Shooting grouse requires tough, reliable guns that handle instinctively and can be reloaded quickly. Mike Yardley picks 10 to take to the moors (this article first appeared in The Field).
Grouse were arguably the first native birds to be routinely driven, but they have always been walked up, too. If you are roving over heather moor early season, taking quick shots of opportunity, a light, quick-handling gun can be a boon. If you are standing in a butt mid or late season, the requirements are rather different.
Fifty years ago, 26in, 27in and 28in side-by-sides weighing about 6½lb to 6¾lb were the norm. Dedicated grouse guns—all fixed choke—were once made with the right barrel tighter, the rationale being the first shot was likely to be at distance and the second open for when the birds were over the butt.
Today, guns used for grouse are typically choked improved or quarter right and half or three-quarters left if side-by-side; similarly with over-and-unders. Things will change if steel becomes the norm (in which case, my advice is quarter and quarter). The general modern trend is towards heavier, longer guns. Weights in 12-bore are rarely much under 7½lb, while 30in has become the standard barrel length.
The side-by-side has the advantage when grouse shooting that it is quick to load. I still use one walking up, but I use pairs and single over-and-under 20-bores for most driven work. I set them up to shoot top barrel first to facilitate quick loading. My machine-made 20-bores weigh just over 7lb and accommodate a 12-bore load easily—that is 30gm or 32gm (of No 5 shot for me) without discomfort. The advantage of the 30in machine-made 20 is that it handles much like a best bench-made 12 of old. I have no prejudice against the 12, meantime, and use them, too.
Grouse guns don’t need to be smart, they just need to work. Reliability is a key factor because the sport has become so costly. Walked up or driven, no one wants a broken gun to end their day early. Although I love vintage guns, I tend towards recommending modern ones for use singly or in pairs, and there are cartridge considerations, too, with steel shot an imminent possibility. All the guns listed here are suitable for standard steel loads if suitably choked; many have superior fleur-de-lys proof, compatible with High Performance Steel.
The AyA No 2
This gun has long been a favourite with traditionalists. The design is based on the Holland Royal. The much-imitated original is an amalgam of all things good (and followed the equally iconic Purdey, the patent for which the Royal circumvented by the early 1890s). Other Continental makers offer ‘logical alternatives’ but none have surpassed AYA’s reputation for classic form and reliability.
My call is for the No 2 Deluxe. Available in 12- and 20-bore, it is smarter than the basic No 2 and boasts better wood and laser-etched, hand-finished engraving. It is presented much like a No 1 but without the hand engraving. A single gun costs £11,505 and a pair £25,000. The No 1 is still available at £19,800. If I was ordering one (or any fixed-choke gun) now, I would opt for quarter and quarter; steel does not need the same constriction as lead.
This gun (RRP £4,250) will be phased out next year but is still available at time of writing. I like its combination of style and excellent performance. The action design is evolved, and the shooting qualities of any of the 69 series are first class. Deep-scroll engraving sets the 695 apart. I also like the handling and stock shapes. Sadly, Beretta is dropping the 69 series action from its game gun line-up, but the 695 remains an outstanding gun and a good buy.
I will also recommend the 687 EELL (£6,750 in multichoked form). If you were to suggest a gun for someone who does a lot of driven shooting, you could never go wrong by advising a single or pair of EELL 12-bores. Virtually indestructible, slightly blinged-up with sideplates (which also put a bit of weight between the hands), they set a standard for modern game guns.
The new SL3 appeals in 20-bore (£19,145) and the recent Ultraleggero (£2,500) sets new standards for a steel-actioned lightweight. For those with deep pockets, the SO10 in 20-bore (£83,825) is outstanding. Beretta’s newish side-by-side, the 486 Parallelo (from £4,700), is good value and a much better gun than the old 471 it replaced.
This is the latest multichoked offering from Blaser, which was launched in 2016. The basic model (from £3,397) has attractive but severe styling with a plain grey action. There are more embellished versions, including a sideplated Heritage model (from £10,030).
There is a lady’s gun, too, the Intuition (also from £3,397), upon which I had some input in regard to stock design. Externally, the F16 looks quite like the more expensive and technically more intriguing F3 introduced in 2003. This has a novel inline hammer mechanism designed by Russian engineer Sergie Popikov (unlike the F16’s more conventional mechanics).
My favourite Blaser model is the 30in F3 that was, until recently, called the ‘Professional’ and is now listed as a competition gun (RRP £8,106). Its flat sighting rib and Briley multichokes makes it suitable for game, too.
The 725 is an improved version of the well-proven 525, with a lower action, better trigger pulls and clever sealed ‘DS’ multichokes. The 20-bores handle exceptionally well but the 12 is an outstanding gun, too, and one that I have used on big days with considerable success.
The guns offer value. The Grade 1 ‘UK Hunter Premium’ is available in 28in and 30in in 12-bore at £2,449 and in 20-bore for £2,455, both with a rounded fore-end and semi-pistol grip. There is also a new 725 Game in 12-bore. It is thinner in comb and hand with a London-style fore-end and scroll engraving.
