April 08, 2011
Old Guns Afield, Part II: 16-Gauge Fox Sterlingworth
By Phil Bourjaily
The second of the two old doubles I took hunting for The Gun Nuts was a 16 gauge Fox Sterlingworth. It’s the gun at the bottom of this picture, below the Parker.
Although Parker is the best known of the American doubles, there a lot of people who believe the Fox was a better gun, simpler and more trouble free even than “Old Reliable,” the Parker. The Fox was the invention of Ansley Fox, a trapshooter, tinkerer and self-promoter who invented many things besides the shotgun that bears his name. Foxes were made in Philadelphia from 1903 to 1930 when the company was bought out by Savage.
Like Parkers, Foxes came in all grades from plain up to highly ornate, like Teddy Roosvelt’s “F” grade gun that accompanied him to Africa. Nash Buckingham’s Bo-Whoop was also a Fox. The Sterlingworth was the lowest grade Fox. It would be overstating to call it the “870 Express” of Fox guns, but it was definitely built to be an affordable, no-frills working man’s gun. It was introduced in 1910, so the gun I hunted with is somewhere between 80 and 100 years old.
This gun belongs to my friend Rudy, who hunts pheasants with it, so it has a few scars and scratches from honest field use, but it has never been restored or rebuilt. The opening lever still angles to the right and the gun is as tight as it was the day it left the factory. It’s a 16 gauge weighing just a hair under 6 pounds with 24-inch barrels. It would make the greatest woodcock gun of all time.
There are lots of shootable American doubles out there, and many, like this Sterlingworth are quite affordable. You do have to make sure your gun has fluid steel, not Damascus barrels, and that the chambers are 2 ¾ inch and not shorter. That’s especially true with 16s, which sometimes had 2 9/16-inch chambers.
Also, a lot of older American guns have a ton of drop in the stock. This gun has 1 ¾ inches of drop at the comb, 3 inches at the heel, which is quite a bit more than the 1 ½ inches at the comb, 2 ½ inches at the heel common to modern guns. All that drop means if you want to see more than your thumb and the top lever when you mount the gun you have to hold your head upright (maybe our forefathers shot this way so their top hats wouldn’t fall off. Who knows?). After I got one miss out of the way I remembered to keep my head up and I didn’t any trouble shooting the gun at all. However, if I bought an American double of my own I would have it re-stocked or spliced to raise the comb to modern dimensions.
Anyway, watch for these two old guns on The Gun Nuts when season two starts in July. I hope you enjoy seeing them in the field as much as I enjoyed shooting them.