Game & Gun Gazette
In September 1986, Michael McIntosh visited New England Arms in Kittery, Maine, where I was employed at the time. From the moment we shook hands, it seemed we each had discovered a twin brother—separated at birth but miraculously reunited. Our meeting was a world-changing event for both of us.
Some people seeing us together have remarked upon our resemblance: white hair and beards, a shared sense of wry humor, same general build —so much so, in fact, that my mother, who came to love Michael as her own child, felt compelled to publish a letter acknowledging maternal responsibility only for me.
Having published his first book, The Best Shotguns Ever Made in America, in 1981 to critical acclaim, Michael was well launched on his career writing about guns. His insatiable quest for knowledge and continuing research into the history of fine guns—principally those with double barrels—brought him to New England Arms. We immediately collaborated in studies of fine shotguns of all genres. In addition to an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms, Michael possessed a great gift for a writer: a photographic memory. As an example, I could strip to the last component and lay on the bench in his presence, say a Boss sidelock single-trigger shotgun; Michael could reassemble it—though I was loathe to trust him with a turnscrew!
Michael often invited me on his frequent hunting forays, and although I had to remain close to my bench, we did shoot clay pigeons together at Geoff Gabe’s Addieville East Farm in Rhode Island. We also enjoyed a number of trips together centered around our mutual desires to expand our knowledge of firearms. Our first overseas trip, to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1991, was a particularly memorable exploration of the extensive but little-known firearms collections of the Artillery Museum and the Hermitage.
Michael recounted the hilarious—and somber—events of that trip in his Traveler’s Tales, which I just took from the bookcase to refresh my memory. I had to put it back immediately because tears prevented me reading further than the inscription: “To David—the other knave of Leningrad. Travel’s always better with a brother.”
While penning an accurate account of our visit and the troves of exquisite and historic firearms we were privileged to view, Michael somehow omitted the vignette at the hotel when a small band was entertaining the few patrons by playing Russian folk melodies. The unrecognizable food that passed for the evening meal went down better with a glass or two of vodka. Suddenly Michael sprinted to the dance floor and began gyrating wildly. I first thought he had taken leave of his senses; then I thought he was introducing break-dancing to Mother Russia—and then I realized he was improvising a Cossack dance: leaping high, pirouetting and even crouching down on one knee while kicking out with his other leg. He walked rather stiffly for days thereafter.
And then there was the collaboration—a labor of love, actually—in compiling the Technicana column for Shooting Sportsman. We communicated delightfully with each other as McSporran and Limehouse, with me taking the photographs and explaining each operation in repairing fine guns, and Michael turning my dry, technical details into the eloquent, mellifluous descriptive and informative language that only he could compose. Our intent in launching the column was to increase readers’ awareness and appreciation for fine guns as integral parts of our lives and heritage. Those columns were later collected in a small volume called Shotgun Technicana, which sold very well and still is much in demand. I could hardly believe the figure a client told me he recently paid for a copy!
Our lives were immutably intertwined. Although proficient enough with a word processor, Michael never really cared for e-mail communications, but unless he was out of the country we talked at least once daily by telephone, often exchanging two or three calls. Michael was a welcome visitor at my home, arriving, sometimes with a dog in tow, to stay as long as six weeks, every day a pleasure and delight. Even now, a week after his death, I keep expecting the telephone to ring and be greeted by his robust, “Ah, Laddie, and how ken ye this fine day?”
Michael’s mother once asked him what he wanted to be, and he replied, “A wanderer.” A wanderer he truly was, making his living by writing about fine guns, touching and enriching the lives of everyone who treasures fine guns. His voice and pen may be silenced, but the impressive oeuvre of books and articles compiled during his 64 years with us is literature of the highest order, and having enriched our lives with his eloquent prose, Michael McIntosh, his purpose fulfilled, has wandered on. —David Trevallion
The Fausti Caledon
Everyone knows them. The charming “Gun Sisters”—Elena, Giovanna and Barbara Fausti. What most Americans don’t know is how much these ladies have expanded the Fausti Stefano gun line since taking over from their father some years ago.
In Europe the Fausti Stefano line is quite broad, including side-by-side boxlocks and hammerguns, competition and field over/unders, inertia and gas autoloaders, plus an express double rifle. The company also manufactures and distributes the Emilio Rizzini line of “four-lock” shotguns.
Until recently Fausti guns were sold in the US only through other companies, such as Weatherby, Cabela’s, Marlin, Traditions and Legacy Sports. A year ago the firm opened its own distribution and service center as Fausti USA, which does not carry the full line of Fausti guns but rather carefully selected models.
