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Out with the 4 and 8 bores
Reprinted from Fowler in the Wild by Eric Begbie



Far out on the marsh the gabble of goose talk could just be heard above the unceasing howl of a late November gale. The eastern sky wanted to lighten but, for almost an hour, dawn fought a losing battle against louring black clouds that scudded across the heavens in the teeth of the tempest. With Moy trying to coorie close for shelter, I crouched in the parsimonious lee of a shallow gully hoping that, on this morning of all mornings, the pinkfeet might revert to their old flightline.

The reason for wanting so badly to be under the pinks that morning was cradled lovingly on my lap. Instead of being armed with my trust Beretta, I had chosen the first real storm of the season to take out the larger of two guns that Patrick Keen had entrusted to my tender care for a couple of months. With its massive 44-inch barrel, the 4-bore by E M Reilly would be utterly wasted on any quarry other than foreshore geese so I prayed that the great grey birds would favour me with an opportunity to use it.

Time passed and wigeon dropped into the saltings close to my position. But to waste 4 ounces of No.1 shot on little ducks would be a dreadful waste. Eventually the geese began to move but, in strict accordance with Sod's law, most left over the far side of the estuary. I feared that my journey had been in vain and was on the point of removing the 4-inch brass cartridge from the chamber of the mighty gun when Moy's tail began to thump against my wadered leg. looking seawards I saw a pair of pinks over the turbulent brown water of the river channel.

On and on they came, their progress slowed by the wind, until they appeared to be motionless in the sky 40 yards above my hiding place. I pulled back the huge hammer of the 4-bore, rose to my feet and swung the long damascus barrel through the body, neck and head of the leading bird. Then everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

As the trigger was pulled I distinctly heard the fall of the hammer on the striking pin, was aware of a cruel thump against my shoulder, tried to take a step backwards to keep my balance but, with feet stuck in the soft mud, failed to do so. The pall of black powder smoke was carried away in the gale and, as I slowly fell backwards, I saw the goose tumble from the sky.

With the pinkfoot safely retrieved and the worst of the mud wiped from my hands, I placed the precious spent cartridge case in my pocket and reloaded the gun but, although I waited for another hour, no more geese came near.

The other gun which Patrick placed in my temporary custody was a double-barrelled 8-bore manufactured by J & W Tolley. This piece had two folding leaf sights fitted to the rib of its 34" brown barrels, suggesting that it started life as a double elephant rifle and had later been bored out to serve as a wildfowling gun. After my experience with the 4-bore, I decided to try the Tolley on the clay pigeon range before taking it out to the geese. Fortunately, I discovered that the weight of the gun was sufficient to absorb the recoil and it was as comfortable to shoot as any normal shotgun.

With my initial stock of cartridges expended on the clays, I then had to track down some more and, following a lead from a notice in the window of a deserted shop in Auchterarder, found the redoubtable Alex Kerr proudly installed in new premises in Crieff. Alex has long been famed for pandering to the needs of shooting men and had hand-loaded a stock of Eley 8-bore cases so, after parting with 7.50, I left his shop clutching 10 new shells neatly wrapped in a brown paper bag. Why waste money on fancy cardboard cartons?

To give the Tolley hammer gun a fair trial, I took it for a morning flight at the Big Loch. There were rumoured to be 9,000 geese in residence so, although I had access to only a few hundred yards of its 12 mile shoreline, it was a reasonable bet that one or two might come my way.

At the farm gate I found that Peter and Henry were also out that morning and they took great interest in the 8-bore. I tried to explain that its range was not much greater than that of a 12-bore but, secretly, I hoped that its extra firepower might pay dividends if the pinkfeet were on the tall side.

The two young lads selected positions near the boundary burn in the hope of getting a few shots at duck before the geese came off. Their plan was rewarded and, from my own hide 50 yards along the reed beds, I saw a mallard pay the price for flying too low on its journey back to the loch from the autumn stubbles. When the pinks did flight, they came from the far side of the expansive water and skein after skein passed over well out of range.

Just as a few days earlier it had been latecomers which gave the 4-bore a chance to prove its worth so, that morning, the main flight was over before a group of 5 geese approached at a respectable height. Pulling back both hammers, I sank lower into the reeds and watched them come. The birds were just about 45 yards high so, with total confidence, I sprang up, swung through the first goose and pulled the front trigger. Swinging on to another bird I let the second 2-ounce load of shot fly on its deadly course. As the deep resonant bass notes of the 8-bore died away, I watched with disbelief as all 5 pinkfeet wheeled to the left and carried on flying. Then there was one sharp crack from Peter's game gun and a goose fell to the ground.

Which only goes to confirm that heavy shot charges are of no benefit at all if the gun is not pointing in the right direction. The Tolley was later to earn its pay but more than a fortnight had elapsed and my stock of ammunition was almost exhausted before I found the place with it. Nevertheless, there was something really special about the experience of using those great fowling pieces. Relics from the annals of bygone times they might have been but shooting with them provided just a glimpse back into the days when hardy professional fowlers would risk starvation if they failed to make every shot count. A tabloid gossip columnist once described Patrick Keen as a "wealthy eccentric" - it was to my eternal regret that he was not sufficiently eccentric to forget to request the return of his beautiful guns!