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Classic Upland Guns

Arthur Hill & Sons, Horncastle — 16-Bore Boxlock

Rick lives a modest life. He had always dreamed of owning a 16-bore British side-by- side. When that dream came true, he was ready to share.

It was an early autumn morning with a cool nip in the air as I drove through the hills of the Berkshires en route to the Western Mass Bird Dog Club in Granville, Massachusetts. My son Ernie and friend Rick had arrived earlier, collected chukars from the pen and placed them in spring-release holding boxes for training bird dogs in fields four and five. Ernie readied his 9-month-old English pointer pup, that needed an attitude adjustment, with an e-collar and bell to do the walk-up training session. Rick and I, on Ernie's command, would be the shooters.

I pulled up and parked facing the gazebo, where the guys sipped their coffee next to a vintage oak and leather luggage gun case under Rick's guard. After a brief greeting, Rick extended the gun case in my direction and said, “Well, here it is.”

The 100-year-old gun case showed some transport use but was in very good condition. The two-keyed lock release system was positive, and once I lifted the hinged lid, the original maker label displayed ARTHUR HILL GUN MAKER. The gun rested in the custom case in two parts, along with the accouterments for basic cleaning and lubrication.

With Rick's permission, I lifted the 28-inch barrels from the case and asked how he had acquired the gun and what he knew about it and its maker. He told me he didn't know much, but he purchased it from a reliable importer and dealer.

A quick look at the Birmingham proof marks on the barrel flats indicated that the barrels were originally chambered and proofed for 2 ½-inch shells (common for British shotguns) and subsequently opened up for 2 ¾-inch shells and reproofed in the Birmingham proof house. The proof marks suggested the gun was produced ca.1925. (I'll offer an in-depth discussion of the display and sequence of the marks that tell the age and proof history in my Spring 2024 column.)

I asked if Rick were aware that it was originally chambered as a 2 ½-inch gun.

“No, but when I purchased it, the dealer told me it was safe to shoot 2 ¾-inch shells.”

I showed Rick the display of proof marks on the barrel flats and briefly explained that the barrels had been opened up to 2 ¾-inch chambers and reproofed.

After removing the splinter forend attached to the barrels with the Deeley and Edge fastener and placing them on the table, I removed the beautiful foliate scroll engraved frame attached to the nicely figured straight hand stock with fine checkering from the case. I activated the top lever and easily engaged the barrel lumps in the body of the frame. Once I released the top lever, the barrel flats were tight against the frame (often called the water table), and the barrels were also tight on the face of the standing breech. After attaching the forend and pointing the gun in a safe direction, I quickly mounted the gun which came to my face naturally and swung on an invisible game bird flying right to left. The 6-pound, 2-ounce gun swung through like a grouse-quail-woodcock gun should. Holding the gun by the barrel muzzle, I placed the toe of the stock on the gazebo floor and sighted down the concave rib of the barrels and the top of the stock. Reversing the gun with the stock heel on the deck, I mentioned to Rick, “The stock has a slight cast on.”

Rick said, “I bent the stock since I am lefthanded.” I handed the gun to Rick and said, “Good find, old chap. Now let's see what you can do with it on live birds in field conditions.”

The dog training session with the check cord and e-collar influence went well, and Rick made every shot a true kill.

At the end of the day, I had the opportunity to examine Rick's dream gun in detail with the gun tools I had brought with me. The bores were bright, and the barrels' wall thickness were to specification, in proof and choked improved cylinder and light modified. The ejector barrels with concave game rib had been reblued, and the lumps showed no signs of wear. Much of the case color on the frame had softened, but the engraving remained in good shape. The floor plate, trigger guard and top lever had been re-blued, all well done. I learned that Rick, a skilled woodworking craftsman, had refinished the stock, which brought out the nicely figured wood that remained proud to the frame. The length of pull at 14 ½ inches to a checkered butt appeared nearly perfect and so did the drop at comb and heel to Rick's dimension fits.

“OK, Rick, what did it cost you to get that gun from the dealer to your gun safe?”

“Twenty-two hundred.”

A great price for something that fulfilled his dream and would last a lifetime and beyond. I appraised the gun at $2,000 — $2,400.

Ernie Foster

About author
Ernie Foster has been a fixture at The Upland Almanac since its inception. He’s a big-game hunter and avidly hunts upland birds over his beloved pointing dogs and in many parts of the world. His passion for hunting, double guns and shooting sports co