Cyril S. Adams often was described by those who knew him—and by many who didn’t—as “the legendary Cyril Adams,” something the straight-shooting, plainspoken Texan no doubt found ludicrous and more-than-slightly embarrassing. But in the world of wingshooting and fine guns he deserved the accolade. More than anyone, the former owner of London gunmaker Atkin Grant & Lang (AG&L) sparked the surge of interest in the US in best-quality British guns during the 1980s and ’90s—especially side-by-sides, hammerguns, pigeon guns and those with Damascus barrels. He introduced Helice (ZZ shooting) to America and not only was a champion in Helice and pigeon rings here and abroad, but also was a mentor to generations of shooters. Adams died at his home in Houston on October 1, one day shy of his 82nd birthday, after prolonged battles with illness.
Cyril owned AG&L from 1984 to ’97 and under its banner restored older guns and built new ones to impeccable standards. He achieved broader fame in 1996 with the publication of the book Lock, Stock & Barrel, co-written with the late Robert Braden—to my mind the best one-volume primer on making, shooting and appreciating British shotguns. It remains Safari Press’s best-selling book ever on fine guns. In 2017, after a lifetime of research and work, he released Live Pigeon Trap Shooting, an exhaustive history of the sport. The first print run sold out quickly, and it is the definitive word on the subject.
Left: Cyril shooting at the 2008 European Helice Championship, in Rome; Right: With England’s Dionne Roger at the 1998 World Helice Championship. Photographs by Leighton Stallones.
The son of a prominent engineer—and an engineer by training—Cyril was analytical in his approach to building, restoring and shooting shotguns. Not religious in the conventional sense, he was long on character—the Classical cardinal virtues of courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom; moreover generosity, leavened with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Fools, however, he did not suffer. He’d have made the perfect Roman Stoic.
He touched the lives of many—myself included—so Shooting Sportsman asked several of his longtime friends to comment on the qualities that defined his character.
On his influence: “The first time I met him was in the early ’90s at a clays match, and I was dragging along a hammer double with Damascus barrels,” recalled Rick Pratt, writer and one of Cyril’s longtime friends. “One of the guys on the course told me that if I was going to shoot that old banger, I needed to go talk to Cyril, as we were both crazy and would likely hit it off. I did. We did. His steady advocacy of vintage guns brought a new voice to shotgunning culture. He taught countless folks the meaning of proof, and best gun, and on and on.”
Said Ludo Wurfbain, publisher of Safari Press: “In 1995 Cyril Adams and Robert Braden contacted me about the possibility of publishing Lock, Stock & Barrel. Because Americans had written it, Braden didn’t think the UK market would receive the book well; Adams begged to differ. We shipped several pallets to England. Calling the book a success is like saying Muhammad Ali was a boxer. Today it is in its fifth printing—24 years on and still in print.”
On mentoring: “I first heard of Helice from Cyril,” Pratt said, “and in a few months I was shooting it with him. The old boy could damn well shoot. And he could teach. I was soon a competitor in the game, simply because of his tutelage. He used damned few words, but they were the right ones.”
“Cyril was an international superstar,” said Mimi Wilfong, president of the US Helice Association and a world champion in the sport, thanks to Cyril’s advice. “He was always happy to talk about anything, except maybe himself. I always asked tons of questions for him to answer elaborately. Cyril was always my cheerleader—he always encouraged me and offered me support and advice.”
On courage and perseverance: Cyril was long in failing health—two cancers, multiple heart attacks, spinal cord damage and broken bones were some of his ailments—but he never stopped shooting and teaching others. Tales of his courage in facing obstacles are legion, but this one by longtime British friend Chris Potter of Chris Potter Country Sports about the 2019 Helice World Championships, in Rome, is a perfect coda to his life and legacy: “Many times he told me that ‘this would be the last competition,’” Potter said, “only to turn up the following year, raring to go. This was apparent in Rome last year, despite having to be wheeled between layouts. He would stand and shoot at each peg, shooting the highest score on the team to help the US win the bronze medal for the vets. Afterward an adoring crowd surrounded him, and there were many grown men with tears in their eyes.”
That was Cyril. His legacy lives on.