Eight-gauges and even four-gauges were common in the US around the Chesapeake Bay and other big waterfowling areas. Affluent shooters used them to pass shoot ducks, geese, and swans.
While waterfowl hunting with shotguns larger than 10 gauges was outlawed in the US in the ’30s, it remained legal in the UK. Judging by fantastic condition of these guns, I doubt they’ve spent much time in the field.
What’s it’s like to shoot a 4-gauge shotgun? And what’s the story behind these guns? Find out in this video featuring big-bore enthusiast Nick Horton at The Gun Shop in the UK. These shoulder-fired 4-bore shotguns shoot case up to 4.25″ long and pushing up to 4 1/2 oz of lead, and they can knock down game out to100 yards capable.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, waterfowlers along the east coast of the US and especially around the Chesapeake Bay used 4-gauge and 8-gauge shotguns like this for long-range pass shooting at ducks, geese, and swans. But in 1913, use of any shotguns bigger than 10 big bores on migratory birds was outlawed in the U.S. by the Weeks-McLean Law.
But in the UK, 8-gauges and 4-gauges remained legal, and today some folks still hunt waterfowl with them. Judging by the condition of this 4 gauge, I doubt it has seen much time on a riverbank or salt marsh.
The action body is engraved with bold acanthus scroll and pierces strap work. The left lock is engraved with two geese in flight and the right with three mallard ducks. The gun retains all of its hardening colour, which includes the trigger guard and top lever. The gun was beautifully engraved by Geoff Moore. The barrels are 36” long with 4” chambers and are nitro proofed. Chokes are approximately ¾ and full.
The barrels are fitted with a flat top rib, which is engraved SP Allsebrook Kirkby in Ashfield Nottingham. The gun has an Anson fore end, with beautifully made fore end tip. The gun is cased in its oak and leather case, with silver snap cap and oil bottle. The gun is truly spectacular. This gun has only fired 24 cartridges from new! Price: £39,500.00
If you collect big bore, waterfowling shotguns, or want to start, you’re in luck: Two of finest you’ll ever find are coming up in James D. Julia’s April, 2017, auction. In their day, big bores like these were far too expensive to be used by commercial hunters as “market guns.”
Instead, they were bought by well-off sportsmen and used to pass shoot ducks, geese and even swans. From what I’ve read, as hunting pressure along the Eastern flyways increased, waterfowl became warier (and scarcer). To bring them down, hunters needed guns that could reach out further. With their big loads and heavy charges, big bores were able to do this.
A monstrous & fabulous E.M. Reilly 4 gauge Side-by-Side hammer shotgun. I’ve had this double in my hands, and it’s incredible. To help it resist corrosion, it was nickel-plated and it features no engraving. It was probably made in England in the 1870s, and it remains in incredible — and to my eye — all original condition. Interestingly, it has stalking safeties on it – a feature normally reserved for hammer rifles.
An L.C. Smith 8 gauge Quality No. 2 Side-by-Side hammerless shotgun. I’m pretty sure this shotgun popped up on the market a few years ago. If it’s the same gun, it’s in incredible original condition and pretty much new. L.C. Smith probably made fewer than 50 eight gauges. This one has to be the finest one in existence. The Quality No. 2 was L.C. Smith’s lower middle grade. The company built them from 1890-1914 and made 12,483 total. Of those, just 38 were 8 gauges.
Like lightweight guns? Then you’ll hate this 4 gauge. At 21 lbs 4 oz., it weighs more than 3 Browning Superlights, and with its 4″, 4-bore chambers, it pushes out more lead, too.
Back in the 19th century, short barreled shotgun/rifles like this were used on the largest of large land mammals. They were essentially shotguns with rifled barrels. With it’s massive size, this one is more cannon than gun. It fires two shotgun-style shells, each stuffed with a single, ping-pong sized lead ball. That’s almost enough umph! to stop a train, and also why the thing is so heavy. Even at 20+lbs, I bet the recoil is more vicious than the animal you would be shooting at.
This particular one was made for an bigwig in India. Indian nobleman used to buy crates of shotguns and rifles from the major British makers. Who knows what this one saw or who hands touched it? We do know that James D. Julia Auctioneers sold it October, 2015, for $149,500. For a 130-year old gun, that’s a very princely sum.
