What happened to British gun industry?

Discussion in 'Firearms & Ammunition' started by mark-hunter, May 19, 2020.

  1. mark-hunter

    mark-hunter AH Elite

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    Dear all,

    We all know about English bespoke guns. they are now also having their renaissance as well.
    So this is not about them.

    The question is why the British gun industry does not produce any more rifles and shotguns for middle class customers? What happened to british factory guns?

    What are the background reasons behind general lack of British factory rifles and shotguns on the market?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2020

  2. njc110381

    njc110381 AH Enthusiast

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    British production in general is a lot lower than it was. We don't make things these days, we buy them in.

    It's a pretty poor show all round. I'm not really sure why things have gone that way but it's a shame.
     

  3. Tanks

    Tanks AH Fanatic

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    The British public has become an anti-gun, anti-hunting PC population. I did a couple of fox hunts back in the day, they outlawed it some years ago. Not to mention gun laws are even worse than CA, NJ etc.. In order to make money with lower costing firearms they need to have a local market.

    They do not have much competition in the bespoke market worldwide due to hundred plus of years of reputation. On the cheap firearms they do have competition if the market for that is overseas only.
     

  4. Major Khan

    Major Khan AH Elite

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    During the time of my career as a professional shikaree ... The bulk of my
    English clients ( Of modest means ) used to prefer rifles and shot guns made by Birmingham Small Arms ( BSA ) , Mark Hunter .

    Until 1958 ( Roughly 3 years before I became a professional shikaree ) ...
    The most popular English " Production " sporting rifle used to be the BSA Royal Series ( A control round feed platform ) .
    .

    These were available in the following variants
    Screenshot_20191014-062706_01_01.png
    The 7×57 mm Mauser variants were the most popular among English deer stalkers .

    However , by 1959 ... BSA discontinued the Royal series and replaced it with the Majestic series ( Which were push feed , and also had much lesser calibre wise offerings ) .
    Screenshot_20190919-001035_01.png

    By the time I became a professional shikaree ... Virtually ALL of my middle class English clients were armed with BSA Majestic bolt rifles . The .270 Winchester variant had replaced the 7×57 mm Mauser variant of the older Royal series ... As the standard English deer stalking calibre .

    It was common for the bulk my English clients to bring 2 BSA Majestic bolt rifles
    on a shikar trip to India :
    > A .270 Winchester variant for shooting up to cheetal deer sized game .
    > A .458 Winchester magnum variant for shooting dangerous game .

    And YES . The .458 Winchester magnum calibre actually used to be far more popular among my MIDDLE CLASS English clients ... Than the .375 Holland & Holland magnum calibre ( Simply because BSA did not offer a .375 Holland & Holland magnum variant ) .

    Of course , no British brand COMMERCIALLY manufactures fire arms these days.
    With the massive amount of political and social back lash that fire arms owners and hunters have to endure in Great Britain , on a regular basis ... A British company which actually commercially manufactures fire arms would suffer some pretty steep financial losses . Therefore , commercially manufacturing fire arms simply would not justify costs ... Especially since the number of fire arms owners and hunters in Great Britain are slowly ( But steadily ) dropping . This is partially why Eley ( The regal shot gun cartridge manufacturers ) no longer offer letter shot cartridges ( Such as AAA , SSG , SG or LG ) , anymore . Demand for these shot sizes are shrinking . Most British people who use Eley cartridges nowadays ... Use them for Driven Grouse Shooting . And most British hunters ( what is left of them , that is ) these days ( Barring the aristocratic elite ) , will instead opt for American or European fire arms to fulfill their hunting purposes . For example ... If you were to go on an English driven grouse / pheasant/ dove shoot today , then you would actually see that relatively few of the shot guns being used ... Are actually English . Most shooters will opt for Beretta or Spanish shot guns ( Namely AyA) . During our time ... This would have been unimaginable . Only traditional English side by side game guns would be used .

