Charles Boswell "London Best" Pigeon Gun

By Chuck Hawks

Charles Boswell pigeon gun
Charles Boswell pigeon gun. Photo by Chuck Hawks.

This is my first and only "London best" gun. It is a beautiful bespoke gun from the late 19th Century, made a practical shooter by Briley tubes. It has a traditional British straight hand stock and splinter forend. Thank goodness the British discovered proper stock design long before their American cousins. This Boswell has a touch more drop at comb that I would choose, but it's not excessive and the gun is easy to shoot well.

The genuine English walnut stock has a relatively straight comb and handles recoil well. A real buffalo horn checkered butt plate protects the end of the stock. The oil finished wood is nicely (but not extravagantly) figured with dark streaks. Where it shines is in its light weight and very tight grain structure. This stock was selected first and foremost for heavy use, as befits a competition gun. In fact, every facet of this gun puts function first, although it remains a beautiful example of the gunmaker's art. Charles Boswell was himself a renowned pigeon shooter and pigeon guns were a Charles Boswell specialty.

Competitive shooters can be a conservative lot and that explains this gun's external hammers and double triggers. It was built well after hammerless guns had become widely available. It is a fully developed hammer gun, meaning that when cocked its hammers lie below the shooter's line of sight. They are rebounding hammers and it is safe to carry the gun with the hammers down and the chambers loaded.

There is no sliding tang safety--unnecessary on a hammer gun--but otherwise the Boswell operates the same as a modern hammerless double. The action is held securely closed by Purdy double underbolts, a Scott spindle opens the action and an Anson push button latch secures the splinter forend. The front trigger fires the right barrel and the back trigger fires the left barrel. All pretty standard stuff.

Because it was designed as a pigeon gun, in addition to the underbolts there are side clips and a doll's head top fastener for maximum strength and longevity. Simple extractors are fitted instead of the selective ejectors typically found on field guns of this quality. Speed reloads were not an issue in live pigeon competition, as only two shots were allowed per bird.

The Boswell is extremely refined. Its slender wrist has to be felt to be appreciated. Its petite 12 gauge frame is thinner in cross-section than the 20 gauge frames of the Parker or Charles Daly 20 gauge doubles that I have owned. Even with the Briley tubes, this gun weighs a few ounces less than did my 20 gauge Parker DHE.

The triggers are slightly twisted to favor a right-hand shooter. The trigger pulls are excellent for a shotgun, much better than most new rifles and pistols today. The front trigger releases at 3-1/2 pounds and the rear trigger at 4 pounds. Both triggers break cleanly without perceptible take-up.

The receiver has elaborately carved fences. The receiver body, top and bottom tangs, trigger guard, top lever and forend iron are all engraved in a fine English scroll pattern. Engraving coverage is 100%. Screws are indexed. There is a silver stock oval for the owner's initials or crest.

Charles Boswell pigeon gun
Receiver area of Charles Boswell "best" gun. Photo by Chuck Hawks.

The barrels show a very fine 5-blade Damascus pattern and are works of art in their own right. Modern fluid steel barrels may be a functional improvement, but aesthetically they can't hold a candle to fine Damascus. The Briley 20 gauge barrel inserts make this Boswell perfectly safe to shoot with modern 20 gauge shells, and I have used the gun to shoot a large number of informal rounds of clays.

The original choke borings were most unusual. The left (tighter choke) barrel was bored with a full length taper choke of such uniformity that Guns and Shooting Online engraver and gunmaker Rocky Hays stated it would be very difficult to duplicate even today. By measurement we estimated that this was approximately an Improved Modified choke. The right barrel was bored with a more conventional choke with a long lead-in taper that probably patterned about Improved Cylinder. Due to the 100+ year old Damascus barrels I never tried to pattern these chokes.

I was lucky to find this Boswell, which is in excellent condition, just before the price of Damascus barreled guns skyrocketed out of sight. Here are the present specifications of this Charles Boswell Pigeon gun.

  • Type: Side-by-Side double barreled shotgun
  • Action: Break-open; bar action sidelock hammer double with dual under bolts plus doll's head top fastener and side clips
  • Gauge: 12, with 20 gauge Briley Titanium barrel inserts
  • Chokes: Interchangeable Briley tubes
  • Metal Finish: Original color-case receiver finish now faded to a dull silver patina, browned barrels
  • Barrels: Five-blade English Damascus struck full length, Briley interchangeable choke tubes, concave rib
  • Barrel length: 28"
  • Stock: English walnut, straight-hand stock and splinter forend with fine line hand checkering, checkered buffalo horn butt plate, silver monogram plate
  • Length of pull: 14-3/4"
  • Overall length: 44-3/4"
  • Weight: 6-7/8 pounds
  • Features: Double triggers, plain extractors; a fully developed hammer gun with rebounding hammers, carved fences, side clips, 100% coverage fine English scroll engraving and the usual subtle "London best" touches
  • Type: Live pigeon gun

It is true that nothing handles quite like a true "best gun," and particularly a London best, at least no shotgun that I have owned. The Boswell balances on the hinge pin. The moderate cast and twist built into the stock make the gun very easy for a right-handed shooter to mount and comfortable to shoot. It points naturally and in skilled hands could undoubtedly still score well on live pigeons.

Shooting this gun brings no surprises. Everything fits and works exactly as it should. It is very fast to mount and get on target. From a shooter's standpoint you'd never know that this gun is well over 100 years old. It breaks clay pigeons with alacrity. I typically shoot Winchester AA 20 gauge target loads with 3/4 ounce of #8 shot and the subjective recoil is mild.

Today the Charles Boswell is semi-retired out of respect for its age and value. However, I do still occasionally shoot the Boswell. That is what it was made for, after all!

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.