A PAIR FOR A GENT­LE­MAN

On­ly for tho­se who are se­ri­ous a­bout wings­hoot­ing.

SA Jagter Hunter - - VOORBLAD -

JO­HAN VAN WYK

I­think o­w­ning a fi­ne, ma­t­ched pair of cu­s­tom-fit­ted, best-qu­a­li­ty shot­guns is the ul­ti­ma­te any shot­gun­ner can wish for. Such pairs (and e­ven tri­os and quar­tets of guns in so­me in­stan­ces) we­re tur­ned out in re­la­ti­ve­ly mo­dest num­bers by so­me of Eng­land’s fi­nest ma­kers such as Boss, Pur­dey, Hol­land & Hol­land and ot­hers. In ma­ny in­stan­ces the­se guns we­re u­sed by well-to-do gent­le­men who in­sis­ted on shoot­ing their bi­rds with the fi­nest guns t­hat could be had at the ti­me.

The re­a­so­ning be­hind a ma­t­ched pair of guns ca­me a­bout as a re­sult of the g­re­at dri­ven shoots of Ed­war­di­an ti­mes. The i­dea was, fir­st­ly, to ha­ve a pair of guns with i­den­ti­cal di­men­si­ons so t­hat they could be u­sed in­ter­chan­ge­a­bly wit­hout ad­jus­t­ment or in­con­ve­nien­ce, and se­cond­ly to pro­vi­de se­ri­ous and sus­tai­ned fi­re­po­wer w­hen the bi­rds we­re re­al­ly flying. In al­most all in­stan­ces the shoo­t­ers ma­de use of lo­a­ders who stood be­hind them and upon re­cei­ving an emp­ty gun, ex­chan­ged it for a lo­a­ded one.

With the guns being vir­tu­al­ly i­den­ti­cal they al­lo­wed for con­ti­nu­ous accu­ra­te shoot­ing and the re­sult of­ten was a hu­ge num­ber of bi­rds being broug­ht to bag. O­w­ners­hip of a ma­t­ched pair of guns du­ring e­ar­lier ti­mes was of­ten a pret­ty fair in­di­ca­ti­on of the o­w­ner’s pro­wess as a ga­me shot as well as his fi­nan­ci­al for­ti­tu­de. It has to be said though t­hat fair num­bers of mo­re mo­de­st­ly-pri­ced box-lock guns we­re al­so ma­de as pairs at the re­quest of cu­s­to­mers.

One of the most fa­mous ga­me shots was Lord Ri­pon. T­his es­tee­med gent­le­man was a Pur­dey cu­s­to­mer and did his shoot­ing with a trio of 12-bo­re Pur­dey ham­mer e­jec­tor guns. Two of the­se we­re ma­de to his spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons as a pair in 1894 and the

thi­rd gun was ad­ded two y­e­ars la­ter. Ri­pon was so­mew­hat of a le­gend in his own ti­me and kept very ca­re­ful count of the num­bers of ga­me he shot o­ver the y­e­ars: his to­tal bag was a stag­ge­ring 556 813 he­ad of ga­me! The li­on’s share of t­his was shot with his Pur­dey ham­mer guns and with the help of a pair of well-trai­ned lo­a­ders.

W­HAT MA­KES A PAIR?

W­hen scru­ti­ni­sing the lis­ts of guns of­fe­red for sa­le by aucti­on hou­ses so­me pairs of guns are of­ten des­cri­bed as a com­po­sed pair. W­hat t­his me­ans is t­hat they we­re not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly ma­nu­fac­tu­red as a true ma­t­ched pair but rat­her t­hat so­me at­tempt was ma­de at a la­ter sta­ge to get their me­a­su­re­ments as c­lo­se to i­den­ti­cal as pos­si­ble, or e­ven t­hat a se­cond gun was ma­de at a la­ter sta­ge to ma­tch the first one. O­ver ti­me ma­ny pairs of fi­ne guns we­re se­pa­ra­ted for va­ri­ous re­a­sons and sold or pas­sed on to new o­w­ners. Of­ten, a fat­her be­que­at­hed his pair of fi­ne guns to his two sons, in­e­vi­ta­bly as­su­ring t­hat they would be split up and be pas­sed on in two dif­fe­rent legs of the family or e­ven sold at so­me sta­ge. T­he­re is e­ven a spe­ci­a­list gun de­a­ler in the UK de­di­ca­ted to ma­t­ching up pairs of guns a­gain, alt­hough I’m not su­re how success­ful he is.