    I believe you are familiar with my good friend and former fellow professional shikaree , Riaz Sharrif ? Riaz wrote a book in 1999 , titled “ Ekti Shikaree Er Jibon Er Obhiggota “ ( The Life Experiences Of A Professional Shikaree ) . I frequently translate chapters from Riaz’s book and post them , on African Hunting Forums ( I expect Riaz to be a forum member here soon , as well ) . Riaz ( In the epilogue of his book , which was written in 1999 ... Mind you ) predicted that hunting and fire arms ownership in Great Britain would completely die off ... In less than 2 decades . On the other hand , hunting and fire arms owner ship would actually remain steady in America , Continental Europe and Australia. Riaz speculated that the reason lay in the way the British people see hunting versus the way in which Americans ( And also Continental Europeans and Australians ) see hunting . Americans ( And to an extent ... Continental Europeans and Australians , as well ) have always viewed hunting , as a God given right of the common man . This is rooted in their culture , from the very beginning . American pioneers and Australian settlers survived largely by hunting . Thus , hunting came to be viewed as a routine way of life among American and Australia settlers . In Great Britain , however ... If you look at things historically , then you shall see that hunting was always viewed as an “ Elitist “ sport . Practiced by Kings and nobility.

    Riaz predicted that this would sound the death knell for hunters and fire arms owners ... From the moment that the lower class people ( Who always perceived hunting , as a “ Snobbish aristocrat’s sport ) began to get as wealthy as the upper class people . Since the economic gap between upper class and middle class people in the United Kingdom is slowly shrinking ... More and and more of these middle class people speak out against hunting , by labeling it as “ An aristocrat’s cruel hobby “ . If you look at the anti hunting arguments of the British Labor party ... Then , you shall see that the majority of these arguments some how manage to find a way to associate hunting with elitists and aristocracy . For instance ... Look how they got fox hunting banned . Riaz also predicted that several bespoke English gun makers would also go out of business . This turned out to be true , as well. Take W W Greener , for example . Graham Greener is no longer taking new orders for new shot guns . He quit , in 2018 .

    Riaz certainly has an amazing level of fore sight . When he wrote that epilogue in his book , in 1999 ... We all laughed at him and told him that hunting would NEVER die off , in Great Britain. 21 years later ... He now smiles mockingly at us , whenever this topic comes up .
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020
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  5. HWL

    HWL AH Fanatic

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    At the end of the Second World War, the British Liberators had stolen every good firearm (millions!) they could reach in Germany.

    All thouse who had aquired and used a good German gun, quickly realised, that they never ever would buy an English one.

    This was the death bang for the British firearms industry.

    Meanwhile, the Germans went back to work,...... and made even better guns....


    ;)

    HWL
     
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  6. crs

    crs AH Fanatic

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    AND, the British Colonies matured and began making their own guns!
     

  7. kurpfalzjäger

    kurpfalzjäger AH Enthusiast

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    Attention , caution , do not open old wounds !:)

    In all cases , they didn't make a good catch because there was a lack of Mauser Magnum System in the UK after the WWII. In some cases used rifles from India have been used to gain Magnum systems , and also other systems have been used for a short time , for example M1917 Enfield , to built big bore rifles.

    But all of this is certainly not the reason for the decline of the small arms industry in the UK , but maybe they never did recovered from the loss of the Empire and therefore from a lot of very good foreign hunting grounds.

    Nevertheless , very good guns and rifles are still made on the other side of the channel , and don't forget companies like Webley & Scott that furthermore produce , better or again , guns and rifles for middle class customers.
     

  8. Red Leg

    Red Leg AH ENABLER LIFETIME BRONZE BENEFACTOR AH Legend

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    Love it. A little silly of course, but love it. However, it is absolutely true that there are far more classic pre-war German shotguns and rifles in the United States than in Germany. Many, sadly, were destroyed after the war. Germans were not allowed firearms, and many war widows (of which Germany had a generation) obeyed the allied occupation forces and surrendered them. I have an old photo somewhere of a Sherman driving over dozens - would bring tears of joy to an urban Californian’s eyes.

    A few were hidden away in attics, barns and basements. A German hunting mentor of mine many years ago had been a young doctor in the Wehrmacht. He was taken prisoner in Bavaria by the Third Army and wasn’t repatriated until early 1947. The family were known to be hunters so his mother and wife turned in a couple of old mausers and shotguns. The family’s four drillings were carefully wrapped in oiled canvas and hidden in the rafters of the garden shed until restrictions were lifted in the early fifties.

