Regrets: The Ones That Got Away!

In a prior article, I expressed regret concerning firearms that I prematurely parted with. So, I thought it appropriate to cover the ones I regretted never getting and any lessons that I might have learned. The first lesson, and perhaps the most important one, is when you see something you want, get it!

If you decide to wait because you think you will get a better price, you won’t! If it hasn’t been snatched from under your nose and by some quirk of fate it is still available, it will almost always cost you twice as much. Waiting or looking for something better is a fool’s errand. Get it when the opportunity presents itself. Period!

Holland & Holland hammer rifle
Spectacular Presidential Lefever “Optimus” quality.

Holland & Holland

I have come to learn that lesson far too late for it to do me any good. Perhaps, it will save you from mistakes such as these. It was 1984, and I was away on a 21-day safari to Zambia. As my previous journeys to the Dark Continent had taught me after South African Airways was barred from its routes to the U.S. due to the Apartheid issues, I broke the trip into legs.

The first leg went from LAX to NY with 3 days spent in the Big Apple. The second leg had me continuing to Heathrow, and a week in London, before the final leg to Lusaka. The reason for the long layovers was to adjust to the time changes. The big change takes place from the West Coast to Europe. Flying South from London, it’s only a 2-hour change, so no biggie. Following this system, I arrived in Africa rested, alert, and ready to hunt the minute I hit the ground.

During my stay in London, I indulged myself with some light sightseeing and decided to add some of the famous London Gunmakers to my itinerary. The first on the list was Holland & Holland at 36 St James St. I must admit my disappointment at first. As I entered the location, I did not see its famous guns. Instead, I found a showroom of fashionable clothing and accessories.

To set the scene, I was sightseeing while enroute to Zambia, so my clothing was limited. I was dressed in a Willis and Geiger safari jacket and slacks but shod in expensive Italian loafers. I was immediately met by a very formal representative, “Can I help you sir?”

I’m sure my confusion was noticeable, but I tried my best to hide it. Somewhat tentatively, I asked whether this was the correct location, indicating that I was interested in a Royal Sidelock Ejector Express Double Rifle in 500/.465. To my surprise, he motioned for me to follow with a “This way sir.” where on he led me to the rear section of the shop that held the gun room.

The Holland & Holland showroom at 36 St James St in London
The Holland & Holland showroom at 36 St James St in London where impulse deserted me, leaving behind a lifetime of regret.

He motioned me to a cabinet where he donned white gloves and with a flourish, or so it seemed. He withdrew from it the most breathtakingly beautiful firearm I had ever seen. It was fully engraved with gold inlays, gold sculpted tigers on the side plates with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds accenting the engraving that was stunning.

He broke the spell by announcing in a very thick and stuffy accent — as if he was speaking to his mentally-challenged relative — “This was originally made for the Maharaja of Yom Kippur (or something that sounded like that or maybe he was a Hind-Jew, I don’t know) for tiger hunting, and we recently reacquired it. It has been… reconditioned.”

Trying not to let my astonishment betray me, I blurted out (in what I am sure was perceived as crass Americanize), “What is the price?” Looking down his nose he answered, “24,000.” That of course confirmed his suspicions of my ‘mental challenges.’ Trapped, I struck back with, “Dollars or Pounds?” “Pounds! Of course, sir!” Game, set, match to Jeeves!

Holland & Holland.custom rifle with engraving of an elephant and gold inlaid tiger
Not the rifle that stole my heart, but an example of the type of work that comes from the esteemed purveyor of “Best Guns” that wears the marque of Holland & Holland.

500/465 Nitro Express

To those who may not be familiar with the 500/.465 3¼″ NE, here is a little background. In 1905, the British Government banned the importation and use of .450 caliber ammunition in both India and the Sudan. It was an effort to ensure that the people who were opposed to British rule would not be able to get hold of rifles or ammunition for a rebellion.

It must be remembered, the primary market for the expensive British Double Rifles was Indian Royalty, such as the afore mentioned Maharaja of Yom Kippur. To circumvent the ban, the British gun trade invented new models of big-game rifle calibers which included the .500/465 Nitro Express, the .470 Nitro Express, .475 Nitro Express, .475 No. 2 Nitro Express, and .476 Nitro Express to replace .500/450 Nitro Express. They all have comparable performance. Holland & Holland’s 500/465 Nitro Express was introduced in 1907 and was designed to fire a 480-grain bullet at 2,150 fps, which is in the same performance envelope as Winchester’s .458 Winchester Magnum.

The Holland & Holland 500/465 Nitro Express was a proprietary cartridge. As such, it was not as common as the non-proprietary cartridges, such as the .470 Nitro Express. Cartridges for those calibers were loaded with either Solid (i.e. full metal jacket) or Soft Nosed bullets. We need to be reminded that the biggest markets for these Holland & Holland rifles was India where they would be used on tiger, gaur, and Sambar deer.

Holland & Holland "Royal" Ejector .577 NE Double Rifle in Maker's Case, Made for Nathanial C. Nash of Cambridge, MA in 1909, one of the "Miracle Six"
Holland & Holland “Royal” Ejector .577 NE Double Rifle in Maker’s Case, Made for Nathanial C. Nash of Cambridge, MA in 1909, one of the “Miracle Six”

The bullet types mentioned were also well suited for Africa’s thick-skinned dangerous game, as well as thin-skinned dangerous and non-dangerous game. It must be pointed out that most of those rifles were made for Indian Royalty. As such, they exhibit beautiful embellishment in the form of perfectly executed engraving with gold inlays and precious gems.

Even so, Holland & Holland rifles were not just decorative. At their heart, they were working dangerous game rifles made to provide absolute reliability, and excellent ergonomics. Combining the best of Holland & Holland functionality and embellishment, 500/465’s are some of the most desirable examples of the best of London rifle-making one could hope to find. They are things of rare beauty as well as being practical dangerous game hunting rifles.


Now back to my predicament… I quickly did some mental calculations, (always difficult for me past 2×2). The Safari was $2,500.00 a day plus travel, food, lodging, trophy fees, and miscellaneous expenses… In my head it came to $60,000.00 plus or minus — most likely plus. 24,000 in pounds with the exchange rate at the time would be close to another $60,000.00. I could do it, but it would mean some real sacrifice on my part.

Likely, this was the only time in my life that I did the ‘responsible adult thing.’ I have regretted it ever since. I was left wondering, “How could I get out of there and still save some self-respect…” My only option was to lie. “I’ll arrange for the transfer of funds and return tomorrow to finalize everything.” With that, I could not get out of there fast enough. If Jeeves is reading this, all I can say is, “It wasn’t me… Some bozo told me the story and I’m retelling it like it was me… Honest! The other guy was killed on that safari…”

That one moment of adult responsibility and restraint has provided me with a lifetime of regret. BTW, the approximately $60,000 that 500/.465 would have cost back then would be worth well over $200,000 today — if you could find it. So much for being responsible. Okay, let’s call it what it really was…. Stupid. Stay safe, train often, and practice, practice, practice!

What are some firearms you regret passing up on? Why? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply
Shopping cart