A true pair de­no­tes guns t­hat we­re ma­de from the out­set to be i­den­ti­cal to e­ach ot­her with con­se­cu­ti­ve se­ri­al num­bers. Such a pair would u­su­al­ly be fit­ted with bar­rels of si­mi­lar length and cho­kes, stoc­ked with a pair of wal­nut blanks t­hat we­re ca­re­ful­ly se­lected to look as si­mi­lar as pos­si­ble, and be stoc­ked to i­den­ti­cal di­men­si­ons. In ad­di­ti­on, the acti­ons, bar­rels and ma­jor parts of e­ach gun in a true pair would be ca­re­ful­ly mar­ked as well (u­su­al­ly with a gold-in­laid “1” or “2”) to a­void a mix-up as they we­re not as a ru­le in­ter­chan­ge­a­ble. True pairs of guns, w­hen ca­sed up to­get­her and in good con­di­ti­on, are highly soug­ht af­ter to­day. In­te­res­tingly, so­me »

» of the bet­ter gun ma­kers still ma­ke true pairs to­day.

So­me of the re­al­ly well-heeled e­ven had pairs of dou­ble rifles ma­de up for use on dan­ge­rous ga­me, pre­su­ma­bly w­he­re they ex­pected to en­coun­ter li­ons, ti­gers or buf­fa­lo by the do­zen. True pairs of dou­ble rifles are ex­cee­dingly ra­re (not to men­ti­on ex­pen­si­ve) but they are out t­he­re. They are, ac­cor­ding to an Aus­tra­li­an friend of mi­ne, “the ul­ti­ma­te gent­le­man’s acces­so­ry”, per­haps be­cau­se he o­wns just such a pair of .450/400 NE’s!

The pair of Rig­by 12-bo­re si­de­lock e­jec­tor guns in the ac­com­pa­nying pho­to­grap­hs hap­pens to be a true pair. As a ma­ker, Rig­by is most of­ten as­so­ci­a­ted with rifles and the firm rig­ht­ly gai­ned fa­me for their re­li­a­ble Rig­by/Mau­ser bolt-acti­on rifles as well as their su­perb dou­ble rifles cham­be­red for car­trid­ges such as the .450 NE and .470 NE. W­hat is less well kno­wn, ho­we­ver, is t­hat Rig­by ma­de a lar­ge num­ber of shot­guns o­ver the y­e­ars t­hat could com­pe­te qu­a­li­ty-wi­se with the best of the ot­her fa­mous gun ma­kers of the ti­me.

SI­DE-LE­VERS, BAR­RELS, ACTI­ONS

The guns un­der dis­cus­si­on he­re are ob­vi­ous­ly best qu­a­li­ty si­de­lock e­jec­tors and upon ex­a­mi­na­ti­on they ha­ve a few in­te­res­ting and ra­re­ly-en­coun­te­red fe­a­tu­res, if you know w­hat to look for. Fir­st­ly and most ob­vi­ous­ly, they are fit­ted with si­de­le­vers for o­pe­ning the acti­ons. Si­de-le­vers we­re most of­ten as­so­ci­a­ted with ma­kers such as S­te­phen Grant who ha­bi­tu­al­ly fit­ted them to their guns and for w­hom they be­ca­me so­mew­hat of a tra­de­mark.

