A 14-Gauge Percussion Double
Wm. Dooley
by SDH


I’m fortunate to have quite a variety of guns come through my workshop. I enjoy examining a variety of guns, and each that I have presented here has exhibited an interesting history and design. We can learn from them.
This time I present a 14-gauge percussion double gun by William Dooley of Liverpool, England. A client brought it in for a general inspection and to assay its shootability. I was intrigued with the gun—both as an artifact and because it reminded me of the 14-gauge double I used to shoot and hunt with regularly. Mine was a Belgian gun that I sold about 20 years ago, but for a few seasons it was my primary shotgun, firing many rounds of muzzleloading trap and serving well for both upland birds and waterfowl.
Cased Gun- copy
This Dooley came in a fitted mahogany case with all manner of accessories: a percussion capper, caps in a period cap tin, spare nipples, a nipple wrench, a powder flask, a shot pouch, shot and powder measures, a cleaning rod and gear, an oil bottle, a mainspring vise and a couple of screwdrivers. It made up a complete ensemble. The case lid had a half-circle handle and an inlay inscribed “John Townsend, Townsend Fold, Rawtenstall.” Townsend Fold and Rawtenstall are villages in Lancashire, England. I could find no reference to John Townsend.
Box Lid- copy

Capper & tin- copy
Flask, oil bottle- copy
Shot Snake- copy
Tools- copy

The top rib on the gun is marked: “W. Dooley, 11 Ranelagh Street, Liverpool,” and the locks are engraved “Dooley.”
Brl Address- copy
The sum total of information that I could find about Dooley is from the Internet Gun Club database:
“William Dooley was recorded in Bridge Street in 1833 but may have traded before this date. He moved to Liverpool between 1834 and 1836. The family may well have been related to the Higham family of Warrington and Liverpool.
“Almost certainly, William Dooley moved from Warrington, Lancashire between 1834 and 1835. He was recorded in 1836 at 46 Lime Street and in 1837 he moved to 76 Lime Street.
“Between 1839 and 1846 he moved to 11 Ranelagh Street, he occupied these premises until 1864 when he moved to share 9 Ranelagh Street with E & G Higham & Co. In 1865 Higham took over the firm. In about 1920, the business was sold to W C Carswell. (Thanks to Pete Mikelajunas who
provided the info from Internet gun club.)
It is interesting to note that both Dooley and Townsend were in Lancashire. The above information would seem to indicate that this 14-gauge was made between 1839 and 1864. Stylistically, I would believe it to be the latter part of that period. I did find a few other Dooley guns—a couple of double shotguns and a few percussion pistols—on auction sites on the Internet, and all appeared to be of high-quality manufacture.
Butt finial- copy
This 14-gauge by Dooley certainly shows professional workmanship and some innovative features I haven’t seen on other guns. The grip safety installed in the trigger guard tang is of a type I’ve seen in books. (It simply blocks the triggers until the lever is lifted.) The lugs at the front of the lock inlet—which are secured to the stock in lieu of a front screw (see photo)—were also new to me.
Full Length- copy
The gun has 30” barrels and 14-gauge bores measuring close to .700”. The English equivalent bore size for 14 gauge is .693”. (As a refresher, “gauge” refers to the number of round lead balls fitting in the bore that would add up to a total a weight of one pound—as in 14 balls approximately .693” in diameter would weigh one pound.) Bore size was a lot less significant for muzzleloading guns than it was for cartridge guns. All that was necessary to load the gun was simply matching a wad size to the bore—with no need, of course, to fit a given cartridge. Hence the shotgun gauge would be determined after the barrel was finished, bored and measured between maximum and minimum limits; hence a 14-gauge bore probably would vary somewhere between .680” and .700”. Wads then and now are somewhat flexible and will seal a bore within this tolerance.
Right Lock- copy
As with most percussion doubles, the Dooley has a hooked breech and a cross pin, or key, in the forend (through oval silver wedge plates on the stock and a loop on the barrels), allowing for convenient removal of the barrels. The breeches also have platinum blowout plugs on the sides, the theory being that excess pressure would blow them out before the barrels blew out. I’ve never seen this tested. The ramrod on this gun is quite rare. Original to the gun, it is made of straight-grain ebony with a capped brass screw on one end (for pulling wads) and a flared brass loading tip [on the other end?] with the gun’s serial number stamped in the end grain.
Cleaning rod, etc- copy
The percussion locks are beautifully crafted and, although uncomplicated compared to modern sidelocks, have five-screw bridles made with an elegance seldom seen on modern locks. The high quality can be experienced simply by simply cocking and uncocking the locks. You can feel the mainsprings “stack”—the tension lessening as the hammer is drawn back and increasing as the hammer falls. The grip safety must be depressed by the palm of the hand to lower the hammers.
Lock and inlet- copy
