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Old English Guns and the Lead Ban, what are your options?

We at W Horton & Sons have seen a marked increase in the number of inquiries for new Grulla, Chapuis and Merkel side by side shotguns in the past three to four months. This is obviously down to the impending lead shot ban. Nearly every interested party is currently shooting with what one would have considered the creme de la creme of English side by side guns such as Purdey, Woodward, Holland & Holland and Boss & Co.

Now of course shooting steel through a 100+ year old side by side shotgun is not recommended, however people shouldn’t panic purchase in our opinion. Yes many old side by sides aren’t steel proofed, however it may not mean they cannot be steel proofed.  Also, even if they cannot be steel proofed it does not mean that the gun is now destined to adorn a mantelpiece, we have a few years to see other credible alternatives to lead to come to the market and as that market hots up, the prices will fall in line we believe. The one risk of waiting is that if alternatives aren’t found, you will potentially panic buy.

However if you would like to ensure you carry on shooting, what are your options?

  1. Can your old English shotgun be steel proofed? This obviously depends on the construction and condition of any gun in question so I would suggest that you get your barrels into our workshops for inspection and appraisal in the first instance. If your barrels are of a construction and quality, we can submit them to Birmingham Proof House for you at a very modest cost. You may not want to take the chance with a £10k Purdey, although with a £700 Webley & Scott or Wm Powell et al it might be worth the risk. If needed we can re-chamber the gun for £225 inc proof costs (not inc any other work required).
  2. Have a new set of barrels made for your side by side using the latest top quality barrel tubes. This may sound expensive but in actual fact we recently re-barreled a Holland & Holland for £5,500 which is a lot cheaper than purchasing a new gun. Yes it was steel proofed too.
  3. Yes you can purchase a new side by side from any of the makers above and all have qualities that make them a superb purchase.

So our advice would be get your gun into us first and then let us run through the options to ensure you are ready for any lead ban. Check your proof marks against the chart below if you are unsure.


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  • When you make new barrels for side by side (as the H&H) do you put very long forcing cones with over bored bores into the new barrels for steel?

  • Kit says:

    Various places I have looked state that: as long as the barrels are Nitro Proof and 1/2 or less choke the gun is safe for “steel” cartridges but not safe for “superior steel”.

    Would you agree?

    If so I can see a lot of people opting to have chokes opened out to 1/2 to shoot “steel”, if better alternative shot is not developed.

    • Steve Horton says:

      In theory yes, although in Europe and the UK the gun should be proofed for steel regardless. It would be difficult to proof for superior steel.

      • Peter Rose says:

        In reply to Kit’s question above Regarding safety of shooting regular steel loads through guns nitro proofed for lead with half choke or less, you answered in theory yes but in UK or Europe they should really be proved for steel.
        Is this for any practical mechanical reason due to high pressure loads in Europe compared to say U.S.A ? or just for legal reasons in case of any potential failure, to cover the owner should any compensation be sought by an injured party ?

        • Steve Horton says:

          It’s both legal and safety reasons. Lead shot is far more forgiving than steel shot. It’s really to protect yourself first and foremost.

          • Peter Rose says:

            Thanks Steve,
            I have heard of some guns having chokes open up to a lesser constriction and ring bulges before chokes and guns becoming loose rapidly but these were 3rd hand reports with no mention of what type of loads. However it was from the N.T. in Australia from guys hunting geese so maybe heavy high velocity loads.

  • Denny says:

    Just use Bismuth shot instead of lead… Haha 5500 pounds.. What are we Lords with old money?..