At $127,000, is the 28-Gauge Buchan Balmoral the Best Upland Bird Gun Money Could Buy?

Let’s say I had $127,000 kicking around. As an avid upland wing shooter, what would I do with that chunk of dough? In the blink of an eye, I’d write a check for the Buchan Balmoral 28-gauge over/under.

Guy Bignell, former President of Griffin & Howe, who has over his 65 years of shooting experience, and rejoices that he has been blessed enough to have shot the finest sporting shotguns in the world, including “London’s Best,” said of the Buchan Balmoral “The way in which a Buchan shotgun demonstrates handling quality is more dynamic than any so called “best gun” is truly remarkable. The way in which so little felt recoil is transferred to the shoulder through the Buchan stock is a tribute to the experience of the master stock maker in the build process, in addition to diminutive muzzle jump is a surprising delight when shooting in volume.” 

2 Guys
Guy Bignell (left) with Grant Buchan.

Never heard of Buchan Guns? Grant Buchan is the Scotsman who bought the legendary Scottish gunmaker, McKay Brown, in 2021. Prior, Grant had started and continues to run one of Europe’s  finest gunsmithing operations. After poking around the guts of English shotguns his entire career, he subsequently decided to combine his encyclopedic knowledge of shotguns with his astute design aesthetic to launch Buchan Guns. 

After endeavoring four years to design and build the first Buchans, Grant introduced the limited-production Buchan Balmoral Sidelock Ejector in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge at the January 2019 Dallas Safari Club Convention in the booth of Griffin & Howe, which along with Gordy & Sons outfitters in Houston are the exclusive importers and agents for Buchan Guns. With the Balmoral Sidelock Ejectors in production at a maximum of 4-to-6 guns annually, they are available for viewing and testing at Griffin & Howe at Hudson Farm in Andover, New Jersey – where you can evaluate both the 28-gauge and 12-gauge Buchan Balmorals at one of the most beautiful sporting clays courses in America.

This 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral receiver is adorned by the art of Master Engraver Stefano Pedretti.

Now 100-percent Scottish made at the combined McKay Brown/Buchan Guns facilities, the Balmoral Sidelock was born as a $120,000-plus tour de force sidelock exclusively engraved by the Italian Master Stefano Pedretti, the geniuses at Creative Art of Italy and Scotswoman Karen Wallace, winner of the 2023 Jacques Cartier Award for Excellence. Each Buchan is assembled with slotted traditional screws that fasten flush. On the receiver, the screws not only provide a seamless integration of components, but also provide smooth surfaces for the engravers to ply their art.


In the same way that McKay Brown shotguns were the singular expression of the gunmaker David McKay Brown, the Buchan Balmoral adheres to Grant’s exacting standards in striving to build a Scottish best gun that carries the family name.

A workforce of 11 craftsmen, who have extensive experience in building the best guns, work on both McKay Browns and Buchans, according to Grant. Each Buchan is machined and assembled in the company’s Aberdeenshire main facility. Next, the shotguns are sent to Buchan’s Glasgow shop for a rough hand-finishing. Finally, the Buchans are returned to Aberdeenshire for final hand-finishing. A Buchan takes much longer to build than a McKay Brown because it’s more complex. 

The classic lines of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.
The classic lines of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.

“We use the advantage of modern aerospace machinery CNC machining only to take the parts of a Buchan to a certain stage where you can then hand fit each part,” Grant explained. “Our guns are finished by highly skilled and trained craftsmen who every day strive to raise the quality and finish using time honored methods. All the parts are 100-percent hand fitted. There’s not a single square millimeter on a Buchan that is not hand-finished, and during that process there’s an enormous amount of regulation and fine tuning.” 

For example, the Buchans are polished to a 3500-grit micro-finish internally which would be considered extremely fine. Grant made the comparison that some guns, like a McKay Brown, are taken to a 1500-grit grade finish.

Only in-house craftsmen touch a Buchan. They do the plating of copper, nickel and gold. The bluing is processed on-site using Brazilian-basin charcoal plus proprietary ingredients.

The underside of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral receiver.
The underside of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral receiver.

By using the English-made Sheffield EN24 alloy steel on Buchan barrels “we were the first British gunmaker to achieve Superior Proof with extra-full/extra-full chokes, according to the London Proof Master,” Grant said. “We did it through a mixture of clever barrel-making technology. Our barrels have a long lead-in to the choke and 70-mm of chokes that helps reduced pressure for the superior steel performance.” Silver soldering of the ribs meanwhile affixes the ribs to withstand the vibrations of superior steel proof. “The barrels can be ordered to accommodate either Briley or Teague chokes.

Buchan’s are fitted with Turkish-walnut stocks. Grant will tell you that has a great passion for walnut and for this reason he acquires blanks every time he finds something interesting. Buchan keeps a vast inventory of blanks naturally seasoned for at least six years. The Buchans are hand-checkered at 24-to-34 lines per inch in an interweave of tiny pyramids. More than two months of daily work are needed to complete the oil polishing of each stock. 

You can see the Boss-style lock-up on the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.
You can see the Boss-style lock-up on the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.

By observing the light reflected on the smooth surface of a Buchan Balmoral stock, you detect the absence of undulation – a surefire way to determine the stock’s museum-quality finish, Grant pointed out. 