The plain little 525 20-bores still offer value—the basic Game 1 selling for just £1,699. The new 525 Game Laminate also impresses; it is a 30in 12-bore notable for low recoil, plain aesthetics and excellent shooting qualities as well as a budget price (RRP £1,799). There is a side-plated Heritage Hunter, too (RRP £6,789), based on the old 425 action in 12- and 20-bore only with 30in barrels.
Caesar Guerini Maxum
I do much of my own game shooting with these guns in 20-bore. They shoot extremely well in 30in (and 32in) form, look good with deep-scroll laser engraving and offer exceptional value (RRP £3,785). I like the way all the sideplated Guerini 20s handle, especially with 30in solid sighting rib barrels.
A new ‘Maxum Limited’ (RRP £5,500) is on its way with a chemically ‘case-hardened’ coloured action, rounded fore-end and upgraded wood. Guerini already offers the extra finish Forum and elegant Revenant models (RRP £6,975 and £9,775), as well as two lightweight guns suitable for walking up: the Tempio Light (RRP £2,320) and the sideplated Magnus Light (RRP £2,940).
Holland & Holland Royal 12-bore side-by-side and 20-bore over-and-under
I have often said that should I ever win the lottery, I would order a pair of Royal 12-bore side-by-sides (RRP from £144,000 for a single gun) and a 30in 20-bore Royal over-and-under (£156,000). The side-by-side sidelocks are the definitive British gun, in my opinion, beloved by their users and gunsmiths alike with a straightforward design and Southgate-type ejector work (and assisted opening from 1922).
They shoot wonderfully well in 28in and 30in. They are much copied for a reason. The 20-bore Royal over-and-under is also a splendid gun with delightful handling and wonderful trigger pulls. A pre-owned Royal or Royals might tempt but bear in mind that work on best London guns is extremely expensive now and vintage guns may present problems with steel ammunition. Condition—and, notably, barrel wall thickness—is all important.
Miroku MK60 Grade V
This is based on a slightly modified Browning B25 design with a full-width hinge pin and classic Browning bolting. It offers, arguably, the most bang and bling for the least buck, with excellent wood and hand engraving in a proven design. They’ve just been discontinued but single guns and numbered pairs are still available if you search.
They will come as fixed choke at quarter and three-quarters but can easily be de-choked for use with standard steel. There is a relatively new MK60 High Pheasant with 32in barrels choked full and three-quarters, but also watch out for the High Pheasant II coming out this autumn, which will be available with 30in and 32in multichoked tubes, thus making it more suitable for grouse. Another interesting new gun, and a good shooting one, is the side-plated, profusely laser engraved, MK11 (RRP £6,199). Ideal for the moors with its solid rib.
This is imported by ASI. Rizzini has become a major player and its 20-bore over-and-unders are particularly good. They handle and shoot well and are typically attractive and well priced. The basic guns impress with round or square bar, but the deluxe models—the Regal (£5,232) and Regal Deluxe (£6,120)—are notable. Both are sideplated (improving balance with extra central mass) and boldly engraved.
The Regal Deluxe has an extended trigger guard and a hand-engraved steel grip cap. Matched and numbered pairs are available at a supplement of 10%. Rizzini also makes a nice side-by-side, which appeals in both 16- and 20-bore and might make an excellent grouse gun (from £3,760).
Designed and patented by Frederick Beesley in 1880, this iconic gun is in its 140th season. To many, it is the non plus ultra of sporting guns. A single side-by-side sidelock, 12-, 16- or 20-bore, costs a formidable £122,000 plus VAT. Unless specified otherwise, it will have house rose-and-scroll engraving, a straight-hand stock, double triggers and fixed chokes.
Delivery time is 18 to 24 months. The low-profile Purdey Woodward over-and-under with unique, strong tongue-and-groove locking and trunnion hinging (which most modern makers now use) begins at £139,500 plus VAT. Both side-by-side and over-and-under are available in Damascus steel at £154,500 and £166,000 respectively, plus VAT. There are less-expensive options. The excellent new PTP (Purdey Trigger Plate) is £65,000 plus tax and the ‘sporter’, made in association with Perugini and Visini and designed for game as well as clay shooting, is £39,500 plus VAT in 12- or 20-bore.
This firm offers an interesting range of game guns made in association with Rizzini. My pick would be the 30in side-plated Sovereign 16-bore side-by-side, RRP £4,995), which handles and shoots beautifully, and the true sidelock 12-bore Viscount (£11,995). Both in 12-, 16- and 20-bore. The firm also offers good over-and-under game guns, starting with the no-nonsense Perdix (RRP £3,995), which boasts a well-conceived semi-pistol grip and a rounded fore-end.
William Evans and EJ Churchill also offer suitable shotguns made in association with Continental makers.