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Small Bore Guns by David McKay Brown at the U.S. Agency

Of the many hammerless, breech-loading action designs of the late 19th and early 20th century, one of the most endearing is the Scottish round action gun. Renowned for its svelte shape, its almost magical handling characteristics, and inherent strength the trigger plate round action is synonymous with Scotland. James MacNaughton was the first Scottish maker to patent one in 1879.

One year later, John Dickson & Son patented their take on MacNaughton's gun and, through a series of improvements in the following decades, perfected the triggerplate design. The only other Scottish maker to produce a triggerplate action is David McKay Brown. Arguably, the best rendition of this distinctly Scottish gun, the DMB is certainly my favorite.

In 1879 James MacNaughton, who apprenticed at John Dickson & Son in the 1850's, patented his "Edinburgh" gun. This "drop-down barrel" gun as MacNaughton called it, was the first of the Scottish makers to place the lock work behind the action housed under the top strap and mounted to the trigger plate and used the top lever to cock the hammers. Not having to house the lockwork, this design allowed for actions small for their bore size, yet quite solid.

John Dickson & Son patented their trigger plate gun one year after MacNaughton's and called it a round-action. The petite action body of the triggerplate design was filed up with a rounded shape, similar to back-action hammer guns. This rounded bar further accentuated the slim lines of the triggerplate design. Both designs incorporated long, bow-shaped mainsprings but MacNaughton's was a lever cocking design and Dickson's a barrel cocking mechanism. Dickson & Son's patent also added a long roller-cam that required little effort to cock but retained lots of power in the strikers. In 1886 J.D.&Son had patented an ejector system in the bar of the action that incorporated coiled springs that also assisted in opening. Thus, Dickson & Son perfected the round action, trigger plate design.

David McKay-Brown started his apprenticeship at Alex Martin in the late 1950’s and started his career there. In the late 1960’s, Alex Martin was bought by the firm, James Dickson & Son. David stayed on after the amalgamation and worked for Dickson & Son for a short while design but soon established himself as a gunmaker hoping to work in the trade. A large part of that repair work was for Dickson’s working on round actions gun. While the repair work was steady, in 1974 David produced his first Dickson pattern round action trigger plate gun under his own name.

DMB took the classic Scottish round action gun and adapted it to contemporary tastes.

In addition to the traditional 12g side-by-side game guns, DMB eventually offered 16g, 20g, 28g, and .410 bore guns, each one on their own properly scaled frame and made with barrel lengths and stock dimensions in line with modern shooting trends. DMB even adapted the round action triggerplate to an over/under design. These bore sizes and configurations rarely, if ever, produced by his predecessors.

The Scottish round action gun is inherently lively in the hands due its svelte shape. The round action design accentuates the diminutive action size of properly scaled 20g, 28g, and .410 bores and combined with 29" barrels, long considered the optimal barrel length on a round action gun, even the 28g and .410 seem to swing above their weight division.

The round action gun is already small compared to other breech-loading gun designs of the same bore size and the round shape of its action accentuates the diminutive size. Combining the slim shape with how the location of the lock work distributes the weight, the round action guns are legendary for their handling characteristics

A 20g gun weighs just under 6 lbs. and a 28g slightly less than that. Their shape and light weight give the guns a wand-like feel. This graceful shape is a perfect combination for the properly scaled 20g, 28g, and .410 bores and combined with longer 28", 29" and 30" barrels, even the smallest bore sizes seem to swing above their weight division.

The modern configurations of the David McKay-Brown guns were complemented by modern engraving by some of the world's best engravers.

This pair of guns was completed in 2001 and engraved and carved by Cecile Flohimont. Done in the highest quality deep, flawless cut scroll that has incredible symmetry between the two guns and highly detailed carved game scene vignettes. The carving of a gun, being one of the most difficult and demanding types of embellishment done to the steel of the action, is only executed at this level by a few engravers worldwide. It is no doubt a style Ms. Flohimont has mastered and is renowned for.

Number "1" of the pair features Ruffed grouse flying in wooded scene on right side, flushing rooster pheasants in a field with wooded scene in background on left side, and a rooster pheasant sitting on a tree stump in a wooded scene on the bottom. 

The number "2" gun shows a rooster pheasant lighting to the edge of a field on the right side, a Ruffed grouse flying through alders on the left side, and Ruffed grouse perched on a limb on the bottom of the action body.  These guns have 28" barrels and weigh 5 lbs. 15 oz.

Completed in 1994, this David McKay Brown 28g Side-by-Side Game Gun was made with two sets of barrels and was engraved by Geoff Moore in expertly cut full coverage scroll featuring with the maker’s name in flowing banners.

Weighing a lively 5 lbs. 11 oz. each set of barrels for this gun are 29" long, one set choked slightly tighter than the other set. The gun is complete in its motor case.

Of the 5 frame sizes DMB made for his side-by-side guns, the 20g and 28g is the sweet spot. These frame sizes pair best with the given proportions of their bore sizes and, in my opinion, handle the best and have the most graceful lines.

When you consider Total production of all three Scottish makers is a fraction of the production numbers of the more well-known English makers. I have read DMB produced just under 1,000 guns between 1970 and his recent selling of the business in 2020. Rare guns by any measure.

No matter where I find myself displaying guns and meeting the shooting public, the guns by David McKay Brown garner as much attention as any maker. The rarity combined with the beautiful execution of the David McKay Brown guns is what makes them so alluring to collectors and shooters alike.

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