Doug Stewart. 2018. The Traditional Side by Side: King of the Upland Bird Guns. 183 pp. Printed by Doug Stewart. USA
Little has been written in depth on upland side-by-side guns for a rather long period of time. After the influential works of Gene Hill, Richard Grozik and Michael McIntosh some decades ago, to my knowledge, nothing systematic have come up in the English speaking realm until very recently. It is not surprising that this new book, again, went in to press in the US, where upland hunting on so many bird species is widely pursued.
Doug Stewart´s work is a concise and well integrated review of all the relevant aspects that matter on a light side-by-side shotgun designed for walking long hours after feathered quarry with the help of a Hunter-Pointer-Retriever (HPR) dog.
“Upland bird hunting” in the US, “Rough shooting” in the UK, “Chase au chien d’arret” in France or “Caza al salto” in Spain, are part of a long tradition of feather hunting that began in the XVII century in Europe. It is practiced today worldwide, from the plains of North America to the steppes of Eurasia; to the temperate grasslands of South America and Oceania to the Veld in Southern Africa. Even so, it is not the most popular usage applied to field shotguns. Wildfowl shooting in North America and dove shooting in South America, just to name two, involves more guns and rounds per season than upland hunting with side-by-sides in any continent. Moreover, side-by-side guns are nowadays clearly in the minority even when we focus just on hunting feathered quarry pointed and retrieved by dogs.
So, we are talking about a practice performed by an hunting èlite, whose instruments --many of them very old-- also belong in good measure to the gun èlite. A sport that Doug Stewart describes and prescribes, focusing on the side-by-side light gun as it is carry out in the US. On a continent that enjoys the most ample variety of bird quarry, indigenous and introduced, perhaps more than in any other one. From pheasants and sage grouse on the one end to woodcock and bob quail on the other, Stewart gives us a detailed analysis on the different calibers, optimal chokes, shot charges and shot sizes applicable for each group of bird species and field conditions. Of course, he has a sweet spot for the sweet sixteen side-by-side, the queen of the upland guns in the view of many, very much in the Hill, Grozik and McIntosh’s tradition.
His experience and good prose lead us to a vivid description of the qualities and specs that a light side-by-side gun has to show and render in well trained hands. From gauges to the different gun parts and dimensions; from its balance to the essential gun fitting process; as well to the much proved instinctive shooting technics, Doug takes us to the necessary steps to appreciate this piece of human ingenuity. Lastly, he lets us to conclude on the importance of physical training, of the match between body size and gun dimensions, on the joy of walking the open wild spaces, of the due respect for the chosen quarry and on the importance in keeping alive this long tradition as temporary keepers of these èlite guns.
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