If me­mo­ry ser­ves me rig­ht, I ha­ve en­coun­te­red a to­tal of five vin­ta­ge Rig­by si­de-locks fit­ted with si­de-le­vers: the guns pic­tu­red he­re, a si­mi­lar pair in 16-bo­re I saw at a shoot ma­ny y­e­ars ago, and a .303 dou­ble o­w­ned by a friend who al­so hap­pens to be an a­vid Rig­by col­lec­tor. So­me­w­he­re in the wor­ld in so­mebo­dy’s well-guar­ded vault t­he­re may be a stash of Rig­by si­de-le­ver guns ca­re­ful­ly hid­den a­way but I reckon I am on re­a­so­na­bly so­lid ground by clai­ming t­hat si­de-le­ver o­pe­ning Rig­by guns and rifles are pret­ty ra­re.

As t­his pair was ma­de in 1895 they we­re o­ri­gi­nal­ly p­roof­ed for black po­w­der on­ly, as was the norm then. In 2011, ho­we­ver, the guns we­re sub­jected to a com­pre­hen­si­ve pro­fes­si­o­nal re­fur­bishment in B­ri­tain. In the pro­cess, the co­lour ca­se-har­de­ning was re­ne­wed and the bar­rels on both guns we­re ca­re­ful­ly me­a­su­red for thickness. With ma­ny vin­ta­ge guns, the bar­rels are of­ten on the thin si­de as a re­sult of ho­ning out due to the use of am­mu­ni­ti­on lo­a­ded with cor­ro­si­ve pri­mers and im­pro­per cle­a­ning, but in t­his in­stan­ce it was found t­hat the bar­rels of

both guns we­re still in ex­cel­lent con­di­ti­on, so much so in fact, t­hat the cham­bers we­re leng­the­ned to 2¾-in­ches from the o­ri­gi­nal 2½-in­ches and the guns sub­mit­ted for re­p­roof to the Lon­don P­roof Hou­se. Need­less to say, both guns pas­sed re­p­roof­ing with flying co­lours and it is per­fect­ly sa­fe to fi­re mo­dern 2¾-inch am­mu­ni­ti­on lo­a­ded with le­ad shot in them.

The re­la­ti­ve­ly short, 28-inch bar­rels (for the ti­me) are a­not­her fe­a­tu­re of t­his true pair. To­day, 28-inch bar­rels are very much accep­ted as a good length for a 12-bo­re, si­de-by-si­de ga­me gun but in the 1890s lon­ger (30 in­ches or so) bar­rels we­re con­si­de­red es­sen­ti­al and it was re­al­ly on­ly by the 1920s t­hat s­lig­ht­ly shor­ter bar­rels be­ca­me po­pu­lar. Ma­ny ma­kers then star­ted pro­du­cing lig­ht­weig­ht guns with the­se “short” bar­rels. E­ven though I cur­rent­ly shoot guns with 30-inch bar­rels I don’t ha­ve a pro­blem with 28-inch bar­rels and t­his pair hand­les just fi­ne. Ho­we­ver, shor­ter than 28 in­ches is u­su­al­ly a pro­blem for so­me pe­op­le.

Not­wit­hstan­ding any of the guns’ ot­her fi­ne fe­a­tu­res, it is ac­tu­al­ly the acti­ons they are built on t­hat ma­ke them so de­si­ra­ble as col­lec­tor’s pie­ces. In 1879 Rig­by, al­ong with T­ho­mas Bis­sell a Lon­don acti­on-fi­ler and bar­rel ma­ker, re­gis­te­red Pa­tent No 1141 for a me­ans of “ver­ti­cal/ ho­ri­zon­tal bol­ting for drop-do­wn guns”. T­his de­sign e­ven­tu­al­ly be­ca­me kno­wn as the Rig­by ri­sing-bi­te de­sign, alt­hough Marc Ne­w­ton, Rig­by’s cur­rent ma­na­ging di­rec­tor, was ca­re­ful to point out to me so­me y­e­ars ago t­hat the de­sign is ac­tu­al­ly mo­re accu­ra­te­ly des­cri­bed as a ri­sing-bolt de­sign, for re­a­sons which I shall at­tempt to ex­plain.

