Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Kelly has a knack for cultivating the sweet spot in America’s fine shotgun market. His collection of bespoke Plantation side by sides and over/unders for the field are built to his exact specifications by family-owned Fratelli Poli Armi in Gardone Val Trompia, Italy – replete with the hand-finishing you’d expect from an $80,000 English Best, but starting at $8,995.
“Much of the pleasure of shooting is what accompanies it and sharing it all with a good friend.” ~ George Bird Evans, The Upland Shooting Life (1971)
The child tells what he got for Christmas, the mature man tells how he spent the day; the immature hunter tells how many birds he shot, the mature gunner tells of the experience. If I can impart a sense of gunning values through my writing, I urge the gunner at any age to lift himself above the childish state of mind, thinking only of himself and not what he is doing to the birds.
– George Bird Evans, An Affair with Grouse (1982)
Now for the unthinkable: from the workshop of English best gunmaker James Purdey & Sons emerges an audacious 12-gauge clays gladiator fit for the Olympics. The idea may not seem so far-fetched after shooting the new Purdey Trigger Plate over/under.
The topic of Team GB competing with a Purdey shotgun at the 2024 Paris summer Olympics arose from a conversation with George Juer, Purdey’s Manager of North American Sales. He was driving a Polaris as we zipped through countryside hills of the sporting clays course at Griffin & Howe’s Hudson Farm in Andover, New Jersey. I was still talking about a few of the remarkable shots I had made with the Purdey Trigger Plate (even surprising myself), despite that the 8-pound/11-ounce demo model came with extra barrel thickness for high driven pheasants. Final production weight should be closer to 8 pounds/3 ounces.
Up until a few weeks ago Rich Cole’s stellar career was 100-percent Italian shotguns. Starting in 1979 he joined Beretta USA as a five-dollar-per-hour apprentice gunsmith. The job included extensive time at the mothership in Gardone, Italy learning the finer points of repairing and enhancing Beretta sporting shotguns.
From the small town of Thomasville, Georgia, Kevin’s Plantation Collection of exquisite shotguns has amassed an oversized influence on the wingshooting community. And now the collection’s namesake creator, Kevin Kelly, is ready to rock our world again with his remarkably low priced 20-gauge over/under.
The horn blasts, I look to the sky of burnished blue and pheasants appear over the hillside trees. The birds glide high and fast toward us, riding prevailing winds with gusts like pheasant afterburners.
The volley of shotgun blasts marks another driven hunt as dropped birds get taken up by our eager dogs. I discovered that here at 8,000 feet shotgun shells hold their patterns longer and tighter than at sea level, giving rise to extraordinary wingshooting – although our party includes serious talent.
Meet Augustus Fink-Nottle, known as Gus. He’s not the P.G. Wodehouse character from the novels. Instead, he’s the namesake Labrador Retriever from Florida who, in 2017 at age three, became the only American born, bred and trained gundog to win field trials in the U.K.
Some people in our sporting universe create beautiful shotguns. Others, like Paul Mihailides, make highly desirable shotguns while also building an all-encompassing upland nirvana in which to enjoy them.
There’s a difference between the gifted craftsmen who build gorgeous shotguns and the renaissance men like Mr. Mihailides, whose entrepreneurial vision shapes the future of our sport. Mr. Mihailides is the American owner of the Italian fine gun firm, Famars. He’s made a fortune in construction and used those resources to build the 3,500-acre residential sporting community and luxury event venue, The Preserve at Boulder Hills – replete with largest and longest underground automated gun range in America – in his home state of Rhode Island.
Spanish gun makers established their reputations for quality and value by replicating England’s best guns for a fraction of the price. Now Retay Arms of Konya Turkey has taken a cue from Spain by manufacturing the Masai Mara semi-auto with an upgraded inertia-action adopted from Benelli shotguns, but retails for about half.
I set out quail hunting with David Lanier at Carr Farms in the plantation belt around his hometown of Albany, Georgia. He’s an affable guy with your average mid-50s paunch and a friendly clean-shaven face shaded by the brim of a blaze ball cap. The brush pants, frayed at the hems, bunched up at the buckled wingshooter boots scuffed and rough, his forest-green hunting shirt nicely ironed and the pouches of his vest swollen with gear (he always hunts with a camera).