast?s tool.
This was a lovely little gun to use. At 6lbs 4oz its weight is ideal, and it shot crisply, with super trigger pulls and excellent pointing qualities.
Its tight chokes, meanwhile, meant the clay birds were absolutely minced.
I would not be inclined to take it out too much either; half and three-quarter would suit me fine.
William & Son 16-bore shotgun
Price on application