Snowdrops are fading, daffodils are in full bloom and the hawthorn is beginning to fizz in the hedgerows with its characteristic bright green effervescence.
Despite warnings of an impending cold snap, spring has started to assert itself as the days get longer and warm sunshine competes with cold ground for dominance. My ratty old Harley Davidson is now making regular short chugs around Ludlow to keep the battery charged up and will soon be hauling me into Birmingham on my once-per-week commute.
It looks like there is no sating peoples’ appetite for buying guns. Holt's results from the last sale seem to suggest that to be the case, at least.
Apparently heedless of the government’s planned ban on the import of hunting trophies, someone paid £10,000 (off a £3,000 reserve) for a Jeffery boxlock non-ejector double rifle; a prime budget elephant stopper for some safari-bound sportsman.
The link between shooting and gun sales is perhaps too obvious to make but some people seem to think those of us in the British gun business should expect a boost in sales during the shooting season and a lull outside it.
This is not the case with older guns. The nature of collecting interesting kit is that you have to buy it when it turns up, be that June or December, as you may not see another quite the same for years.
However, the link between shooting and guns remains. Most of my customers shoot the old guns they collect. We are fortunate in the UK to have a wide and high-quality choice of suitable ammunition. Too many of us whine about the cost when it is actually historically inexpensive and many countries look at us with envy, as they have to re-load or buy the one 2 1/2” case offering available, when it is available,. Small bore users have even less choice. My main (minor) gripe is the lack of a light-load 16-bore cartridge for practice or simulated game days. I can buy 21 gram 12-bore loads but the lightest 16-bore cartridge I can find is 25 grams. Poor me!
shooting estates have put prices for birds up by 15% on last year
A lot of the objections made regarding the cost of non-lead ammunition for game shooting has been based on the increased cost. Recent events have made a nonsense of this argument. Everything shooting related has increased.
My local shooting estates have put prices for birds up by 15% on last year and many won’t even commit to that, saying they will confirm the price nearer the time as they cannot predict the actual cost of fuel and wheat in the interim period. We are booking days now and paying deposits but we don’t know if they will be 250 or 200 bird days as yet, or something in between.
More worrying is political opposition of the type leaking out from the Welsh Assembly, with a few agenda-driven activists managing to steer policy towards an outright removal of the right to hunt or catch anything as a ‘recreational activity’. The general public don’t care enough and won’t fight for our rights, especially with other priorities in focus so sharply, as they are at present.
It reminds me of the old adage about bankruptcy “It happened gradually, and then very suddenly”. I fear we could be looking at the demise of field sports following a similar trajectory.
That threat prompts me to consider the relationship between the heritage of sporting guns we have and which we collect and the shooting sports that make sense of them.
Many, if not most, collectors find the pleasure of ownership hugely enhanced by taking their old masterpieces into the field. Nick Holt now only shoots a muzzle-loader. I have shot pretty much exclusively with hammer guns for two decades and most of my customers revere that link with the past that hunting or shooting with a vintage gun brings. It is an intangible pleasure and one that our lives would be diminished without. Yet, as each year passes it gets harder to maintain the liberty to do indulge it.
I remember a wildly successful rags-to-riches, self-made, multi-millionaire Irishman who used to shoot with us in Hertfordshire years ago. He talked of ‘TR’ (time remaining) and shot four days a week. This former navvy appreciated that time respected no man and the opportunity to enjoy days in the field during retirement were limited. So, he made the most of them.
I wonder if ‘TR’ is looming in the consciousness of our generation now? Not because we are yet at an advanced age but because the generations now taking charge of things have no love of our passions nor tolerance for those unfashionably un-like them. I fear they will casually disenfranchise us and cast us into the dustbin of the past, to be easily forgotten or dismissed as mere ‘killers’.
We are, as yet fighting a rear-guard action and we do still have the opportunity and the tight to pick up our old guns, take them out, dog at heel and shoot a few birds.
I do have friends who collect old sporting guns yet have no interest in shooting live quarry. They are content with sporting clays and get sufficient enjoyment from that. The bonus of this environment is that like-minded aficionados actually get to see and discuss one another’s guns.
in a grouse butt with a 150 year old hammer gun, tasting the anticipation on the wind
This rarely happens on a driven shoot, where they stay in a slip until needed and are returned to the slip after the drive concludes. That helps generate interest and discussion and stimulates the urge to collect.
So, there is hope that in a post-live quarry shooting world those with an interest in old guns will maintain it and grow it and that the passions we have may be passed on to those coming after us, even if clay shooting is all that binds them in a practical application of their sport.
Although, as I age, I appreciate the value of a well set-up simulated game shoot, with clay targets, for the opportunity it provides to test different guns and experiment in a risk-free, ethical environment, it is still, for me, practice for the real thing.
There is nothing like facing forward in a grouse butt with a 150 year old hammer gun, tasting the anticipation on the wind and hoping you can both do justice to the tradition, the birds, the ‘keepers, the beaters, the gun makers and all the history that led you and that landscape and those people and those objects to be where you are at that moment.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath and be in that moment.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )