Heritage Guns Accipiter Series shotguns
The Accipiter Series of drop-gauge shotguns started with an 1870s bar action hammergun by Watson Bros. Bought at auction as a stock and action with slotted barrels (to conform to the UK laws governing the sale of out-of-proof shotguns), there was never any doubt that the only future for this gun lay in TIG sleeving. However, rather than sleeving the gun as a 12g, I decided that, given its elegant, slim, lightweight proportions, it would make an excellent basis for a long barrelled 16g, tall bird and clay gun. Judging by post-sale comments from the Watson's first owner, this plan was a great success and so I determined to produce a series of like guns.
Watson Bros 16g Bar Action Hammergun No 4820. Barrels 30" x 2 3/4". 6lb 8oz
The origins of the idea of sleeving guns to a gauge size lower than their original came from a series of conversations with an enthusiastic S/S shooter from Virginia. Being a gentleman of generous height and build, he found normally proportioned guns quite unshootable and we discussed the possibilities of building long barrelled, heavy, sub-gauge guns on actions originally designed for larger gauges.
As it turned out, the target weight that he required was just not possible using a normally proportioned English game gun and so the half-finished project was finished off for stock. This was the second gun in the then unnamed series, an 1890s William Cashmore of Birmingham BLE.
One should not confuse sleeving with lining, a novel process developed by Nigel Teague. Sleeving involves boring out the first 4 or so of the old barrels from the breech end and then cutting off the old tubes, usually at around 3 ¼ from the breech face. A pair of new tubes are then top-hatted into the old breech piece, or monoblock as some would have it, and TIG or Laser welded in place at both the external joint and breech face. This leaves you with a continuous new barrel internally, from breech to muzzle, and the old barrel externally for only 3 ¼. The joint area is normalised to negate brittle cracking and soften the weld zone, the barrels are struck up, ribs re-laid, rim recess and chambers cut, barrel rejointed to the action and then finally the gun is submitted for nitro proof. Say it quickly and it does not sound too big or complicated a job. Believe me, done properly, it takes time and is nothing short of alchemy!
In contrast, Nigel Teagues lining involves the retention of the full length original barrels externally, bored out to accept a full length liner. This is a hugely challenging technical process and I take my hat off to Nigel for developing such a novel process.
And the name for the series? Well, anyone who has spent time round hawks and falcons will know that Accipiter is the genus that includes Goshawks and the European Sparrow hawk among many others. These birds are very proficient hunters, much to the chagrin of many gamekeepers, and often demonstrate power out of all proportion to their size. For example, UK falconers flying female goshawks often specialize in taking brown hares that weigh 2 or 3 times that of their bird. Having personally experienced the potential of a long barrelled drop-gauge for clay and game shooting, I thought the parallel with these fabulous birds of prey was appropriate.
The third gun in the series came from a chance visit to my local gun shop, Simpsons of Newmarket, run by Barry, Sue and Paul Simpson. If the name of Barry Simpson seems familiar it is not surprising as he held the World FITASC Championship title in 1985. Anyway, the visit produced a very cute 1910 20g Westley Richards BLE with thin and heavily pitted barrels. This looked like a perfect candidate for sleeving to 30 x 28g and this is exactly what I did.
After the WR 20/28, I found myself with a left handed 12g by H Clarke and Sons of Leicester. I had been looking for a suitable 16g gun to shoot myself to ascertain whether rebarrelling my late fathers 12g J Blanch & Sons BA SLE to 16g was a worthwhile idea. After almost 4 years of snatching a hour here and an afternoon there to work on the project, I can say that today (May 2015) I finally got to shoot her in anger: 75% on sporting clays is about as good as I ever do and I bettered that on my first outing so it looks good! The configuration and design of the Clarke is very similar to the Blanch and I plan to shoot the Clarke for a full season before making a decision.
H Clarke & Sons 16g Back Action Sidelock Ejector No 10105. 30" x 2 3/4". 7lb 1oz
The next two guns to get the drop-gauge treatment were both made by that doyen of the London gunmaker fraternity, Holland & Holland, but were very different in their style and design. The first was a No 2 model: a back action 12g, converted to ejector around the turn of the C19th, with damascus barrels and lovely, classic H&H style stock. The sleeving to 16g was trouble free but the ejector mechanism has proved more challenging and we have returned it to extractor only.
The second was the H&H flagship model, the Royal and this example had HISTORY! Built in 1892, almost certainly as a 12g Paradox ball and shot gun, we came across it at auction equipped with 30 shotgun barrels. The barrels were thin, badly pitted, dented, bulged and were beyond saving. In contrast to its origins, it again was an excellent candidate for the drop-gauge treatment and recently joined an original 12g 1890 cousin in the gun collection of one of our most loyal customers.
The fifth gun in this series was a bit of a departure for me. Built as a 20g, this sweet little hammergun by WB Barratt featured a Purdey thumblever, very rare in a small gauge, but the parlous state of the barrels meant sleeving and she just cried out for conversion to 28g. Here we kept to the original barrel length of 29, rather than increasing them to 30, and the result was an absolute gem. When undergoing pre-export testing, I totally fell in love with this gun and, like the Westley 20/28 described above, I found she shot far better than I could have hoped.
The last of the series so far is another gun intended for my personal collection. A J Blanch & Son backaction sidelever hammergun, this gun is also going to need a new stock which had been repaired badly after a serious break at the wrist. However, what makes it all worthwhile is the superb rose & scroll engraving: crisp with significant CH remaining. I have already commissioned the TIG sleeving to 29 x 16g x 2 ¾ with interchangeable thin-wall Teague chokes in IC, ¼ & ½ (UK): a perfect gun for driven partridge and early season driven pheasant with the open chokes or challenging January pheasants with the tighter alternatives.
So there you have it: a series of serious game and clay guns built on relatively heavy actions with wand-like barrels. They swing beautifully and, weighing a bit more than one would expect for their adopted gauge size, absorb recoil while not being inordinately heavy. This should mean that the original wood, which is a feature of most of these guns, is not unduly stressed during long chains of shots. Not to mention the user...!
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