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Interested in fine shotguns? Then beware. The three books I’m about to share with you are the ones that started my obsession with double guns. Read them at your own risk; if you find yourself spending all your free nights and weekend on the hunt for your next dream gun, don’t say you weren’t warned

Shotguns and Shooting

Shotguns and Shooting by Michael McIntosh is first.

This compilation of magazine articles by Mr. McIntosh is in two parts: Shotguns–Love, Lore, and Legend and Shooting–Craft, Cartridges, and Controversies.

Overall, it’s a wonderful introduction to double-bbl shotguns and how to shoot them. The author’s style mixes a lot of information with a little romance and some fine story telling skills. The result is informative, entertaining, and a pleasure to read. When you’re done with it, you’ll feel like you’ve been hanging around with a friend who knows a lot about nice guns.

Next is More Shotguns and Shooting, also by Michael McIntosh.

More Shotguns and Shooting

This book picks up where Shotguns and Shooting left off. It’s in three sections: Shotguns–More Love, Lore, and Legend, Shooting–More Craft, Cartridges, and Controversies, and Odds & Ends.

This book has some classic stories in it, including Back to the Future, a story of a certain Purdey, and Being Shot, a story that will convince you to wear shooting glasses whenever you’re in the field.

Michael McIntosh has a number of other excellent books. I recommend all of them, including Best Guns, and a book he co-wrote with ex-Purdey Stocker David Trevallion called Shotgun Technicana.

The last book on my list of the essential threes is Good Guns Again by Stephen Bodio. This editorial review of the book does a good job of summing it up:

Good Guns Again

“Steve covers the world of good guns, from American classic shotguns to the English and Spanish gun makers. He discusses damascus barrels, how to buy a customized gun, how to buy an affordable double for $3,500 or under, big bore rifles, Gun-Trader Blues, and much more.

This is Bodio at his finest, the unleashed, unfettered gun fanatic, haunting the gun shops, evaluating, and offering a unique insight into the world of sporting firearms.”

When you’re done with it, you’ll probably find yourself haunting guns shops, too, looking for your next dream gun.

Edward D. Bailey of Eden Mills, Ontario, thinks it’s their temperament.

Mr. Bailey is one of the founders of NAVHDA – the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.

In this article (pdf) from the Illinois NAVHDA chapter’s website, he talks a little bit about why he believes today’s field trials are turning out dogs with the wrong temperaments.

It’s a interesting and quick read that I’m sure has stirred up a lot of controversy in NAVHDA and field trial circles.

Some interesting quotes::

“Every dog’s particular temperament comes pre-packaged with the dog. It cannot be created as an afterthought.”

and

“So again, do field trials really improve breeds? For the field trials, yes, but for the average hunting dog, they are probably detrimental.”

And here’s a photo of my high-strung field dog. This is Puck, an English Pointer out of Elhew lines.Puck Resting

What a difference two weeks make. The last time I headed out with Puck, there was 2′ of snow in the woods around Portland, ME. This past Saturday, there was almost nothing. Even though the ground was still bare, spring was poking through all around.

This trip gave me the chance to think about the different kind of points I see in the field.

In the covers I checked, the woodcock had dispersed. We found a few , but they weren’t bunched up like they had been two weeks ago. Here’s a pic of Puck pointing woodcock:

Puck pointing a woodcock

This next point turned out to be Ruffed Grouse. Right before this point, Puck missed a group of about 4 grouse. They flushed wild. I was a little disappointed, but Puck redeemed herself with this nice point. In this pic, the bird was about 20 yards ahead when I flushed it.

Puck pointing a grouse

Points: the good and bad.

Along with these finds, Puck had some other good points. She also had some bird less ones.

I never know what to make of unproductive points. When Puck has one, I think the birds either flush wild or slip away. Because Puck holds her point, the scent must be strong and she must think the bird is still there.

Other times, Puck’s bell will stop and by the time find her, she’ll be standing instead pointing. This usually happens after it has taken a me a while to find her – say 10 minutes or more. Here’s a picture of her doing this on Saturday:

Unproductive point

When this happens, I’m guessing the bird walked or flew off before I could get there. Or maybe it flushed wild and Puck stopped to point.

Either way, the bird’s scent must be diminished. Puck’s relaxed posture and attitude seem to be saying “Where you been? We sure missed that one.”

The pro that can be a con.

Last fall I hunted with Bob Foshay (pathfinder@fairpoint.net, 207-845-3162). He’s an excellent Maine Guide out of Washington, ME, who specializes in upland hunting over pointing dogs.

