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Mad About Tens
Tom Wylie is an enthusiast when it comes to 10-bore guns

Ithaca 10-bore

There's nothing like the sound of a big gunshot on the marsh to turn a fowler's attention away from the hunting in hand. The mind wanders to thoughts of "I wonder what gun made that sound and I wonder if I will catch a glimpse of it if I stay on the sea bank a wee bit longer after the flight?"

Big bore shotguns and wildfowling go together like a duck and water. The sheer magnetic attraction extruded by the diminutive 10 bore, the bigger 8 bore or massive 4 bore is completely spellbinding. Many a fowler can be seen staring, as if hypnotised, at a shotgun tube measuring .775in or greater; they simply command respect by all those that gaze upon them.

The history of the big guns is well hidden in the legends and fables of the wildfowling clubs and, as I am no expert in 8 and 4 bores, I will leave that story to one who is but..a 10 bore, well that's my passion.

I was torn between writing two articles on the history of the 10bore for Wildfowling Magazine, one being the gun makers of yesteryear, the Rigby's, Bonehills and Westley Richards with their wildfowling masterpieces. All showing well figured stocks, half-pistol grips, Vulcanite butt plates, glorious 30 inch plus Damascus barrels with 2 5/8 and 2 7/8 chambers and the action usually plain with only makers name denoting their heritage. However, you can get that information from Boothroyds books, albeit usually with 12 bore pictures. Hence I think I will concentrate my writing on the history of the American Manufacturers - those that have lead to the evolution of the non-British selection of 10's. This aligns itself better with the discussion forum and those wanting a current 10 "gauge".

As an aside and before I start, I would just like to point out that 10 bores are still being manufactured in Europe, Britain and Ireland. The AYA Matadors, the Zabalas, Ugartechea and their Side by Side clones are still available. So is most splendid Rigby 10 bore, however the predominant commercial manufactures of these guns now lie in the USA with Browning USA (Winchester), Remington and a single barrelled version from Harrison and Richardson.

The 10 bore, or gauge as the Americans say, has had a bit of a change of role in its American history. In the infancy of commercial American shotgun manufacture, 1870's, the 10 was a lighter gun, namely about 7 to 8 pounds with 2 1/2 inch chambered Damascus barrels. As a gun it was favoured by hunters and clay shots with a 1 1/4 oz load, apparently more so than the smaller 12. This recreational gun however cannot be compared to the 10 bore that we know today.

The catalyst for the change of this late nineteenth century gun into today's specialised gun was, as always, the quest for a more efficient weapon for hunting. The chamber of the gun was lengthened to 2 7/8" ( 2 5/8" being the UK chamber of choice ) in the early 1900's to allow the use of an increase shot capacity. This chamber length combined with the new powders allowed the gun a shot load up to 1 3/4 oz, at a speed of 1250fps. The gun was now a proficient hunting tool, but as always some men wanted to take it further. 

It is reputed that the development of the 3.5" chambered 10 bore that we know was spearheaded by three men. The first of these, and the daddy of the modern 10 bore was John Olin, Head of Olin Chemical Corp and owner of Winchester. A dedicated waterfowler and hunter, John Olin could see the advantages of a 10 bore 3.5 inch cartridge that was capable of delivering 2+ ounces of shot at 1200+fps on larger migratory waterfowl. With this conviction he oversaw the development of the gun and cartridge at Winchester-Western Arms. The major problem that Olin had to contend with was that the current 10 bore guns where not strong enough to withstand the pressures generated by the new nitro powders. In rectifying this weakness the gun barrel and action had to be "beefed up", but in so doing the weight of the gun increased to 10-12 pounds. This had two effects on the gun, one beneficial and one detrimental. The beneficial effect of the weight rise was to help to tame the increased recoil of the new cartridge. The detrimental effect was that it made them "big" guns and as a direct consequence of this the 10 bore lost favour with the general public and became more of a specialise hunting gun. The heyday of the USA 10 bore was over, and the 12 bore rolled in as the general-purpose gun.

