By Irwin Greenstein, Shotgun Life
At first you notice the smoky figuring of the walnut stock and checkered butt that peek out from the leather scabbard on the saddle. The stock suggests a profile that’s straight English and in your mind details compile into a classic uplander from London or Birmingham. You’d be surprised to learn, though, that the shotgun is Spanish and bears the American name of Thomas Ferney & Co.
The small-batch marque is the brainchild of Darnestown, Maryland entrepreneur and fine-gun lover, Christian Handy. A successful real estate developer, avid wingshooter and connoisseur of fine accoutrements, Mr. Handy is one of those guys who brought to life the stuff of our dreams: his very own boutique lifestyle business for upland enthusiasts.
“I built my first gun when I was 10 years old as a hobbyist gunsmith,” Mr. Handy recalled. “What prompted me to start Thomas Ferney & Co. in 2010 was a result of myself looking for an over and under that was beautiful, obtainable in terms of price, and also unique. I figured there had to be some way that I could make a good, solid shotgun that was pretty to look at.”
Mr. Handy named the company in tribute to his great grandfather, Captain Thomas Ferney, a mid-19th century outfitter. Captain Ferney equipped the whaling fleets of New England. As reimagined by Mr. Handy, the 21st century Thomas Ferney outfits sportsmen and women with world-class shotguns and accessories such as vintage-inspired gun cases, range bags and travel gear designed in-house to reflect a sophisticated sporting style.
The Thomas Ferney Type 1 20-gauge side by side (photo: Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet).
Thomas Ferney & Co. sells direct through their web site three models of break-open bird guns that touch different price points.
“This direct to consumer formula gave us unprecedented control over our customers’ experience and their level of satisfaction with the experience,” Mr. Handy said. “It had always been my goal to, not only sell a product, but also a level of personal service that is reminiscent of the pre-industrial era.”
The Thomas Ferney that accompanied me on horseback during a wild bobwhite quail hunt at Sinkola Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia was their top Type-1 20-gauge, side by side.
The Thomas Ferney Type-1 with the day’s take of wild bobwhite quail at Sinkola Plantation.
Because Sinkola is one of the very few plantations in the country that offers wild quail hunting, the Thomas Ferney Type-1 would undertake a rigorous run-through where the strengths and foibles of a bird gun are clear and decisive against the six-ounce, rocket-propelled, feathery stunt flier never tempered by a cage. Think coveys that explode from the wiregrass and scatter like popcorn – dodgy in flight, close to the deck. You’ll discover pretty quickly whether or not that shotgun is a keeper.
Although the Thomas Ferney Type-1 marries Spanish and American sensibilities, Sinkola is downright Southern. This is one of the original quail plantations of the fabled Red Hills Region that straddles North Florida and South Georgia. Sinkola was purchased by Cleveland, Ohio industrialist Howard Hanna around 1900, who also purchased nearby plantations that were divided and gifted to his family into the late 1950s. Sinkola is still family owned and operated. The lodge was built in 1943 and remains largely original with its period furnishings.
Gates Kirkham leads hunters Vann Middleton (left) and David Middleton on Sinkola Plantation.
Sinkola is managed by Gates Kirkham, fifth generation of the Hanna family. His compatriot Neal Carter, Jr. − lead dog trainer, guide and Red Hills legend − has been at Sinkola 43 years. From Sinkola it’s a short drive to downtown Thomasville for fine restaurants and a visit to the renowned Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel (see if you can wangle a visit to the mind-blowing upstairs trophy room packed with rare and beautiful bird guns).
Only 12 hunts per season are offered at Sinkola, since wild quail hunts in the Red Hills are usually private affairs for the plantation owners. The privilege of hunting wild bobwhite quail at Sinkola’s pristine 2,500-acre pine barrens will cost $14,500 per group for three nights/two days. Short on amenities but steeped in history, this is one of the most vintage, authentic bobwhite quail hunting experiences on the planet.
From left: Gates Kirkham, David Middleton and Vann Middleton riding through the pines during our wild quail hunt at Sinkola Plantation.
Our party for the afternoon hunt included Mr. Kirkham, brothers David and Vann Middleton, Mr. Carter and his associate, William Jones. Slipping the Thomas Ferney Type-1 into the scabbard instilled confidence as we prepared to mount up.
Mr. Handy’s Type-1 drew on ingredients from the 11 different models offered by Grulla Armas in Eibar, Spain to achieve “what I believe is a balance of features, aesthetics and price,” he said.
The sidelock mechanism of the 20-gauge Thomas Ferney Type-1 side by side.
The action, Grulla’s five-pin sidelock, is fitted to a drop-forged-steel, round-body frame using disc set strikers, gas escape valves, automatic safety, double safety sears and double triggers with articulated front, automatic selective ejectors. The internal hammers, sears and lock pins are plated in gold as are the triggers. The internal springs and spring pins are nitride blued and the interior of the side plates are jeweled. The engraving is rose and scroll with gold inlay in the Thomas Ferney & Co. logo and the word “safety.”
“So we really took the action to a new level in terms of finish work,” Mr. Handy noted. “I have a thing for watches so spending time on beautiful lockwork is important me. By nature, I’m a person who looks for ways to improve on products.”
View of our hunting party from the mule-drawn bird buggy on Sinkola Planation.
The 29-inch barrels with swamped game rib were choked improved cylinder (left) and modified (right). Although we’d prefer wider constrictions and slightly shorter barrels for quail, this particular Type-1 had in fact been designed for “faster birds, so shots would be taken at a distance,” according to Mr. Handy. The barrels are drop forged demibloc, chopper lump with a concave rib scribed for low glare and a single brass bead sight.
The beautiful Turkish walnut is crafted by hand from the inletting to checkering to its oil finish. A Type-1 gun case is made to measure by hand using oak and leather with a wool lining by Ravpavon in Spain, as exemplified by the luxurious $3,000 specimen that we received.
David Middleton (foreground) with Gates Kirkham and guide William Jones ready for flush of wild bobwhite quail at Sinkola Plantation.
Although Mr. Handy keeps a few Type-1 shotguns in inventory, it can take six to eight months for a customized bespoke version. The starting price is $9,500.
Now in the saddle, Mr. Carter took point. “All right,” he shouted, and we followed him as the dogs lit out. Ambling on horseback, the chant of dog commands from Mr. Carter and Mr. Jones became a mantra of the hunt along trails that cut through grasses and trees. Then a pointer locked up.
The protocol would be to rotate in pairs of two hunters. Both hunters would continue regardless the number of points until one of us took a bird. Then that hunter would remain on horseback until his turn again – ensuring that everyone downed a bird.
Several times, the birds outran us and it was back on the horse until the next go-around. Dismounting, I would withdraw the Thomas Ferney and rush behind Mr. Carter into the understory. The Thomas Ferney Type-1 carried easily in my dash to the pointer. Birds up, shotgun shouldered, line of sight clear and whole then shot triggered in an effortless flow as calculated by Mr. Handy.
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at [email protected].
Better yet: Click here to follow Shotgun Life on Facebook.