All mechanical systems are a compromise, says the engineering mantra, but some are less so than others as shown by the gun in the photos.
It is a single barrel sidelock non ejector bearing the Joseph Lang logo. Whether it was in fact built by Lang or it was a trade gun is not really relevant. There are other, though not many, near identical single sidelock guns bearing other prestigious names. What is relevant is the feel of this gun in the hands. No writing can convey the feeling of lightness, ethereal balance and utter pointability of this quality single shot shotgun.
A closer look reveals how this pointability is more easily achievable in a single and why the single is less of a compromise than other shotgun types.
One barrel affords leeway in the management of weight up front. This particular Lang has barrel wall thickness of 40 thou at the thinnest point. This is the metal remaining after a century of use and it dwarfs the usual «satisfactory» barrel wall thickness of 24 thou of double barreled guns. With one barrel such thickness is no hindrance to lightness up front. The same robust dimensions are evident in the breech end of the barrel. Where a double will have chamber ends measuring about 3.5 millimeters this one as over four millimeters. The lumps are also a little thicker than those of a double. The robustness proved itself, for this gun, though used well as the bore wear shows, has no sign of action looseness and no sign of ever having been tightened.
The short top rib saves the weight of a full rib, yet gives the same sight picture when the gun is mounted.
The action is a true sidelock with intercepting sear judging by the pins. A more visually oriented maker might have put a left false sideplate for the sake of visual symmetry. On this Lang the sidelock is only on the right side, the left having only an escutcheon to support the through screw securing the lock. Though visually strange the escutcheon on the left side clearly indicates that the sidelock is genuine, even to the uninitiated.
Operation wise this is a super easy handling gun. With only one lock to cock the barrel needs but the slightest downward flick to fully open and cock the lock. It is a non ejector, but the removal of the single empty case is made easy by the generous gape and the the fact that it is only one and accessible from all sides. Loading is easy there being but one chamber.
The barrel flats show the generous lumps and the 0.740 bore diameter at proof, an early case of Overboring!
Despite the generous barrel thickness the gun is light, well under 6 pounds, the balance is superb, the handling is incomparable. The mounting effort is minimal, almost non existent. You think this gun to your shoulder. Thoughts of unebarable recoil come to mind, but this gun was chambered for a 2 1/2 inch cartridge, which in the UK would mean a load of one ounce, possibly 1 1/16. Note that the barrel was bored 0.740 originally, it was in effect an early back boring which mitigated recoil. The stock was obviously made to fit the client with proper pitch for him or her and thus also minimised felt recoil.
It is evident that it is easier to build a single with far fewer compromises than a double. There is no torsion stress when firing, no need to accomodate the weight of two barrels, (and two ribs), yet maintain good handling as happens when making a double. The stock has far more wood at the contact with the action, so more strength. The list of non compromises is long.
The original cost of this quality shotgun was a fraction of its double barreled counterparts. But doubles were the gun of choice for the elite who shot driven game and they set the fashion which prevails till now, minus the quality and handling of the doubles. You have to wonder what would have happened if driven game shooting had not become such a big fashion. Whether this kind of affordable and easily reproducible quality would have prevailed and would be available today. Obviously it is much easier and cheaper to copy this single, and retain most of its handling than the indifferent sidelock and boxlock copies foisted on us.
But, say some, you only have one shot.
Action flats in good condition, no sign of any tightening, not bad for a century old single shot!
One shot capacity has been condemned by many for many reasons. Unsporting, say some, because you cannot finish a winged bird with a second shot. Well… yes, but how many pass up a chance at a right and a left? And what happens when the second shot wings the bird when shooting a double? With that kind of thinking the only truly sporting shooting would be to use a three shot gun and always retain the last shot for the coup de grace assuming you will never miss with it.
No choice of choke say others. So you forego shots that are too near or too far for your choke. The Lang has half choke which covers pretty much anything between 20 and 40 yards.
In a covey flush you get only one chance. True, so you enjoy more dog work to get a second flush.
The fact is that with a single shot, once you accept that it has only one shot, you get into a different mode of gauging your shots. You are more deliberate, more concentrated, precisely because there is only one chance and that concludes a phase. It will take time to get to the next phase.
Sleek, a fitting term indicative of the handling of the Lang single.
Rationalisation abound, but they all stop with a trial mount. The feel is that unique.
The Lang in the photos is located at www.gunandknifeclassics.gr along with many other best quality guns.