John Ward tells the story of the birth of a series of sporting guns that are set to challenge the world's finest gunmakers.
“It’s something I always wanted to do and it is a tribute to my Father”, John Ward explains when asked about his motivation for creating the Ray Ward Gun. Six years after setting out, the journey has led John and the Ray Ward brand to produce a range of sporting guns set to rival the finest English gunmakers.
“I want to see Ray Ward guns being recognised as one of the best English guns ever made”, John states simply.
A lofty ambition, no doubt, but there is no question that John and his team of craftsmen have set about the task in the best possible way.
The decision to make a Ray Ward gun was first taken in 2008 when John’s intimate knowledge of the gun trade led him to buy a number of English-made, Holland & Holland-style actions. They were at a very early stage of manufacture, meaning that John could virtually design and build the guns from scratch.
But the next steps meant some serious investment of time and money. John went to Dr Jim Hay of JMH Lifestyle – the parent company of R. Ward Gunmakers – to discuss the financial resources and management commitment needed for this major project. Dr Hay is a noted shot who knows his guns.
He was enthusiastic about the plan, but with one clear stipulation. “Everything on a Ray Ward gun has to be British made or crafted, with the exception of the walnut which is either French or Turkish”, John explains. “This was the most important part of the agreement I made with Dr Hay.
“There was to be no expense spared on quality. I put together a team of craftsmen I’d worked with throughout my time in the trade. Many of them had been doing our gun repairs for years and in most cases they had left top English gunmakers because they felt too many of the parts were being machine-made.”
John set about creating the designs. The first two pairs – 20-bores - were side-by-sides, which is now standard for all Ray Ward guns.
“The initial pair was a lot of work to pull things together and the craftsmen had to know the standards I was working to – the very highest! I did all the measurements myself and although they were very precise I designed them in a way that can be altered as required for each customer.” The newer side-by-side 12 bore guns have 30” barrels, giving them a similar weight to traditional over-and-unders, along with high stock function.
After three years of development and painstaking craftsmanship, the first Ray Ward was finally completed. John’s matter-of-fact demeanour softens when he remembers seeing the gun for the first time. “It was a bit emotional: to think of a dream and then realise it…and it had my Father’s name on it. I was over the moon with the result.”
But what did the main investor think? “I remember showing it to Dr Hay first and his first reaction was “very nice”. I thought, “Oh, that’s a bit matter-of-fact”, until I realised he thought it was a Purdey! When he realised it was a gun he had been instrumental in creating he was as excited as I was.”
The time came to show the finished article to the man whose name it bears – Ray Ward himself. “My Dad came to Balcombe to shoot some pheasants and I was using the gun. He took a long look at it and said “you silly sod, I don’t shoot double trigger!” He always was a clay man…I’m pretty sure he was pleased as punch at what we had achieved, though”, says John with a wry smile.
A further three years down the line and three pairs have now been sold, with more orders in the pipeline. Customers can choose their own wood and engraving and the guns have already received the ultimate accolade from the man recognised as the reviewer of sporting guns – Michael Yardley.
“The Wards blended the magic combination of pointability, swingability, and controllability as well as aesthetic beauty. They brought a smile to my face and to everyone who handled them. Well done, John Ward. Your father should be proud of you. You wanted something special to bear his name and you have created it.”
As for John’s own ambition to see the Ray Ward name alongside the likes of Britain’s finest gunmakers, he is under no illusions. “Two hundred percent they are good enough and I’d like to see a pair of Ray Wards and Purdeys shot really hard for 10 years. I think the true quality will really shine through after that sort of baptism of fire. This will be a gun to last and treasure over the years and it’s quite possible we won’t see the fruits of our investment for twenty years or more. But I honestly believe that the quality of this gun will stand comparison with the best…and more”
With Ray Ward guns already receiving rave reviews and starting to appear in the field, that ambition may be more than just a distant bird on the horizon.
Author: Peter Brill