Book review of
FINE GUNMAKING: DOUBLE SHOTGUNS
by Steven Dodd Hughes
Reviewing an out-of-print book might be viewed as a waste of readers’ time but I would argue it depends on the book and the sequel. Steven Dodd Hughes has written two books on shotguns and related gunmaking so consider this review foundation to a review of Double Guns and Custom Gunsmithing to follow in due course. Hughes has a few copies of Double Shotguns remaining so, if this review strikes a chord, strike while the iron is hot.
While I enjoy the occasional dove or pheasant hunt as much as the next nimrod, I’ll have to confess a degree of indifference to the shotguns I use. Perhaps having far more respect for big-game animals and their habitat than the moral equivalent of an F-16 chicken with a pretty tail, I find the rifle as important as the hunt. It is a humbling realization to learn it is just the same with shotguns. It is a great credit to Steven that his book would have such an effect on a non-shotgun guy.
What Hughes has done is define in layman’s terms what makes a great shotgun great. In Section One, He starts at the beginning with wood since the stock is perhaps the most important component of shotgun handling and performance. Hughes provides considerable discussion of the varieties of fine walnuts and their mechanical and cosmetic characteristics For those of you who have wondered at the terms “quarter-sawn” or “slab-sawn”, simple hand-drawn illustrations make it crystal clear. The subsequent chapter on blue printing stocks spells out the various terms of art in fitting a stock and how the specifications bear on handling. There is an entire chapter just on balance and dynamic handling. Other chapters touch on for-ends, checkering and finishes in sufficient detail to enlighten but not overwhelm.
Section Two covers metalwork. If you have ever thought that shotgun barrels are nothing more than slick pieces of water pipe with little bearing on performance, think again. Hughes’ detailed discussion of the inner life and workings of barrels, their measurements and how these bear on patterns is worth the price of admission. Chapters on mechanical problems (“nightmares” might be a better term) and the trigger systems wind up the section.
The third section’s four chapters are devoted to engraving and finishing, the last acts in building a gun. The disquisition on engraving is entitled “Why Engrave?” The answer—“it is personal”—is a simplification that ignores a range of considerations. I suspect for most of us a great double gun deserves engraving simply because it is the right thing to do.
As a practicing gunmaker whose usual canvas is revolvers, Section Four was my favorite. The worm’s eye trek through the process of turning an ordinary Fox shotgun into a sophisticated London-style gun pulled together the real art and mystery of shotguns. I won’t ever view them the same way again.
The book’s black & white photography is effective and lucid. The color plates fill in some of the details of finishing and showcase the end results once the gun leaves the bench and goes afield. As befits a scholarly book, there is a glossary of terms. The 170-page book is hardback with a handsome dust jacket.
Much of Double Guns will be old hat to serious students of shotguns, but even veteran bird-gun shooters will find the book to be a delightful tour of the varied and infinite subtleties of great shotguns. I fear, however, I will take a rather more jaundiced view of the ol’ Browning Model 425 next time we are in Kansas. It is a pheasant-killing machine, but after reading Double Guns, the Browning seems so cold and artless.
Price is $40 shipped via Priority Mail. Please contact Steven at firstname.lastname@example.org for credit card orders via PayPal or post a check or money order to:
Steven Dodd Hughes
P. O. Box 545
Livingston, MT 59047