Beautifully balanced and elegant, this could be just the thing for those looking to shoot high birds with a side-by-side, says Matt Hunt
Being of a certain age, I remember the William Powell catalogue arriving via Royal Mail as the harbinger of the coming season. Though it was full of all things new and exciting, I never dwelt on the pages of tweed suits and leather goods but turned straight to the back where the William Powell shotgun range was to be admired. The images of these timeless sidelocks are still vivid in my memory and it is hard to believe that William Powell has been producing this Continental range for more than 20 years.
Working with Spanish artisan gunmaker Arrieta, Peter Powell developed a stunning range of guns to fit all budgets. These guns were conventional bar-action sidelocks available in round and square actions, all with chopper-lump barrels and the Southgate ejector system. Other options for assisted opening and a range of finishes allowed for a bespoke product to be obtained at a fraction of the cost of a London gun. It was a huge success and when Mark and Christine Osborne took ownership of William Powell in 2008, the range was expanded with the addition of an over-and-under range made by Battista Rizzini in Italy.
In 2017 Arrieta sadly ceased trading, leaving a hole in the established range for a new sidelock. The bar was high and the William Powell team set a series of parameters for the new replacement: it had to look exceptional, handle beautifully and be future proof. The result is the Viscount sidelock.
The Viscount, made in partnership with Battista Rizzini, is a back-action sidelock with dovetail barrels that is available in 12-, 16- and 20-bore options and a range of barrel lengths. The stock is custom-made to your measurements following a gunfitting in the UK. The gun tested was a 20-bore with 30in barrels and a 15¼in stock, straight-hand grip and double triggers. The barrels have a traditional concave game rib that tapers to the muzzle, and the chokes are fixed half and half. The CIP mark for high-performance steel and the fleur-de-lys stamp for magnum steel prove the gun is capable of digesting all available steel and lead cartridges.
The back action locks allow the action to appear fine and slim with a narrow table and barrels neatly fitting into the action balls. It reminded me of the Baker patent sidelocks of the 1930s used by William Powell but made famous by the Charles Lancaster Twelve Twenty, among others. I liked the double beading of the action body and the detonation around the fences.
The engraving is a traditional fine rose and scroll over a coin finish but it lacks sparkle and depth. The profile of the stock is good — nicely figured walnut with good back colour and pleasing contrast with warm golds and ebony black grain. This is not the case with the fore-end, which is much darker with little figuring, detracting from the overall appearance.
The straight-hand grip has a good radius and feels slim and familiar. The comb is well positioned and allows a comfortable hand position, though the look reminded me of an over-finished Purdey from the 1890s. The stock has a hand-finished quality, the wood grain is well filed and the chequering pattern laid out perfectly. The wood-to-metal fit is exceptional and the drop points are a traditional and pleasing size and shape.
Need to know
- Manufacturer William Powell
- Model Viscount
- Action Sidelock ejector
- Calibre 20-bore
- Barrel 30in
Importer William Powell
The Viscount is beautifully balanced, elegant and a joy to shoot. It opens and closes with a solid feel and trigger-pulls are crisp. Carrying it over the arm to my favourite spinney, it felt light and comfortable. We arrived at the point where a Cotswold dry-stone wall meets the tree line and it wasn’t long before a pigeon obliged us by flying down the line of the wall. Though I managed to miss with the first shot, the second connected perfectly. The gun felt familiar, like I had used it for years, with no surprises or quirks.
It was the same at the shooting school. On low, fast, simulated grouse targets the gun felt steady and gave confidence to attack longer birds, but it was on the high tower that it felt most at home. The heavier barrels and forward balance meant the gun had ‘heft’ like a target gun, keeping barrel momentum up even on the highest targets.
I really wanted to fall in love with this gun as I know other exciting developments based on this action are on the way from Battista Rizzini. It has been conceived for all the right reasons and it would be wonderful to see more side-by-sides in the field. However, the Italian-made Viscount just lacks the je ne sais quoi of its Spanish-made predecessors.
No doubt the new generation of William Powell customers will embrace this gun as it is prepared and proofed for the future
- Action and barrels 16/20 Barrels felt alive and precise
- Handling 16/20 Forward balance gave the gun ‘heft
- Trigger 15/20 Articulated front trigger poor in design
- Stock 18/20 Improvement on Spanish models
- Value 17/20 Exceptional if you need a custom stock
- Overall score 82/100 A nice gun but lacks that je ne sais quoi