(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Matthew Mucci
Our humble, though handsome protagonist Matt has gotten lucky for twice in his wretched life (this story being one of those times) and stumbled into not just an affordable double gun, but a super classic one to boot! This is a tale of lust and romance turned gun review. It all happened one fateful rainy Father’s Day during a family outing to the range attached to my local gun store. The handsome protagonist waits in boredom for lanes to open, halfheartedly browsing the store’s limited to CT friendly offerings.
I didn’t pay much attention to it the first go around. My eyes easily slip past SxS shotguns without much interest. By chance, another casual glance on my second perusal betrayed a peculiarity; SsS shotguns do not have scope mounts.
Instantly I knew what it was, something I had wanted for some time; a double rifle. The fires of desire recently burning all the hotter within me from reading about Tom in Oregon’s hunt for a double rifle, watching ‘The Ghost and the Darkness‘, and reading hunting stories and watching dangerous game hunting videos. I was naturally crushed by the a priori knowledge it would be outside of my price range.
But who cares how much it costs? Besides, what kind of patron would I be if I didn’t ask to look at it anyway? “A good one,” me thinks FirearmsConcierge would say (I jest, I jest! Please write more!).
I look the rifle over, inspecting it closely now that it is not some common SxS, paying special care to avoid any form of eye contact with the price tag. It’s much older than I expected. Fantastically engraved and monogramed. Nice strong Greener type action. Side safety, an intriguing feature I had never seen before, but I’m no expert (just a doctor). Two triggers for double the fun.
“Those express sights…” I nearly swoon.
It is well used, but not in a turned-to-crap sort of way. It is used in a truly used-well-for-its-intended-purpose sort of way. It wasn’t a safe queen. Nice dark wood. I know the trigger(s) guard is carved, although I am ignorant of the material. The action is tight, no light shines through and no wiggle is perceptible. The bores look quite good and the solder on the ribs has not become incorporeal.
Having concluded my ogling and feeling of the various textures, I resign myself to the despair I know I can no longer avoid. I look at the price tag. Meeting my eyes is a figure so unexpected my jaw nearly hits the floor; I made mention of swooning earlier…. This fantastic and by all my perceptions excellent condition antique rifle is at a price I, a mere mortal, can afford! Some of the minutiae is confirmed by an employee; the price is indeed as written, it fires, and it is a consignment piece priced to move in a modern firearms type store.
As the wheels begin to turn and I see the stars aligning before me, I snap myself out of the fantasy my mind is concocting. Just because it is in my price range doesn’t me I can afford it right now or should buy it. I hand the rifle back to the salesman and I adjourn to the range with my family as our turn has come up.
A few weeks pass with little additional thought paid the double rifle. That is, until I find myself back at the same LGS with by brother to do a little more shooting. Naturally I must see my…I mean that beauty again if she is still there. Not only does the double rifle remain in the same position I left it, unmolested and entirely ignored, but the price tag is stuck through the trigger(s) guard, price visible, marked $1000 less than what it was before.
Fantasy does not accurately describe the thoughts my mind was producing. The machinations of the mind convincing itself what is indeed possible, what is indeed obtainable are remarkable. But I stamp out those dirty thoughts once more. I must avoid temptation and continue to pretend I am a responsible adult and a good Catholic boy! My brother and I commence our shooting, good times were had, et cetera, and we depart the range. Except this time the double rifle remains in my conscious thoughts; my interest was piqued to say the least.
That night all was not well. My rest was fitful. Wild dreams of the rifle’s beauty and hazarding the idea of acquisition clung like an unshakable fever. My desire was too strong and my will too weak. My rational mind capitulated, no longer capable of offering even token resistance. I would call the shop on the morrow asking to disassemble the rifle to research it provenance.
My inquiry was met with cheery pleasantries; it seems the rifle has sat some time and the shop is eager to sell it. Very curious. Detailed inspection was agreed to and a time and date set for it to occur. Pictures of the rifle’s many markings were agreed upon.
The agreed date arrived without precedent, my finances no more forgiving of decadent indulgences, and the inspection commenced. What beauty was lost in my prior two inspections was fully revealed now. I felt its fine curves, it’s exquisite smoothness of operation, the fine textures, the crispness and snap of its lockup, and I observed the once hidden proofs adorning the rifle.
Pictures taken, I made my exit to begin the task of deciphering the arcane hieroglyph like proofs that mark the rifles unexposed surfaces. It is almost indecent that I exposed to the internet pictures of what is up this old girl’s skirt. Almost. For my audience was of connoisseurs, not some mall ninjas or low speed high drag operators incapable of grasping what makes this rifle truly fine. They were fellow double gun lovers with a library of information at their disposal.