BTW: If you have an old double barrel shotgun or rifle you would like to know more about (including its value), just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s all the info on this double from the auctioneer:
HUMONGOUS HOLLAND & HOLLAND FOUR BORE DOUBLE ELEPHANT RIFLE. SN 8336.: Cal. 4 bore. (.955 Groove diameter, 11 groove Enfield type rifling) 4″ Chambers. 24″ Fine Damascus bbls, swamped at center with slight flare toward muzzles, are fitted with full length flat rib with dolls head extension. Rear portion behind single standing leaf express rear sight marked for 50 yards, is file cut. Central portion of rib is engraved “Presented to Mirza Toffal Ali Beg Khan Bahadur by Nawab Salar Jung Mukhtar-ul Mulk, Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Ootagamund, June 15, 1885”. Silver bead front sight is longitudinally dovetailed into rib. Top of right bbl is engraved with H&H New Bond street address. Top of left is engraved “Winners of All the “Field” Rifle Trials London 1883″. Breech ends are engraved with wide acanthus bands behind 2-3/8″ triangles of exceptionally well cut scrolling acanthus with floral centers. Matching bands are at muzzles. Gun is numbered “2” on top of dolls head extension, top tang, and on forend iron. Bbl flats are stamped with London black powder proofs for 6 bore. SNs are stamped on bottoms of bbls. A large sling eye is soldered to bottom rib. Massive case hardened Jones underlever round bar action (almost 3-1/2″ across breech face) has nicely filed fences, and is fitted with rebounding back action locks by Brazier sporting large, flat bodied, serpentine hammers with dolphin heads. Top tang extends over comb. Action and locks are engraved with 30% coverage well cut sprays of scroll, as background and accent to very well rendered scenes of big game animals, many for which this rifle would be suited. Right side of action depicts a rhinoceros with large deciduous and palm trees in background. Left side depicts an elephant strolling through open savannah with some trees and mountain in background. A bear in similar background is on left lockplate, and a well limned tiger burns bright from the right. A fine portrait of a lion is on top of action between hammers. SN and “2” are on trigger guard tang which extends to horn grip cap. Fiddle figured and lightly streaked dense European walnut capped pistol grip buttstock measures 14-3/8″ over Silver type pad, and features right hand shadow line cheekpiece, point pattern checkering with mullered borders at grip, and a sling eye, matching but smaller than that on bottom of bbl, on toe line. Central portion of cheekpiece has inset gold circle engraved with complex monogram including the large letters “S” and “J” intertwined with smaller letters “M” and “K” and “JUS”. (This rifle is almost identical, except for some nuances of engraving, with four bore rifle no. 8333, made for the Nizam of Hyderabad, and pictured and described on pages 67-69 in HOLLAND & HOLLAND THE ROYAL GUNMAKER by Donald Dallas. Factory records indicate that both rifles were ordered through Rogers, Rock & Co., H&H’s Indian agents. This rifle was undoubtedly part of a large shipment of big bore rifles for various Indian princes.) Matching broad splinter forend has pivoting lever release. Drop at heel: approx 3-5/16″, drop at comb: approx 2-1/4″. Weight: 21 lbs 4 oz. LOP: 14-3/8”.
PROVENANCE: Copy of factory ledger page, confirming specs and stating rifle was regulated with 14 drams of powder in a spherical ball.
CONDITION: Very fine. Bbls retain over 80% orig Damascus brown with some areas of further browning and discoloration with a number of light marks and dings. Action and locks retain 60 – 70% orig case hardening color with some brown staining and high edges silvered. Top of action colors are vivid, fading and turning brown along grip strap. Trigger guard is essentially all gray to brown patina with traces of dark color hardening under opening lever. Stocks retain most of an old oil refinish over numerous marks and dings, both heavy and light. Sharp edges are slightly rounded. Wood is somewhat below metal at top of grip, which shows a number of well done repairs. Checkering nicely re-cut. Forend wood is fine, checkering re-cut, with a small chip at right front of bbl channel. Pad is an old replacement, fitted to orig curve, and factory specs state rifle was originally made with a “recoil buttplate”. Bores are excellent, very shiny with sharp rifling throughout, with one or two minor imperfections, most likely small flaws in Damascus. Action is tight. Bbls are on face. Locks are crisp. An exceptionally cool big bore. Estimate: $60,000-$90,000.
Oct 1 marked the opening of grouse & woodcock season in Maine, and Lexi and I have made it the past two weekends. We’ve had little luck, though.
On the first weekend, we hit a cover in the afternoon, after I spent the AM at Poulin’s and Julia’s, checking out the guns in their fall auctions. Poulins and Julia’s hold two major firearms auctions a years — one in the spring and one in the fall. I make a point of checking them both out, if only to see some of the spectacular doubles they’re selling.
Poulin’s sale had a couple doubles that caught that interested me. This 12g, J. Funken sidelock was good quality, and the finished looked pretty original to me. But while it was a nice gun, it didn’t WOW.
I thought this 12g Westley Richards droplock was sleeper. The gun was rebarrelled by Westley in the 50’s, and both tubes were in as-new shape (minus some of original blueing). The stock was a little messed with, but not in a bad way. Add a Silver’s pad, and it would be good to go.
Interestingly, the patent Westley based this gun’s single trigger on was developed and filed by an American: A.E. Lard. It’s a complicated design, but Westley built them with top-quality components, construction and fittings. This made them reliable and subsequently, very popular. L.C. Smith used a similar Lard-patent for their Hunter One single triggers, but failed to apply the same quality control. That’s one reason the Hunter Ones can be such PITA.
