So, the side-by-side has had its day, has it? Not if this bespoke model is anything to go by. Michael Yardley is happy to find a traditional gun that dares to be a bit different
The new William Powell Viscount has been subject to considerable development and Michael Yardley is impressed, finding it could offer the most practical bang for the least possible buck.
For more from William Powell, 16-bores are enjoying a comeback and Michael Yardley is impressed by the William Powell Phoenix.
WILLIAM POWELL VISCOUNT
This month’s test gun is a new, bespoke, back-action sidelock from William Powell built in association with respected Italian maker Batista Rizzini. It is more than a rebadging exercise, however; this gun has been built to a precise specification for the modern British market as laid out by William Powell and with much input from its own team. The long-established Banbury firm is not only well known for its guns but for its game agency and practical shooting nous.
This sort of Anglo-Italian exercise, meantime, often brings positive results. The Brescians are masters of gun manufacture now, especially with regard to computer-controlled machining and production methodology. But there is still a unique repository of gunmaking and finishing knowledge in the UK. In particular, I would say that we have a better understanding of stock shapes and fitting for game shooting. This is subtle but important stuff. The way a gun’s hand is shaped, or its stock comb, can make an immense difference to the way it shoots. Similarly, good regulation of triggers and ejector-work as much distinguish a best gun as fine engraving and stock finish.
With that said, first impressions of the Viscount are positive. It weighs in at 6lb 1oz (ideal for a 20-bore side-by-side), has chrome-lined 30in barrels, chokes fixed at half and half, bears the CIP High Performance steel shot fleur-de-lys proof mark and has double triggers (the front articulated). The stock is of classical form with a straight English grip, as well suits double triggers, and a splinter fore-end. The wood is well figured. The proportions please, too, as is often the case with 20-bore side-by-sides. The decoration – Purdey-style tight rose and scroll – scores aesthetically. The subtly rounded action belly is most attractive with beaded edges.
All boxes seem to be ticked. This model is available in 12-, 16- or 20-bore and with barrel lengths of 28in, 29in, 30in or 32in. The engraving is hand cut (but I would guess laid out by laser), tear drops grace the wood to the rear of the locks and the action furniture is coin finished like the action body, which contributes to a modern but classical look. There is an elongated trigger tang, the top tang, upon which the sliding (automatic) safety sits. It is quite narrow rearwards necessitating a narrow safety thumbpiece.
This gun has been the subject of considerable development, with prototypes going back between Banbury and Brescia. The stock shapes have been significantly refined in this process. Grip and comb have been slimmed and the comb brought back slightly. Continental guns tend to be thicker in grip and butt than English and Scottish ones. The fact that William Powell has taken so much care in this regard – and it was clear from my discussions with them that they had – impresses. Subtleties of form and finish are what makes a best gun.
The bottom line here is nearly £11,000 – a large sum of money in these hard-pressed times. Still, it’s only about a tenth of the price of a best London gun of similar specification. Getting a magnifying glass out, you could probably find small issues that would differentiate the Viscount from the best of British gunmaking. But no British maker would be able to match the specification and quality at even four times that price.
The action here is most interesting, too. The barrels are chopperlump and well presented by any standard. If I were to buy such a gun, however, I would probably lavish an extra £500 upon it by getting an experienced old-school British gunmaker to regulate it. For some, this might not be important. But my point is that a gun like this, with a small amount of extra work, would represent the most practical bang available for the least possible buck. It comes in a smart, leather-covered ABS travel case.
The Viscount is not the usual Holland system bar action sidelock. Rather, it is based on a pinless back action design usually seen in rifles (and H&H Dominion-style shotguns) and generally considered stronger. It does not require recesses to be cut forward to accommodate the main springs. The locks are powered by traditional V springs. Gunmaking on the locks was impressive. I liked the simplicity of the internal mechanism and hidden detailing, such as engine turning on the inner walls of the lockplates. The trigger pulls were a little heavy and the return spring on the articulated front trigger a fraction weak. However, the general quality of engineering was excellent. That the gun dares to be different pleases. I have seen some fine best or better quality sidelocks coming out of Italy. They are usually distinguished by their fine metal work but rarely by their innovation as here.
I shot the Viscount with Ross Gibson of William Powell at the Fennes Shooting Ground. It handled and shot as you would expect a quality gun to. I tested two less expensive Sovereign models, too. The Viscount felt significantly more refined in its stock shapes and looked more elegant with its pinless locks and fine engraving. The specification is sound. The classical stock shapes suit it. The point of balance was just under an inch forward of the pin. The 15¼in stock worked well for me and the weight seemed ideal, perfect for early to mid season driven game or walking up. The half and half chokes smashed targets. Recoil was moderate and shooting qualities good. Trigger pulls were a little heavy, as noted, but the Viscount impressed with its form, quality and differences. It’s future proofed and better value than some similar offerings.
William Powell Viscount 20-bore
♦ RRP £10,995 incl VAT
♦ William Powell, Carrs House, 1 Tramway, Banbury OX16 5TD
♦ Tel 01295 701701