In a previous article, I described my newly acquired Damascus-barrelled Midland hammer gun, dating from the 1890s. But the crucial test of a gun is how it works. How did it perform when shooting clays, rabbits and woodpigeons?
At the clay ground it was strange to think that my gun was at least a century older than most, if not all, of the other guns being used there. I needn’t have worried, though; I started off by shooting some low driven clays, just to get a feel for the gun, and this proved that the old gun was perfectly capable of taking on newer competition.
I was using a light load – 21g 7.5s. These have a good enough pattern to achieve good ‘kills’, but have the benefit of a much lower price tag than many of the heavier cartridges. They are also true 2½inch cartridges – with the low recoil, this makes them perfect for older guns. I found the hammer gun very barrel heavy. Although this gives it a smooth swing, it handled very differently from the fast-handling 26inch-barrelled gun that I am used to. This barrel weight is accentuated by having a short stock and thus less weight at the other end. Though this balance was odd at the start, I have grown to like it.
Before we left, I went to the 120ft tower to throw some lead in the air with little hope of success. To my astonishment, the hammer gun seemed almost unable to miss. With light loads and open chokes (it is choked cylinder and 1/8th) I managed to achieve consistent breaks.
Shortly afterwards I took the hammer gun out after rabbits. This time I used 25g 6s, which we had bought specially for this gun; I had found 28g loads to be a little fierce given the light weight of the gun. I felt rather ‘under-gunned’, so I was keen to get much closer to the coneys than usual. As a result I got fewer opportunities – fieldcraft became much more important.
I spotted one rabbit on the other side of a rocky outcrop, which allowed me to crawl over using the gorse and tall grass as cover till I was well within range. When I shot, the rabbit vanished, making me anxious that I had only wounded it. When I investigated further, I found it had just fallen down the slope.
Confident in my gun and cartridge combination, things started to look up. When another bunny burst from a clump of gorse some 20 yards away, I got it fair and square. Four more rabbits followed during the afternoon, making an excellent bag. Could I have found my ultimate rabbiting gun?
Admittedly, the hammer gun took a bit of getting used to for this kind of shooting. One drawback is the speed at which one is possible to react; the rabbits often give you too little warning to cock the gun on flushing. But after missing a few, I soon found that cocking became as automatic as sliding the safety off. The cocking of the gun is also surprisingly loud, and may have alerted bunnies to my presence on a few occasions.
Following the rabbit outing, I took the hammer gun to shoot some woodpigeons that were attacking a farmer’s barley field. The farmer had failed to scare them off, and exhausted all other options, so under the terms of the Scottish general licence, the only alternative was to shoot over decoys. The field had grass-covered rocky knolls which were perfect for making hides, and the pigeons were soon coming in well.
I soon found that the hammer gun, with its very open chokes, worked perfectly for pigeons coming into the decoys, and although the relatively long barrels needed some careful handling in a hide, they were useful when downing birds which refused to decoy. At the end of the day, I had shot a pretty reasonable bag.
Overall, my hammer gun has proved to be a valuable addition to my cabinet. In fact, I have rarely shot as well with any other gun. Maybe it suits my style of shooting, or I just get added confidence from using such a fine tool. Whatever the reason, the old gun has already become a firm favourite of mine.