He continued, “Our wood is chosen for its strength, beauty and color from specialists guaranteeing traditional age-perfected drying techniques. If you want to build shotguns in accordance with tradition, you must not violate the walnut by carving it with machines. The work must be done by hand, with chisels that cut it gently following the grain and adapting it perfectly to the steel.”

After shooting the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral on clays, as I packed my gear, I remained amazed at having just experienced arguably the best-shooting upland gun money could buy. Some enthusiasts might think I’m nuts, countering that it’s impossible for an upstart outlier like Buchan to excel over shotgun royalty like Holland & Holland, Purdey, Hartmann & Weiss, Boss, Fabbri, Bosis, Beretta and others in that stratospheric brilliance whose shotguns are so beautiful and finely tuned that shooting one will change your life forever. But my response would be: shoot a 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral and judge for yourself; it will blow your mind. 

The receiver of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.
The receiver of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.

Unfortunately, it was July when I received the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral. With quail out of the question, I visited the Ranges at Oakfield in Shotgun Life’s hometown of Thomasville, Georgia – in the heart of the Red Hills Region of quail plantations and preserves. The target setters at Oakfield take no prisoners on us quail hunters and you can always expect difficult presentations at their five-stand. But what I didn’t anticipate was the humongous distance of some targets – with a 28 gauge no less. The results were mind-blowing.

With 29-inch barrels choked full/extra full, and a state-of-the-art trigger, I routinely broke targets 40 and 50 yards out (if not longer). Of course, I got lucky that the shotgun fit relatively well (a bit long for me), but I kept shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary performance of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral. God, if only it were quail season.

Of the shotgun’s attributes such as graceful handling and comfortable ergonomics, it was the trigger that shone the brightest.

For $127,000 you might expect a mechanical trigger; in fact, the Buchan Balmoral over/under has a three-bladed single inertia trigger. 

The Balmoral is based on a traditional sidelock design. Grant felt he could improve on other existing designs by creating a more streamlined and better functioning lock. As he described it, many sidelocks have a cumbersome intercepting sear, which is a long underlever that acts as a secondary safety mechanism. Many existing designs have a peculiar shape leg to get around the bridle, and not the most efficient way to release trigger engagement, he explained. Grant and his team changed the profile of the bridle and interceptor to form a symmetrical lock that was cocked at 42½ degrees. Now the interceptor sear travels an equal amount to the main sear giving intuitive, responsive trigger pulls. 


Throughout the development of the Buchan Balmoral sidelock trigger group, the Buchan Guns team experimented with different mainsprings for “thickness and shape.” He characterized the trigger pull of the Buchan Balmoral as “tremendously crisp.” (An added benefit via the trigger group is that the shotgun is now extremely easy to open, as I realized while shooting it.) Grant mentioned that the trigger can be set at 2-4 pounds as per the client, with either a 2-mm pull or instant pull. The Balmoral I shot averaged a 3.1-pound trigger pull.

“The trigger pull is unlike any other shotgun triggers I’ve experienced in the last 65 years, lock time is exceedingly brisk,” said Guy.

The forend of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.
The forend of the 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral.

After loading the shotgun shells, upon closing the gun you can feel the extremely tight tolerances of the Buchan Balmoral as it cocks in the Boss-inspired lock-up. Closing the Buchan Balmoral conveyed the same high-quality sensibility as assembling it: perfect component fits were punctuated by a confidence-inspiring click.

It’s particularly noticeable when installing the forend. In part, that’s because Grant designed a wrap-around steel chassis under the wood that enhances durability. “The wood is fully encased in a cage,” Grant said. “That means the wood doesn’t and can’t flex.” An adjustment screw helps maintain the proper forend tension, which generally relaxes with age in breakopen shotguns.

The Buchan Balmoral on loan had arrived in a wood Harris-tweed-covered motor case replete with leather buckled straps and brass knobs on the interior compartment lids. The cases are hand-crafted in Durham, England by a close colleague of Grant who manufactures other leather goods.

The 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral ships with a Harris-tweed-covered motor case.
The 28-gauge Buchan Balmoral ships with a Harris-tweed-covered motor case.

Opening the lid reveals the shotgun’s coin sideplates with full thistle engraving that extends down the trigger guard, long tang and up to the top strap, where the barrel selector and automatic safety reside. The darker hued wood showed a smokey figuring on the half pistol grip stock, finished with a checkered butt. The forend featured an Anson-style release button and the Buchan coat of arms in gold. The length of pull measured 14⅞ inches.

At Oakfield, I assembled the Buchan Balmoral and stepped up to my five-stand position. Holding the shotgun at the ready position with the butt slightly tucked into my armpit you can immediately feel the comfortable balance (the Buchan Balmoral was perfectly balanced on the hinge pins due in part to knuckles moved forward ¾mm during the design stages). 

“As for balance, the Balmoral is superior to any shotgun I have ever shot,” Guy commented. “The barrels float, the body taking them exactly where you intended them to be taken.”

Call “pull,” a long target flies out, and the Buchan Balmoral follows your eyes in a smooth and relaxed swing to the break point where the target shatters, revealing the tight chokes and effective patterning at longer distances. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself breathless after the first shot, absolutely mesmerized, at the purity and wonder of what just happened.

Of course, I don’t have $127,000 burning a hole in my pocket but if you do, expect to wait about 2½ years for your bespoke Buchan Balmoral.

Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at

Helpful resources:

The web site for Buchan Guns

The web site for Griffin & Howe at Hudson Farm

The Gordy & Sons Outfitters web site



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