British gunmaker Westley Richards is one of the most highly respected, not only in Britain but in the world. Westley Richards guns tend to be treasured by those who own them, and their web magazine “The Explora” is well worth a regular visit if you are interested in the best of classic sporting arms. Westley Richards have a long history of innovation in sporting arms and one of their most interesting creations was the Explora and Super Magnum Explora ball and shot gun.
The original idea for a ball and shot gun was by Colonel George Fosberry VC, the same man who invented the Webley Fosberry automatic revolver. (Which was made in both a .455 version for the military and a .38ACP version for civilian use). Although the notion of using either shot or a lead ball or bullet in a smoothbore gun was not new, Colonel Fosberry’s idea of placing shallow rifling in the last few inches of the barrel was. The rifling was in the choke area of the barrel and the idea was to allow the barrel to use shot efficiently, and to apply spin to a bullet to improve its accuracy and thus extend its usable range.
Colonel Fosberry’s patented his invention in 1885, and he then sold it to London gunmaker Holland & Holland for the handsome sum of £1000. This gave Holland & Holland exclusive rights to the design and they marketed their guns as Paradox guns. The patent lasted until 1899 after which time other gunmakers could start using the technology. Westley Richards decided to create some improvements over the black powder Holland & Holland Paradox, and it was Leslie B Taylor of Westley Richards who effectively re-designed the concept and brought it into the nitro era.
Leslie B Taylor’s new design took the cast lead bullet of the Fosberry patent and made it hollow and flat nosed. Into that hollowed out flat nosed lead bullet he inserted a hollow conical brass cap. The cartridge case for the Explora was a standard paper shotgun shell, but for the Super Magnum Explora the brass of the head was extended all the way up the full length of the case. The hollow lead portion of the bullet was made so it would safely pass through the constriction of the choke and yet effectively engage in the shallow rifling. The design is like a back to front Brenneke shotgun slug with a metal cap. It took five years to get the design work and ammunition manufacturing organized, so the Westley Richards Explora line of guns and cartridges was introduced in 1905.
The use of nitro propellants and the patented capped bullets greatly improved on the Fosberry design and turned a 12 bore shotgun into a potent tiger stopping gun. The Explora and Super Magnum Explora line of cartridges were made in 8, 10 and 12 bore/gauge: and were called Faucita in 20 and 28 bore. The Explora guns were made with 2½” chambers and the Super Magnum Explora with 2¾” chambers. Super Magnum Explora ammunition was not to be used in the 2½” chamber Explora.
(Note: the above pictured gun can be found for sale on Guns International if you click here).
The 12 bore Super Magnum Explora drove a 750 grain capped bullet at a velocity of 1250 fps. The gun quickly proved itself on the big cats in Africa and India in 8, 10 and 12 bore, and became especially well regarded for use against tigers. It also became a favored gun for leopard and panther. When hunting leopard with a 12 bore the hunter would typically load a Super Magnum Explora cartridge in one barrel and a shot cartridge with 1½oz of buckshot in the other. Leopards move very quickly and that combination provided the ability to hit the quarry at close range with instinctive shotgun speed, whilst also providing the focused knock-down power of the capped bullet. The knock-down power of the capped bullet was impressive and yet the gun itself could be made much lighter than a comparable heavy caliber double rifle. For example, the Maharaja of Indore’s gun pictured above tips the scales at 8lb 8oz, and yet it delivers a healthy 3650ft/lb energy at the muzzle. Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen took a 12 bore Super Magnum Explora on his expeditions. Testimonials from prominent owners of Super Magnum Explora guns ensured that sales were healthy for Westley Richards.
A typical Westley Richards Explora type gun was capable of consistently grouping bullets into a 3″ circle at 100 yards. That 3 MOA accuracy translated into the ability to use the gun at ranges well beyond 100 yards, and these guns were normally fitted with folding leaf sights for 100, 200, 250 and 300 yards. So on a big game animal these guns provided sufficient accuracy for a quick, humane kill.
The Westley Richards Explora and Super Magnum Explora guns were designed so that a hunter could shoot birds, ducks, and rabbits as one would with an ordinary shotgun: and deer or dangerous big cats as with a rifle, all with the same gun. Colonel Fosberry’s original idea had been to create a gun that combined the best of shotgun and rifle for use at typical hunting ranges (which was normally limited to about 200 yards). Leslie Taylor’s design improvements made that original vision an even more impressive reality.
The testimonials are much fewer nowadays because the manufacture of the ammunition for these great guns has long ceased. Only those rare people who both own a Westley Richards Explora, and who have the skill and patience to create ammunition for it, are able to share with us just how good these guns are.
You’ll find a modern short anecdotal story by one such man if you click here. (It’s called “Farewell Simon – A Salute To ‘The Explora’” by Ross Seyfried).
The Westley Richards Explora is a gun from the golden age of gunmaking. If you’re anything like me then if you happen to come across one in a shop or at a show you’ll find it very difficult to go home without it.
(Source for the feature image at the head of this post courtesy The New Zealand Cartridge Collector’s Club).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.