YOU CAN’T HAVE true romance without a little danger, and no object embodies this truth better than British dangerous game weapons. They are both beautiful and terrifying, brutal and sleek, refined and tough as nails. Why do English guns capture the very idea of hunting fearsome animals in exotic locations? Because the British practically invented dangerous game shooting. At the height of the British Empire, their influence extended to almost every inch of the globe, including places like Bombay (now Mumbai) and Nairobi, which were jumping-off points for safaris in those days. As a result, the leading British gunmakers of the era sought to create guns that fired large, powerful cartridges in ever more efficient ways.
Manufacturers such as Rigby, Westley Richards, Holland & Holland, WJ Jeffery & Co. and Purdey may not be cutting edge today, but they were the Gunwerks, GA Precision and Christensen Arms of their day. Each sought to gain an advantage, developing rifles that were aesthetically and technologically refined. They did this work by hand, with chisels, files and a level of craftsmanship that has disappeared in the age of CNC machines.
While these rifles and the adventures they were built for seem like things of the past, you can still shoot them today. However, since only a handful of them are built each year, it’s not often that many are in the same room together. That’s why we called LD McCaa of the American agency of Westley Richards & Co. to collect a battery of British vintage dangerous games guns. McCaa is an authority on English sporting guns and has marketed some of the greatest examples of these guns on Earth. From magazine rifles built on Mauser actions to deluxe doubles and single-shots, each of the following guns was optimized to fire bone-shattering rounds with unfailing reliability. They may look like expensive queens to be sure, but they’ve each seen death-defying hunts and adventures that most of us can only dream of.
The back of actor Stewart Granger’s .577 Westley Richards double-barreled rifle. The gun was originally built for a Polish count in 1923. Granger later bought it for hunting dangerous game in Africa. The hash marks entered represent the number of animals taken on his travels; cards c indicates that the loaded animal.
A Westley Richards & Co. sporting rifle. A Farquharson single-shot with a detachable barrel made in 2014 (left) next to a William Evans Webley Model 1902 patent sporting rifle made in 1916. The Westley Richards is the only single-shot the company has made since World War Two.
The manual split lock is a Westley Richards invention that allows the owner to service or replace gun locks without the use of tools. Westley Richards is the only company that makes drolocks today. He encourages his customers to buy extra locks in case of a malfunction.
This A. Hollis & Son double rifle was built for hunting in India. The engraver decorated the side plate with a scene depicting Indian elephants, which can be distinguished by the hump on the head and small ears. The monarchs were the main purchasers of British dangerous game guns in the early 20th century.
This J. Purdey & Sons Underlever Hammerless Express double rifle was used by noted big game hunter Bror Blixen. Written by his wife, Karen Blixen Out of Africa with the pseudonym Isak Dinesen. The welded .500/465 “jungle” ammo boxes in the foreground kept out water and moisture.
These rifles show two examples of early takedown or bolt actions with detachable barrels. The Westley Richards .425 Magnum Express, on top, features a dropbox magazine, which allows the shooter to reload quickly via the stripping clips. The Rigby has a threaded barrel and receiver for mounting and dismounting.
A trio of Westley Richards double rifles. Above, a top quality droplock in .425 Magnum Express manufactured in 1912; a top quality droplock in .375 H&H made in 1953 with an original Lyman Alaskan scope; and a fixed lock no. 507 Anson & Deeley in .425 Magnum Express completed in 1924.
This magazine rifle is chambered for the powerful .505 Gibbs rifling, which was introduced in 1911 and was built to be used in bolt actions, rather than the more expensive double rifles. G. Gibbs built just over 75 original .505 guns, making the rifle shown here one of the most sought after English magazine rifles today. Note the thickness of the barrel relative to the receiver.
The reverse of the William Evans 1902 sublever shown above. The action this rifle is built on has been widely used by manufacturers such as Rigby, Lancaster and Greener. While the game scenes on the rifle are not photo-realistic – as we see on fine guns today – it was engraved to a very high standard for the time.
Four sheet rear express sight on a top quality 1912 Westley Richards .425 Magnum Express double rifle. Each sight sheet was supplied for aiming points out to 500 yards. This rifle was incredibly innovative for its time. It featured a hand-detachable lock and was chambered for a rifled rim cartridge.
A range of J. Rigby & Co. magazine rifles. From above: a Model No. 4 of 1913 Take Down Mauser in .350 Magnum; a lightweight 1933 Big Game Mauser built on a commercial square-bridge action in .416 Rigby; a 1908 .400/350 bore sporting rifle; and a 1952 Model No. 5 Big Game Mauser sports in .416 Rigby.
This photo essay was originally published in the Risk Issue of Field & Flow. Read more F&S+ stories.