The stockwork is excellent, with an attractive and well-laid-out piece of English walnut. The stock is checkered at 16 lines per inch in a flat-topped pattern with grooved borders. The lock inletting is crisp, with just enough wood removed for the locks to function. The stock is well shaped and has a feature from the era that can’t be seen in a profile view: The wrist is as wide as it is tall (1-3/8” x 1-3/8”), giving it a bit more heft and strength than it appears to have. The large buttplate (5-1/2” x 1-7/8”) offers plenty of recoil surface and promotes the angular look of the stock. The stock has a small and shallow cheekpiece with a shadow-line border that is more ornamental than useful.
Cheek side- copy
As to the shootability of the Dooley, the stock dimensions (14-3/8” length of pull, 2-1/8” drop at comb, 2-5/8” drop at the heel, and about 1/4” of cast) don’t work for me, but they aren’t badly proportioned. The gun is well balanced and feels lively despite it being a tad heavy at just shy of 7 pounds.
The big question with shooting any gun of this vintage is the safety of the old Damascus barrels. Even though I have done so, I don’t advocate shooting any gun older than 150-plus years. Still, I am willing to discuss what to consider before doing so. In many circles it is accepted that quality Damascus barrels in good condition are as safe to shoot with low-pressure loads—especially with blackpowder—as quality steel barrels are.
Bottom BRL Proof- copy
It is difficult to inspect muzzleloader bores because of the difficulty involved in removing the breech plugs. Doing so requires a special breech wrench and a holding fixture for the barrels themselves. If you are not specially trained, please don’t even think about attempting this, as the most likely result will be ruining the barrels. There are a few things you can do: First, remove the nipples and carefully inspect the barrels—both outside and as much of the inside as possible. These barrels and breeches on this Dooley show absolutely no signs of corrosion, pitting, excessive use or abuse. Next, make a mirror-type reflector to drop down the barrels; then with an intense flashlight, you can get a better view of the interior of the bores. There was a commercial reflector of this type available at one time, and there is a small flashlight that can be dropped right down the bore. Not having either, I took a round lead ball, flattened it a bit less than the bore size, wrapped it in tin foil and dropped it down the bore. It acted like a mirror to my high-intensity flashlight. It didn’t give me the best view, but it was much better than none at all, and the bores appeared shiny with no pitting. For visual inspection, I would rate the tubes superb inside and out.
I closely examined the ribs for looseness, found none and “rang” the barrels (tapping each with a brass rod while holding them aloft by the loop). They rang true without rattling, indicating good solid rib joints. In fact, these barrels look top notch in every way. I highly recommend having any original percussion gun closely examined by a professional gunsmith with experience in this field.
Left side- copy
I’ve shot several percussion shotguns, and it’s easier and more fun than you might imagine. If loaded properly, they go off right now with a roar, belching smoke and a bit of fire. Sometimes they blow smoke rings! If you’re on target and follow through, you will crush the clay or kill the bird.
Few muzzleloading shotguns have any sort of choke, which is good because pushing a wad through a constriction at the muzzle can deform the wad so it no longer seals the bore. This limits effective range, but with load testing and patterning with various shot sizes, wad columns and powder charges, these guns can be very effective out to 30 yards or so. Virtually any-size wad—from 6 to 20 gauge as well as 24 and 28—is available from Circle Fly Wads, which has a lot of interesting information on loading and shooting on its Website.
There are typically three wads per load: the overpowder wad (a 1/8” card wad loaded over the powder as a gas seal in the bore), the cushion wad (a 1/2” or 3/8” fiber wad loaded over the powder and under the shot [loaded under or over the shot?] used to cushion the shot from the powder ignition [from what?]) and the overshot card (a thin .025” card wad used over the shot to secure it in the barrel). Variations on this theme include lubricating the fiber wad to soften fouling, splitting the fiber wad in half to improve patterning, and using different thicknesses of wads for different applications.
One of the great things about muzzleloading doubles is the ability to load different charges at any time—including different amounts of powder or shot in each barrel. I hunted waterfowl over decoys with my 14-gauge and sometimes loaded No. 7-1/2 shot in the first barrel and No. 4 in the second. A pamphlet called
The Muzzle Loading Shotgun, written and published by V.M. Starr, The Muzzle Gunsmith (probably in the 1960s), is a great resource for loading and shooting these guns. I found a complete reprint on the Internet but cherish my original paper copy.
Shooting any 150-year-old gun carries with it an inherent liability, and it comes down to personal choice. But that should be an informed choice. The advice I gave my client was that the Dooley needed its stock repaired on one side, but I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot it with reasonable loads. I recommended making a “range rod” for loading (to preserve the original ramrod) and learning a comprehensive cleaning ritual to preserve the gun’s fine condition. Ultimately, it is up to the owner to decide, but I can imagine having a whole lot of fun waiting with the Dooley in its mahogany case.
Cased Gun- copy
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