Lewis Potter relives his youth as he tests a new, economically priced hammergun with exciting features.
I make no secret of the fact that I have always had a fondness for hammerguns. Fifty years ago or more, they were the cheap, old-fashioned alternative and an economic buy for us young nimrods who believed the next step up the ladder would be a hammerless gun. When it happened I felt at a bit of a loss because I had grown used to a gun with tall, proud hammers, so I went back to what I knew and liked.
Who would then have believed that in the early years of the 21st century there would be the choice of a new hammergun? It is true that in recent times Purdey has made a few and AYA has dabbled with the idea, but with the Huglu we have an economically priced version. In fact, it is rather reminiscent of those old pre-war Birmingham hammerguns I used as a youngster, but with features I would never have dreamed could exist.
The full description of this gun is the Huglu Model 201HRZ, which translates into a 12-bore bar-lock hammergun with novel features including screw-in chokes. It is a fairly substantial-looking gun with its 30in barrels, long fore-end and pistol grip stock. The appearance is not deceiving, as on my scales it weighed in at a little over 7⁄lb. However, considering it is proofed for 3in (76mm) steel shot cartridges, some weight is a blessing to tame the recoil of such fairly “hot” loads.
The actual balance point is nearly 1in in front of the action bar cross-pin (barrel pivot point) so the weight is biased forward. It is the kind of gun that one has to take charge of and make it work for you but, my word, doesn’t it swing well! It brought back memories of being out on the salt-marsh, crouched in a gulley, with windstung eyes and the old dog lying beside me shivering with anticipation.
Decoration and finish
The decoration of the steelwork is simply executed, the engraving limited to single borderline with a few embellishments here and there in the form of scrollwork. The colours of the case hardening are, it seems, enhanced by a chemical dip. It certainly catches the eye, covering not just the action body and locks, but also the top-lever, trigger-guard, fore-end iron and fore-end catch. On this gun, in sunlight, the colours are quite bright and remind me a little of the enthusiasm with which showmen used to decorate their traction engines.
The woodwork has a hard varnish finish which, to a certain extent, hides some of the variations in the grain, but it suits what, to my mind, is an honest, practical gun rather than a posing piece. As for the chequering, this follows a neat and traditional pattern — I would suspect by its uniformity that it is applied by laser. To finish off, the butt-pad incorporates a hard plastic heelpiece, so there should not be any tendency to drag against the shoulder. The 14¾in length of pull should suit any potential users.
Action and lockwork
This gun is a non-ejector, like most of the older generation of hammerguns. The lock-up of barrels to action is particularly strong, with big lumps under the barrel flats that fit well into the slots in the action bar. As well as the two bites on the lumps, there is a tiny bite on the barrel extension that fits under a projection on the spindle of the top-lever. The locks are of the single cocking, rebounding type. The advantage of this is that, when in the “at rest” position, they are in the half-cock or safe position and cannot be nudged forward to contact the strikers (firing pins).
A real novelty on a hammergun is the safety button on the top strap or tang, which in this case means the hammers can be cocked with the non-automatic safety either off or on. One feature that would be appreciated by many hammergun enthusiasts is the ability to open the gun with the hammers cocked. On many old top-lever models the right-hand hammer in the cocked position fouls the full movement of the top-lever, so it has to be carefully let down before it could be opened for unloading. This Huglu can be opened with the hammers cocked and the safety either off or ideally in the on position.
I had quite expected the bar-locks to contain some sort of computer-designed simplified assembly powered by helical springs. Instead, I found the kind of traditional layout of lockwork that harks back generations. True, it is a comparatively simply made five-pin lock, but it was a pleasure to find something made in the form they used to be.
The Huglu does have new technology in the shape of the screw-in chokes for the immaculately blacked barrels with their tapered, raised top rib. The five chokes are notch marked and the instruction booklet coyly informs us that full choke is not recommended for steel shot, while cylinder is useful for rifled slug.
Huglu hammergun on test
As usual, I tried out a variety of cartridges, which included Lyalvale Max Game Steel, Eley First, Gamebore Clear Pigeon and Hull Steel Game. The two cartridges I used for the final testing were Eley Olympics with 28g No. 7⁄ shot and plastic wad, and the Winchester Blind Side with 40g of No. 3 cubic shot and, of course, a plastic wad. These two were chosen on the basis that I thought the Huglu would make a good clay gun for the side-by-side class, also a useful wildfowling gun.
The Huglu shot to point of aim with lead shot cartridges, a little lower with steel and dropped off a bit more with the cubic shot, which was only to be expected. Trigger pulls proved to have a reasonable break, but set a little on the hard side — nothing, though, that could not be “tuned” to the user’s liking. Needless to say, on one occasion I cocked the hammers and forgot the safety was on. Too many years of habit, I’m afraid.
I would nominate this Huglu without hesitation as a clay and wildfowling gun