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These are a usually more portable - and more easily concealed - version of conventional sporting guns, commonly a single or double-barrelled shotgun based on the relatively affordable Belgian leClercq action.
(In this and similar designs a folding shotgun with a modest barrel length can be made to fold back until it lies beneath the stock and thus easily carried under a coat.)
An alternative form is in effect a (very) long-barrelled pistol fitted with a detachable (take-down) or folding skeleton stock, though any sporting weapon that requires assembly has obvious drawbacks in the field.
In purely practical terms the distinction is that cane guns, far more costly to produce and generally speaking an affectation, ostensibly carried by gentlemen who wished at all times to be able to take 'targets of opportunity', were a curio, talking point or a concealed offensive weapon, one that might easily escape detection unless closely examined. (In addition to gentleman's canes, guns have been concealed in umbrellas, parasols and walking staffs.)
By contrast a poacher's gun is very obviously a weapon, albeit one easily concealed by those legitimately going about in the countryside unarmed, or those who carried a gun for ad-hoc hunting for the pot or for self-defence as opposed to a far less portable pure game gun, though these cross into the survival category.
Cane guns now are very rare to find, most fall foul of legislation prohibiting concealed weapons, and period examples, where permitted, are generally speaking, in the hands of private collectors and museums.
Modern cartridge-type cane guns are usually fitted to fire large low-pressure (black powder or equivalent) handgun ammunition or shotgun cartridges between .410 like the 12-gauge, both of which are well-suited use in a weapon that is effectively just a barrel with integrated chamber, manual ejection, a detachable a firing mechanism, a rudimentary grip and (in some cases) even more rudimentary sights.
Other types of cane guns have been produced as air weapons, generally using some form of detachable pressurised air reservoir (a pneumatic air weapon) in the form of a flask or integrated into the form of a more generously proportioned stick such as a traditional shillelagh some are effectively dart-firing blowpipes, which are far even easier to disguise being little more than a hollow tube.
Cane guns have an abiding place in spy culture, a famous example appearing in Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale (1953) in which Bond is threatened with one during his contest at the gaming table with Le Chiffre. (This incident is allegedly based on the covert use of cane guns by Zionists in Palestine in 1948.)
- BBC Antiques Roadshow - April 28, 2013