Gun test: William Powell Viscount side-by-side

Mike Yardley shooting the William Powell Viscount gun

Mike was impressed with the Viscount overall - Credit: Mike Yardley

Something to drool over! A stupendous future-proofed side-by-side game gun from William Powell and Rizzini, with an interesting mechanical twist and looks to die for

We have something rather special this month, a William Powell side-by-side ejector made in association with Rizzini - The Viscount Side-by-Side. The RRP is £11,995, so the bar is set quite high for this test. The gun has 30" barrels with a concave game rib, double trigger (a single trigger is also an option at no added cost) and a classically formed straight-hand stock with splinter fore-end (other options are available).

The William Powell Viscount gun, photographed from the side with open action

The main action mechanics are encased/surrounded in steel - Credit: Mike Yardley

First impressions of the Viscount
First impressions of the gun are that it is attractive. The Purdey-inspired, tight rose and scroll engraving and good wood both draw the eye. The Viscount’s action is attractively coin finished too which sets off the engraving well. The engraving itself is laser-applied and hand-finished, though you would be hard pressed to tell (full hand engraving is an added cost option). 

There are also some other bells and whistles associated with deluxe guns: an elongated trigger guard, fine (26 lines to the inch) hand-cut chequering, and teardrops to the well-proportioned and presented stock as well as a hand-chequered butt sole.

Mechanically, the specs are interesting. The gun is listed as (and looks like) a traditional semi-pinless sidelock with cocking indicators, but a deeper exploration shows it to be of a new action type. There is no breech pin. The stock is attached to the action with an over-and-under-style stock-bolt (as seen in some other modern side-by-sides). 

The main moving components of the action sit on a trigger-plate much like many over-and-unders. It is all beautifully executed. This gun could not, meantime, properly be described as a side-plated boxlock (the main parts are not within the box of the action) nor is it a sidelock in the conventional sense. It is something different. 

It also has the advantage  (a particularly important one if the gun is presented in single trigger form) of having the main action mechanics encased/surrounded in steel. The design is less subject to atmospheric change than a traditional sidelock or boxlock side-by-side (the bane of some English guns with complex mechanisms where movement of wood may interfere with mechanics).

Powell's describe their gun as being “engineered using the latest technology. The Viscount is high-performance, steel-shot-proofed (up to Half choke), and handles smoothly even when using modern loaded cartridges. With this in mind, you will be safe in the knowledge that this gun is capable of shooting high birds with either lead or steel shot.”

All guns, moreover, are made to the measurements supplied by the customer or in a fitting session with Powell’s themselves. The Viscount is available in 12-, 16- and 20-bore with 28, 29, 30 & 32" chrome-lined barrels. Chokes are fixed at Half and Half or there are options of Rizzini multi-chokes or Teagues at additional cost. An extensive list of extras are available: a gold stock oval for £495; solid silver stock oval, with initialling an extra £33 per letter; further upgraded wood, from £250; additional 28" or 30" fixed-choke barrels, £2,100. Pairs may be ordered at a surcharge of 15%.

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So, it’s all a proper bespoke production with lots of options. For those whose budget doesn’t stretch to the Viscount’s almost £12,000, there is also the Sovereign model on offer in 12-, 16- and 20-bore at £4,995 (including gunfitting and an ABS case travel case). I’ve featured the 12-bore here and been impressed, but I’ve also tested the 16-bore version elsewhere and really liked it (one of the nicest side-by-sides to pass through my hands recently). Returning to the test gun, both the gunmaking and finish would be hard to fault. The barrel making is good with straight tubes and nice striking up in evidence. 

As for cost, a whisker under £12,000 sounds a great deal of money, but a London Best side-by-side will now cost you no less than an eye-watering £150,000 so it all has to be put into perspective (although the price of Best guns is getting a bit silly now). 
The presentation of the Viscount is excellent in all departments and its aesthetics tick my boxes. 

Anything negative? It is quite a heavy gun at 7lb 5oz, though this will be seen as an advantage by those intending to use heavier loads. My own ideal 30" side-by-side 12-bore weight for general use would be 7lb.

The William Powell Viscount shotgun, open and photographed from above

The Viscount is future-proofed - you can shoot high-performance steel through it - Credit: Mike Yardley

Technical details of the Viscount
The Powell-Rizzini looks like a classic sidelock paying homage to a Holland & Holland style gun, but it is most unusual when you remove the lock-plates and reveal the works. The 'V' spring-powered mechanism is not on the plates – it is centrally located on a trigger-plate like many over-and-unders. 

I’d not describe this as a side-plated gun, as that generally refers to a boxlock mechanism with decorative plates. This is a distinct and interesting action type that is quite unique. It’s clever. Mind you, I have a lot of time for Italian gunmaking. They are masters of CnC. Their engineering usually impresses. They pay more attention to hardening and barrel wall thickness than some of their rivals. 

The ejector mechanism here is unusual too. We have seen it before in Rizzini side-by-sides. It might be described as a Baker-Boss system with long hammers on the top which slide parrallel to the top of the fore-end iron (unlike the common Southgate system which has over-centre cams and kickers that move at angle to the fore-end iron). 

Close up of the wooden stock on the William Powell Viscount shotgun

All guns are made to the measurements supplied by the customer or in a fitting session with Powell’s themselves - Credit: Mike Yardley

How did the Viscount shoot?
The Powell feels like a big gun, but the proportions and shapes are good. I shot it at the Fennes Shooting Ground near Braintree in Essex and started, as ever, on Low 2 at Skeet (my datum bird for testing). Every test starts with half a dozen shots at this target. The Powell broke all of them. I liked the straight hand grip which was not too thin, ditto the comfortably deep splinter fore-end. There was plenty of purchase.

I moved onto the tougher birds, first some longer crossers at Station 4, then some testing crossers off the high tower and a few trap targets, and they all continued to disappear gratifyingly. The only issue I had was the second trigger pull needed a bit more regulation. If I bought one of these continental guns that imitate London’s carriage trade production, I’d probably be tempted to spend a little extra to have the triggers regulated by an English craftsman. Meantime, this is a well made extra finish and future-proofed gun at a fair price for its quality.

My thanks to Lyavale Express for the 24 gram Super Light cartridges used in this test.

We like

  • The engraving
  • The quality of finish
  • The form and finish of the stock

We don’t like

  • It’s a bit heavy

Technical specification
Make: William Powell in association with Rizzini
Model: Viscount
Bore: 12 (16 and 20 bore models available)
Barrels: 30” (28, 29 and 32” options – with surcharge for the latter)
Chamber: 3” fleurs-de-lys steel shot proof
Weight: 7 pounds 5 ounces
RRP: £11,995 (Sovereign model available at £4,995)