One such new model is the Caledon over/under, introduced at this year’s SHOT Show. It starts at an entry-level price of $1,999, but it is a lot more than an entry-level gun. The Caledon, labeled the Silvery in Europe, comes in 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410. (You 16-gauge fans take note.) All are on gauge-sized receivers except the .410. All gauges are available with 30-, 28- or 26-inch barrels, and all but the .410 are screw choked. Top and side ribs are vented, and there is a single tasteful brass bead at the muzzle. There is also a 20-gauge 28-inch youth version with a 12-1/2" length of pull instead of the 14-1/2" LOP on standard guns. Our test gun’s drop was 1-3/8" x 2-1/4" with a little right-hand cast.
The Caledon features an automatic safety in the Beretta style, with the barrel-selector toggle built into the safety button. The anatomical trigger is inertial, and the ejectors are automatic. Lockup uses the Browning-style full-width underbolt. Hinging is by Woodward stubs. You’ll find this proven combination of lock and hinge on the guns of B. Rizzini, Guerini, FABARM, FAIR and other Brescia makers.
For a modestly priced gun, the Caledon has good cosmetics. The receiver has lightly rounded lower edges for a comfortable carry. It is silver-nickel plated and nicely laser engraved. As computers and laser machinery improve, “machine engraving” has taken on a whole new meaning.
The Turkish walnut on our test gun had a good bit of figure, a comfortable relaxed round-knob pistol grip and a nice classic game forend. The double-border machine checkering was correct, and the oil finish was hand polished.
Our gun weighed 7 pounds 7 ounces, but the weight was centrally balanced and the gun felt lighter and more responsive than the weight would indicate. It functioned correctly and was easy to shoot well.
The Caledon comes in a compartmented ABS slide-lock case that also holds a wrench and five two-inch-long chokes: Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full. Fausti USA warranties the gun for five years and includes one free factory tune-up.
For more information on the Caledon and other guns sold in the US, contact Fausti USA, 540-371-3287; www.faustiusa .com. —Bruce Buck
For three decades Ed and Rebecca Gray have informed, entertained and inspired with their writings and publications about outdoor sport—notably through founding Gray’s Sporting Journal in 1975. Now they’ve launched a new publishing venture.
GrayBooks’ initial offerings are works by Ed and Becky—husband and wife—themselves. As Ed explains it: “We know this looks like a self-publishing venture, but it’s far from it. We just started with our own titles because we wanted to iron out the kinks using ourselves, not someone else, as victims.”
The three books are Keeping Track: The Inner Eye of an Outdoor Life, by Ed, and Becky’s The New Gray’s Wild Game Cookbook and The New Gray’s Fish Cookbook. GrayBooks is publishing these works (and others to follow by other authors) simultaneously in hardcover, softcover and e-book formats. To promote its books, the company will use author blogs, an interactive Website and social media.
Keeping Track is a collection of 70 short essays that Ed wrote between 1975 and 1994. Most appeared in his editor’s column in Gray’s Sporting Journal, while others were published elsewhere (including SSM). In a foreword Ed suggests the pieces be read singly: “Read one, put the book down, then pick it up later and read another.” In fact, the essays are so well crafted and compelling that it’s more likely you’ll gobble them up—like, say, juniper-encrusted woodcock in rosemary cream sauce or duck roasted with red pepper butter (see the enticing recipes in The New Gray’s Wild Game Cookbook).
Here’s a sampling of the prose that grounds the reader in the places and times of which Ed writes: “The light was beginning to go west. Across the marsh the spartina grass had taken on added definition as the lowered sun etched shadows on the autumn-blanched blades.” A bog is “a wet, boot-clenching mess;” a woodcock is “a tweetering little burst” when it flushes from the ground.
Ed describes bass, trout and bonefish fishing; canoeing; camp cooking; blackflies; dogs; and hunting for grouse, woodcock, ducks, geese, turkeys and deer. He writes of being fully in the moment, yet he has the vision and skill to pull back and put self and place in context: “The enduring indifference of the north woods reaches down through the wool of your coat and leans heavily on your spirit.”
Becky Gray starts The New Gray’s Wild Game Cookbook with a smart preface, and each major section—“Venison,” “Upland Birds,” “Water Fowl” and “Mixed Bag”—begins with a readable essay on history and days afield with Ed, various friends, dogs and the game itself.
To complement the featured entrees—such as the aforementioned woodcock, venison chops with pignolis and red peppers, fried dove, sea duck fricassee—Becky presents appropriate side dishes and desserts.