    Many more were “liberated” by allied servicemen - particularly Americans (the Brits were Pikers in comparison) who could easily and legally transport them back to the US and many of whom were hunters. It is why we often see them emerging from estates here and languishing on tables at Local gun shows.

    As to the original question, @Tanks is essentially correct. There never really was a market for a cheap factory made shotgun. That need could be supplied by the ubiquitous Anson & Deeley non-ejector boxlock made or sourced in Birmingham. The blue-collar rifle market pretty much died with the empire. Hunting, particularly “stalking” was never an Everyman’ s sport in the UK itself. As British Officers and administrators returned home, the emerging newly independent economies either couldn’t support a British arms industry (Africa) or these nations put tight restrictions on gun ownership (Africa and India). So, it died - and took many of the bespoke makers down with it. The renaissance of fine gun making in the UK beginning in the nineties is nothing short of a small miracle.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020
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  9. HWL

    HWL AH Fanatic

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    ...at Khyber Pass!!!

    (y)

    HWL
     
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  10. HWL

    HWL AH Fanatic

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    Sorry, but English is not my first language.....

    :A Gathering:


    HWL
     
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  11. Red Leg

    Red Leg AH ENABLER LIFETIME BRONZE BENEFACTOR AH Legend

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    You are doing fine! (y) I assumed you were being deliberately facetious. :E Lol:
     

  12. mark-hunter

    mark-hunter AH Elite

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    I remember seeing Accuracy international company offering few models of hunting rifles, as recently as few years ago, but now I think they switched entirely to sniper and long range rifles.
     
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  13. HWL

    HWL AH Fanatic

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    You are right.

    In case of doubt, be forgiving...


    :)

    HWL
     

  14. Bob Nelson 35Whelen

    Bob Nelson 35Whelen AH Elite

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    My dear friend Ponton
    We to had the complete range of BSA firearms in Australia, centrefire as well as air rifles. They were a very nice affordable rifle.
    BSA did produce one abomination in its line up. A lightweight 243 with an integral muzzle brake. This rifle was very painful on the ears and did nothing for the BSA brand. The majestic in 222 Remington was a very accurate weapon.
    It is a crying shame friend Riaz was so correct and the English people didn't stand up to those tree hugging greenies.
    Your friend Bob
     
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  15. wesheltonj

    wesheltonj AH Legend

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    A muzzle break on a 243, no wonder they are out of business.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020
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  16. Major Khan

    Major Khan AH Elite

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    That is extremely true , Bob !
    I used to sight in the rifles for all of my clients ( It was standard policy at Allwyn Cooper Limited ) . So I recall ... that the .458 Winchester magnum calibre BSA Majestic bolt rifles were EXTREMELY accurate . You could easily put 3 shots in to a 1 inch circle ... At 100 yards.

    However , I LOATHED a few things about those rifles ... Not the least , being the vile muzzle brake ( A professional shikaree's worst enemy ) .

    I used to have countless of my clients bring the Birmingham Small Arms .458 Winchester magnum calibre bolt rifles to India for shikar .

    The muzzle brake is not a desirable feature for hunting dangerous game ... With professional hunters around you . It must be cut off , by a competent gun smith .

    The magazine floor plate release catch is located INSIDE the bow of the trigger guard . Thus , there is always going to be a risk of the operator’s knuckle striking the magazine floor plate release catch , due to recoil ... Which causes the floor plate to pop open . This can easily be remedied by having a competent gun smith put a pin through the magazine floor plate release catch .

    The patented “ Integral Recoil Management System “ does not actually work . The rifle weighs only 6.25 pounds and the recoil is much more violent ... Than a pre 64 Winchester Model 70 , chambered in the same calibre . You need to have a competent gun smith add much more weight to the stock . Have him install mercury recoil reducers to the stock .

    Have the nylon fore sight changed to a steel 1 , with an ivory bead .




