As David Mckay Brown marks his 50th year in gunmaking, Patrick Laurie examines the Scotsman's life in shooting and a special pair of shotguns he has made for an American customer.
What shotgun would you love to be presented with on your anniversary? David Mckay Brown’s (right) half-century in the gun trade will be extra special for one American customer, who is about to come into possession of a very special pair of Glasgow-made shotguns that bear all the hallmarks of this iconic gunmaker’s skill and passion.
The stamp of an English shotgun carries a ringing endorsement wherever shooting folk gather together. In a world of modern design that is often dominated by big-name brands from America, Scandinavia and Europe, English shotguns retain their relevance with a note of classic cool. We might be drawn to Marlon Brando or Gregory Peck, but we always return to David Niven and James Bond. But as with Niven and Bond, there are some wrinkles in the English shotgun’s pedigree. Both Purdey and Boss had strong connections to Scotland, and many of the “coolest” features of the “English” shotgun have their roots North of the border.
Viewed independently, the history of the Scottish sporting gun has taken some unique and extraordinary turns over the past century. This innovative tradition remains alive and well today, and nowhere is it expressed more clearly than in the work of David Mckay Brown, whose presence in the gunmaking world has now been delighting shooting folk for more than half a century.
Building on the traditional “Edinburgh” designs, David’s take on the Dickson trigger plate round action became the foundation for a business based on efficiency, elegance and quintessential Scottishness.
Celebrating 50 years in business in 2017, David has recently completed work on a major project for an American collector. Around 60 per cent of Mckay Brown shotguns head over the Atlantic where an enraptured audience waits with baited breath for every new tweak and revision in David’s work. An American trend towards shooting small-winged game such as quail often means David is asked to make light shotguns in .410 or 28 bore. His 50th anniversary project has been to build a matched set of over-unders in both of those gauges. The American client was keen that the guns should be decorated in a manner befitting their intricate lightness, and from the beginning of the process he was determined to avoid the usual scenes of gundogs and game birds. Working alongside David in the design phase, the client asked for engraving based on butterflies, and this has finally been realised in two of the most exquisite and ornate shotguns it is possible to imagine. The engraving has been elegantly rendered by Italian craftsman at Creative Art in Lombardy, and the work has taken over a year. Minute gold details have been inlaid into dovetail sockets, and the rich colours of the precious metals combine to create an astonishingly threedimensional effect.
It would be easy to mistake these guns for a victory of style over substance, but the barrels “clop” shut with a joyous ring, and even swinging the 28 bore through an imaginary quail in the confines of David’s office revealed the gun is beautifully balanced. Make no mistake – these shotguns will be as lovely to use as they are to look at. The link between design and function has always run through David’s work, and much of this can be traced back to his roots in the shooting field.
A lifetime in fieldsports
David Mckay Brown is a countryman through and through. His entire life has revolved around shooting and wildlife, and his earliest childhood was spent with his father poaching partridges and grouse from the moors around his home in Bellshill, Glasgow. The post-war years saw a surge in poaching, and David’s father was reputedly able to kill an entire covey of grey partridges one by one with his trusty .22 rimfire. The young David accompanied his father and noted every detail.
Determined to make a career with his hands, David was building fishing rods and fiddling with guns in his early teens, and within six months of taking an apprenticeship as a draftsman, he was already drawing guns. Technical ideas of design and engineering were balanced in a life which seemed to swing from dark, lonely workshops to the wide open hills of Argyll. David’s stories of his early life are spellbinding to a modern audience which has grown used to declines in wild game; his stirring tales of capercaillie and black game are enough to make your hair stand on end, but they simply reflect the fact David was just the right man in the right place at the right time. Employed by the Forestry Commission for two years, first as a trapper and then as a ranger, he was given complete sporting control over 26,000 acres along Loch Lomondside, relishing the freedom and joy of the work.
Although much of his work is now carried out at a desk with high-tech software, those rural origins bind his shotguns to a real, practical functionality. Even in the thick of his time as a deer stalker, David’s fascination with gunmaking continued at weekends. After a five-year apprenticeship with the gun trade, he worked on repairs and servicing for Dickson’s in Edinburgh, building a reputation for quality workmanship. David parted company with Dickson’s and set up his own firm in 1967, servicing and repairing shotguns for some of the biggest names in the business and travelling from Cornwall to Caithness in the process. It wasn’t always an easy ride, and the work
“David’s stories of his early life are spellbinding; his tales of capercaillie and black game make your hair stand on end.”
David has spent years honing his skills in his workshop with myriad tools.
the beautifully engraved details were rendered by italian craftsmen in lombardy.