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The Lord Whose Guns Blazed Away: Lord Ripon

February 23, 1986 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Lord Ripon was the best of the big shots. He was so good with a gun that he once had six pheasants dead in the air before the first bird hit the ground.

When he died in 1923, his game book records showed he had brought down 556,813 animals and birds.

Now the 53 leather-bound volumes, embossed with his coronet and embellished with his drawings of himself and his friends and the creatures they shot, are to be sold - an odd relic of the world of the rich during the reigns of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V.

Who would buy such an item?

″Generally speaking, game books don’t have much value but these belonged to Lord Ripon, who was such an important figure in the shooting world of his day that he makes the books important,″ said James Booth, Sotheby’s auction house specialist for sporting and vintage guns.

The company expects the books and other game records of Lord Ripon to sell on March 12 for up to $70,000 because ″Ripon has come to be the regarded as the greatest shot of all time,″ Booth said Friday in an interview.

″He was shooting between 1865 and 1923 and that spanned the heyday of the great Victorian and Edwardian shooting parties. They were an important part of social life, especially under the patronage of Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. The prince was a keen shot and a social circle developed around this love of the sport.″

Born in 1852, Earl de Grey succeeded his father as 2nd Marquess of Ripon in 1909. Although he would seem to have spent most of his time with his guns, he was treasurer to King Edward’s wife, Queen Alexandra, and fond of porcelain, which he would clean and restore at a gallery in London.

On his great estate, Studley Royal in Yorkshire, he entertained the royalty and nobility of Britain and Europe and was invited in turn to shoot on the finest sporting estates at home and abroad.

His books record what he shot day by day, and what his fellow hunters shot, with comments on their scores, the standard of shooting, the performance of his guns and cartridges and the management of the estates. On one day he complained that ″15,000 to 20,000″ spectators had spoiled the day’s sport.

″Ripon pursued perfection,″ said Booth.

The extraordinary size of his ‘bags’ can be explained in part by his regular use of three double-barreled shotguns and two men to reload them. Almost everyone else in a shooting party of eight to 10 guns - as the shooters are called - had two guns and one loader.

Like all the best shots, he concentrated on the sky and didn’t look at his loader, passing his empty gun with one hand while taking the other.

Booth said there probably were men as good as Ripon with a shotgun, ″but perhaps they didn’t pursue the sport with quite his determination.″ The books, being sold by a family descendant, were printed with a column of animal names, from red deer through grouse to rabbits, with spaces to record how many of each were shot.

There’s a wide column for ″observations,″ in which Ripon made his drawings. One depicts a man acting like a cad - shooting at a pheasant that had the good sense to run away instead of flying.

No sportsman shoots a bird that isn’t on the wing.

One of his servants recorded on the last page of the last book that on his last day alive, Sept. 22, 1923, Ripon shot 166 head of game, including 51 grouse and one snipe and ″at 3:15 p.m. while the last birds were being brought in he fell down dead.

″He missed the snipe with his first two shots and killed it with the first shot from his second gun,″ the unknown scribe recorded.

Ripon died without an heir.