    I have 1 particularly traumatizing memory , involving Birmingham Small Arms Majestic .458 Winchester magnum calibre rifle . The incident is related in my article , “ The Gaur Which Ended A Shikar Career “ ... Which can be found on African Hunting Forums .
    Here is the link :
    https://www.africahunting.com/threads/the-gaur-which-ended-a-shikar-career.54665/
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020
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  17. WebleyGreene455

    WebleyGreene455 AH Enthusiast

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    Major,
    That was a feature on the military-issued Argentine 1909 Mausers but I don't think it was ever used on the other military models. I've mostly seen it on sporting rifles including those BSA rifles and I've never thought it was a good idea to have the release inside the trigger guard. But I've wondered which was more prone to accidentally opening, the trigger guard release or the lever release seen on many more German guns, and is it even worth having a hinged floorplate to begin with? The only military-issued rifle I own with one is my Soviet Mosin-Nagant and I think that was to facilitate cleaning and handling with heavy gloves and in Russian winter conditions where you don't have much dexterity.
     

  18. Alistair

    Alistair AH Veteran

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    So I guess I'll jump in to correct a few mistakes and also give a British perspective on shooting, hunting and firearm manufacture.

    Firstly. @Major Khan . I should like it to be made known that actually, for the last 20 years, firearms ownership in the UK has remained stable.

    Ref: https://www.gov.uk/government/stati...es-england-and-wales-april-2018-to-march-2019

    In fact, since 1997 or so, Firearm certificate numbers have risen year on year at a rate exceeding natural population growth over the period. I.E - not only are there more shooters now than in say 1999 in real terms, but also in percentage terms. Admittedly, this is from a low baseline level and shotgun numbers remain static, but it's fair to say that shooting in the UK in terms of actual interest in the sport remains stable, whilst hunting itself is increasingly democratised as paid excursions on the old private estates bcome more and more available (if sometimes pricy).

    What has increased in recent years is a vocal 'anti-hunting / anti-shooting minority who have disproportionate influence on policy and the press over and above their true numbers. Most British citizens remain indifferent to the issue and unknowleageable about firearms and hunting, just as they have been since at least the 1980's.

    Secondly - the 'class' aspect of UK shooting. There is a small minority of well heeled shooters (usually described as the 'driven grouse' crowd) in the UK. They are a combination of the remnants of the old landed classes continuing their hobby as they always have, supplemented by nouveau rich city types, plus foreign shots. I do not play in this crowd as I'm both dreadfully common and not filthy rich either, but I know a few who do. Nice chaps, on the whole.

    However, whilst they get a fair amount of 'air time' in newspapers such as The Guardian as the 'stereotypical hunter' this could not be further from the truth. At a guess, I'd say less than 2,000, certainly less than 10,000 UK shots take days on driven grouse every year, out of a population of 500,000+ shotgun owners. They're no more representative of british sportsmen than say american sportsmen who've taken a couple of the Big 5 are representative.

    Continuing this train of thought, I'd guess there's more Brits this year who'll buy large shot sizes in steel (3. BB etc) from Eley to take geese or ducks on the foreshore than will buy 6 shot for grouse. Of course as far as Eley is concerned, the only markets that matter are clay shooters (maybe 70% of volume) and pheasant shooters (maybe 20% of volume). Everything else is limited run, limited quantity stuff that they have to do to broaden the range but probably make no money from. Either way, I expect you could fit the entire volume of cartridges containing 3 shot or larger in a single truck. It's tiny, trivial volumes.

    So that's one correction. British shooters are, not too put too fine a point on it, taking a lot more shit for their chosen hobby now than ever before, but this isn't because numbers are dwindling or public perceptions have really changed, it's just easier for militant vegan types to get media attention via twitter or facebook now than it was on paid media.

    Moving on to why the British trade is dying.

    Well, honestly, yeah, its market size and competition, plus a decreasing interest in 'buying British', rising costs of labour and materials, increased resticitions on export, loss of Empire markets and possibly decreased barriers to import of Euro made goods (likely not a massive factor).

    The simple fact of the matter is, if you're not able to charge a significant premium for 'origin', or sell a lot of units locally, Britain isn't really a great choice for the gun industry. We can't do what the Americans do in this space, make a lot of admittedly reasonably good firearms, then slap 'MADE IN AMERICA' on them in big letters and sell them cheaply to the locals because firstly, we don't have a big local market, the locals don't really care that much if it were made there (at least not enough to pay a couple hundred quid more for a rifle) and then you're stuck trying to make up volumes selling into America and then losing to the likes of Savage.