In ad­di­ti­on to the al­most u­ni­ver­sal­ly accep­ted dou­ble Pur­dey un­der-bol­ting, the ri­sing-bi­te de­sign ma­kes use of a rib ex­ten­si­on t­hat ends in an al­most horses­hoe-shaped loop. W­hen the acti­on is clo­sed the un­der­lugs s­li­de in­to position and the loop is fil­led by two pos­ts, one fixed and one which s­li­des up as the acti­on is clo­sed and ma­tes with the loop. As the acti­on is o­pe­ned a­gain the loop ri­ses whil­st the mo­va­ble post sinks a­way in­to the acti­on, hen­ce the des­crip­ti­on of ri­sing-bi­te, e­ven if it is in ac­tu­al fact the bolt t­hat ri­ses out of the acti­on to meet the loop. They we­re in­deed al­so des­cri­bed as ver­ti­cal-bolt guns and rifles in the Rig­by led­gers and we­re ma­de as bar-acti­ons si­de-locks with cha­rac­te­ris­tic dip­ped-ed­ge lock-pla­tes.

Ri­sing-bi­te acti­ons we­re re­no­w­ned for their strength and a­bi­li­ty to wit­hstand count­less num­bers of he­a­vy lo­ads. They e­ar­ned an en­vi­a­ble re­pu­ta­ti­on for re­li­a­bi­li­ty and strength and ce­men­ted Rig­by’s re­pu­ta­ti­on as a ma­ker of fi­ne dou­ble guns and rifles. On the ne­ga­ti­ve si­de, though, ri­sing-bi­te acti­ons we­re ex­tre­me­ly dif­fi­cult to fit and fi­nish and re­qui­red an ex­tra­or­di­na­ry a­mount of ex­pert hand fi­ling and fi­nis­hing to ma­ke them work li­ke the well-oi­led ma­chi­nes they we­re. T­his al­so dic­ta­ted t­hat ri­sing-bi­te acti­ons we­re au­to­ma­ti­cal­ly re­ser­ved for on­ly the most ex­pen­si­ve guns and rifles, put­ting them well out of re­ach of the mo­re ple­bei­an ranks who had to be con­tent with che­a­per al­ter­na­ti­ves.

By 1910, the ri­sing-bi­te acti­on was pret­ty much a thing of the past as it was just too dif­fi­cult to ma­nu­fac­tu­re. Rig­by tur­ned to ot­her de­signs for their best guns and from t­his pe­ri­od on­wards ma­de ex­ten­si­ve use of We­b­ley screw-grip acti­ons, both si­de­lock and box-lock, for all their gra­des of dou­ble guns and rifles. A stock of ri­sing-bi­te acti­ons must still ha­ve been on hand, though. A friend of mi­ne o­wns an ex­qui­si­te ri­sing-bi­te .470 NE ma­de for an En­g­lish no­ble­man in 1912. Rig­by’s led­gers show the last pair of ri­sing-bi­tes, a pair of rifles with i­den­ti­cal stock di­men­si­ons cham­be­red for the .350 No 2 and .405 Win­ches­ter, re­specti­ve­ly, we­re sold to the Ma­ha­ra­ja of Ka­rau­li in 1932.

De­spi­te the fact t­hat the ri­sing-bi­te was al­lo­wed to die out, the re­con­sti­tu­ted Rig­by re­sur­rected the de­sign a­gain in re­cent y­e­ars, and or­ders for 12-bo­re e­jec­tors we­re a­mongst the first re­cei­ved by the fac­to­ry. With the aid of mo­dern ma­nu­fac­tu­ring techni­ques and com­pu­ter-as­sis­ted de­sign and ma­nu­fac­tu­ring, e­ven the daun­ting ri­sing-bi­te could be re­sur­rected and in y­e­ars to co­me s­mall num­bers of t­his le­gen­da­ry de­sign will gra­ce the ga­me fields a­gain.

