Book Review: “Gun Craft” & “Vintage British Shotguns”

by Phil Bourjaily

Once again Santa Claus forgot to leave a British 12 bore under the tree. Next year, maybe if I am extra good, he will remember. In the meantime I can console myself by reading a pair of very interesting books about gunmaking: Vic Venters' "Gun Craft" and Terry Wieland's "Vintage British Shotguns."

If the subject of fine guns interests you, read both these books. Taken together, they tell the story of the past, present and probable future of the once-flourishing British gun trade.

Venters' "Gun Craft" is a brand new collection of his Shooting Sportsman magazine columns of the same name, dealing with contemporary fine gun makers -- mostly British, although it includes chapters on other makers. "Vintage British Shotguns," published in 2008 but new to me, as its name suggests, is a look back at the British trade which began late in the 19th century.

The theme of "Gun Craft" is how traditional makers are surviving by adopting 21st century technology like modern CAD-CAM/CNC manufacturing, while still making guns of breathtaking quality, beauty and price. In most cases, Venters personally visited the shops of the craftsmen he profiles in the book.

Some of the chapters explain a certain facet of gunmaking such as case-hardening or choke regulating, while others discuss a particular gun - Purdey .410s, for instance. There are also chapters on some older guns. The book contains a good glossary and bibliography and makes an excellent reference.

"Vintage British Shotguns" covers everything you want to know about the classic game gun: how they were made, why they were made the way they were, and brief histories of the more important firms that made them. Terry Wieland, whose "Dangerous Game Rifles" Dave reviewed earlier this year, is Shooting Editor of Sporting Classics, a double gun authority and a lucid, engaging writer.

To put it simply, "Gun Craft" is a fascinating book about how gorgeous guns you can't afford are made, while "Vintage British Shotguns" is a nuts and bolts guide, a history, and a valuable guide for anyone who thinks they might like to find an old British gun to take hunting. (They are out there, and many are more affordable then you might think). The books are available from shootingsportsman.com