Over at Julia’s, a few guns caught my eye. If I were going to the UK to shoot high pheasants, I would have bought these Browning B25s. They’re rugged, reliable, good looking, and heavy enough to suck up a day’s worth of 1 1/4oz loads. These guns hammered down for $8000 against a reserve of $12,500 — so they didn’t sell. Has they hit $12,500, they still would have been a good deal. They’re a lot of quality for the money. To see just how much, compare them to this next pair of guns.
This OU is a titanium Fabbri, a double that’s supposed to b the pinnacle of modern gunmaking. Even though this one waspretty much new and probably cost the original owner $150,000+, bidding on it topped put at $80,000 against a reserve of $100,000.
I have mixed feeling about Fabbris. To me, they’re sort of like the new James Bond movies: I want to love them, but every time I see them I’m disappointed. According to this piece in The Field, Fabbris use advanced steel and building techniques to construct their guns. While I’m glad someone in the gun trade is doing this kind of stuff, I wonder if its unnecessary. After all, we’re talking about shotguns, not fighter jets. Perazzi’s and Krieghoffs don’t use super high-tech steels and advanced construction techniques, and their guns have withstood hundred-of-thousands of rounds and won enough Olympic medals to decorate the Christmas tree in Times Square. I imagine Fabbri does it for the same reason their customers buy these OUs: Because they can.
In these two side-by-sides, you could see the evolution of the really big bore. The 4-bore was built in 1884 and at that time it was one the biggest rifles you could buy. The .577 was from 1928. It pushed a 750 grain bullet with 90 grains of cordite — ka BOOM. Both guns were made for Indian princes. Judging by the guns’ conditions, the princes didn’t take these doubles out very much.
I love big bore shotguns. My favorites are the real big ones – the 8 and the 4 gauge side by sides. Unlike boat-mounted punt guns, most of these were made to be shot from the shoulder. They pushed a lot of lead, a long ways, and hunters used them for pass shooting, especially at geese and swans.
Heavy, and cumbersome, big bores are specialized tools. Gun makers didn’t turn out many of them, so today you don’t see them often, especially in anything bigger than 8 gauge.
That’s one of the things that makes this 4 gauge side-by-side so special. In the last decade, I’ve seen two other 4s (this Reilly was one of them). Both of those were hammergun with damascus barrels. This one is much later shotgun, with 39 1/2″ fluid steel barrels. To me, it looks 100% Belgian. I doubt the seller’s claim that it’s a Francotte, but I suppose it’s a possibility. Regardless, the shotgun is very rare and in excellent original condition. It would be a thrill to shoot — if you could find some 4-gauge ammo for it.
Really big bore shotguns (2, 4 & 8 gauges) used to be popular in the United States–until they were banned in 1918. Unlike market guns, ones like these were made to pass shoot big birds like geese and swans. Today, some states allow you to use them on turkeys and pests like crows and coyotes. Other states have completely banned them for hunting.
Fredrick Baker made guns in and around London from 1857-1913. While I’ve seen other guns bearing his name, this is the first hammerless 4 gauge by him I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s the first hammerless 4 gauge I ever seen. It looks like it’s in excellent shape. The sleeved/nitro proofed barrels and ammo make it an extremely rare, and desirable, package. I bet it will go for a lot of money.
William Sumner was a gunmaker in Liverpool, England, from about 1858 to 1890. Eight gauges like this one are the most common ones you see. They’re usually the most affordable, too. This gun was probably made around 1880. With that 42″ barrel, you could probably hold it up and let the birds run into it.
How much would you pay for a 4 gauge double barrel shotguns? For one person, the answer was $86,250.00. That’s what this 4 bore Dickson brought the other day at Julia’s March 2012 auction.
With 42″ barrels, and weighing in at over 22 pounds, this gun is a beast. Eccentric British collector Charles Gordonhad it made for him in the 19th century. The gun has seen a little refinishing, but it’s still in excellent overall condition.
BTW: This 4 bore is not a punt gun. Punt guns were larger, usually attached to small boats (called punts) and used shoot flocks of ducks and geese. This Dickson would have been fired from the shoulder and used to pass shoot larger waterfowl including swans.
Here’s a 4 bore punt gun in action:
Here’s a guy firing a 4 bore from the shoulder at sporting clays.
There were a lot of guns at the Southern SxS, probably over a thousand, and I think I saw most of them. Lots of nice guns, some great guns, but only one awesome gun. It was this E.M. Reilly 4 gauge side-by-side double barrel shotgun. In all original condition and with most of it’s original finish, it was spectacular.
Way back when dark clouds of ducks used to fill the sky and game laws didn’t exist, really big bore double barrels were the gun of choice for waterfowlers. All along the east coast, eight gauges, four gauges, and even twos were used to kill large number of ducks, or to bring down geese or even swans at long ranges.