Visit http://GrayBooks.net/publisher and try the “Page Flip Gallery.” It will give you a taste of the feast, both literary and literal, that can be found within the covers of these new works. —Charles Fergus
William & Son’s Silver Legacy
Only relatively recently have the worlds of fine guns and luxury goods begun to dovetail. It was around 20 years ago that Chanel, the luxury-goods consortium, set its sights on Holland & Holland; five years later another of the world’s luxury-goods groups, Geneva-based Richemont AG, acquired James Purdey & Sons.
This is not, however, what triggered William Asprey, the chairman of William & Son, a Mayfair-based luxury-goods emporium he founded in 1999, to begin offering guns. Asprey is the seventh generation of his family to work in the luxury-goods business. The old family firm was well ahead of the game, having offered silver, crystal and china since 1781 and adding guns in 1983.
William Asprey is a collector of much that he has on offer. In addition to guns, he owns a silver collection and is also into watches and wine. Recently, his company completed a pair of “best” sidelock ejectors for the Zimbabwean farmer-turned-silversmith Patrick Mavros. The Mavros family descended from Africa’s earliest European explorers, and even today all of the sculptures destined for the Mavros galleries in London, Mauritius and Harare are molded in a studio near the Zimbabwean capital.
Although the William & Son catalog does contain a section on silver, it does not feature any of the signature silver gamebirds, desk accessories or tabletop pieces for which Mavros has become famous. But William’s chief executive, Marie-Louise McLeod, wrote that “William does have a collection of Mavros silver, from napkin rings to centre pieces.”
I may have expected a quid-pro-quo arrangement between the two precious-metal purveyors when I asked Mavros why he had chosen William & Son over some of the more established London gunmakers.
“This is a long story and has been a long quest,” he said. “Growing up, I never had the opportunity to own fine guns, but I did get a chance to marvel at the workmanship of other peoples’ I saw.
“Working with my hands with fine detail, I was particularly impressed by Japanese netsuke, which not only helped me with my own work as an artist but also helped me appreciate the workmanship of fine British guns. As I became more successful, I bought several pairs but was never entirely satisfied with them.
“Guns, for me, are like a beautiful woman—there has to be a special attraction—and when I saw my first pair of William & Son guns, they were beauties to behold even down to the leather traveling case that held them.
“Knowing William, I knew excellence was in his DNA, and the small team he has assembled around Paul West I knew would build superb guns.
“When I started discussions, I wanted 20-bores, which are equally effective but incomparably more beautiful than 12s. As an artist, I knew that 30" barrels on a 20-bore action would not only produce perfect proportions but also be perfectly suited to my 6-foot 3-inch frame.
“I decided to leave the decorating detail entirely to William and Paul, with the exception of having my initials, ‘PM,’ inlaid just in front of the trigger guard. I have the highest respect for their ability and wanted to effect the outcome as little as possible.
“The guns are a 30-year-old dream come true, and they fulfilled my every aspiration; I’m totally satisfied.”
Paul West, who spent 19 years with Holland & Holland and holds the title of Gun Maker at William & Son, oversaw the guns’ production. In fact, William Asprey has a rich vein of H&H talent running through his workforce: Actioners John Craven and Mark Sullivan, stocker Stephane Dupille and finisher Colin Orchard all spent time with the firm. Barrels are by Mick Kelly. The pair is built on the H&H self-opening action and is brush-bright finished with heavy scroll ladder engraving by Peter Cusack.
If this story has a silver lining, it is that the pair features all of the hallmarks of best guns: They are sidelock ejectors stocked to the fences, and they feature self-opening actions without clumsy rib extensions, which could impede loading on driven shoots. I had an opportunity to assay the guns at the most recent SCI Convention, in Reno—itself a town famous for silver—and can assure you they are of sterling quality.
For more information, contact William & Son, 01144-20-7493-8385; www.williamandson.com. —Douglas Tate
Baserro Shotguns Debut
Ask a Basque about a “baserri,” and he will describe the half-timbered, stone-built farmhouses found solely in the Pyrenees. Derived from the roots basa (“wild”) and herri (“settlement”), baserri is a Basque word for an isolated farm. So why is a shotgun sourced in Italy named after a farm found only on the borders of Spain and France?
“To fully understand Baserri as our name, you will have to know the full story,” said Baserri President Alan Thompson. “We started by having conversations with AyA to bring these shotguns to market. I chose ‘Baserri’ because of the Basque nature of the word. I fully realize that the Basque language, Euskara, is only spoken in a small area of northern Spain and southern France. When we had to shift our production to FABARM, in northern Italy, we gave a tremendous amount of thought to changing the name of the company, but in the end we decided to keep the name for its sound and definition.”
