The current climate is a difficult one for our top-end rifle-makers.
Good, accurate rifles are available across the price spectrum; from under £1,000 up to as far as your budget will stretch. Whatever you have to spend and whatever your quarry, there seems to be something on the market that will do the job.
This is apparent on many an African safari, where the client arrives with a best quality, bought-for-the-occasion, £70,000 double .470 from a top British maker, while the professional hunter carries a battered CZ bolt-action .416 Rigby, worth almost nothing. Both will kill an elephant.
It is not purely practical. The considerations that drive a man to commission a dream rifle are as personal and idiosyncratic as the motives that drive some to order a new Morgan sports car or a yacht.
The customer for this rifle wanted to combine the stopping power of a big bullet thrower with the all-round flexibility of a plains game rifle
Once finances allow, it is common for the mind to begin exploring the creative ways that financial freedom can be translated into objects and experiences that make life better.
For some; let’s face it, for most of us, there is a certain attraction to being able to sit down with a blank piece of paper, release our creative juices and outline the specifications for our ideal rifle.
To have the means to actually do that and make it real is a lot of fun. The logical extension of the project is to take your creation out and use it for what it was designed.
Hunting success is the ultimate ratification of the creative process, blended with your ability to make it work, while having a lot of fun, of course. The photo of you and your quarry at the end of a successful hunt with a rifle you had a lot of input in creating is very satisfying.
Increasingly, I’m observing that the people involved in these projects are starting with a historical understanding of the rifles the company built during the romantic heyday of sporting adventures; the period between 1880 and 1935, give or take a few years.
That is exactly what the man who asked Westley Richards to build him a ‘Modele de Luxe’ bolt action rifle, of the type the company featured in their 1912 catalogue, was thinking. It looks unlike any other magazine rifle of the day, with its distinctive side panels and ‘detachable stock’.
Today, we would call it a ‘take-down’ rifle. Westley Richards mainly sold them in the, then popular, .425 and .318 calibres. The customer for this rifle wanted to combine the stopping power of a big bullet thrower with the all-round flexibility of a plains game rifle.
He asked Westley Richards to build him a 1912 style take-down magazine rifle with two barrels (complete with forends) in the calibres of his choice. They were .375 Holland & Holland, which will kill anything from dik-dik to elephant, and .458 Lott, which is a dedicated , in your face, charge stopper.
The action is a double square bridge Mauser, made in England. Actually, the take-down system is a slightly later modification. The original plan used a lug-lock system, but this was quickly ditched in favour of a square, screw-thread design, which is what was employed for this build.
The choice of calibres may seem challenging on one rifle. The .375 throws a 350 grain bullet at 2,300 fps and the .458 Lott manages a .500 grain bullet at the same speed, with a good bit more drama. The .375 H&H was developed in 1912 and is the great all-rounder.
The .458 Lott was created in the mid 1950s to better the .458 Winchester. It started with a .375 H&H case, blew out the shoulder and beefed-up powder and bullet weights. It was SAAMI registered in 1995 and A-Square started making factory ammunition for it. It has since gained in popularity for elephant hunting in some circles.
The level of finish on this rifle hints at the priorities of the customer. It is mainly blacked steel, but the otherwise austere look is enlivened by beautifully figured, warm, cloudy walnut with a best oil finish and gold-inlaid numbers and letters on barrel and action.
Colour case-hardening at the base of the bolt and the safety-lever, pin heads and barrel release-catch add more visual variety. The addition of small, well-executed scrolls around some of the screws and pins and fine jeweling on the bolt and connecting plates adds further refinement.
What really lifts the appearance is the quality evident in every detail, like ‘Westley Richards’ engraved meticulously on the rear of the bolt and the perfect shields and stippling panels on the upward surfaces surrounding the leaf sights.
No custom rifle is complete without a case. The beauty of these ‘detachable stock’ rifles is that they break down to the length of the barrel. In this case, the longest of the two barrels. The chunky .458 Lott barrel is 23 inches and the .375 is one inch longer; the length discrepancy helping balance the rifle regardless of which barrel is fitted.
The case is custom made on-site. Westley Richards is alone in having an in-house leather shop working along-side the gunmakers, where all their leather goods are created (though Rigby is close having recently bought Traditional English Guncases).
The leather case, lined in alcantara, is neatly fitted for the rifle in two pieces with the extra barrel, as well as tools and accessories, including a Swarovski ‘scope.
So, this rifle has been built as a sort of homage to the past but in the most modern and proven calibres, offering great flexibility. The customer has Africa in his sights and taking his creation on an adventure will be the culmination of a very rewarding process.
Conceiving and building a rifle as impressive and individual as this is very personal. It looks magnificent but the crowning glory will be bagging some big beasts deep in the scrub-thickets of East Africa.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )