Bearing serial numbers 7481, 7482, 7483, the shotguns were made in Scotland, and completed and London proofed in October 1992. The bespoke trio was originally consigned by Mr. Charles Williams - one of Africa's legendary safari guides.
Mr. Williams was the founding member of the African Professional Hunters Association. Famous for his adventures on safaris in Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, he is also renowned for his trekking and rafting in Nepal, his wing shooting in the U.K. and fishing expeditions in Argentina. Now living in Colorado with his American wife, he is currently Director of Legendary Adventures, Inc. - the Houston, Texas marketing and booking arm of his safari organization that includes Ker & Downey and Gametrackers, Ltd., both in Tanzania.
Having been born in Zimbabwe (called Rhodesia in his youth), Mr. Williams was raised around fine long guns. He had served as a Senior Game Warden in Zimbabwe, before moving to Botswana in 1974 where he was appointed managing director of Ker & Downey, one of the oldest and most respected safari companies in Africa. Under Mr. Williams' leadership, Ker & Downey expanded its big-game operation to include wingshooting, photographic safaris, elephant-back safaris, horseback safaris "and basically anything to do with wildlife and the outdoors," he told us.
An avid hunter of grouse, partridge and pheasant in the U.K., Mr. Williams commissioned this extraordinary garniture of shotguns because "a guide needs to have the right equipment, and that's why I had the trio made by David McKay Brown," he said.
Griffin & Howe describes the trio in its online gun room as "just one example illustrating the exquisite taste this African legend has acquired over the many years of collecting fine firearms and many African trophies."
Mr. Williams said the guns "shot beautifully."
Ideally, you would need two loaders for the trio to shoot a covey of grouse from the standing position, he explained, enabling the shooter to take two to four shots at the incoming birds, followed by two to four shots as the birds flew past.
The trio, numbered 1, 2, and 3 in gold inlay, features straight English stocks and splinter forends from the best Turkish walnut, which are oil finished. Each gun has double triggers and ejectors. The case-color hardened receiver is adorned with full coverage scroll engraving by Charles Lee, formerly of James Purdey & Sons. Mr. Lee confided that he shot with Mr. McKay Brown in the British Isles before moving to Ione, California in 2000, so in this particular instance there existed a personal bond of hunting between both artisans.
Mr. McKay Brown told us via phone from his main workshop in the village of Bothwell (approximately eight miles south of Glasgow) that this trio had been the third of three-shotgun sets made by his company. The trio had been completed on October 15, 1991, after some 30 months of labor. It's important to understand that McKay Brown's annual production is just over 30 guns, comprising 30% side by sides and 70% over-and-unders, with one or two double rifles. To date, Mr. McKay Brown estimates that his concern has produced about 12 trios since he established David McKay Brown, Ltd. in 1967.
At McKay Brown, he is accompanied by four other craftsmen. Lockmaker Douglas Proctor has been with the gunmaker for 31 years. Jim McDonald, the barrel maker, has plied his skills for 28 years. The actioneer, Robin Moir, has been at the McKay Brown bench for 23 years. Stockmaker, Brian Silclair, has performed 21 years of service. And Mr. McKay Brown's wife, Alexe, attends to administration and accounting.
Mr. McKay Brown's world-renowned shotguns reflect the skill and craftsmanship associated with London's Modern Age of sporting guns that historian Michael McIntosh says started in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London. It was there that London gunmaker Joseph Lang exhibited the first modern English breechloader based on a design by Frenchman, Casimir Lefaucheux, Mr. McIntosh writes in the second edition of his seminal book, Best Guns.
Indeed, Mr. McKay Brown got his start in gun making the old-world way, through an apprenticeship with the Glasgow company of Alex Martin Ltd. in 1957. Before his apprenticeship was completed, the business had been purchased by the celebrated Edinburgh gunmaker, John Dickson & Son.
Notably, it was Dickson who commercialized the so-called round-body shotgun some time between 1880 and 1887, according to McIntosh.
This proved providential as Mr. McKay Brown was able to complete his apprenticeship and training in the Edinburgh workshop, where he became steeped in the art of the elegant round-body design.
Mr. McKay Brown characterized the round-body shotgun as "Very desirable for someone who wants light, fast handling guns." And so it was preordained that shotguns bearing his name would be built on the Dickson round action.
The agility of round-action shotguns can be traced to their inherent small size and strength. Since the locks are mounted on the trigger plate, round-action shotguns can be more compact than the first hammerless shotguns based on the still-popular Anson & Deeley boxlock patents (or the similar actions of sidelock shotguns), where the action is mounted in the receiver and at the back of the barrel breeches.
Aesthetics aside, the low profile and low center of gravity of the round-action shotgun allow for a receiver with a rounded bottom, which is more suited to the natural contour of your hand. Round-action shotguns, therefore, convey the immediate impression of being nimble, ergonomic and a sheer joy to shoot.
As it turned out, round-action shotguns did not appear from McKay Brown until 1974 - some seven years after he first established his workshop in the town of Hamilton, and subsequently relocated to his current location in Bothwell. As he progressed from the boxlock to the round-action, Mr. McKay Brown had to assess the best way to manufacture these guns to his exacting standards. He ultimately opted for a process of machining components to a point where they can then be hand-finished in the spirit of traditional gun making.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges he faces in making a trio is obtaining a matching set of three stock blanks. "They have to come from the same tree, and also the same part of the tree," he explained. For his discriminating eye he selects Turkish walnut down by the roots, the part of the tree that yields the best figuring.
In recalling this splendid trio, Mr. McKay Brown said "The guns would be ideal for driven grouse - light and very fast handling."
He characterized them as the best of the standard game guns of their period, with 27-inch barrels and weighing 6 pounds, 6 ounces. Although the guns are nearly identical, the biggest difference is in the bores and constrictions of the barrels:
|Gun 1||Gun 2||Gun 3|
|Bores Left/Right||.727/. 727||.725/. 725||.726/. 728|
|Chokes Left/Right||.010/ .004||.007/. 004||.008/. 005|
While volume wingshooting was clearly the intent of Mr. Williams' trio, Mr. McKay Brown said having such a garniture further ensures that hunters see the full value of an expensive shooting trip. He observed that shooters are traveling more to destinations such as Argentina and Spain for wingshooting, and if one gun suffers damage en route the owner still has a working pair.
But it was the full splendor of the trio that captured my attention, when I first laid eyes on it at the Southern Side by Side Fall Classic at the Back Woods Quail Club in Georgetown, South Carolina, during four glorious days in the middle of October 2008. It had been later in the day and I was wandering through the exhibition tent, when I saw the trio at the Griffin & Howe table.
The guns were resting in their case made from 300-year-old oak covered with leather that possessed the fine patina of a sporting gentleman's passage. Burgundy velvet lined the lid cover and the ribs between the fitted compartments. The complete presentation certainly made the guns seem older than their actual age, but if the vintage was somewhat misleading the craftsmanship remained timeless. Here was an extraordinary garniture of shotguns that reflected the very best of the Golden Age of gunmaking, but built in the twentieth century.
Of course I wondered, where could I possibly find $150,000 to buy these guns? A second mortgage? Cash in my 401(k)? Max-out my credit cards?
I used to think that if I had a spare $150,000 I would buy an Aston Martin. No longer. It would be this McKay Brown trio.
The shotguns are now owned by a Wall Street superstar of arbitrage. This gentleman, along with a brace of loaders, had attained record bags with this beautiful set - becoming one of the best shots representing Griffin & Howe on many of their shooting parties.
Alas, after decades of skiing too hard and too fast, shoulder and back surgery have demanded that he change his tools of the shooting sports to a 28-gauge shotgun. He therefore passes on this trio to the next fortunate, temporary custodian.
Now enter Griffin & Howe...
The 86-year-old purveyor of fine guns is representing the owner of the McKay Brown trio that is currently available. In addition, Griffin & Howe has been the U.S. agent for David McKay Brown for almost two decades, and their relationship prevails to this day. So even if the present, splendid trio does not strike your fancy, you can follow in the legendary footsteps of Charles Williams and commission a McKay Brown bespoke trio to fit your own specifications.
In wrapping up my phone conversation with Mr. McKay Brown, I half-joked that before I'm laid to rest I wanted to own one of his shotguns. He said that next time I'm in Scotland I should pay him a visit. Hmmm...there's a tempting thought. But after all, Griffin & Howe is only a drive several hours north. I think it's time to fire up the M Coupe.
To purchase a copy of Michael McIntosh's "Best Guns" please visit our Shotgun U bookstore.