Thompson is the type of man who believes in getting things done. To him the name, strength and beauty of his shotguns are all serious considerations. “While our shotguns are beautiful in their design, I will have to point to the strength of the barrel as the single point that defines them,” he said. “The way the barrels are engineered and constructed allows for the rest of the gun to follow. Our barrels begin as solid bars of chrome molybdenum steel, which are left out in the elements for one year. This exposure to heat, cold, rain and dryness tempers the steel, making it harder and harder. They are then drilled a series of three times to give us the best barrels in the world.
“This creates the Tribore barrel. The Tribore barrel has eliminated the forcing cone by gradually reducing the bore from .740" to .724", which increases shot velocity, reduces felt recoil and provides better patterns. Most forcing cones are one inch or so in length—our reduction happens over 8-1/2". Our 12-gauge shotguns have much lower felt recoil than others on the market.”
Two models are offered—both over/unders called Mari after the principal feminine deity of Basque mythology. Appropriately, the Basque supreme goddess is associated with various forces of nature, including thunder, and often is represented as a woman of fire or a thunderbolt. The Mari Elite, intended for sporting clays, has a steel action; the Mari HR, built with wingshooting in mind, has an aluminum action.
Internally, the guns are the same. The HR becomes the Elite when higher-grade walnut, sideplates and more detailed engraving are added. The sporting gun features 30-inch barrels and a full set of five extended chokes. The hunting gun has 28-inch barrels and four chokes. As might be expected of a gun capable of digesting 3" magnums, the Mari Elite weighs a full eight pounds, while the HR aluminum-frame gun weighs just more than six. The basic HR model sells for $2,295, while the Elite goes for $1,000 more.
For more information, contact Baserri Shotguns, 281-686-3544; www.baserrishotguns.com. — Douglas Tate
Spent Shells Along the Atlantic
My first job after college (way too many years ago now) was with Pennsylvania Game News, a small magazine published by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. As well as writing articles, I evaluated manuscripts that others had sent in for publication. The stories Game News printed tended to be straightforward accounts by people who hunted avidly and had good tales to tell. The pieces may not have been stylish, but they were honest, informative and full of life.
That’s how I’d describe Spent Shells Along the Atlantic, by Tom S. Long. The book is a labor of love written by a self-styled “waterfowl nut” who has hunted ducks and geese on the Atlantic Coast for 50 years. Drawing from his memory and field notes, Long sets down dozens of hunting stories that ring utterly true.
The book works its way from south to north as Long relates local traditions and techniques from Florida lakes to North Carolina sounds to Maryland marshes, on through New Jersey mudflats and New York rivers to the rock-ribbed New England coast.
Long hunts with friends and colleagues, including older men who told him tales and introduced him to their own friends who shared additional waterfowling stories—what the author calls “bits and pieces of history.”
There are historic photos of duck-hunting clubs and market gunners, renowned decoy carvers (both contemporary and old-time) and the decoys themselves, including well-used beauts such as a graceful tern confidence decoy, a crude and battered brant, and a swan whose neck and head were fashioned from a curved root.
Long offers tips on where to hunt and which guides to hire; recipes such as Barnegat Club Oyster and Duck Stew (circa 1920); stories about gutsy retrievers; and descriptions of blinds, including the “Terrapin Hilton,” a well-accoutered hideaway where Long joined “a baker, banker, stockbroker, tugboat captain, farmer, businessman” in the best democratic tradition of Maryland Eastern Shore goose hunting.
Many vignettes bring places and people to life. Like the time during a brant hunt in North Carolina when Long’s guide “picked up lunch for us—fresh scallops right off the bottom. They were sweet and cold, right out of the sea with salty water still dripping off of them.”
Learn about “body booting” on the Susquehanna Flats near Havre de Grace, Maryland—basically, you stand in deep water while wearing chest waders or an old diver’s dry suit, teetering with your feet sunk in the mud, surrounded by decoys propped up on posts and crossbars, waiting to get off a shot.
Writes Long: “Every day on the water is pleasant, even if the ducks don’t fly my way. Watching the decoys bob along with the quickening breeze and scanning the clouds for late-arriving birds sometimes pays off. But when it doesn’t, the time spent with a good friend is truly worthwhile.”
That’s the feeling this book gives you: spending time with a good friend as he describes the world of waterfowling and the hunting to which he has dedicated his days.
