The Blenheim CLA was generally judged to be a success by all who attended I think. I got there a bit late but went to an excellent dinner party at William Evans with Charlie Jacoby and his banjo in attendance. It was, as ever, great fun and wonderfully organised by Sally et al.. I did not do the cocktail party circuit this year because I missed most of them on Friday. I am not really a social animal in that way anymore (boring old bugger). If someone is offering bubbles, however, I will occasionally make an exception! [There was one year when just about everyone in Gunmakers Row offered me a drink of some kind and I never did make it to the end – I woke up the next morning on a collapsed papering table looking at someone’s canvas ceiling – never again.]
So, while others were having – “partying the night away” – I was primarily interested in catching up with old chums and keeping an eye out for what was genuinely new. First, though, I want to thank my mucker Mark Curtis of Pigeon Mania for being an all-round nice guy and for putting up with me camping on his stand yet again (damn this business of getting on site by 7.30 now – hell, one has to get up early). Mark’s business, meanwhile, is deservedly going from strength to strength – pigeon magnets at just over 50 quid, flappers, some fantastic, well-priced, rechargeable hand lamps for foxing and similar. He has got his act together and sold a huge amount of kit.
I also want to thank Mike Ladd who offered space for my gunfitting service but which I did not take up this year (but which I may take to the Midland and/or Bisley Live). As well as the usual massive stock, Mike had his new range of Turkish made true sidelock over and unders on stand which look good and cost under 4K. He also had some presentable Turkish boxlocks – these guns get better and better although there are still a few details to work on. Mike also had a beautiful handling Abbiatico and Salvinelli 20bore over and under which caught my eye. It had a titanium action which gave it a similar magic quality to the Kemen titaniums.
Boxall and Edmiston launched their sidelock gun which looks great for 25K or thereabouts. Peter Boxall, their engineering genius, is ex Holland & Holland and Jaguar, and is a perfectionist. His firm’s guns are extremely well made and now offer exceptional value whether boxlock, side-plated or true sidelock. I am working on a new gun project with this company and details of it will be announced in due course. It just might have another barrel configuration and it will be English made.
Anglo-Italian Arms (formerly Guerini UK) had their new Fabarm range on stand. But, the gun that really excited me – and upon which there will be a full report somewhere very soon – was the round action 32” 20 bore over and under – the first specimen of which was on display. It felt spendid. I shoot 32” Maxums at the moment and this felt as good as better.
Holland & Holland had their centenary take-down .375. It was a wonderful gun, I have always wanted a Holland bolt rifle, but I would make do with a straight .375. It would genuinely be a gun that one could do just about everything with. It is no secret that I have a lot of respect for this grand old firm and the shooting qualities of its products. I also managed to have a fascinating discussion with David Little of Kynoch about why some old H&H .375s seem so soft in recoil in spite of their light weight – David believes it is because of two things – their slender, steeply angled, stock shapes and the progressive lead into the rifling. The former is an interesting point because I usually feel it has a negative effect in shotguns – David’s opinion is that it may work on a rifle because the time pressure curve is different. He also favours light long barrels.
Alan Rhone had a very interesting new straight-pull rifle from Finland – the Lynx. It felt really solid. It appears extremely well engineered too and the cycling is very quick. The Lynx is available in various forms including a laminate model (my favourite), standard hunter, and a deluxe model with all the bells and whistles of special engraving and gold inlays. Price from about 4K. Alan also has some excellent new QD mounts on offer made by a firm called Ziegler. These offer repeatable zero “again and again.” They’re neat, extremely well designed and available for a wide variety of guns. I am sure he is destined to do well with them, and I am having some fitted to my Sako 85 in .375 H&H.
Anderson Wheeler of Mayfair impressed me first because they are a young company with lots of ideas and energy, but also because they have created such an impressive product line so quickly. They make a good 20 bore side by side based on an AyA action, they have an over and under built on an Italian action, but these guns have a lot of London finish in them. A&W also offer the normal bespoke big bore double rifles (they had a .470 which was a beauty) and bolt guns as well as London made shotguns. Just to see two tables crammed with so many new made rifles and shotguns shows how much effort they have put it.
I had fun seeing Ian Tomlin of Traditional English Gun Cases and bought a beautiful 250 cartridge magazine from him. Ian has a great range of cartridge bags too. Bill Blacker was not far away, being his normal inimitable self. And, I also enjoyed stopping in on Croots who seem to be going from strength to strength with their bags and gun-slips too. They made a canvas safari bag for me last year which has proved to be invaluable – like the brilliant Barbour canvas shoulder bag (and they make something similar too).
Browning did not have a great deal of new product this year (2012 is rumoured to be their big launch year). One exception, though, was the wonderful, well priced, 525 Sporter (which I choose to call a MK2 because of its radically changed handling qualities thanks to the new lightened, Investor Plus back-bored, barrels). It might well be my gun of the year. I also really like the Winchester ‘Red Performance’ semi-auto. This is simply one of the best handling guns that I have ever shot – soft in recoil, relatively light in weight, and natural pointing.
Beretta have their new Silver Pigeon 1 which is Opti-bored and another performer as noted on this site recently. And, at the CLA, they launched a new small bore range of Silver Pigeon 1s, a new Beretta Jubilee, a Help for Heroes EELL (at £5,995 with a £100 going to this magnificent charity), and no less than 2 new A400 semis. These included the Action which is available with a Gun Pod ‘on board computer’ which notes the number of cartridges fired, their power and temperature, and, a blue actioned Excel (also available with the Gun Pod gizmo not mention Kick-Off recoil reduction). There is a Silver Pigeon 1 with game scene engraving as well, and, a new version of the Benelli Vinci.
ASI now have a round bar boxlock on offer – Edward King has a fondeness for better quality boxlocks – and, a deluxe model of the popular No.2. There are also a couple of new Rizzini Artimis sideplated guns. These are available in proportionately scaled 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410 actions, all with selective single trigger and multichokes as standard. Edgar Brothers had lots of new stuff. I saw the Remy Versalite shotgun for the first time and the new Zoli Black Magic rifle. Viking Arms have the Ruger Gunsite Scout rifle in .308 with a detachable box mag and various extras except the flash hider (which current US law does not allow the export of in our all too mixed up world).
What have I forgotten? The new Powell Marquis – a sub 3K, hand engraved, Spanish sidelock made by Arrieta (though my favourite in their line is the Lindhope high bird gun coming in over £7,000 mark which is based on an old pigeon gun). There is also their ‘Juvenis’ sidelock for (better off) young shots. E.J.Churcill have an extensive new line of over and unders inlcluding some finished in France, and, a 32” Churchill badged Perazzi. Finally, my thanks to Fiona Eastman for getting my Press Passes through in the nick of time. Without her effort, I would not have got to Blenheim at all.