When it comes to shooting, pairs of hand-made guns sit right at the top of the tree along with Range Rovers and Savile Row tweed.
There is a tangible sense of pride in owning a pair of guns, and they are a great way of causing envy amongst your fellow guns when you open up the leather-bound case at the start of the day.
However, quite apart from being a significant status symbol, pairs of sporting guns do actually have a practical purpose.
On big driven days with bags in the high hundreds of birds, double gunning is an absolute necessity if you?re not to become frustrated as you watch hoards of quality sporting birds flying over your head while you fumble with cartridges.
Just because pairs of guns are associated with the biggest and best days does not mean the average sportsman should discount them – they don?t have to be bank-breaking to be useful.
A good pair of guns provides you with a bit of extra insurance, meaning a broken firing pin on that special day you?ve been looking forward to all year isn?t going to be the end of the world. Instead, you can take out an identical gun, fitted exactly to you, and pick up where you left off.
This might pose a problem for some shooters, as there can be no excuse for you hitting the mark with one gun and not with the other!
A SOUND INVESTMENT
If you can?t see yourself ever needing to double up on a shoot day, a pair of guns might nevertheless be a great investment, as you could have the guns choked differently, meaning you have two guns which you know are comfortable and familiar, but which can perform admirably on different quarry.
For example, you might have one gun prepared for traditional lowground partridges, and another gun tightly choked for high driven pheasants.
Pairs of guns come in two forms: matched and composed. A composed pair is generally two unrelated guns of the same type or specification, put together by a maker.
Matched pairs, meanwhile, are two guns made consecutively with the same stock blanks and the same craftsmen producing each part of the gun to the same specification and standard.
While traditionally the preserve of the best British makers, makers such as Beretta can manufacture matched or composed pairs to order.
This might take the form of two mass-produced guns such as the Silver Pigeon with consecutive serial numbers being put together, or a pair of bespoke hand-made guns being produced to order.
You might also take an old gun to a maker such as Purdey, and ask them to create a new gun to match it.
MAKE YOUR CHOICE CAREFULLY
As you might expect, there is a slight premium for pairs of guns, that is they will cost more than the price of two individual but unmatched guns together.
However, rather oddly, when buying new you are more likely to have to pay extra to a European maker for a new pair of guns, whereas the big English makers most likely won?t charge anything extra for a bespoke set.
Pairs of guns have been very popular since the first growth of driven game shooting in the UK, so you should not discount buying a pair of guns from a less well-known manufacturer.
Atkin, Grant & Lang, for example, produced some absolutely wonderful pairs of guns, and there are some excellent English boxlock pairs available.
Indeed, a good pair of hand-made English boxlocks, matched or composed, might make a better investment than a single English sidelock for the same price.
As with any gun, before buying you should do everything you can to be sure of what you?re getting – with pairs you just have to be doubly sure!
Wherever possible it is a very good idea to check with the original records of the gunmakers to ensure you are getting what you think you are.
The big London houses and some Birmingham makers still have their original records, and will be able to give you a complete picture of the guns, including when they were made and who made them, along with more technical details such as their serial numbers and stock and barrel measurements.
Don?t turn down a pair of guns just because one has had a new set of barrels or a new stock – just be sure that any inconsistencies are reflected in their price.
Ideally, they would come in their original case as this will add some value but any good gun shop should at least provide a leather slip or case with a major investment such as this.
Finally, remember that these guns should make you smile every time you take them out of their case.
They should be a pleasure to shoot with, to look at and to own and should one day be a great gift to pass down.
AYA No.2 sidelocks
This superb matched pair was made in the 1970s, aping the dimensions and style of the Churchill XXV which was very popular at the time.
As such they have short 25″ barrels and 15″ stocks. They are very light but being 12-bore they are still entirely useable on a wide range of quarry.
They are not just for those schooled in the efficient Churchill style of shooting, however, being a delight to handle and shoot.
These examples still retain much of their colour-hardened finish, as you would expect of any gun of this age, which shows off the best London-style rose and scroll engraving.
These guns are entirely built and finished by hand and good quality examples will sit quite happily alongside the best British guns of the period.
The hand finishing really shines through in the balance and handling characteristics of the gun – that time has been spent here by the craftsmen is evident the moment you pick it up.
Both guns are choked at half and a quarter, which is fine for most driven shooting, and the chambers come in at two and three quarter inches, meaning they will quite happily take most modern cartridges.
A new pair of these guns in a similar specification would cost something in the region of £12,500 today, a similar price to a new pair of Beretta EELLs.
As such, they represent tremendous value and would certainly make for a happy bank manager as much as a happy owner.
This is a composed pair of guns which was put together by the makers themselves. They were matched in Birmingham, both being double-trigger 12-bores with 28″ barrels with identical stock dimensions and very closely matched wood and engraving.
A slight difference in engraving (thanks to two different engravers working on the guns) is the only way an untrained or uninformed eye might spot that this is not a matched pair.
Both guns handle superbly and feature blacked trigger guards, top-levers and base plates.
They also retain a good amount of the original colour hardened finish. The stocks are a particular highlight, being superbly finished and featuring an unusual and attractive layering to the grain of the wood.
The straight hand grip of the stock is very slim, and wood-to-metal fit is excellent.
Being boxlocks, they will be extremely reliable and easy to repair, and also keep the balance of the gun nicely between the hands, counteracting the weight of the barrels.
They feature a push-rod fore-end and very attractive, understated engraving with the Gallyon signature Cornucopia engraved onto the trigger guard.
The chamber length of 2.1/2″ is something to watch out for on older hand-made sporting guns, as you should be careful not to use longer cartridges which can damage the barrels.
With a brand new pair of sidelock ejector sporting shotguns from the big three London manufacturers of Boss, Purdey and Holland & Holland likely to set you back anything from £150,000-£200,000 today, a second-hand pair of best English guns is a cracking way to buy your way into the créme de la créme of sporting guns.
Totally finished by hand, with hundreds of hours of work going into each gun, these guns really are worth the asking price.
Built in the 1970s, the standard of materials used and finishing on these guns is second to none, which is unusual for sporting guns from this period.
Mechanically, you will be hard-pressed to find a gun of this age which is not absolutely sound, however there can be quite a wide variation on the standards of finishing.
There are no such qualms here, however, with beautifully oiled, highly figured wood and some colour remaining on the side plates.
The rose and scroll engraving is delightful, and the major pins and bolts have been blued.
This pair have 28″ barrels, are single trigger and also have a lovely horn-capped Prince of Wales style grip.