Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

Here’s an interesting line of thought from Mr. Free Market.  As we all know, one of the Greens’ major pushes to curb our beloved shooting fun has been to declare that Eeeeevil Lead Boolets are poisoning the Earth and We’re All Gonna Die Even The Cute Lil’ Animules Boo Hoo.

Now granted, lead is kinda yucky stuff, but I do feel that the Great Lead Poisoning Scare is probably overblown, like so many of the other claims of the Greenies.  And places like Califuckingfornia have already enacted bans on things like lead shot in shotgun shells and so on because OMG when we shoot birds and such, the lead pellets eventually soak into the ground and watershed etc. etc. etc. but we’re all familiar with that whine and that’s not what I wanted to talk about anyway.

Here’s the interesting part.  Over in Britishland, lead shot has been banned (if not outright, then nearly enough so to make the difference irrelevant).  Certainly, all I ever saw Over There was steel shot-filled shells, and don’t even talk about taking your own stuff over there because you would be lying facedown on the tarmac at Heathrow as soon as some enterprising twerp from H.M. Customs discovered your wickedness.  It’s steel shot, or nothing.

Now as we all know, steel shot does all sorts of nastiness to your shotgun barrels over time, especially if you are a keen shotgunner like Mr. FM (who each year buys his cartridges by the pallet rather than by the case).  It’s all fine and dandy, though, because if you’re shooting a boring old Beretta or similar (as he does — according the manager at James Purdey & Son, Mr. FM has terrible taste in firearms), it just means that every five years or so you either replace your shotgun altogether, or just buy a new barrel set and have them fitted to the old action.

As I said, this is no big deal if your guns are made by Armas Tsheep Y Nasti in Spain or some such place.  Nobody cares if your ugly old gun has to get replaced by another ugly gun (see:  Kim’s old No-Name Brand 16ga side-by-side, long overdue for replacement).

But what if you are a man of refined taste and deep wallet?  What if your shotguns are of this pedigree?

This 5-gun set of matched Holland & Holland guns (two 12ga, two 20ga and one 28ga) are selling, secondhand, for just under $300,000.  Yup: three hundred thousand Washingtons.

I’m not going to debate whether said guns are worth it* — actually, given the price of new H&H side-by-side guns, $60 grand per gun isn’t that out of line — but even hardened shooters like me, who shoot their guns instead of locking them up in a bank vault somewhere, are going to wince every time they pull the trigger and send steel shot scraping their way down the barrel.

In other words, these are not guns whose barrels will be replaced — they have become literally too expensive, and too much of an investment, to be used.  And if they are used, the depreciation of the investment is going to be horrendous.

What this means for Purdey, Holland, McKay Brown and all the other makers of bespoke guns is that the demand for their merchandise is going to evaporate.  Mr. FM reckons that in twenty years time, you’ll not see any of these fine guns out in the field anymore;  and I for one think that’s a very bad thing.

I know, I know:  this is probably the very epitome of a First World problem.  But it’s not just that.  It’s that the eventual  disappearance of quality workmanship and gunmaking is going to make the world a little less fine, and a lot more ugly and common.

It’s as though Ferrari, McLaren, Rolls-Royce and Bentley were to disappear, leaving us only the choice between Kia, Honda and Ford.   Or if cars’ engines, regardless of manufacturer, were restricted only to the “sensible” upper limit of 120hp.  What kind of world would that be?

I don’t like that thought, and I really don’t like the idea of a world without fine guns.

*even if I had that kind of money to spend on shotguns, I wouldn’t buy those Hollands because they have single triggers and pistol grips (ugh, and no).  My choice, of all the guns at Steve Barnett’s place, would be this matched pair:

…and a bargain they are, at only $72,500 for the pair. [/eyecross]

But I would never — ever — take them over to Britishland for some birdshooting in Dorset with Mr. Free Market.  Not if I’m going to destroy those beautiful barrels with poxy steel shot, that is.  (I know, bismuth / plated shot.  I’m too old to learn how to shoot lighter loads.)

