‘Doc’ Carver was a professional exhibition and championship shooter, whose heyday was the last quarter of the 19th Century.
Carver wasn't really a doctor but he was a very good shot who competed alongside a number of other American 'crack shots' of the late Victorian era, like ‘Capt.’ Bogardus (he wasn’t a real captain) and Annie Oakley. International competitions were hard-fought and impressive silver cups and a lot of cash changed hands.
live-pigeon trap competitions were the grand prix events of the day.
British shooters visited the US to shoot and American shooters travelled to Britain for the same purpose. Competitions ranged from live-pigeon to glass ball to tera-cotta pigeon targets. The live-pigeon trap competitions were the grand prix events of the day.
Gunmakers gained a good deal of kudos when their guns were used by a winning competitor. They were, therefore keen to see their guns in the hands of such men (and in the case of 'Little Sure Shot' Annie Oakley, women).
A gun arrived recently which made me think of the shooting stances some of these competitors then adopted; Carver, in particular. He is illustrated here at the traps.
His stance is straight backed and upright, ram-rod straight. With his gun to his shoulder, he has his left arm pointing straight forwards, gripping the barrels at the full extension of his arm. It looks most peculiar to modern viewers, though very similar to the stance of fellow competitor Capt. Brewer.
The stock dimensions are most unusual by modern standards with drop at comb of 2 1/4", drop at heel 3 1/4" and a length from front trigger to centre of butt being just 13 1/2".
If I put my cheek to the face in the usual manner, I'm staring into the back of my thumb joint. Only looking at the picture of Carver shooting trap does it make any sense. By standing a his illustration suggests, the rib comes into line with the eye.
Whatever we may think of this stiff, limiting style, it clearly worked for a good exponent. Carver came to England in 1879 and wrote to the London magazine ‘Bell’s Life’ challenging; ‘I will shoot any man in England a match for £1,000 a side. 100 birds each. Or, I will shoot the two best men that England can produce for £1,000 a side at 400 pigeons. I shoot 200 and my opponents shoot 100 each. The match is to commence and finish the same day. 30 yards rise and English rules.’
Carver signs off ‘Dr. William F. Carver, Champion Rifle Shot of the World’. For perspective, £1,000 in 1880 was the equivalent of £120,000 today. So, Carver was putting a lot of money where his mouth was.
True to his word, Carver toured the country and competed against the best English pigeon shots of the day, beating them all (losing only once) and winning a lot of money in the process. For example, he took £400 beating Mr W. Scott in 1881 at the Welsh Harp in Hendon, and tied a £500 a side competition with Archibald Stuart-Wortley a year later.
Returning to Carver’s relationship with W.W. Greener; the first guns Greener built for Carver were Anson & Deeley actions with top levers and side safety catches, No.16872 is recorded in the ledgers. However in 1880, Greener invented the ‘Facile Princeps’, a body action gun on a similar principle to the Anson & Deeley but cocking by a swivel or hook on the front lump, rather than by cocking dogs linking into slots in the forend to form a lever.
The Facile Princeps became Greener’s signature model and throughout his writing career he extolled the superiority of this over side-lock models. The Facile Princeps then developed ejectors, first the Greener ‘self-acting ejector, then various others.
Old guns with Greener ejector work are very hard to keep in good order, few modern gunsmiths now being able to regulate them properly. So, the fact that the gun I picked up is a non-ejector model is a bonus.
Carver used a Greener gun weighing 7 1/4 lbs to kill 50 pigeons straight in a match in 1884. Greener also provided guns to noted competition shots Count Gajoli, J.A.R. Elliott and H.C. Pennell.
Doc Carver was not alone in adopting this style of stance at the traps, Capt. Brewer, another noted shot stands in a very similar manner, with arm stretched out down the barrels of the gun.
Ergonomically, this stance appears to give a natural pointing movement, down the straight arm, at the bird, but it restricts swing. This is less hindering in a trap setting than it would be with driven birds.
The classic Greener is bolted by his patent ‘Treble Wedge Fast’ system of Purdey double under-bolt and an additional cross bolt and rib extension, bolting through the fences to provide a third grip. That system is in place in this twenty-guinea model.
Despite its age, the gun (serial Number 31646) shows no signs of restoration or re-finishing. It has been re-proofed and I have the receipts for the work from the proof house, carried out in 1981at a cost of £5.75p. The chambers are 3” and proof tested to 3 1/2 tons per square inch.
The action retains a good percentage of original case colour and the dark stock sports a few scars and dents but is sound and original, as is the un re-cut chequer.
The browning on the Damascus barrels has worn but the figure remains visible and the gun appears remarkably clean and sharp.
I decided to try adopting Carver’s shooting stance and took the Greener to my local clay ground to see how it (and I) performed.
To see how it went, have a look at the short film that will follow next issue.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on