William & Son Sporter

William & Son Sporter lg. Gun 02

Change is often unsettling. Sure, we all strive to be as accepting as we can when our lives change, but the fact is that when something comes along that threatens to fundamentally alter our deeply seated attitudes, it can feel odd.

On the first day of October at the West London Shooting School, the William & Son Sporter shook some of my core beliefs—mostly those about not really being an “over/under kind of guy.”

I like side-by-sides. I really do. And, to be honest, I wanted to write about this particular gun mostly because I was keen to get to know William & Son as a business rather than any particular excitement over another gun with the barrels on the wrong plane.

William & Son is a new kid on the block in London gunmaking terms. Founded in 1999, the business focuses on building “best” guns as well as retailing luxury goods to the well heeled from its shop on Bruton Street, in London’s exclusive Mayfair (see “William & Son’s New Shop,” Sept/Oct). I had seen the ads featuring the lovely William & Son sidelock side-by-sides but had never gotten around to handling, let alone shooting, any of the company’s guns.

The new over/under was developed to meet the demands of an increasing number of shooters who are feeling more at home with O/Us. Often these individuals have been taught to shoot using O/Us and are happier sticking with what they know.

Working with another British company, William & Son’s in-house gunmaker, Paul West, drove the project forward and was tasked with ensuring that the finished product came up to his and his employer’s exacting standards. West took a base machining and developed the aesthetics of the Sporter, giving it a rounder, scalloped-back action and distinctive style very much in line with the company’s existing sidelock guns. According to Chairman William Asprey: “Our new Sporter gives us another high-quality product which will appeal to a wider audience in new areas and allows us to provide a fully English made over-and-under which complements our side-by-sides in every way. William & Son is a British company, and therefore we want to support the British trade and fly the flag.”

Before I go into details about how the gun shoots, I must say that I think the Sporter offers remarkable value for the £39,500 asking price. For a start, it is entirely British made, finished and engraved by some of the best craftsmen in the trade working out of their own shops. (William & Son does not have a factory.) The finishing on the gun I shot was immaculate, the wood was stunning and the large-scroll engraving was satisfyingly deep and shaded to perfection.

“But what about the base model?” I asked Ian Andrews, William & Son’s always-charming gunroom manager. “I know the gun starts at £39-and-a-bit grand, but what do you get for that, and how much extra is this model?”

“Er, that is the base model,” he replied, with a look on his face that suggested he has been asked that question a lot.

So the Sporter is the beginning, the middle and the end of the available specifications on the line. Sure, you could upgrade the engraving and the wood, but why would you? They’re already exquisite.

So how does the gun shoot? I wanted a more objective opinion than Andrews or I was capable of (I was in love with the gun before I even pulled the trigger), so I roped in Mark Heath, one of West London’s top instructors.

We shot a wide variety of targets, including high birds, rabbits and grouse, and the gun performing as flawlessly as you would expect. At 7 pounds, the 12-gauge demonstrator felt a half-pound lighter. The 30” barrels were responsive but not twitchy, and the gun delivered clean killing patterns through its Teague chokes, as evidenced by the puffs of clay dust floating around.

“That’s superb,” Heath said as we sat drinking a post-shoot coffee. “The balance is spot on, the stock has a lovely narrow comb which has made it really easy to properly place the shot, and there is a good, well-proportioned radius on the grip. The ejectors are perfectly timed and vigorous without being aggressive. What a lovely, lovely gun.”

I agree with Heath that the William & Son Deluxe Sporter is something special, combining as it does the strength of a triggerplate over/under with the grace and balance of a game gun. A 20-gauge is being built at the moment that I’m certain will be sublime.

But why did the Deluxe Sporter unsettle me so? Simple. For the first time in my life I handled and shot an over/under that I knew I could genuinely be passionate about owning—and that is new territory for me.

The William & Son Deluxe Sporter is available in 12 or 20 gauge with 25” to 32” barrels and includes bespoke stock measurements. The company does not charge a premium for pairing guns with matching wood and so on.

For more information, contact William & Son, 01144-20-7493-8385; www.williamandson.com. —John Ian Gregson

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