Smart-looking and pleasing to shoot, this elegant over-and-under is an excellent all-rounder and can be made with bespoke stock dimensions at no extra cost – what’s not to like, asks Michael Yardley

Product Overview


William Powell Princeps

Smart-looking and pleasing to shoot, the William Powell Princeps, an elegant over-and-under, is an excellent all-rounder and can be made with bespoke stock dimensions at no extra cost – what’s not to like? To see the 10 most expensive guns in the world, click here.


william powell princeps

THIS month’s test gun is a new side-plated over-and-under from William Powell, the Banbury gunmaker and sporting agency. Made in Italy in association with B Rizzini, it is called the Princeps. Classicists may recall princeps means ‘leader’ or ‘first one’ in Latin. (WW Greener famously offered a Facile Princeps – this translating as ‘obvious leader’ until I stand corrected.) The new model weighs in at a fraction under 8lb, has 30in, steel-proofed barrels with 3in chambers, and a single non-selective trigger. The barrels are fixed choke, both constricted at 1/2. Teague chokes or William Powell’s own multi-chokes are an option.

First impressions are good. It is a particularly smart-looking gun with fine tight-scroll engraving, well-figured wood and a generally superior finish. The William Powell name is tastefully inset in gold on the action plates. This deluxe model comes with the extended trigger guard and steel grip cap, but the styling is not gaudy or overdone. The action is presented especially well. Sometimes this type of gun, with a full-width bolt beneath the bottom chamber mouth necessitating a higher action profile, can look a bit ungainly (B25-type guns with a full-width cross-pin too need to be even higher). That is not the case here. The cleverly rounded bar and elegant fences are well done, enhanced by excellent engraving.

I liked the top-lever too, but the nonselective, automatic safety is a little small. No selector is needed because both barrels are choked at 1/2. The extended trigger guard looks good, and there is beading to both sides of the bow. The only negative was that the guard was a little proud of the wood immediately behind the bow (there were no sharp edges, though). 

The 30in monobloc barrels have solid joining ribs and a solid and tapered (8mm to 6mm) sighting rib with a metal bead. All good. They are presented with long chambers and mid-length forcing cones. Proof marks are fleur-de-lys (struck in Brescia). The indicated barrel weight is 1,463g (comparatively light) and the bores are fairly tight at 18.40mm (.725in). I am guessing they have been set up for fibre wads, but they presented good patterns with plastic wads too. Meanwhile, 30in barrels in 12- or 20-bore seem to suit many users, whereas 32in barrels are undoubtedly best for competition but can restrict swing in a game gun because of their mass. I have found that the (relatively recent) combination of 30in barrels with a tapered solid rib seems to work especially well, though.

The stock of the William Powell Princeps was well figured and finished (with excellent fine chequering also extending to the butt sole) and well shaped too. The tapered comb profile was near my ideal; I liked the not-too-tightly-radiused, hand-filling pistol grip as well. Save for the palm swell, which tended to raise my rear arm elbow, it would be hard to better. The grip is similar in shape and scale to those on many best London big game rifles. I have always liked the pattern and the purchase and control it offers. The fore-end is good, having a rounded profile with an Anson rod fastener.

The Princeps – which can be made with bespoke dimensions at no extra cost – had a sensible 15⅛in length of pull as tested. The heel measurement is about 1/16in more than the length from middle of trigger to middle of butt sole – not quite enough, in my opinion. The toe measurement is just under ¼in extra, which to me is also a touch short. You would expect ⅛in and ⅜in respectively on most modern guns. My own call on an over-and-under would be 3/16in and ⅜in (and ¼in and ½in on a sideby- side). A little extra length and defined ‘bump’ at heel can make the gun feel secure at the shoulder and less prone to slipping. Too much length to toe does not suit those with large chests. Top to bottom flesh contact is required (and was present for me here). The gun was also unusually high in the comb (1¼in, 1⅞in), but this suited as many guns today are too low.

william powell princeps


There is nothing revolutionary in the design of the Princeps – a similar plan is used by several Brescian gunmakers. Trunnion hinging and bifurcated barrel lumps (as seen in a Beretta) are combined with a Browning-style slot bite and fullwidth flat bolt to the rear. It is slimmer and more refined than mechanically similar budget guns made with less precision a generation or more back. The subtly rounded action shape has changed (Laura Bosis taking credit for this, filing up a 20-bore square bar Rizzini for Paul Roberts). Build quality has much advanced with multi-axis CNC machining. Some internals have improved too, with machined parts replacing stampings. The action bar itself is strengthened and trigger-pulls are better. The simple, pre-sprung ejectors are still reliable. The stock is attached by a long bolt rather than a vertical breech pin, hammers are driven by coil springs and there are twin cocking bars of flat form.


The Princeps was an outstanding performer. At the Skeet range, clay birds on Station 2 ‘low house’ – my datum test target – evaporated in clouds of dust even with 1/2 choke. Moving on to rangier sporting birds, again everything was broken, save for the last long crosser (entirely hubristic user error). The gun isn’t light but it moves well, with balance about 1/2in forward of the centre pin. The tapered solid rib is first class, and the high comb suited as noted. Felt recoil was modest and trigger-pulls were OK. Anything wrong? The Princeps needed a little extra opening effort to achieve full gape. The grip shape was excellent but didn’t need the palm swell, and the bare sides of the monobloc would be improved with engine turning. Overall, though, it is a fine-looking gun that shoots well at a good price.



♦ RRP: from £11,000 (including VAT)

♦ William Powell, Carrs House, Tramway, Banbury, Oxfordshire OX16 5TD

♦ Tel: 01295 661035