Finally, the usual caveat applies:  I accept no responsibility for empty bank accounts, ruined relationships and other such bad things should you follow those links.


  1. I sympathize with your lament. Regarding “first world problems”, consider that for the vast majority of history, even just human history, life was brutish and short. We are fortunate to have experienced a brief, wonderful, enlightened period in which we could enjoy nice shotguns and the American dream. It could never last.

  2. They closed the Chicago Lakeview Trap and Skeet club due to all that poisonous lead they were shooting into Lake Michigan. Of course decades later they haven’t cleaned it up, they found out that it was inert as it was hardened lead and wasn’t leaching into the water, which was what the club claimed all along. It was just an excuse that they used to close the club, after their first excuse of race was shown to be wrong due to many various hues of color that used the club yearly. Same bs, different time, different place, different scale but the same tactic.

  3. Some years ago when he was still healthy enough to hunt grouse and woodcock in the northwoods of Michigan, my dad gave me his Parker Reproduction 28 gauge side-by-side. After about 15 minutes in the woods I went back to the truck and switched to my more utilitarian 20 gauge Beretta O/U. I was more worried about not banging the Parker into trees to enjoy hunting. So that beautiful Parker Reproduction just sits in my safe, looking pretty but otherwise fairly useless.

  4. The solution is to use bismuth pellets.

    Not as dense as lead, but much better than steel.

    1. Bismuth has it’s own issues. That’s why it’s no longer used as the “pearlescence” in making buttons.

    2. Solid brass (or some copper alloy) should work here. Copper is slightly denser than steel, as non-reactive and non-toxic as you can get short of precious metals or the Platinum group, and alloys can be as soft as you want. (Pure copper is too soft.)

      But it is expensive. The best ore deposits were easy to find (sometimes it even occurred as the metal), so they were exploited in early history and have been mined out by now. There’s a whole lot of copper left as trace amounts, but I think the “ores” now being mined are only 1 or 2% copper, and refining that is costly.

      It doesn’t help that most copper occurs as sulfide or sulfate, and sulfur should be trapped by the smelter, and treated as hazardous waste if you’ve collected more sulfur compounds than the chemical industry can use. I remember Sudsbury, Ontario, a few years after it became illegal to just bake the sulfur out of ores and release it as gaseous sulfur oxides; not only could you smell the town from fifty miles away, but nothing grew within 20 or 30 miles. That’s the real “acid rain”: rain that reacted with sulfur oxides on the way down.

  5. “The Great Lead Poisoning Scare is probably overblown”

    I would say definitely overblown, but as you said the Greenies appeal to emotion over logic isn’t the topic here. (deleted rant on how stupid banning lead shot is).

    They know that outright banning of firearms of any type is impossible so they’re out to make it extremely difficult to use them. It’s not just that bespoke custom double’s barrels that steel shot destroys it will do the same to the barrel of a Mossburg Maverick.

    The bans of lead shot, overly strict regulations on the mining and refining of lead, lead abatement policies for gun ranges. All are designed to make ammo difficult and expensive to purchase and be a nuisance to shooting in general.

    It’s not just seeing the high end guns disappearing they want to make it too hard to shoot anything.

  6. I can’t help but wonder if destruction of firearms isn’t part of the plan. We’re going to force you to use ammo that will destroy your gun, then we’ll make it impossible to replace it. Learn to knit instead!

    My old gun club in NYC fought noise complaints for years, from people who moved into the house right next to the range. That’s like moving next-door to the fire-house and complaining about the sirens.

  7. Yup, inert. On the surface, lead turns to lead oxide, which is chemically inert. Can’t recall the details just now, but somewhere there is a museum with lead ballast bars recovered from a Roman galley that sank in the Mediterranean. Eons in salt water, and the bars are virtually intact.

    In California, they first banned lead shot in the flyway refuges. The amount of shot accumulated over time was being ingested by bottom feeding water fowl. IMO, that was legit issue. IIRC, copper plated shot was OK.

