Dawns & Departures

Holland & Holland ‘Royal,’
Holland & Holland ‘Royal,’ freshly finished, borrowed for the occasion, and not (quite) disgraced.

by Terry Wieland

One frosty morning in December of 1998, I was standing on a hillside in Wales with my back to an ancient gate, looking down on a small lake ringed with trees.  A few minutes earlier, a score of ducks had risen off the pond, a few had been shot, and the rest were circling, trying to make up their minds.

A hundred yards below me, our host, a baronet, was walking toward the lake with one of his trio of Purdeys, hoping for a late flush, when a pheasant went up from the undergrowth.  He whirled, fired, I saw the pheasant go down, and a split second later I was slapped in the face by half a dozen pellets.

As Michael McIntosh once noted, this is one of the two things guaranteed to drop a man to his knees, which I duly did.  To my credit, I did not drop my shotgun: I held on with my right hand, while my left went to my face and came away covered with blood.

My host, seeing what had happened, came steaming up from my left, while my friend Steve Denny hurried up from the right.  Their reactions were what I should have expected.

Stephen Paul Denny, in his element.

The noble baronet began by berating me, explaining why it was my fault because I was standing in the wrong place—I should have been behind the gate—before remembering that, not thirty minutes earlier, he had ended his safety lecture to the assembled multitude with the words, “…but in the end, the responsibility lies with the man who pulls the trigger.”

Steve Denny, after a quick glance to make sure I had both eyes intact, grabbed the shotgun out of my hands and anxiously scanned it for damage.  It was, after all, E.J. Churchill number 10,000, the very first to be produced by the newly reconstituted E.J. Churchill (Gunmakers) Ltd., of which Steve was Director of Gunmaking.  I may have been his friend, but that gun was his baby.

Twenty-five years later, not quite to the day, I am sitting here recalling that moment, and trying to decide what to write about Steve, who died last week after a long illness.  When you are mere acquaintances, writing obits is easy; when you are very good friends, not so much.  The better the friend, the more difficult the task.

Looking back, I realize how unlikely our friendship was.  It began when he was dispatched to meet me at the airport in London in late 1997.  By the time we reached the parking garage we were on easy terms, and by the time we reached the Churchill shooting grounds at West Wycombe it was like we’d known each other all our lives.