The proofs and other markings show thusly:
On the rib – H. Leue, Hoffbüchsenmacher, Berlin.
The proofing style shows it was manufactured between 1893 and 1912. I do not know its exact date of manufacture.
The barrels are made and profiled in by Schilling forge.
The chambers are proofed for smokeless powder with a designated proof charge (military flake) and bullet jacket (steel jacket).
Under the chambers, still on the barrels, are a set of second definitive proofs and a gauge marking that indicates caliber. The makers mark also appears here; reposing lions with “LEUE” across their body. The caliber is reported to be 9.3x74R.
The water table also bears the second definitive proof and another set of maker’s marks.
The left and right side of the receiver is also engraved with the maker’s name and location.
The top lever shows a gold monogram and crown with 7 tines, the mark of a Baron or Freiherr.
The trigger(s) guard, forearm insert, and butt plate are revealed to be carved horn.
Wonderful scroll work engraving covers the receiver and part of the forearm.
This new information in hand coupled, with requests made by the fellow forum goers for the name of the gun shop if I decided not to buy the rifle at the quoted price, my already made-up mind was bolstered. I was buying what the shop was selling, but I still wasn’t giving up without a fight. I contacted the shop to begin price negotiations with the owner of the rifle.
A bit of wheeling and dealing, schmoozing and justifying, sweet talking and kibitzing ensued with the shop acting as an intermediary and eventually a price was agreed upon. A price less than that currently on the sticker. A price which came with the satisfaction of being only just a little bit cruel to my wallet, but fulfilling my lusting desires and temptations. VICTORY! In every sense of the word.
A couple of stacks and a few minutes of paperwork later and I was positively beaming as the proud new owner of this fine old rifle.
Anywho, this is where the romance turns to review. This is obviously a used gun, and it is from an era where there was a lot of variation between gunsmiths/makers who were making ostensibly the same thing. One need not look further than 9.3x72R and its various sizes and subsequent normalization for proof of this. Accordingly, all measurements and specifications of calibers are to be treated somewhat skeptically.
The first step to really know what I had was to take chamber casts to confirm the caliber and a prior gunsmith’s conclusions. They floated somewhat between a couple of calibers, but most closely matched 9.3x74R. The rifling of each barrel was also caught by each cast and measured to get the bore diameter. To “confirm” the casts, I inserted loaded 9.3x74R cartridges and 9.3x74R snap caps into the chambers and successfully closed the action on them.
I next acquired some ammo for the rifle ($8 a box on sale!) and gave it a quick test fire, one from each barrel, at that same indoor range/LGS I bought it from. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect of the recoil so I pulled the first shot a bit. Happily, recoil was mild, I’d say on par with 30-06 intensity from a Springfield rifle but with more of a push factor like shooting a Garand. I suspect the near 10 pounds of weight has something to do with that.
While the gun fired and produced hits at 50 feet, that isn’t very telling past ‘it goes bang like it’s supposed to.’ I also saw the first issue also arise here, one primer was very deeply indented and the other was pierced altogether (the right barrel). Looking for some answers, I returned to the double gun forum and it was suggested that A) the firing pin style may be responsible for the pierced primer, and B) the higher pressure of the Hornady DGX ammo I bought could account for the primers so I should try some European loaded ammo as it is generally lower pressure.
Advice heeded, I acquired a partial box of S&B ammo on the cheap and headed to an outdoor range a few weeks later. All shots were taken with the first express leaf, at 50 yards from a sitting position with the fore end (not the barrels) supported by a rest. The triggers were exquisite, with zero perceptible take up and a very light and very glass break.
Lacking equipment to measure the break and take up, if I had to quantify it, I’d call it but a [redacted for the purposes of decency] hair. Recoil was worse from the bench, as expected, but still felt more manageable than the typical milsurp from the bench.
Twelve cartridges were fired between my brother and me (eight to me, four to him, the little girl) and the results were mixed. Ten of 12 cartridges had cracked case necks and four of 12 had pierced primers (all the right barrel again). Accuracy was nonexistent. The shots were all over the place at 50 yards, many not even on the target. After seeing those dismal results, I decided against trying 100-yard shots. I left the range thoroughly discouraged and wondering if I had made an expensive mistake.
That evening after some further meditation, I was able to devise some suitable excuses. I attributed the cracked necks to the age of the ammunition, as it wasn’t exactly new. The brass also felt thin and brittle like old corrosive milsurp brass (looking at you, Turkish 8mm). Accuracy, I decided, was affected by a number of factors. I was jammed awkwardly into a right handed shooting bench trying to shoot lefty, the wind was blowing the target stand fearsomely, and I couldn’t see the sights worth a shiiiicrap due to the dark, covered, and partially obstructed shooting position.
