David McKay Brown
Mike Barnes meets David McKay Brown whose round action guns are highly acclaimed the world over.
Though he has a good team at his Bothwell workshop, he is one of a rare breed who can make all parts of a gun himself. His passion for gunmaking is matched only by his enthusiasm for the sport itself.
The book, David McKay Brown - Scotland's Gun and Rifle Manufacturer, by Donald Dallas, has recently been published by Quiller.
Have you always been in the gun trade?
Almost - I spent two years as a deer stalker with the Forestry Commission. I was 21 and had just completed my gunmaking apprenticeship. Working in the basement of a gunmaker was like being a miner. I never saw daylight and I loved being in the open air and the hills but I could see little future with stalking so went back to Dicksons.
When and where did you start in business on your own?
In Hamilton in 1967 undertaking general repairs for the trade, everywhere from Thurso to Land's End.
Are you still in the same premises?
We moved to our present premises in Bothwell, near Glasgow, in 1980.
What is your favourite aspect of being a gunmaker?
The design work on computers. I am always looking for improvements in designing components for future efficiencies.
What are the most noticeable changes since you started?
The biggest change is undoubtedly the introduction of CNC machines. We invested in our first one in 1994 and have been adding ever since.
Where do you source your raw materials - walnut and steel?
I buy the walnut direct from Turkey and go out there to select it. Steel is global - you can buy it in Sheffield but it might have come from Spain or Sweden. It's the quality that counts.
What do you think has set you apart from other gunmakers?
The fact that we do almost everything in-house - the only exceptions are some of the CNC work and engraving.
Was the business successful from day one?
Thankfully, yes. I started with quite a bit of repair work from Dicksons, and got on the phone and in the car to drum up trade elsewhere. I did a fair amount for Rigby's and Cogswell & Harrison.
What is your proudest achievement?
Completing my number one gun in 1974, a round action (trigger plate) side-by-side. I had been working on it since I started in 1967, and felt very confident about it. Thankfully others liked it too.
Which do you make the most of, side-by-side or over-under?
80 per cent over-unders. I made my first one in 1992 seeing it as a great opportunity, but there was a recession and orders were slow. But that all changed.
Have you noticed a trend for smaller bores?
Not so much in the last five years.
Or are people ordering heavier guns for high bird shooting?
Definitely. In fact we make an over-under specifically designed for high bird shooting - it weighs 8 1/2lb and has proved popular.
Did you inherit your love of the sport from your father?
Almost certainly. Growing up in Lanarkshire my father was a poacher, and I was out with him from the age of four. Grouse was part of our weekly diet. Other game too - but grey partridge was my favourite. In fact I didn't eat chicken until I was eight and thought it a bland disappointment. I got my first gun, a .410, at 12.
Which gun do you prefer to use?
Side-by-side for grouse and flighting duck (that very first 1974 gun), and over-under for high pheasants.
Your favourite type of shooting?
Any wild birds - grouse or wildfowl. I go to Uist every year for snipe and the odd duck. I enjoy high pheasants too.
Your favourite shoot?
I don't have one. Over the years I have filtered the poor ones out and only go to those I enjoy, where the company is very important to me.
Are you optimistic about the future of the sport?
Regrettably, I have my doubts, especially in Scotland if Labour get in. The new Wildlife Bill is going to make life very difficult for keepers. And vicarious liability is a big concern.
What do you least enjoy about shooting?
Very severe weather - heavy rain, sleet or snow can be miserable. I would once have said low birds, not my kind of sport, but my feeling now is let people shoot what keeps them happy.
What do you most enjoy about shooting?
Those days when you are shooting well - it can give you such a lift, even on just one drive.