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- Last updated: 16/12/2016
A name more usually associated with high-end performance clay breakers, Italian manufacturer Zoli also produce a range of game guns that are slowly starting to find their way into the UK market. And its Zoli’s increasing success within competition shooting that in certain instances is actually counting against them, most shooters failing to associate the name with game shooting. So this is where the Expedition EL comes into play, an over-under that’s slightly more basic in design and concept whilst still retaining the core Zoli values.
Conceived in many ways as a gentleman shooter’s game gun, as the Expedition name suggests, this is in most respects the travelling game shooter’s tool of choice. And before you comment that the journeyman hunter is now a thing of the past, tales of such now reserved for the history books and nostalgia laden stories, I can assure you such shooting folk still exists albeit in small numbers. A good friend of mine shoots a minimum of ninety days per season and yes, you did read it right, ninety days. Said friend even helicopters down from the banks of a Scottish salmon river to his chosen moor to ensure he’s in his butt bright and early come the ‘Glorious 12th’, meaning Zoli’s Expedition EL could well have been conceived with him in mind.
Lighter in weight than most Zolis, the Expedition EL is to all intents and purposes more a shooting and travelling companion than it is a 12-bore. Even the neat and compact Negrini case is the type of luggage that’s looks the part as more and more labels and airline stickers are applied to it, the case becoming both yours and the gun’s roll call.
What You Get
Open the aforementioned case and contained within the two blue velveteen slips are the action and stock along with barrels and forend. Slide them both out ready for assembly and you’re greeted with some glorious walnut, the colour, graining, quality of the fit and fine cut checkering are superb. The game stock is finished with a expertly fitted concealed buttplate whilst the grip’s easy radius, small palm swell and the fact the checkering extends around the neck enhancing this Zoli’s looks and air of quality. Likewise, the London-style forend, the rounded profile and feel of which within the leading hand being one of firm yet fashionable assurity, the engraved Anson latch augmenting the sophistication.
Barrel wise the 3” chambered 28” monobloc tubes are unusual in that they are fixed ¾ and ¼ chokes although the gloss black finish, small silvered bead, solid mid-rib and 7 – 4mm low vented top-rib are as traditionally game in design as they come. And being a Zoli the barrels sit easily in the Boss-style inertia driven boxlock steel action, the design of which has been the unerring basis for Zoli’s top end competitions shotguns for many years.
Based around Zoli’s already proven steel boxlock action, the quality of the profuse rose and scroll engraving is excellent. Combining delicacy and artistic qualities complete with gold inlays of a partridge and a woodcock, the action’s decoration is a prime example of the engraver’s artistry that in this instance has been extended to the top-lever along with extensive stippling around the fences. As with all modern Zoli shotguns, the entire trigger mechanism can be detached in seconds, courtesy of the supplied hex key and the simple to follow instructions whilst the trigger blade can be adjusted fore or aft by around ¼” in either direction. If there’s a feature I personally would opt out of it’s the automatic safety. A characteristic of most game guns, my style of shooting means my guns are open until the very last minute, a trait shared by most clay shooters, so a safety that’s always engaged for me at least is a hindrance.
Physically the Expedition EL is probably the smallest and lightest 12g Zoli you’ll hold. Weighing just 7lbs 6oz with a balance point directly beneath the hinges and a total length of 45¾” the Expedition EL in looks and feel is in contradictory terms, a small big gun offering those who might be thinking of a 20g a suitable 12g alternative. Drops at comb and heel are 17/16” and 2¼” with a comfortable factory set length of pull measuring 147/8” and an average trigger weight of 5lbs 9oz over both barrels. The main trait of the Zoli for me at least was that it shot flat, a fact confirmed by the Arrow Laser Shot and something I myself prefer particularly in game guns since I prefer to determine lead and not rely on the extra few feet built in by the maker. Reason being, the traditional game gun shoots high on crossing birds.
Loading up with 28g Eley VIP Sporting, the Expedition EL’s competition heritage very quickly came to light. Over at Bond & Bywater’s evening shoot the gun devastated going away and driven targets emphasising just how effective this Zoli will be on walked-up grouse or driven pheasant. Likewise the speed of mount, the fact it’s a walnut buttplate allowing the Zoli to slip quickly and easily into the shoulder. Where the gun did require additional effort was on crossing clays, the balance and weight demanding that the gun is pushed hard to ensure the required lead is achieved. Nothing especially arduous but when shot over a round of skeet, the gun at times seemed to require a fraction more effort than might be expected around the middle stations.
Transferring to 32g Eley Grand Prix, an evening on Huntroyde’s crows, magpies and the new manifestation of grey squirrels allowed the Zoli to shine. Relaxing to carry over distance and extended periods of time, the weight still ensures felt recoil is negligible whilst the gun’s ability to react to sudden targets substantiates the gun’s core game shooting characteristics to a degree there wasn’t a corvid or a tree rat that escaped the Zoli’s ability to eliminate fur or feather.
The theory and design behind Zoli’s Expedition EL is to my mind laudable. To have produced a 12-bore that harks back to the great days of hunting proves that the company has a more than passable grasp of what things used to be like. But even if your shooting trips don’t take you quite as far as you’d like, the Expedition EL is still possible worthy of consideration. Looks and quality wise this Zoli is without doubt a very nice gun but to have completed the wanderlust potential I for one would have either inlayed some slightly more exotic game birds or gone the complete reverse.
Years ago British makers produced shotguns in what was referred to as Empire Grade, in other words basic, no frills just built to withstand anything foreign conditions or the locals could throw at them. If Zoli had built their Expedition EL with either more striking inlays then it could have gone some considerable way to justifying the £4,800 price tag. Conversely, a more basic finish and a reduction in price would make this Zoli a far more attractive financial proposition, a less ornate action enhancing the travelling theme, the Expedition EL the sort of full-bodied, no job too big shotgun you’d be proud to brandish as the 12-bore for all game and all seasons.
Don’t get me wrong, this Zoli is a nice gun to shoot and makes for a gun you’d be proud to shoot with in any company, in any country, shooting any type of gamebird along with the fact it makes for a moderately efficient clay breaker. But by virtue of the fact it isn’t a multi-choke I was left with the feeling that the Expedition EL as tested didn’t capitalise on the gun’s true potential and universal abilities. Fixed chokes certainly aren’t a thing of the past and still have their place but on a premier Italian shotgun conceived to be capable of carrying out the job in hand no matter where you are or what you’re shooting, the Expedition EL should as a matter of course be fitted with multi-chokes.
The more I shot with this Zoli the more I liked it, my style altering to ensure the gun swung when and where I needed it. And apart from the fact I personally would have the auto safety disengaged; the gun shot well, any shortfalls definitely down to me. As a walked-up gun, a fast handling driven game gun or a friend whilst out looking to shoot the occasional stray woodie, impromptu bunny or unwary crow, Zoli’s Expedition EL is a fine, well balanced and extremely attractive companion.
But like most game guns from what ostensibly is a competition shotgun maker, (and yes I know Zoli also produce rifles), the main appeal of the Expedition EL will be to existing Z-Gun owners, allowing them the option and ability to use their chosen maker no matter what they’re shooting.
PRICE: £4,800 srp