Regardless of the excuses I could make, I saw no other option but to proceed onward by getting another brand of ammo to confirm if we indeed have issues. This time I acquired two boxes of new production PPU at about $38 for a box of 20. For comparison, the only other “widely” available option (that was not roll your own) was RWS at about $80 for a box of 10.
Ammo once more in hand, I was next able to shoot the rifle on a friend’s property. All shooting was done at 120-ish yards up hill, using the first express leaf, from an offhand position, at our minute of deer steel target (about 12W x 16L inches).
Oh boy, what a difference this time around! Sixteen shots were fired, four by me and two each by another six people. While this method of accuracy testing was not extremely scientific, my four shots (the fired first) were aimed at the center of the plate and all connected solidly. I thought .30-06 left behind some energy when it hit that plate, but a 285 gr SP at 2260 fps put the absolute smack down on it!
All remaining 12 shots were fired in succession, one after the other. No time was allowed for the barrels to cool. Of the six people who shot the rifle, three put both rounds on the plate, one missed one shot, and the other two missed altogether. Now for what it’s worth, the three shooters who missed were our least experienced shooters out with us that day; those of who have been shooting for a long time had no problems. I would attribute these misses to the pucker factor of shooting a big rifle and general lack of experience shooting big rifles; those people have previously shown they are not simply terrible shots.
Inspection of the brass showed it to be in excellent condition. Not a single cracked neck, pierced, or excessively indented primer was found. The PPU brass also felt a little thicker and of the more malleable type to me. On to the specs and stars!
Action Type: Top Lever, Right Swing, Break Open, Greener Style, Extractors
Caliber: 9.3x74R (working theory)
Capacity: Two Cartridges
Barrel Length: 24”
Weight: 9.2 pounds unloaded
Stock: European style, presumably walnut, built in cheek rest for righties. Carved horn butt plate held in place with two engraved screws. One sling swivel in the buttstock and one in the bottom rib. Carved horn insert at the front end of the also presumably walnut forearm. Hand checkered gripping surfaces.
Sights: One fixed express leaf with one folding express leaf presumably for 50/100m or 100/200m, staked and not adjustable (see your qualified gunsmith for that). Front bead with insert, possibly ivory. Scope rail above the right chamber for claw style mount (pre HK), scope not included (though it would have been new from the maker).
Price: Negotiable/two stacks. Ranges from semi-princely to princely.
Ratings (out of 5 stars):
Note: Ratings are purely for entertainment purposes!
Style * * * * *
Extremely classic European double rifle exhibiting all the period features. Beautifully engraved and hand checkered stocks and hand carved horn appointments. Just imagine how cool you will be at the range, in the deer stand, or showing off the rifle to your friends. The rifle practically imbues class. Need I say more?
Fit and Finish: * * * * *
Handmade with superb materials and the quality shows. At over 100 years old, the rifle locks up tight as ever and is still fully functional. All surfaces are impeccably mated. This rifle is truly the work of craftsman. The engraving even lines up on all of the screws still! If this rifle was ever taken down for repairs it was done by an expert.
Accuracy: * * *
Unscientifically yet satisfactorily proven accurate to a degree that is at least minute of deer within 100 yards. More testing with actual targets is required so I have only awarded three stars for now (it ain’t cheap to shoot after all). Regulation of the barrels at least appears to still be good so that is a major plus. The sights are also remarkably tight for express sights, more typical of old school irons. This inhibits accuracy a bit as good lighting is necessary to pick up the sights easily.
Customize This: * or * * * * *
This rifle was likely ordered to the original purchaser’s specifications thus making it fully custom and deserving of five stars; it’s got the guy’s initials on it after all. However, as far as customization that I can do…well I can add a sling so maybe one star. I’ll leave it to the reader to pick the rating that suits them. Other available accessories include safari guides, bespoke hunting wear, and local children to carry your effects and make camp for you.
Overall: * * * * *
This rifle has some mysteries still to be revealed, but separate to its function, there is something about the idea of this double rifle, my own double rifle, maybe all double rifles, that is just romantic to me. It is an anachronism that brings to mind old school safaris, hanging out by the fire in your secluded cabin in the woods sipping a fine whiskey and enjoying a smoke after a hard day out, and trekking through the wilds. It inspires a sense of adventure and the hunt within me and drives a curiosity to learn the 100 years of history behind this rifle. To know not just the facts of its origin and making, but to dream of the places it has been, the game encountered, the tales it could tell. To me, the mystery and the romance is just as satisfying as shooting the rifle, and much more lasting. In all honesty, even if the thing didn’t shoot straight, I wouldn’t even care at this point. I have acquired an object of desire that was on the gun bucket list. Get me an opportunity to take this rifle on a hog hunt, and I’d be all over it.