Boxlock, sidelock, matchlock, flintlock. If they’re terms that frequently pepper your conversations when you’re out in the field, then go to the top of the class and skip the rest of this article.
On the other hand, if you’re flummoxed as to what they mean but you want to be taken as a serious shooter who knows their stuff, then read on.
The fact is, anybody can book a shooting lesson and after a bit of practice, hold their own at the clay ground or on a driven shoot. You’ll also probably be taught a bit about stance, gun fit, lead and recoil along the way.
Discussing guns knowledgably
But if you really want to cut the mustard and earn some proper respect, then learning solid facts about the history and craftsmanship of gunsmithing, firearms and the legalities involved will make you stand apart from the crowd.
You’ll also have more knowledge to discuss guns. Chatting with your fellow shooters at a shoot lunch would be an entirely different experience, as you swap opinions on the type of gun used in the War of the Roses.
It was to add this extra dimension to the pleasure of being a shooter that Peter Boxall, of Boxall & Edmiston, recently launched The Burrard Academy, which is a first in that it educates shooters all about the history and heritage of their sport, alongside showing how bespoke guns are produced.
Peter has a solid shooting pedigree – before he started Boxall & Edmiston he was the manufacturing director of Holland & Holland.
He named the Academy after Major Sir Gerald Burrard, writer of The Modern Shotgun, a series of books on gunmaking and shooting.
I was invited along to review the programme a few weeks ago and so presented myself at the Boxall & Edmiston factory, in the Shropshire countryside.
Taking stock of gun law
Our first morning began with a comprehensive lecture on firearms and the law, given by Bill Harriman, a barrister and director of firearms for BASC.
Thanks to Bill I now know what the statutory conditions are for obtaining a firearms certificate and keeping a firearm and ammunition. I know what the contract between shooter and state is when it comes to security and what storing a firearm securely actually means (and why you should never let anyone know where the key or combination to your gun cabinet is kept. Not even your mother.) Also the answers to commonly asked queries such as whether somebody over 17 can ‘borrow’ a rifle from a friend when shooting on their land. What is the difference between a loaded firearm and an imitation firearm
After all, ignorance of the law is no excuse and all responsible shooters should learn something of firearms law.
Looking at the past
The afternoon’s session was a tour through the history and development of firearms, given by Lewis Potter.
Like any good teacher Lewis held our attention from the start, as he’d laid out a selection of antique firearms on the desk in front of us, so that we could pick up each piece as he talked us through its place in history.
He showed us the first ever gun, which was really a scaled-down hand-held cannon, known as a ‘hand gonne’. The ‘hand gonne’ was used in the War of the Roses 1455-1487 (your shoot lunch conversation piece) and as with a cannon, it contained gunpowder which was lit via the muzzle through a ‘slow match’.
Designers then worked on improving ignition systems and adding gun stocks. Lewis showed us how guns developed, and we picked up and studied examples of matchlock guns, wheel-locks, flintlocks and percussion guns.
However, all these guns still required loading from the muzzle – an issue gunmakers were keen to solve. By the late 1850s a breech loader that could accept a cartridge was developed.
Rimfire cartridges arrived in about 1840. The centrefire cartridge, appeared in 1860.
Lewis had a selection of breech loading guns which he handed around. We had a close-up view of a hammer gun and its mechanism, the hammerless gun and learned about the great development in firearms history – the Anson & Deeley boxlock.
A history of firearms wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about over-and-under and side-by-sides. In fact, the over-and-under was originally slow to catch on, because it was expensive, but the rise of clay pigeon shooting in the early 1970s combined with the arrival of economically priced over and under shotguns from Europe changed opinion.
Purists mightn’t approve but we also took a look at a semi-automatic shotgun, a pump action gun, an air rifle and a bolt action rifle. It’s part of your shooting education to be fully informed after all.
A clayshooting break
Shooting is sport for those who love being outdoors and so the following morning we were away from the classroom and taken to the award-winning West Midlands Shooting Ground, where we spent a pleasant couple of hours having a clay lesson on a crisp autumn day. I did wonder how I’d have managed shooting clays with a ‘hand-gonne’.
Then in the afternoon it was back inside the Boxall factory and a personal tour from Peter Boxall.
Every gun made there is customised to a client’s specification and we watched how this is achieved, from the use of computer aided design models ordering bore sizes, barrel lengths, action body styles, chokes, rib styles, chamber depth and the gun’s target weight.
The beauty of engraving
I now know how the individual shotgun components are created, watched gun assembly, stocking, engraving and finishing. Seeing an engraver at work is a particular highlight, as is visiting a small room full to the rafters of Turkish walnut blocks, all silently saying ‘pick me, pick me’.
So what did I think of the two day course? As somebody who is new to shooting, I have to say that it gave me a much greater appreciation of gunsmithing and watching an engraver at work is a joy.
Knowing some solid, practical gun law is something that every shooter should strive for. As for the history of firearms – well I’ll be watching films set during the Civil War, American War of Independence and the Battle of Waterloo with a critical – and informed – eye.
Find out more here about taking a course at the Burrard Academy, run by Boxall & Emiston.