Spent Shells Along the Atlantic is 240 pages and includes 365 photos. It is available for $55 plus shipping from Roger Sparks Publishing, www.spent shellsalongtheatlantic.com. —Charles Fergus
Collaborations between prestigious gunmakers and luxury leather-goods makers have proved popular and successful in recent years. Properly branded with various companies’ marques, the accessories may someday become as collectible as the guns they complement. In the UK Westley Richards, which celebrates its bicentennial in 2012, has long recognized the value of offering handcrafted leather gun cases and cartridge bags.
I own a Westley Richards catalog from the 1930s devoted entirely to ancillary equipment that is called The Requisites of Sport. Completely free of guns, it does offer a line of gun cases, including the Hurlingham Club, and a cartridge-bag line known as the Perfecta in both “hogskin” and “cowhide.”
Now Westley’s has supplemented its traditional accessories range, which includes everything from ammunition wallets to chukar boots, with weekend and safari luggage. My favorites are the Gladstone bags made from rich Cohiba-colored bridle leather; they wouldn’t look out of place in a Merchant Ivory movie. Others in exotic ostrich, buffalo, elephant and zebra are offered on a bespoke basis and are as soft as butter.
Prices vary, depending upon who supplies the exotic hides —the client or the manufacturer. Following are some examples (with Westley’s-supplied skins).
• Ostrich Skin Bag with hand-engraved silver buckle: £1,200.
• Part Alligator Skin Cartridge Bag: £420.
• Full Alligator Skin Cartridge Bag: £620
• Zebra/Elephant/Alligator Skin Three-Buckle Pouch: £350.
• Alligator Shotgun Slip: £1,350.
• 250-Round Oak & Alligator Skin Cartridge Case: £4,600.
• 250-Round Oak & Elephant Skin Cartridge Case: £4,800.
“Westley Richards has been making its leather goods for 10 years, and we have a full leather workshop onsite and manufacture all our own gun cases, cartridge magazines and soft leather goods,” said Karena Clode, who is responsible for the safari product line. “I am afraid we cannot say they are made elsewhere and labeled by us, as we have the same commitment to quality with our leather goods as we do with our guns. Everything has been tried and tested in the field. For example, we do not have metal zips on our slips in order to reduce the risk of damage to the guns; instead we use top-quality zips from Riri. Details like this make the difference in our products and set us apart from all other suppliers.”
Accented with solid-brass fittings and hand stitched with waxed-linen thread, the entire line is built to exacting standards. Westley’s even offers a service whereby it will personalize leather items by matching the monogram from the escutcheon of your gun. Like fine guns, these classic bags are destined to become valued possessions passed down through generations.
For more information, contact Westley Richards, 01144-121-333-1900; www.westleyrichards.co.uk. —Douglas Tate
Building a Better Boot
These are not your father’s Bean boots.
L.L. Bean Technical Upland Boots don’t look anything like the company’s iconic hunting boots, but then they don’t look much like anyone else’s hunting boots either. In your hands and on your feet, they don’t feel much like the traditional leather boots we know and love. With just a couple of reservations, I’m ready to call this a good thing.
The boots are the latest in a string of innovations for bird hunters from Bean’s. The synthetic upper is a material called Superfabric—an armor of rugged little plates interwoven with more flexible fibers. Lined with a Gore-Tex membrane, the boots come closer to the “waterproof and breathable” ideal than anything I’ve worn before. At just 2H pounds, the boots feel noticeably light, especially when I’m walking.
The Boa lacing system uses a continuous strand of thin stainless-steel cable, three pivot points and a ratcheting knob at the top of the tongue to snug the boot down onto your foot. The system works as intended in that it can’t come undone by itself and looks unbreakable. The “gee-whiz” factor is high, especially when you pull out the knob to free-spool and pop loose the whole boot with one hand in a fraction of a second.
Admittedly for traditionalists, these boots are aesthetically challenging; but in real life your pants cuffs cover most of the boot and offset the “moon boots” first impression. The Boa lacing system feels tight on the instep—especially at the lowest crossover point. Either the boots would benefit from more lacing crossovers or I need to work past believing that only a very snug boot keeps me safe from blisters. And while the boots can’t be resoled, they look and feel like they’ll give several seasons and hundreds of miles before that’s even an issue.
At $179, the Technical Upland Boot is being billed as “the toughest boot L.L. Bean has ever offered.” I don’t doubt it, although the classic Maine Hunting Shoes I got from Bean’s more than 30 years ago are still among my favorites. —Ed Carroll