February 21, 2014
Gunfight Friday: Grouse Guns, Round 2
By Phil Bourjaily
This week we have a battle of two outstanding grouse guns. A few weeks ago, Springerman3 and I put our grouse guns up against one another—my beater SKB 100 versus his much nicer Franchi Highlander. Two of our friends offered to take on the winner (Springerman3) but their grouse guns operate on a whole different level than ours. It wouldn’t have been a fair fight. I thought we would let them face off against one another instead.
Both guns are Spanish-made—one from Arrieta, the other from Ugartechea, two of the Basque region’s best gunmakers. The two factories are small, their work forces are highly skilled, and a lot of old-fashioned handwork goes into these guns. They aren’t cheap, but they are still a deal if you look at the price of a comparable English gun. The quality is very good. Both are smallbores. Scott Thompson’s is a two-barrel 16/20 gauge set, and Dave Kalkwarf’s, a 28 gauge. Nice as they are, both of these guns go into the woods on a regular basis, which is what fine guns are made to do. Here they are:
Dave Kalkwarf’s Aspen Outfitting Company Ugartechea
This model of Ugartechea is somewhat of a custom-order gun by John Hollinger of Aspen Outfitters Company, in Aspen, Colorado. It’s an Anson and Deeley type boxlock. It’s a 28 gauge, weighing 5 pounds, 14 ounces with 28-inch barrels. It has a few upgrades: bushed firing pins, scalloped receiver, hinged front trigger [so you don’t bruise your finger under recoil when you pull the back trigger] a rolled edge trigger guard, long lower tang, initial plate it the stock and a checkered butt.
Although it's perhaps choked a bit tight of ideal for a grouse gun, through trial and error and lots of patterning, I've found several 28 loads that change that Sk2 barrel to the equivalent of Sk1, and a load or two that move that Improved Modified barrel to full as needed.
It's seen some rather heavy use at sporting clays courses in addition to my hunting trips, and to date operation has been flawless. On one occasion, I used it as my primary pheasant gun on a trip to South Dakota, and on a second trip I used it as a secondary gun. With proper loads, it's easily a 35-yard pheasant gun (and that's without the 1-ounce loads available). I've also harvested a number of prairie grouse and ruffed grouse, plus a few woodcock. It's one of my keepers.
Scott Thompson’s Arrieta
What we have here is a "pre-owned” Arrietta 871 Round Body Sidelock. I had always shot O/Us for grouse and woodcock, but after reading Burt Spiller and George Bird Evans I decided to go retro. I found this 16/20 gauge two-barrel set at an area sporting goods store. Both barrels are 28 inches, which I have not found to be a handicap in grouse cover. The 20 gauge barrel is choked Skeet/IC, the 16 is IC/Light Modified, and the double triggers let me instantly choose the right choke for the flush. The gun weighs right at 6 pounds so all day carry is not a problem.
I prefer the function and look of the straight English stock. The splinter forearm is fine for hunting (keeps weight down and minimizes "twig catching" material), but on skeet or clays you have to wear gloves to open the gun as the barrels heat up. The checkered wood butt and the gold inlays for the barrels (1 for 16 and 2 for 20) add a touch of class to this removable-sidelock beauty.
Too nice to take into the woods? Nope, if you are going to pursue the king you must look the part, right? I see myself as the "keeper of this functional art"...until death do us part.
Both guns are beauties. The choice really comes down to boxlock versus sidelock or gauge: 28 on the one hand, 16 and 20 on the other. I have a hard time choosing. I want them both. You? Vote and comment below, and keep the gun pictures coming to firstname.lastname@example.org.