THE RIG­BY PAIR

T­his brings me back to the vin­ta­ge pair of Rig­by’s. At a s­vel­te 6lbs 7oz oun­ces e­ach, cho­ked just a­bout Mo­di­fied and Im­pro­ved Cy­lin­der and with 14⅝” lengt­hs of pull, they are ne­ar i­de­al for much of the shoot­ing we do in South A­fri­ca. E­ven though they we­re pro­ba­bly i­ni­ti­al­ly or­de­red for (and ex­ten­si­ve­ly u­sed on) a ste­a­dy diet of En­g­lish phe­a­sants or per­haps e­ven S­cot­tish grou­se, t­he­re is no re­a­son why they shouldn’t work just fi­ne on gui­nea-fo­wl, fran­co­lin and so­me ot­her A­fri­can ga­me bi­rds. T­he­re is al­so so­mething a­bout a si­de-le­ver si­de-lock e­jec­tor t­hat is dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to so­meo­ne who has not hand­led and shot with one. It is a dis­tin­guis­hing fe­a­tu­re li­ke few ot­hers and it shouts “best qu­a­li­ty” rig­ht a­cross a Lim­po­po bushveld cle­a­ring or Free Sta­te pan.

With a com­pre­hen­si­ve B­ri­tish re­fur­bis­hing be­hind them, t­his pair of guns is re­a­dy for the next cen­tu­ry or so of se­ri­ous wings­hoot­ing. The pre­sent o­w­ner has re­cent­ly re­ti­red from wings­hoot­ing and has put up the Rig­bys for sa­le.

I vi­si­ted the de­a­ler who is doing the sa­le and had a good look at the pair. I snap­ped the bar­rels and acti­ons to­get­her, threw both guns to my shoul­der and snap­ped the locks on snap­caps. They har­ken back to e­ar­lier ti­mes w­hen bi­rds we­re plen­ti­ful, po­li­ti­cs less com­pli­ca­ted and a gent­le­man was still a gent­le­man. And e­very gent­le­man who cal­led him­self a shoot­ing man had a fi­ne pair of guns to ma­tch!

A fi­ne pair of shot­guns in a ma­de-to-or­der oak and le­at­her ca­se must rank as one of the ul­ti­ma­te luxu­ry i­tems for a man who is se­ri­ous a­bout shoot­ing.

TOP AND LEFT: Si­de­le­ver o­pe­ning guns are mo­re of­ten as­so­ci­a­ted with ma­kers such as Grant but t­his pair of Rig­by shot­guns fe­a­tu­res e­le­gant­ly-shaped si­de­le­vers t­hat b­lend with the pro­fi­le of the acti­on and is ex­tre­me­ly ple­a­sing to look at.

A pair of guns such as the­se best-qu­a­li­ty Rig­by 12 bo­res we­re most of­ten u­sed with a pair of lo­a­ders in at­ten­dan­ce to e­na­ble the shoo­t­er to shoot as ra­pid­ly as pos­si­ble.

A­not­her view of a ri­sing-bi­te acti­on, t­his ti­me of a 1912 vin­ta­ge .470 NE dou­ble rifle with the bar­rels at­ta­ched. No­te the horses­hoe-shaped rib ex­ten­si­on t­hat ma­tes with the bolt t­hat ri­ses from the acti­on as it is clo­sed.

As men­ti­o­ned in the ar­ti­cle, t­his pair of Rig­by guns was ma­de on w­hat is cal­led a ri­sing-bi­te acti­on. He­re, the acti­on of the num­ber 2 gun is sho­wn with the bar­rels re­mo­ved and the si­de-le­ver de­pres­sed.

Newspapers in Afrikaans

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.