Dreaming of Doubles

Dreaming of Doubles

The semiannual Tulsa gun show is reputed to be the largest in the world.

Every spring and fall, gun dealers, buyers and anyone remotely connected with the firearms industry descends on this mid-size Oklahoma city, and for two days thousands of guns are displayed, handled, admired, bought, sold, lusted after and discussed at length.


The attendees are a curious mix: Some look like they just climbed down off a tractor; others like they parked their Harley around the back. Still others are shadowed by their chauffeur cum bodyguard, who carries the briefcase. Altogether, it is as eclectic a brew as anyone could conjure, and all brought together by a common passion.


George Caswell, the country's largest dealer in double rifles, always attends the Tulsa show with his huge multi-table display of fantastic doubles and custom bolt actions from all over the world. It is a chance for anyone with a ticket into the Tulsa show to expose himself to the exotic and unaffordable world of double rifles--to handle them and see them up close if only for a few minutes. It's worth the drive to Tulsa, just by itself.

Over the last 15 or 20 years, after decades of near-death, the market for double rifles has exploded, and even the poorest specimens now sell for substantial money. A good rifle with a great name in a usable dangerous-game caliber routinely sells for $25,000, and you're lucky to find one at that.


We are criticized sometimes for writing about rifles our readers can't afford, and it probably does not assuage the situation to point out that we can't afford them either. Usually, these rifles, new and old, are displayed at high-end shows for the high rollers, like SCI and the Dallas Safari Club, and George always attends those shows and does well. But he goes to Tulsa, too--probably the most democratic gun show in the country--and he does so for a reason.

One, he always sells a few guns. And two, there is a great deal of interest among everyone who attends. Just because a man will never be able to afford one of George's used Rigby .577s doesn't mean he wouldn't like to pick one up, hoist it to his shoulder and imagine a Cape buffalo coming over the table at him.

There is so much history associated with old doubles, it is hard to imagine any serious rifleman not being interested. One rifle George just listed is a Purdey hammer gun that has been mentioned in any number of books. It is one of four .500 BPE doubles ordered by the Marquis of Ripon when he was appointed Viceroy of India in 1880.

Along with the four .500s, the Marquis took a 4-bore rifle and a 12-bore shotgun. James Purdey coined the term "express" to describe his high-velocity, flat-shooting rifles, and so this .500 was one of the very first express rifles.

Its history since it shipped out for India in 1880 is fairly well-documented. The .500 BPE was counted the premier tiger cartridge of its day, and the Marquis hunted tiger and sambar with it. This Marquis, by the way, was the father of Lord de Grey, who succeeded him as Marquis and is considered the greatest game shot of all time.

At any rate, after an energetic and eventful career, which took its toll, the .500 found its way to Australia, where it was used to hunt Asiatic buffalo, took part in load development for Graeme Wright's book Shooting the British Double Rifle, and then was restored, restocked and fitted out in an authentic period oak trunk case. It's a gorgeous piece, and it can be yours for just $15,995. A steal, I would say. Not many rifles these days send me to the vault browsing for trade bait, but this is one of them.

A visit to Champlin Arms, either the vault in Enid or one of George's gun-show displays, never fails to produce something either mouth-watering or intriguing.

In Enid earlier this year, photographing guns for my new book, George showed me a double rifle that is the most puzzling I have ever seen. Most doubles were made for an obvious purpose. A .500 BPE was probably a tiger rifle, a .300 Sherwood a rook rifle and a .303 British likely intended for stalking stags in Scotland.

But what would a man want with a high-end double rifle chambered for the .32-40? I mean really. There it was: A Charles Boswell boxlock double chambered for a cartridge that was never popular outside the United States and was primarily a target cartridge to boot. For hunting, the .32-40 is marginal for whitetails, and then only at close range, but here was one chambered in a rifle that is useful only for hunting.

What I would not give to enter, just for a moment, the mind of the man who ordered this rifle back before the Great War. For that matter, I'd kind of like to visit the gunmaker's mind as he took the order. What could he have been thinking?

If you have a use for a fine double rifle in .32-40, you now know where to find one. The price on the Boswell is $13,900, and if you cannot imagine a better use for $13,900 than a double rifle chambered for an obsolescent target cartridge, then you have far more money than I do.

The Marquis of Ripon's Purdey .500 BPE hammer gun, though. That has possibilities.

Recommended for You

Bolt-Action

Browning's New X-Bolt Max Long Range Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range...

Bolt-Action

Review: Performance Center-Thompson/Center LRR

Alfredo Rico - April 09, 2019

Thompson/Center and S&W's Performance Center team up to build an entry-level long-range...

Bolt-Action

Ruger Precision Rifle Now Chambered in .300 PRC and 6.5 PRC

Rifleshooter Digital Staff - April 27, 2019

Ruger introduced .300 PRC and 6.5 PRC chamberings for the Ruger Precision Rifle.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

Gun Clips with Joe Mantegna - BULLPUPS

Joe Mantegna talks about the origins of Bullpups.

Ruger Launches New American Rifle Predator in 6.5 Grendel

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Ruger's Matt WIlson kick off SHOT Show 2018 by taking a look at the Ruger Predator.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Shooting Tips

How to Shoot Your Best from a Benchrest

Keith Wood - August 05, 2014

You're only as good as your weakest link; heed these to tips to make sure your shooting skills...

Bolt-Action

Review: Ruger American/Robar Scout Rifle

Ed Head - April 23, 2019

Gunsite's Ed Head reviews the Ruger American/Robar Scout Rifle.

Rimfire

Thompson/Center Arms Adds Stock Options to Rimfire Line

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 16, 2019

Thompson/Center Arms rimfire rifles are available with Traditional Hardwood and Flat Dark...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×