He noted that Puck is very dependent on me in the field – not a bad things for a hunting dog. When we’re in the field, Puck keeps a close eye on where I am. This is one of the reasons why she such a pleasure to hunt over.

But there is a drawbacks to this: when Puck loses track of me, she stops and looks for me. Because her bell stops, I think she’s on point. And then when I move towards her, she relocates me and continues hunting. When it takes us a long time to find another (like when she’s out 100 yards or so), she’ll stop and wait for me to come and find her.

This behavior used to piss me off. I tried a few things to cure Puck of it: whenever she paused, I whoa-ed her and made her stand until I released her.This didn’t help much and it made our training sessions a real pain. Next, I tried calling to her when she paused. When the bell stopped, I hollered to her, encouraging her to continue hunting. This works well. When she pauses, a holler or two lets her know where I am and she’ll move on. If the pause is really a point, she’ll stay still and I’ll know it’s time for me to go find her.

Our next training session is over Mother’s Day weekend. I’ll post again and let you know how it goes. We are going to run in a trial on May 17th and we’re getting excited.

UplandJournal.com is a great online bulletin board. It’s run by my friend Brad Eden and he does a great job with it. Over the past few years it has built up quite a following of knowledgeable, friendly people. I hang out there quite a bit, picking up info, sharing opinions, and basically learning a lot.

GunDogDoc, a board regular, posted these beautiful photos of Prairie Chickens in South Dakota.

Prairie Chickens are beautiful birds. Check them out. Here’s a sample of what you’ll see:

Prairie Chickens

Opening day in South Dakota is a big deal. Real big. Thousands of hunters from around the world flood into Sioux Falls on packed flights. Families and friends come together for the weekend. Guys in camo flock to Cabelas’ store in Mitchell like birds to spilled grain.

It’s easy to understand why. The number of birds you see can see in South Dakota in a day is astonishing — 250+ is pretty easy.

Here’s a pic from opening day in SD a few years ago. This was after about an hour of hunting.

Opening Day South Dakota

Unfortunately, days like these may not exist in the future.

This article from the 4/8 New York Times talks about why: As Prices Rise, Farmers Spurn Conservation Program.

As commodity prices have rocketed up, farmers are putting more land into production — as much as the Rhode Island and Delaware combined — and making more money. Good for them.

Unfortunately, their success is bad for us hunters. A lot of land they’re putting into production used to be set aside for the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). And the less land we have in the CRP, the less birds we’ll see come fall.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency started the CRP in 1985 with the Food Security Act. This program makes annual payments on 10-15 year contracts to people who establish grass, shrub, and tree cover on environmentally sensitive land. The program was reauthorized in the 1996 and 2002 Farm Bills and it is up for reauthorization right now.

To make sure the CRP continues and is well funded, please contact your congress person. Let them know how important this programs is to you and how our hunting dollars impact states like South Dakota.

I also suggest joining groups that support conservation in general. Here are a few I like:

Pheasants Forever

::

Ruffed Grouse Society

::

Trout Unlimited

::

Ducks Unlimited

::

The Izaak Walton League ::

The Nature Conservancy

::

More about the CRP program:

From the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency

From Wikipedia::

More about how the Farm Bills affect on America’s Farms:

Farm Policy Facts

Check out this article from the 4/17 New York Times: Prairie Birds Flirt, and a Town Livens Up

Prairie Chickens

It’s about a town in Missouri that’s being revitalized by the spring rituals of the local population of prairie chickens. It just goes to show how much people will pay to appreciate wildlife, and how important this money can be to local economies.

For a lot of places I visit, hunting season is their busiest time of year. In the long run, I hope this helps all of us – including the animals. As the locals see game populations impacted their wallets, I hope they’ll do all they can to conserve land and maintain bird numbers.

This picture shows two male prairie chickens square off, seeking dominance in the “booming” grounds at the Dunn Ranch in Eagleville, Mo. Ed Zurga for The New York Times.

Amoskeag Auction Company in Manchester, NH, held their 64th auction on Saturday, March 29. The fast-paced sale started at 10 am. By 6:15, they had moved through 1200+ lots.

A number of nice British and American double shotguns were auctioned off, including the guns below: a 28g Greener hammergun, a .410 Watson, and a minty Holland & Holland Royal.

$245 an ounce for this Greener!

