A triumph of proportion and form, this is one of the best .410s that Michael Yardley has ever shot. In addition, it is a thing of great beauty
With outstanding first impressions and proving itself as fun as it is stylish, Michael Yardley finds himself putting the William & Son .410 straight to the top of his Lottery list.
For more from William & Son, read about the William & Son pigeon gun, a sculpture in metal and wood.
WILLIAM & SON .410
We tested some wonderful guns in The Field last year, and this month’s test is not going to break that positive trend. It focuses on a diminutive and beautiful William & Son .410 sidelock side-by-side. There is no point in pretending it is anything else, the pictures immediately give the game away.
The 68th gun – and sixth .410 – made by the West End firm founded in 1999 when William Asprey moved away from the family firm, has 28in barrels and weighs in at just under 5lb. This is a grown-up, London Best, small bore intended for adult use on driven or walked-up days. It qualifies as art with stunning shapes and scroll engraving in the attractive and distinct William & Son house style (executed by Peter Cusack).
First impressions are clearly outstanding (as one might hope with a price tag of £100,000, including the Treasury’s 20% cut). The proportions and form are particularly good, nevertheless. It comes to the shoulder effortlessly with its longish, ‘shelf’ dimensioned, 15½in stock. This is no wand. There is a enough weight forward and in the
middle to make it feel controllable. The balance is just forward of the hinge pin. (Many old-school fitters added a little length to a small bore for an adult but removed it for a heavy, large-bore gun, hence the short stocks on most wildfowling behemoths.) This was not done intentionally here but the 15½in stock suited my average 5ft 11in frame well. My call would usually be 15in on a 7lb 12-bore side-by-side.
Even with 28in barrels – which suit this gun and most .410s well – wee William is exceptionally pointable but also surprisingly steady (sidelock best guns often tend to feel more solid with their extra mass in the middle). There is weight between the hands, as noted, and the muzzles are not noticeably heavy.
This inspires confidence as modern manufacturers – especially manufacturers of mass-produced and semi-mass-produced over-and-unders – are often too cavalier in regard to balance. A well-balanced gun will always feel lighter than a poorly-balanced one as well as having better dynamic qualities.
The chopper-lump barrels have fixed chokes – full and full – which allows for regulation of constriction. Many small-bore aficionados (in which band I would include myself) like a bit of extra choke, however. I would add the caveat provided the bore itself is not too narrow – here it is 10.4, typical for a British .410. Chambers are for 3in cartridges and the gun has been proofed by the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers in London.
The barrels, like the rest of the gun, are beautifully presented. Forcing cones are quite short. The barrels are straighter than many seen on upmarket small-bores. The sighting rib is of the traditional concave game pattern with a nickel ‘silver’ bead. The classic design suits this gun well, although a flat, tapered and not too wide flat top ‘pigeon’ rib would work as well, especially if one opted for 30in barrels and wanted a little more weight.
The stock is made from Turkish walnut showing excellent figure. Paul West of William & Son, and a proud English gunmaker, noted inimitably: “the only foreign thing in this gun is the wood”. He acquired the blank from a specialist Turkish dealer at IWA – the international arms fair. Recently, he has been on a buying trip to Italy. Finding wood of the right quality is a constant challenge for gunmaking at this level. The stock itself is of classic English straight-hand form. It is quite (but not too) slim, the oval grip form is especially good. Drop dimensions for the shelf are 1½in and 2in and there is some cast for a right-hander. The stock is well conceived and nicely presented. This gun is entirely bespoke, however, so anything might be ordered.
The .410, introduced circa 1860, has evolved from being a novelty and garden gun cartridge in early breech-loaders to a popular sporting gun with 2in, 2½in and 3in shell options (the latter introduced by Winchester in 1933). The test gun represents the highest evolution of the double-barrelled sporting .410 to date. Its self-opening action is Holland & Holland pattern combined with equally reliable Southgate-style ejector work. The locks have intercepting sears – critical for safety on a sidelock (but rarely seen on boxlocks because they are not a necessity). Like a Holland, there are no disc set strikers. The safety is of classic top-strap pattern with the usual ‘sugar tong’ spring mechanism beneath.
Building .410s presents significant challenges of scale, especially with regard to the lock and barrel making. The superbly made locks here, powered by wire cut V springs, sit on elegantly proportioned plates enhanced with their impeccable decorative scroll-work. The barrels – which must withstand substantial pressures in a .410 – are CIP superior proofed at 1320 bar.
Not only is this a beautiful gun, it is one of the best .410s that I have ever shot and ties in shooting quality with an equally wonderful Purdey .410 over-and-under tested in The Field (that gun, built around a set of near-completed .410 barrels, also 28in, that Purdey found in its workshop). In this test with a side-by-side, no target concessions were made for the bore size and none were needed. Even 40-yard birds were broken with confidence using 3in 18grm Lyalvale cartridges. It was instinctive to use, the 28in barrels seemed ideal, it inspired a confidence not normally associated with this gauge. Last month we tested the polar opposite – an 8lb 9oz Purdey over-and-under – and hit the first 50 birds. A couple got away with the William & Son but it brought a smile to the face of the tester. To conclude: stylish, beautifully made and pure fun. Definitely on the Lottery list.
WILLIAM & SON .410
♦ RRP: £83,500 + VAT
♦ 34-36 Bruton Street, London W1J 6QX.
♦ 020 7493 8385