Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Holland & Holland Royal Double Rifle: A Love Letter To A Lost World

Royal Overview

What you own never matters, it is what you do that means something. For the moment, my possession of what is the finest firearm I’ll ever handle, or have the privilege of using means as much as the digital space this article occupies. That doesn’t mean however that I cannot share my impressions on courting the finest lady in the firearms world, at least that I’ll ever be able to know. I try to avoid brands… I despise anything written on my shirts unless they pay me to wear it, I’m attracted to the niche aspects of the world as I like to consider myself different than the mainstream even if my perspective is flawed, and I try to avoid being married to anyone’s conceptions. My favourite guns by this reasoning are customs, often that I have stocked and finished myself, an agglomeration of fine work and components from a multitude of sources to reach my own personal vision for the gun. It says something perhaps that my second favourite rifle has one piece remaining with which it left the factory, the receiver.

At 100 Yards Offhand, the Royal is Serviceable with Ancient Kynoch Ammunition- When the Ammunition Fires. 

Royal and Target

One place it is difficult to be such a customophile is my favourite type of rifle; the double. Don’t get me wrong I’m stocking a Greener right now, and working on a custom set of .470 barrels on a virgin monoblock for it, however with the value of these guns a lot less tear down and rebuild occurs. Not to mention the complications of regulation and soldering barrels and ribs together. Therefore, there is one tart and tempting niche interest in which I find my heart enslaved to brands; Jeffery, Rigby, Purdey, Gibbs, Westley Richards, Bland, GreenerHolland & Holland. Granted the very realm and reign of these names is the custom, or better put by the time we ascend to this level of craftsmanship, bespoke rifle. Just not for me, I cannot afford it. Perhaps that is fortunate as well, for while little has changed at some of those makers in methods, much has changed in ownership, location, and above all the country in which they are produced is not the same it once was.

Kynoch Ammo 375 Flanged

Hefting an English Best from the heyday of Great Britain means something to me. Naturally, I continue to have the utmost respect for the United Kingdom, however not just Great Britain has changed, the World has. When I hoist this Royal to my shoulder, I am wielding an arm made to the absolute highest standards, by rudimentary machines and largely by hand, constructed to hunt the richest expanses of Megafauna the rifle hunter has, and ever will know. The gun was made for, and in many ways of, a Lost World. No, it does not fit me perfectly with a length of pull that while respectable I find too short, its barrels are longer than I would specify, and… well that’s about it. A rather short and fortunate list of dirty laundry, seeing it typed out there. A few features glint in my favour and are exceedingly rare, most notably a single trigger. I greatly appreciate this feature for its elegance and effortless use, by popular conception it is largely criticized for Dangerous Game rifles; yet I appreciate it more daily despite having used double triggers on Dangerous Game in the recent past.

A Blast From the Past: A Breech Full of Vintage Kynoch

Breech full of Kynoch

The gold escutcheon plate on my rifle remains bare and free of initials… I’m not sure why one would hesitate to lay claim in carved gold to such a fair maiden. Who knows, perhaps, like me, they too were hesitant with the investment required to court her? Did they too consider all the adventures that could be funded by her parting, only to abscond with a lesser rifle in pursuit of heady and effluvious experiences afield in that richest of hunters’ Lost Worlds? My particular Royal was made in 1910, literally at the height of the Great White Hunter’s Africa, when herds that hunters today cannot imagine beat the red soil. Yet more Beasts of the Old World stood in India, a hunter’s paradise lost today, which much to many the modern hunter’s surprise hosted arguably even greater diversity in many ways than Africa. Indian Lions, Leopards, Tigers, Rhinoceros, Elephants, Antelope and Deer too, coexisting alongside Himalayan Bears, a close relative of the Grizzly and Brown Bear, and many other exotic and nearly unimaginable beasts wound into a coarse fabric of blood, grass, jungle and thornbrush none will experience again. For these last fleeting moments of millennia unchanged… horn, hoof, tooth, claw and tusk reigned over the many parts of the World, not man. Barely more than the present day population of China inhabited the entire globe. Corbett was just beginning his work hunting man-eaters who killed hundreds, Bell wasn’t even halfway into his exploits. It was scantly more than a century ago, time through which this Royal has travelled unharmed, and yet you or I will never see the likes of that Lost World again. Though we can hold a piece of it…

Rembrandt’s Lion Resting, ca. 1652

IMG_5014

Originally a .375 2 ½” Nitro Express, she was rechambered to .375 Flanged Nitro Magnum, reproofed, and fitted with scope mounts by Holland & Holland later in her life, the .375 Magnums we know today not arriving for two more years after her forging, filing, fitting, and firing. Within a drafty building her engraving was tapped out methodically in logarithmic spirals under soiled light by hand over benches seemingly far too crude and dirty to host such master crafting, her chopper lump forged barrels heated in a forge that shared much with its iron age ancestors, and the marrow of ancient hardwoods hewn at first crudely, and then delicately to shape for her field clothes. No… this is the rifle for me, for it was birthed in a World that still contained a Menagerie of Monsters in all their glory and beauty. Processes of fabrication were more difficult, time less valuable, and expectations far higher… That is where my rifle comes from, and while not tangible I sense its character, wonder at its secrets, and am humbled by the portal to my own Lost World in the spiral of its rifled bores. Even if it’s an inch too short… she’s my pick, and hell, preference.

Royal Sideplate Engraving

At the dusk of all this waxing-poetic, I must now allow the prose to wane into uncomfortable reality. I have fired my Royal, using period “For Holland’s Double Barrelled Rifles” Kynoch, the first to open the sealed box of ancient and seemingly perfectly preserved ammunition. For me, that beats uncorking the finest of wines, for while I appreciate wine I find the same effect in a fifteen dollar bottle as one who’s price makes me squirm in my worn leather chair. I must admit in this paragraph’s just found sensibility, that it appears the same applies to ammunition. Well accustomed to my preferred diet of handloads, and despite owning a large stash of new .375 Flanged Magnum brass and dies, I went against better judgement and opened and fired my lone box of Kynoch from the Old World. Well, two out of three times… one round failed to fire despite three strikes. The Old World really is gone afterall it seems. Two rounds have survived, and if I can deem it ethical, one may find its way into a coastal Grizzly / Brown Bear this fall, the cartridges literally resting atop the letter of authorization from the government as a pensive paperweight. Perhaps, then too, I will find the Old World truly lost, in the suitability of the firearm for the conditions and all the efforts required to preserve her, the unreliability of the ammunition, the slight misfit of her stock… And I won’t care. For I know what lies in my hands, and together, while I can afford her, we will experience the last scraps of the Lost World together; the intangible boiled down broth, a serum of another Time and World that truly does make experiences sweeter. Even when they go click instead of bang.

And you’re right, this article wasn’t really about a rifle…

The Offending Dud Kynoch Round

Dud Kynoch Round 2