What in the World is a
British Game Gun?
It turns out that the English and
American shotguns and shooting techniques are separated by
more than the Atlantic Ocean. In Game Gun, Rich Grozik
defines the English Best game gun like this:
"Straight-gripped stocks with slender forearms complement
hand/eye coordination like no other design. Pistol grips and
ponderous forearms serve only to depress the instinctive
response of hand to gun, and eye to target. Handling
dynamics, then, is one of the game guns' greatest
Don Zutz, in Shotgunning Trends in Transition, takes it a
step further by describing British game guns in combination
with their shooting style. "Their slender, straight-gripped
game guns are lethal when used with the technique devised
for them. Both the British game gun and the so-called
'Churchill' technique are far more dynamic than the long,
heavy-barreled guns ... employed by so many stateside
In an effort to quantify this "slender, straight-gripped
game gun" I measured the circumference at the wrist of a
28 gauge Holland & Holland game gun. It measured 3
15/16 of an inch. This helps define the "slender" aspect
of the game gun and, of course, begs comparison.
You and the Churchill method
The first expression I could find of the Churchill
shooting technique was in the 1922 Churchill Best Guns, a
sales brochure. "Success today goes to the man who, so to
speak, throws up his gun and looses it off without
thought or calculation. Study and practice lie behind
this simple act, but its successful accomplishment
My take on the Churchill shooting technique is that a
game gun as described above is required, and that a
"straight-gripped stock with slender forearm" gun has to
have some cast-off for a right-handed shooter. There are
many other considerations of course, but it is obvious
that any system that requires you to keep your eyes on
the bird while bringing up the gun and firing as it
touches the shoulder, is going to need some cast in the
Grouse, woodcock and quail in heavy cover offer narrow
windows of opportunity. Those who score on such game may
in reality be closet Churchill shooters, or use poke `n
shoot, intuitive or instinctive shooting styles adapted
to their needs. Whatever the case, all would agree that
as far as guns are concerned, "handiness is
Contrasts with the American shooting technique
Don Zutz writes "the self-taught style of most American
bird hunters ... is a slow, jerky, two- part move with 1)
the gun first being brought solidly to the shoulder and
the head wiggled into place before 2) the swing is
started after the flying mark." On top of which Zutz
says, "American 12-gauge side-by-sides always have been
heavier, topping 7 pounds with any conventional barrel
length and tending toward a weight-forward condition.
Doubles of this sort are simply not the ultimate as
responsiveness goes; thus, a lot of America's most
collectible doubles have draggy handling and swinging
characteristics akin to those of repeaters."
You may have noticed that many old doubles seem to have
low combs or lots of drop at the heel. I suspect that
many early makers substituted low combs for cast. When a
round-faced person "cheeks" a high-combed, cast-neutral
gun, his face pushes the stock down and to the right,
causing the gun to shoot high and to the left. By
lowering the comb or the drop at heel, the old-time maker
may have been trying to get shooters to "jaw" instead of
"cheek" the stock and minimize the facial push down and
to the right.
In any event, Don Zutz completes the idea. "For although
many American-made doubles are now cherished collectors'
items, they gained those values primarily because of
scarcity and rarity, not because of their shooting
"Handiness is everything"
The Churchill Best Guns brochure contains what I think is
one of the best discussions of gun balance found anywhere
in print. "In this connection we emphasise (sic) the
distinction between 'live' and 'dead' balance. The later
can be obtained by the addition of lead to the butt, in
fact, the centre (sic) of gravity of a gun may by that
means be shifted to almost any desired spot. But 'live'
balance cannot: because it is the quality which
determines the ability of the gun to receive the motion
willed by the shooter. A gun which is ballasted fore and
aft is always sluggish."
"To receive the motion willed by the shooter"
To be able to "throw up your gun and loose it off without
thought or calculation" translates to American as, "at
the instant of the flush -- your shotgun should become an
extension of your will." We owe our English cousins
special thanks for the "slender, straight-gripped" game
gun designed, it seems, to be an extension of your will.