    The likes of BSA could hang on through the '50's as they were coming into the period with masses of post war infrastructure, relatively low wages verus the US, a ready made export market to the (ex)colonies and little competition from the likes of Germany which was frankly in an even worse state than we were.

    Basically as soon as Europe pulled itself together, america started making inroads into places like India, Australia and all that nice 1940's vintage plant started to become obsolete or maintenance heavy, the British gun industry was screwed. Throw in rising energy costs, the loss of the last of British steel and heavy union pressure in the 60's and 70's and that was the death knell. Same story as for our automotive industry really, although that's picked up a bit in recent years through foreign investment in the likes of JLR.

    Anyway, all that remains viable now is the liks of Holland who have the privileged position of being a 'name' on the international stage with a history and prestige that upcoming competitors simply cannot buy. But for the likes of BSA or a modern day 'British Remington'? Nah, doubt it.

    There is a ray of hope though. Whilst not really mass market, the number of smaller bespoke and semi-custom gun smiths in the UK is really beginning to pick up in recent years. Accuracy International is one, Longthorne another, plus the likes of Boxall and Edminston and the innumerable suppliers of custom and semi-custom actions, barrels and compoinents into the competitive rifle scene. They're not 'the gun of the working class', sure, but they're an attempt to preserve some of the history and engineering know how present here at a price which is at least a bit more attainable. We continue to have a large presence in the field of shotgun cartridge production as well, with names such as Eley, Gamebore, Hull Cartridge, Lyvale possibly being familiar to at least some of you.

    All in all, I wish the British gun industry well. I think the outlook today is significantly brighter today than it has been since the 1970's and as long as political pressure (make no mistake, the government really, really don't like guns here) doesn't kill everything through more bans, I think they have a reasonably bright future ahead.

    Al.
     

  19. Major Khan

    Major Khan AH Elite

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    Based up on my professional experience in the shikar field , Webley ... It would have to be the Oberndorf style release catch . Here is an article ... Which I had written a couple of weeks ago .
    https://www.africahunting.com/threads/the-hunting-leopard-which-almost-killed-my-client.56586/
    It is an English translation of a chapter from my good friend and former colleague's auto biography . Perhaps it may interest you ... To give it a read ?

    It shall high light another situation ... Where an Oberndorf style release catch almost cost Riaz his career , and Riaz's client ... His life .
     

  20. Major Khan

    Major Khan AH Elite

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    Thank you very much for educating me on this matter , Alastair . It always feels good to be corrected . Another really good British invention in recent years ... Is the May Fair magnum Mauser action .

    I am intimately familiar with Eley , Game Bore , Hull and Lyalvale Express cartridges . I have been extensively using Eley cartridges , now ... for more than 61 years in my Belgian shot gun . Eley is 1 of the 5 brands of 12 Bore cartridges ... Which are ALWAYS being commercially imported in to Bangladesh ( The others being : Fiocchi , Lambro , Saga and Sterling ) .


    I sincerely do hope that hunting and fire arms ownership not only remains stable .
    ... But also increases in the next few years . I am pleased to know that the hunting community in Great Britain has remained stable .

    It is still quite scary , that people like " Hunt Sabs " ( Who basically dedicate their entire time to sabotaging and harassing law abiding hunters ) ... Can be legally allowed to have web site , where they publicly gloat about sabotaging hunts .


    I also find it quite disconcerting that Boris Johnson's government is so frightfully anti hunting . This is made worse , by the fact that the opposition (Labor Party ) have a flat out agenda to impose restrictions upon hunting and fire arms ownership . So , in essence ... Both political parties in Great Britain want to make life more difficult for hunters .
    By contrast ... In America , you have Democrats ( Who target hunting and fire arms ownership ) , but then you have Republicans ( Who defend fire arms ownership and hunting ) .

    Once again .... Thank you so much for educating me and helping me obtain an insider's perspective about the current state of hunters and fire arms owners in Great Britain .
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2020

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