  8. Seems like the solution (other than the piano wire/lightpole solution) is to start designing the barrels for relining, like naval guns. It will be a fiddly process that you have to send them back for, but isn’t part of the ferrari gun life just like having a ferrari, where you have to send it back to Italy every five years to have something arcane done on it that takes 7 weeks and costs $10K?

  9. Forgive me if I’m repeating myself here, but around 1991-92, I was in Berlin with a former German exchange student of ours, then about 21 years old. After touring around modern, vibrant West Berlin, we went over to the east side, and coming back west, standing at the Brandenburg Gate looking eastward at the dismal buildings, decay and dirt, he said angrily “The goddammed Communists fuck up everything. I hate them.”
    He nailed it and so did you.

  10. There was a similar outcry in the modelling community a few years back. They switched to pewter IIRC.

    And poisoning from lead in the water and air is a real thing. Lead as a poison has been known since ancient times. The switch to lead-free petrol is hypothesised to be a significant factor in the reduction of violent crime and juvenile delinquency in cities, for example.

    I wonder if the shotgun industry might borrow from the car industry and use inserts? Just like car cylinders, I mean. Have a slightly larger diameter barrel with an inserted liner, and when the insert is sufficiently worn, bore it out and insert a new liner. Probably made of titanium.

    1. Q,
      Environmentally speaking, tetra-ethyl lead is not the same thing as hard-cast lead. Ditto “soft lead” (as used in older plumbing systems), which IS a poison.

      I do think, though, that titanium- or even chromium-sleeved barrels are worth a look.

    2. My friend’s grandfather was a mechanic and died of lead poisoning. He washed the grease and crud off his hands with gasoline and did not adjust for the presence of tetraethyl lead after WW2.

      In California it isn’t just lead shot in the flyways. There’s an area in the southern Sierra and west into the San Joaquin Valley where lead bullets are not allowed on account of the diminution of the California Condor. The Department of Fish and Game story is that the condors are eating the gut piles from the deer harvested every year and dying of eventual lead poisoning or just the reduced fertility of high lead levels in the body. I’m sure that this has happened, but my money is on road kill as being the vector for their impending extinction. Condors are overgrown vultures, eat only carrion, and are not quick into the air from a standing start. And there are far more dead small critters on the roads than gut piles from harvested deer. No one is going to report hitting a bird, if he can help it. Especially if it’s a protected bird. Who wants a multi-year hassle of a trial where 4 years later, some judge who hasn’t been out of the city since law school is going to decide whether you had time to swerve off the cliff instead of running over the bird hopping around in the blind curve?

      And a funny thing about titanium. It oxidizes on the surface, which becomes very resistant to further corrosion, but any scratch opens the inside to further erosion, until the titanium is just a shell of what it was supposed to be. Aeronautical engineers made jet turbine blades out of pure titanium and after some number of engine hours tore the engine down and weighed the blades, among other measurements. Some blades were very light compared to the weight of the others and the original weight. They had voids that weren’t there originally, almost to the point that they were like termite-eaten wood with only a thin surface layer left.

  11. Forget sleeving barrels. Just make them out of an alloy harder than the steel shot alloy.

  12. Not to be an ass, but can they not reload over there? It’s not impossible to make shot from raw lead, which can be obtained many ways.
    Now that might not suit Mr. FM, but surely he could set one of his serfs to the task if he didn’t wish to soil his hands.

  13. I would think that a company could make new barrels for high art guns that, may get close to the originals but that have screw in chokes and can handle the new shot. They could take the original wood and have nearly the same finish, probably not the same engraving skills, but they might look close from a distance.

  14. I wonder how much lead is in European soil, from all the battles fought with lead shot from before the 30 Years War through WWII? They didn’t fire many rounds with the old muzzleloaders, but musket balls were huge – and by the end of the 17th Century, the field artillery used several times as much lead and powder as the infantry.

    Then in the 20th Century, the artillery only used lead shot in a desperate point-blank defense with canister, but there were thousands of belt-fed machine guns and millions of men with bolt-action guns fighting over little patches of land. Would you want to eat something grown in that soil? All the action taken since 1945 to reduce lead emissions seems much like closing the barn door after the horse ran away.

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