An open gun cabinet captured my interest. It contained were several average rifles and shotguns but one stood out from the others: a double rifle. Doubles have been the focus of my affection since my first purchase in 1989 of a .500 black powder express by the Scottish firm of Mortimer and Son. I hunted in Zimbabwe with the Mortimer and as the years passed, I added several doubles to my small but growing collection. I always notice doubles and my eyes were drawn to this one rifle amongst the others.
I asked Adrian and Odette if I could take a closer look and they were pleased to show me Peter’s double. It was a well-used rifle by the English firm of George Gibbs. Nothing fancy, really. Most of the blacking on the barrels was long worn from endless hours in the bush. The case colours on the action were also gone but the 80% coverage engraving showed this rifle to be of top quality. The wood gave a hint of a fine piece of English walnut but was oil-soaked and very dark. The checkering was worn nearly smooth and both the engraving and checkering were filled with decades of dust and gunk. This Gibbs was definitely a diamond in the rough – a diamond long ago and now quite rough due to years of heavy use in Africa. I don’t know if Peter van den Bergh was a double-rifle man, but the Gibbs did show he knew that he had a fine rifle, and his choice of an all-around double rifle for Zimbabwe was perfect.
Features of the Gibbs showed it was once a top-quality double rifle. The calibre was .450-400 for the 3¼-inch case and the proof marks and regulation load on the barrel flats showed the rifle was made for 60 gr of cordite and a 400-gr bullet. Whomever the rifle was made for was either an amazing shot or hoped to be so: six sight leaves to 600 yards, holes in the top strap drilled for a “peep” or aperture sight, and fittings in the top rib for claw mounts and a telescopic sight. The front sight was an ivory bead and the removable hood was still in place. Sling eyes and ejectors completed the package. The bores were dirty and seemed rough but were still shootable.
Of course, the rifle was a family heirloom and not for sale. The condition of the rifle did not get me too excited but having honest wear from so much use in my favourite African country, stimulated my interest. The rifle stayed in my memory as we departed Odette’s home for the hunting camp. I thought of the Gibbs on my flight back to Alaska but over time the memory faded. I would have loved to own, shoot and perhaps hunt with a double rifle with a Zimbabwean heritage. No doubt my doubles at home (.600, .450 no2, 8-bore, .450-400 3-inch) had seen Africa or India in the past but this one was still in Africa with the memories of the bush still intact. The Gibbs passed from my memory as it was not to be. Or so I thought.
Fast-forward eight years. I had continued hunting in Africa and by now had a nice collection of double rifles, and I hunted only with them. Over the years I have owned nearly 60 doubles, keeping some and moving others on to upgrade my collection. I enjoyed the three categories of double rifles with several examples of each: black powder express, nitro express and the huge-bore rifles. Of course, a few fine double shotguns were included, too.
On an elephant hunt in 2016 my PH, knowing my interest in double rifles, asked if I would like to see a double once owned by his uncle. When the rifle came into view, I recognized it immediately. It was the Gibbs! I offered to buy it but it was not for sale. The next year I offered again, with the same reply. However, a few months later I received an email about the Gibbs and a price was agreed upon. It took two or more years but the Gibbs arrived at my home in 2019. The price of the rifle was fair, as it needed so much work to restore it to its former glory. Permits, shipping, importation, paperwork by the US broker, customs and shipping to my home added to the cost. The rifle came with a canvas case that was made for a 12-bore shotgun. The ammunition remained in Zimbabwe as the cost and paperwork of shipping the ammo was prohibitive. I would “make a plan” to pick up the ammo on my 2019 hunt and vacation in Zimbabwe.
Examining the Gibbs before my purchase, I made note of the work that needed to be done to make the rifle new again. Closer examination at home showed much less work was required. The rifle was mechanically sound – tight on the face, and the bore was excellent after cleaning the dust, fowling and powder residue. The action was fine, the ejectors in time, and a strip-clean and oiling removed the accumulated gunk from the locks. Everything worked as it did 100 years ago.
A few years ago I discovered an excellent gunsmith in Anchorage, Andy Hawk. He is really amazing in many ways. His skill is among the best and it’s a blessing not to have to send work to the Lower 48 – saving on shipping and time, and the possible loss or damage while in transit. It is also nice to be able to talk to my gunsmith, to explain the work to be done and to check on the progress when I was in town. I think you’ll agree Andy’s work has merit.
Andy Hawk, Anchorage gunsmith’s work is evident here