Learning to Shoot with the Wrong Eye
The 26 years between WW1 and WW2 are often hailed as the Golden Age of English gun making. It was a happy co-incidence; the period saw many gun makers trained the old way, who spent a lifetime specialising in one trade and were at the very peak of their powers. It was also notable that shotgun design had reached the modern era. Side-lock ejectors had, by then, taken their now-familiar forms and ejectors and single triggers had achieved maturity and reliability.
However, something else had occurred that posed an issue for gunmakers and their clients and because of it we still encounter guns made to compensate for injuries sustained in battle. Best gunmakers used their skills and ingenuity to fashion guns that enable the maimed to pursue their sport.
Losing an eye for a shooting man is an obvious problem. It is one I found myself contemplating when a hunting trip to Africa last year left me with a severe corneal abrasion: the result of getting poked in the right eye by a sharp twig while pushing through the bush.
The problems with healing this injury and the resultant vision impairment caused me to muse on the difficulties of losing the sight in your shooting eye. Then a gun arrived in stock which offered a solution. Someone, perhaps a returning soldier, had asked Boss to build him a special gun in 1919. It was to enable him to shoot from his right shoulder but sight down the barrel using his left eye. Happily, my injury was not so severe but I decided to experiment with the Boss to see how well one could adjust if required, using such a gun.
The gun in question is in most respects reflective of the period. It is a best quality bar-action side-lock ejector, made with 30” damascus barrels and a Boss patent single trigger. As one would expect, it is cased with accessories and very much typical except for the fact the entire gun has been custom built to sweep across the face and enable the left eye to look down the rib when the butt hits the right shoulder pocket.
It is a remarkable piece of gun making. Every component is swept. The stock, as one would expect, has a cross-over hand. The trigger plate and top-strap are made to follow the bend of the stock. Even the lock plates are convex, the left (inner) plate being shorter than the outer one to give the impression of symmetry.
Incidentally, it was re-barreled in 1975 by Boss with 28” steel barrels and a whole sequence of letters from Boss to the then owner reflect the process of negotiation, cost (£450), estimate of value of the gun (£1,200) and problems (the post office lost the new barrels in transit!).
A cross-over stock is like any stock- one size does not fit all. The usual measurements have to be accounted for regarding length, drop, comb height, butt sole length, cast at heel, cast at toe etc; in addition to the crossover dimensions, which will vary according to shoulder width, chest musculature, face width and numerous other variables. Fortunately for me and this experiment, when I put the gun to my shoulder and closed my right eye, down the rib looked my left! Physically I had something I could work with. The rest was going to depend on my ability to adapt, something the original owner would also have had to face. Just as I was about to begin experimenting with the learning process, I got a call from a client. He was looking for a gun for his son, who was approaching his twenty first birthday. He has lost sight in his right eye during a snowball fight some years earlier and had learned to shoot with a cheap cross-over stocked boxlock. Now it was time to try something better quality. The Boss might fit the bill.
The only way to be sure about fit is for the client to try the gun, so off it went for a trial. So many variables potentially spoil the fit but in this case, fortune favoured us. The father called to say his son had shot beautifully with the Boss and that he couldn’t believe how well it swung. Unfortunately, the ejectors were at fault, so a couple of new springs and a bit of adjustment later, we had it all working to my satisfaction and the Boss was on its way to a happy new owner.