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- Last updated: 19/06/2023
Most of us in the shotgun shooting world will have heard of Franchi, and immediately associate them with semi-auto shotguns, the most famous of which is probably the SPAS-12.
The company started over 150 years ago, in 1868, when the Franchi family, whose business was silk, founded the Luigi Franchi arms factory. Interestingly, in 1948, they achieved worldwide acclaim for the world’s lightest semi-auto shotgun, the 48AL. In 1979, the SPAS-12 was born, a shotgun that could be operated as either a pump-action or gas-operated semi-auto. In 1995, Franchi joined the prestigious Beretta Group, and in 2018, Franchi’s ‘Feels Right’ philosophy came to be, through effectiveness and ergonomics. This philosophy holds true to this day.
Although I do own a couple of side by sides, most of my shotguns are over & unders, semi-autos or pump-actions. When I saw that GMK was bringing in the Franchi Esprit, my interest peaked. It’s a quintessentially English-styled game gun with a modern take and at a sensible price. I have always been a fan of the smaller calibres, so opted for the 20-gauge version, but the Esprit is also available in 12 and 28, along with the diminutive .410.
At first glance, the Esprit appears to be just your traditional, right-handed, straight-stocked, English-styled side by side, but with a single trigger. Noteworthy is the fact it’s also available as a left-handed version, and with the option of a double trigger. It features a rounded steel action that’s colour-hardened, blued barrels, a gold-coloured trigger, grade 2 oiled wood with interlaced diamond chequering, and the stock is finished with an orange butt pad. This Franchi is so much more than just that. The test gun had 28” barrels, but is available with 24” or 26” tubes. The .410 is the only one that only comes in 28”. The blueing is excellent and the matte rib is finished with a steel bead. All of the available calibres are multi-choke and are supplied with a set of five chokes, plus a key. Also, they can all handle 3” cartridges and are steel proofed.
The case colour-hardened steel action has been done very well, and personally, I prefer this finish to most of today’s laser-cut engraving. The wood-to-metal fit of both the forend and the stock is superb, and the forend is rounded in such a way that the action just flows naturally into it, just as the straight stock flows into the action. The chequering is functional and not at all overdone, but I do wish that the company name had not been included on the forend, within the chequering. For me, this does the Esprit no service at all.
Finishing the straight stock with a traditional orange butt pad is further evidence of the attention to detail that Franchi has shown with this shotgun. The length of pull measured 14 1/2”.
There is a slight cast to the stock, which makes mounting very natural, and the eye is drawn straight down the centre of the rib. The clever bit with this is that the grip has also been shaped in such a way that the right hand just fits incredibly naturally in position. This is doubtless where the ergonomics part of the ‘Feels Right’ philosophy comes into play. The Esprit felt like a natural extension for me and definitely has pointability in abound.
This version of the Esprit had a single, gold-coloured trigger, instead of the more traditional double trigger, which is also available. Following on from this, barrel selection is done with the safety catch, which I prefer, as it’s the same as with my over & unders.
The trigger-pull broke consistently at just over 4 lbs, and on the double trigger version, the first trigger breaks at a slightly lower weight than the second. A clever twist, which I do not recall seeing before, is that the trigger guard is slightly turned to one side, which makes shooting feel very comfortable. The underside of the guard has a tastefully gold inlaid letter ‘F’, and the underside of the action has Esprit in it in the same way. The non-auto safety felt positive when making a barrel selection, or while selecting FIRE/SAFE. I like the fact that the safety and top lever are blued like the barrels, which is more aesthetically pleasing than if they had been coloured the same as the action.
All of this and a seven-year warranty - what’s not to like?
I opted for a traditional, game-type cartridge, selecting some Eley Grand Prix (25-gram | No.5). The test gun only came with the ¼ and ½ chokes that were in it, but these worked extremely well with the Eley cartridges.
Pigeons have been causing some serious damage to some of our oil seed rape, giving me the perfect opportunity to try the Franchi one windy afternoon. I got off to a slow start, with the only thing falling to earth being the spent shot and fibre wads from the five cartridges I had fired. Then, after an instinctive snapshot at a fast crosser, which connected, I found my mark. The rest of the box of cartridges accounted for a further 14 pigeons, some of which were crossing, while others presented like driven game, but with a 20mph wind behind them, they were really motoring.
Swapping from an over & under or single-barrelled shotgun to a side by side is never the easiest thing to do, but doing so with this Franchi really did feel both natural and easy. Aside from the forend having ‘Franchi’ within the chequering, I cannot find anything negative to say about this lovely side by side shotgun, and with a price of around £2800, it does represent exceptional value for money when put against other comparable guns from different manufacturers. If I was in the market for a traditional, English-styled shotgun, I would have to give the Esprit some very serious consideration.