Bespoke is a word that has rarefied connotations. A bespoke suit sounds considerably more expensive than an off-the-peg one, but what does the word actually mean? It doesn’t necessarily mean dearer, but it does mean custom-made to your individual requirements. When you’re spending several thousand pounds on a gun, does the difference justify the outlay and what elements of an engineered product, such as a shotgun, can you really tweak? To discover more about the world of special orders, I recently visited one firm that has based its business model on supplying bespoke shotguns at the more affordable end of the scale. Affordable is, of course, a relative term, but with Boxall & Edmiston’s prices starting at around £15,000 for one of its round action over-and-under 12-bore shotguns, there is no denying that the Shropshire-based gunmaker is in the vanguard of a small number of companies determined to bring the principles of Best gunmaking of a wider audience.
At its workshop in Atcham, near Shrewsbury, Peter Boxall, a former director of Holland & Holland, explained that when he founded the company in 2009 with his business partner, James Edmiston, they were clear about what they wanted to achieve through a combination, literally, of cutting-edge engineering and craftsmanship: “When we started designing bespoke features for our guns, we came to the conclusion that the value of our guns was in having every single one different. People who come to us asking for our standard measurements are going to be disappointed.”
The choice is yours
So what can you specify in a new gun and why would you want to deviate from the standard given that most gameshooters are happy to muddle by with something along the lines of 28-30in barrels, ¼ and ½ choke, and fairly neutral cast on a 15in stock? Inevitably, many of the adjustable elements of a bespoke gun are purely aesthetic, but beneath the looks are the mechanics.
“Anyone who has been shooting for a long time will have an opinion on barrel length, then you can have a further two-hour conversation with them on the merits of multi-chokes over fixed,” explained Peter. “Do you prefer a single trigger or double triggers? Do you like a flat rib or a high rib, or no raised rib at all? What trigger shape do you want?”
Once you think about the myriad options, choosing the specification of your new gun has to be undertaken in consultation with a specialist just as you would with a bespoke tailor. The discussion starts with the big things – in this case bore size and barrel configuration has opposed to wool weights and linings and it works its way down from there according to the customer’s needs.
For my theoretical walked-up game gun, Peter recommended a 12-bore over-and-under weighing 7lb with 28in barrels. He suggested weighting it on the pin to move the balance point forward – a good specification for a fast-moving gun that works effectively at a close killing distance.
For my second gun, a high-bird special, Peter suggested a heavier gun with longer barrels since with high birds the focus is on controlled, deliberate shooting and the ability to take 36g loads. Sadly, I suspect neither of these guns would pass the briefest discussion with my wife, let alone my bank manager, but should I be keen to take the commission further, the choices escalate. Trigger shapes, fore-end styles, auto-safe or non-auto safe and safety button shape, would need to be considered before tackling grip styles, or anything as frivolous as engraving.
The list of options and adjustments on a bespoke gun is seemingly endless, however the objective isn’t to befuddle the customer or flatter their ego with a spec sheet running to several pages, but to arrive at a specification that suits their needs. Fundamentally, the purpose is to produce a gun that fits the owner.
“Gun fit is central to the perception of recoil,” said Peter. “With a well-fitted gun, the body is taking the recoil where it should and, more importantly perhaps, the gun is pointing where you are looking.”
The impact a bespoke gun can have on a shooter’s ability came as a revelation, even to Peter, who has many years’ experience in the trade: “I’d always had guns adjusted to me and I was surprised by how much more confident I was with a gun made to my own measurements. We all know gameshooting is about 75 per cent confidence.”
If successful gameshooting is about confidence, one thing successful gameshooters also have is passion and this is reflected in those drawn to the world of bespoke gunmaking. Peter’s son Drew, an engineer at Boxall & Edmiston, described the firm’s customer profile: “For most clients, their new gun is a one-off present to themselves. We’re selling at a different price level to some of the more established English gunmaking names and in doing so we’re opening up the market for bespoke guns to different buyers. There’s a lead time of 16 months for our guns, which we are reducing by taking on more staff. The people who are buying are not desperate for a gun immediately – they’re prepared to wait for their perfect gun to be crafted and enjoy being a part of the process.”
The excitement of ordering a gun to your own specification is one aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. Having seen the production process, it is undeniable that the end result is an amalgamation of state-of-the-art engineering and traditional gunmaking techniques. A bespoke gun is an object of beauty and if you have the money and the inclination to order one, the result will be something to treasure. As Drew said:”It’s a real privilege for us to be a part of someone’s dream to own a unique gun.”