This 4lb 11oz 28 gauge W.W. Greener A40 Grade hammergun, cased, in near new, all original condition, brought $18,400 with premium:

Greener 28g hammergun

Twenty-eight gauge English hammerguns are pretty rare. When you do see them, they usually have short bbls and stubby stocks because they were made for small people. So along with this gun’s incredible condition, its 27″ bbls and 14 3/8″ LOP made it very special.

Even though the A40 was one of Greener’s medium-grade hammer guns, this double’s measurements and cracking condition pushed its price up pretty high. Check out the ornate sculpting on those hammers – very Gothic and cool. Something else that’s interesting about this gun: it made in 1912 with damascus bbls. That’s well into the era of smokeless powders and nitro proofing. It looks like Greener had no problem with combining all three.

To learn more about W.W. Greener shotguns, try Graham Greener’s excellent history: The Greener Story. I also recommend the books written by William Wellington Greener, including his classic The Gun and its Development

A nice .410, from London’s premier maker of small bores.

This .410 Watson Bros. side-by-side brought $9,200 with premium, not bad price for a British .410 in excellent condition:

Watson .410 SxS

In 1885, the gunmaker Thomas William Watson handed over his business to his two sons and the firm Watson Bros was born. This company established a reputation for making superb small bore shotguns for women and boys.

This tiny .410 shows how they built that reputation. It was made around 1912 with 26″ bbls, a 13 7/8″ stock. It weighs in 4lbs 3ozs. Even though it’s pretty standard Anson & Deeley action, it’s finished to a high standard and very elegant. Take a look at it’s beautifully engraved action to see the extra polish Watson Bros put into their guns.

In his book American & British 410 Shotguns, Ronald S. Gabriel speaks highly of Watson Bros: “This firm must be considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of small-bore shotgun makers in the history of smoothbores.” Of all the London firms, Watson Bros probably made the most .410s. I’ve seen a few. I also seen their guns in other gauges, including this 28g, this 16g and this sidelock 12g. Nice!

Boss – the guns Kings couldn’t afford.

This minty 20g Boss sidelock cost it’s bidder $51,750, expensive but about half the price of new one.

Boss 20g

Boss & Co is one of the premier names in shotguns. Ever since John Robertson took over the business in 1891, they have built some of the most beautiful hammerless shotguns in the world.

This little 20g is example of good example of just how nice their guns can be. Even though it was made in the 1960s (not a good time for English gunmakers), it’s still beautifully executed.

Boss shotguns have always been expensive. In the past, they cost more than new guns from Purdey and Holland and Holland. This kept a lot of people from purchasing them, including King George VI of England. When asked about buying a Boss, he replied “A Boss gun?! A Boss gun, bloody beautiful, but too bloody expensive!”

At $40, 250, was this H&H Royal a bargain?

This Holland & Holland Royal 12 g had it all and it was well worth it final price — $40,250 with premium:

Holland & Holland Royal 12g

When it comes to English guns, everyone wants to find one in untouched, original condition. This was one of those guns.

Made in 1946, it had it all: 28″ bbls, condition, detachable locks, the self opening mechanism, a hinged front trigger, a decent weight (6lbs, 13oz) a rolled-edge triggerguard, and much more.

Holland & Holland introduced their Royal sidelock in 1885. It featured a revolutionary new hammerless action invented by Henry Holland and John Robertson (the man who made Boss & Co Gunmakers famous). The action and entire gun would be refined over the next decade and around 1895 the Royal as we know it came onto the scene. Later additions to this gun would include detachable locks (1908), the single trigger (1911), and a self-opening mechanism (1922).

Of course, Holland & Holland still makes Royals. Today, a new one runs around $100,000+. I’ve seen a few of them in H&H’s New York store. None of them were as well made as this gun. When you consider that this one cost $60,000 less, you can see why this gun was such a deal.

For the whole story on H & H, check out Donald Dallas’ book: Holland & Holland “Royal Gunmaker” The Complete History. It’s filled with interesting info on this famous maker.

About Amoskeag Auction Company

Buyers and sellers speak highly of the Amoskeag Auction Company. Their catalogs are well produced. Their are a number of color pictures and the descriptions are good. And from what I’ve heard, they pays sellers quickly (something other auctioneers don’t do).

Over the years, I’ve watched this business grow. Judging by its growing facilities, and by the quality pieces and high prices they’re attracting, it looks like its doing well. I met the owners several years ago at a gunshow in Maine years ago and I found both of them to be knowledgeable and helpful. I hope their success continues.

Amoskeag’s next auction in scheduled for May 17th.

All pics in the post are copyright 2008 Amoskeag Auction Company, Inc.

Gregg

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