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.
Eight-gauge shotguns like these were popular with well-off waterfowl hunters, especially ones who hunted at the sporting clubs that dotted shorelines of Chesapeake Bay. These sportsman used their 8-gauges to pass-shoot ducks, geese, and swans at long ranges. Judging by the condition of this Greener, it doesn’t look like it was used much for this kind of — or any kind of — shooting.
BTW: 8-gauges like these are not “market guns” or “punt guns”. They cost a lot of money in their day — far more than a market hunter could afford to spend on a firearm.
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.
I love guns that tell a story, and as I was checking out the doubles in Poulin Auctions’ upcoming sale, this old double rifle starting telling me one the moment I saw it.
I could tell it had seen a lot of action, and considering the caliber, I could imagine what that action was: Africa during the golden days and lots of big, dangerous game. I sure it has had many cape buffalo, rhinos, and elephants in its sights.
Instead of being a Holland & Holland Royal, it’s a Grade 3 / Dominion. Rifles like these were workhorses, favored by professional hunters and serious sportsman who wanted a rugged gun that could be counted on to perform flawlessly safari after safari.
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.
Yeah, that’s right – a 4 gauge. The shotgun for the manliest man.
Back in the 19th century, 4 gauges guns were used for everything from big-game in Africa to waterfowl in US and UK. The 4s came in a number chamber sizes–2 3/4″, 3″ , 3 7/8″, and 4″– and they pushed up to 4 ozs of lead. That’s a lot of shot. Today’s mag tens have 3 1/2″ chambers and push just 1 5/8oz– flabby babies.
With a 40″ barrel, this 4 gauge was definitely built for ducks, geese, and swans. It was made around 1870 by Abraham Peterman, a gunmaker/gunsmith working in Philadelphia 1850 to 1880 or so. Peterman had a shop next to John Krider – a famous American gunmaker and sporting good retailer. Krider was a big deal with prosperous clients. For Peterman must have been successful to have a free standing storefront next door. The shotgun here suggests why. Even though it’s a beast, it looks very well made. It’s in great condition, too, and the metalwork looks all original.
Here’s more about it from the seller:
A. Peterman of 151 Walnut St. Philadelphia 4 Gauge Hammer Shotgun with Damascus Barrel. The gun appears to have the original case coloring and brown finish on the barrels. The wood has had a coat of oil added at some point in time. I do not think it was sanded as the wood to metal fit is perfect. The barrel is 39.5 inches in length and the length of pull measures 13 and 3/8. The gun is in good working order and locks up tight. Price:$37,500
The Chesapeake Bay used to be one of the greatest places in the world to hunt waterfowl. Massive flocks of ducks, geese, and swans used to settle on its waters every fall, and as the birds passed through, hunters were waiting. These hunters used all sorts of firearms, and the more prosperous ones used fancy 8 gauges like the toplever, breechloading Alexander McComas you see here.
Alexander McComas was born on February 27, 1821 and he opened a shop on July 1843, at 51 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. His first firearms were percussion guns, especially big bores for the local waterfowlers. By the time the breechloading era took over in the 1860s, McComas was well known up and down the eastern seaboard for his high quality firearms.
He was especially famous for his duck guns, and on these shotguns McComas preferred to use Jones-patent underlever actions. But as toplever actions started to appear in the 1870s, some shooters wanted them on their new duck guns. To meet this new market, McComas did what every smart business person does: He made what his customers wanted.
The toplever 8 gauge that you see here was probably “made” by Alexander McComas in the 1880s. I say “made” because I’m not sure how much of this shotgun was actually made in America. To my eye, a lot of this side-by-side looks German. I wonder if McComas ordered it complete from Europe, or sourced the barrels and action from the continent and then finished the shotgun in Maryland.
This kind of outsourcing was very popular in America at the time and a lot of the early side-by-side shotguns being “made” over here were actually built in England and throughout Europe.
In 1918, the US Federal Government made it illegal for anyone to use an eight gauge shotgun to hunt waterfowl and other federally-listed migratory game birds. Later, many states restricted hunting shotguns to 10 gauge and smaller.
Of course, these laws didn’t apply in Europe, and it’s still legal in many areas there to hunt ducks, geese, and other waterfowl with the really big bores.
This 8-gauge shotgun was made for that kind of shooting. Judging by the looks of it, it looks like wasn’t used much at all. Here are the specs on it:
Caliber: 8 Gauge.
Chambers: Side X Side.
Metal Condition: Strong blue and case color.
Wood Condition: Excellent with crazing and flaking in the finish.
Bore Condition: Bright and shiny.
Barrels: 39+” Blue Acier steel.
Stock: Mid grade walnut with a checkered pistol grip.
Fore End: Semi splinter checkered walnut.
Butt Pad: Red rubber vent butt pad.
Weight: 13 Lbs 12 Oz.
The 1920s were big times for America, and for American firearms. Over those 10 years, a lot of things changed about both. For guns, two new products came onto and had a significant impact on the market.
The first new product was the Super-X shotgun shell. Introduced by the Western Cartridge Company, it was loaded with their new progressive powder. Super-X shotgun shells gave “…high velocity and longer range without high gas pressure plus “Short Shot String” and the maker told customers that the end result “…assures clean kills at distances almost unbelievable.”
Next up was the Super-Fox shotgun, introduced by the the A.H. Fox Company. A.H. Fox created the first Super-Fox to test Western’s new shells. John Olin, Western’s founder, took delivery of this prototype in 1921. It was well received and in 1923 A.H. Fox made the Super-Fox a part of their line up. Soon it was hit with duck hunters, including the the legendary wing shooter Nash Buckingham.
To take advantage of the new Western ammo and compete with the Super Fox, L.C. Smith introduced the 12 Long Range Waterfowl shotguns in 1924. Available in 3″ and 2 3/4″ 12 gauge, and in all available grades, the L.C. Smith Long Range Wild Fowl guns was advertised as:
THE HARDEST HITTING GUN IN THE WORLD
“The L.C. Smith Long Range Wild Fowl Gun is built from our Regular model, and is designed to handle heavy charges of modern propellant powders, giving it an increased range of 15 to 25 yards, and extreme velocity and penetration with uniform patterns.”
L.C. Smith catalogs claimed that the Long Range Wild Fowls used “A distinctive L.C. Smith method of choking adds 15 to 20 yards to ordinary shotgun range…specially bored to a longer, tapering choke…” To handle heavy recoil, these guns also featured a a reinforced forend loop on the barrels.
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.
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.