All was not lost however as these specialised guns found favour with specialist hunters, namely one Captain Charles Askins "Americas greatest shot" who was evangelical about the use of 10 bore for "big bird" hunting. The term "big bird" can only be assumed to mean geese or turkey? As a result of this and the considerable editorial praises of Elmer Kieth, the editor of "Outdoor Life", an America company called Ithaca made a 10 bore in a side by side combination based upon these famous Ithaca Double. I believe this gun was referred to as the NID, the New Ithaca Double was available from 1925, starting with a serial number of 425000 however only 1000 NID's where manufactured in 10 bore. These 10 bore doubles where referred to as the Ithaca - Magnum Doubles, they serial numbers ranged from 500000 to 501000 and where manufactured from 1932 until America manufacture was required for the war effort in 1942. These guns now command a very high price tag. These guns where bought by specialise hunters for specialised jobs but from such guns the modern wildfowling 10 bore was born. However the firm of Ithaca was not finished with revolutionising the 10, more was to come, but only after a number of years of declining favour.

A few factors combined to bring about the demise of the 10 in the 1940's 50's and early 60's. The specialised nature of the new 10 meant that it lost favour with the "general" hunter in the USA, a war intervened which made time on the marsh a luxury, goose numbers fell, and a new cartridge closed in on the 10. The post war recession meant that general hunters could ill afford two guns hence they opted for the "jack of all trade", the new 12 bore 3" magnum. 10 bore sales diminished.

Then in the late 1960's the geese came back. The reasons for the population explosion are uncertain, possibly the increase of food due to mechanisation, but they came back with a bang and the American hunter wanted something with a big bang to go after them. The 10's fortunes where on the return. In later years this was aided by some stupid legislation stating that the 10 was the biggest gauge with which you where allowed to hunt migratory birds and the advent of the non-toxic shot, i.e. steel. The 10 can handle heavy steel much better than the smaller bore of a 12, regardless of shot load. 

With an increase demand of 10's, Ithaca saw a market opening and introduced another revolutionary gun, the Ithaca MAG-10 in the late 1970's. The shotgun was a 10 bore semi-automatic, and whilst reported to be temperamental it sold well and hence the specialised gun for waterfowling and turkey hunting was reintroduced to the USA.

Other manufactures noting the reintroduction of this bore and its subsequent sales took note and in the early to mid 1980's Browning decided it needed a 10-bore to compete with the Ithaca MAG-10. The result was the re-modified BPS pump in 10 bore. This gun also sold well as it cost less than the MAG-10 (about half the price) and its cartridge feed was very reliable, a weakness of the MAG-10's. 

When Remington bought the production rights for the MAG-10, in the late 1980's, they improved and re-launched it under the name of the Special Purpose 10 in 1989, the name is currently simply shortened to the SP-10. This gun is still in production and in the authors opinion is the best 10 bore commercially available. The gun is strong, extremely well made 
and very reliable.

With the introduction of the SP-10, Browning now found it needed a semi-auto to remain competitive. In the 1990's it launched the 10-bore Gold. Browning used their alliance with Winchester to produce this gun and as a result the 10 bore Gold owes it design to Winchester's gunsmiths and the Winchester 1400 XTR more than any Browning influence. Browning merely scaled up the 1400XTR model and launched its as its own "big 10" semi-auto in the mid 90's.

So that's the potted history of the 10-bore 3.5inch gun. The three choices of America 10's are the Browning BPS, Browning Gold and the Remington SP-10. From Europe, the choice is a side by side by AYA or other Spanish firms such Zabala (these Spanish firms also manufacture for American Arms and others), or Rigby. An over and under might still available from Lincoln, however I have not seen it advertised recently.

Of the current crop I have expressed my opinion as to which is my favourite. I own a Remington SP-10 in Mossy Oak Camo and call it my "beauty" but I also have the "beast", a Browning BPS in 10 bore with 30" barrels. The latter is called the beast simply because it kills at both ends!!

If you know of anymore manufacturers please send an email to TB@10bore.com, along with any other 10 bore information, all information is gratefully received along with any other constructive opinions that differ from what is written above. My mind is never closed, it just goes wildfowling for a while.


The REM SP-10 is available in UK through Edgar Brothers. Presently Browning UK are not importing any 10 Bore Guns, I hope this situation will change in the near future.

Ithaca is now hand manufacturing reproductions of their famous NID SBS, and I am reliably informed by Stephen Lamboy of that company that "We will start building the big magnums next year. Please feel free to come and visit our workshop. We have 8 gunmakers and build all guns by hand from jointing to checkering and engraving."

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