Michael Yardley’s Guide to choosing a game gun
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
When we go out looking for a new gun it’s always exciting, but there can be quite a lot of decision anxiety in the selection process. Well, I’m here to help you through it. We will consider buying a new game gun this month, we will look at clay guns in the near future as well. The first thing to be said, meantime, is do not worry if you haven’t a big bank balance at the moment. There are some excellent guns out there at very reasonable money even taking the hike of VAT to 20% into account. Recently, I have tested a number of exceptional guns around (and in some cases well under) the £1,000 mark. You could easily pay 50 times as much and not get anything that would shoot any better.
Good Places to Start
I am, for example, a particular fan of the new Browning 525 (it is now much improved with lighter, back-bored barrels and long forcing cones) which is reviewed in full elsewhere in this issue. There are game and sporter versions. The sporter would be a good all-round choice for game and clays. It is just a whisker more controllable (though both are A1). There is the new Miroku MK70 of similar spec too (made in the same factory). Beretta have introduced the Silver Pigeon I (tested in last month’s issue) and the new Universal (the fixed choke ‘clay’ incarnation at the budget end of the 600 series). Both guns show how Beretta have got their act together as far as the middle of the market is concerned. Bullet proof build quality at very reasonable money.
RUAG are putting out some basic but good Rottweil over and under guns at very keen prices too (the 30” barrelled 20 bore is the pick of the bunch), they also offer the budget Bettinsolis. The 20 bore 30” Fausti Warwicks from the Sportsman are a good buy (as were the incredibly well priced Fausti 26” side by sides that the Sportsman were selling a little while back). Lincolns, made by FAIR in Northern Italy, have always offered great value for money (and again, my favourites are the 30” 20 bores). Turkish guns are getting better and better. Edgar brothers have quite an extensive range, and, Mike Entwhistle also has some great value Yildiz small-bore guns at bargain basement prices.
A Step Up
If you want to up the ante a bit, consider the new B.Rizzinis (again – and forgive me for sounding like a cracked record – my favourites are the 30” 20 bores). These guns are available from both ASI and Paul Roberts and are especially attractive in round action form. Speaking of AyA and round bars, the Round Action Number 2 sidelocks in both 12 or 20 look very good and shoot well. The AyA deluxe boxlock is a well made, interesting gun (and the particular favourite of ASI Managing Director, Edward King).
My own favourites as far as the Italian stack barrels are concerned are the 28 bore 30” Rizznis, and the Maxum and Essex 20 bore 30 and 32” models from the Guerini range. I have had great success with the 32” Guernis myself and wholeheartedly recommend them. They look good and have excellent shooting qualities. EELL Berettas are also always a good thing whether new or secondhand.
If you want a high bird gun that can double on clays, nothing beats a Miroku MK38 32” fixed choke (perhaps retrofitted with thin-wall Teague chokes). It is a great buy in standard grade, and one of the best buys on the market in its more adorned versions. I am also fond of 32” KM4 MKII Kemens as serious double duty guns. If pigeons or ducks are your thing, you have to go a long way to beat the new Browning Maxus (an excellent buy), or a basic Beretta 391 with wooden or synthetic stock. When I shoot abroad, I often borrow a 30” 391 – it’s a classic of its type and always a reliable performer that does not bash you up.
Benelli offer a variety of super auto-loaders too (and the company is, of course, now owned by Beretta). Finally, I am going to mention the Blaser F3 Professional over and under. It’s not cheap, but the latest version is smart to look at and impressive to shoot as well.
Traditionally, a game gun does not want to be too heavy. It must, however, have enough mass to manage recoil, but there should not be too much weight in the barrels or the handling will be affected. Greener’s old dictum was that a gun should weigh 96 times the weight of its shot load. That would mean a 6lb gun regardless of bore if a one ounce load is your thing, but a 6 pounds 12 ounce one if you prefer 1 1/8oz. The idea is dated and never quite worked (but it still intrigues).
With regard to ideal weights, let’s just say this; 12 bore, 28” side by side usually seem to work best at around 6 ½-7lbs. Over and under 12 bores with 28-30” barrels should be about half a pound heavier, hitting the scales somewhere between 7-7 1/2lbs. – a lot depends on the balance of the individual guns. It is perhaps no coincidence that 20 bore 30” over and unders seem to be most efficient at about the same weight as a typical best quality 12 bore side by side. I believe that one of the reasons that longer barrelled 20 bore over and unders have become so popular in recent years is that they share similar handling characteristics to expensive bespoke guns at much reduced cost. With 30” barrels fitted they can be even more pointable at the same weight. Usually, I prefer a near hinge pin balance, but this does not apply to really long-barrelled guns.
Strangely, 28” 20 bores can sometimes work very well in really lightweight form as well. I am not going to try to explain the paradox. I can’t! Meanwhile, Buyer Beware and try before you buy it if you can.
Some guns seem to break the rules. Neither the MK38 or the KM4 Kemen are especially light (though they have light-for-length barrels) nevertheless, they work extremely well on pheasants as well as pitch discs. The Guerini 32” 20 bores usually weigh around 7 pounds, are profoundly muzzle heavy, and work brilliantly too (as a side note, I routinely put 30 and 32 gram loads through mine without any discomfort). On the other hand, I was shooting a Beretta SV10 Perennia 20 bore the other day with 28” barrels – not usually my thing on a 20 – but it shot superbly and felt recoil with a Kick-Off recoil reducer attached was very low (I have not found the Kick-off as effective on some other models).
This sort of anomaly gets me scratching my head sometimes. The truth is no one can set down absolute rules for what works because guns are such singular things and there are so many variables. One does get the chance to recognise the guns which do the biz (and note considerable consensus on this when I share my thoughts with experienced friends). My job is to let you know what works. Another new gun that I am fond of is the 30” version of the Beretta SV10 Perennia with standard stock – modernistic styling, but it’s another winner with lively barrels and great pointing qualities.
As a general principle, game guns usually need to be a bit more lively than clay guns. Live quarry shooting is a less deliberate business. Some mass produced guns have barrels which are certainly too heavy for game shooting. What about barrel length? We have discussed the subject to some extent already. Barrels have tended to get longer in recent years. The 30” 20 bore is popular as noted, and with good reason, while 32” 12 bores are frequently used for high birds. I think the 32” 20 bore is, to a great extent, waiting to be discovered as a game gun.
If game shooting is the application (with exceptions as noted), I still usually advise 28” as the best barrel length for a mass made 12 bore side by side or over and under. However, you should consider a 30” 12 bore gun, especially if you want to shoot clays and game with the same gun. As far as 20 bores are concerned, I would advise 30” tubes in most cases now; they improve pointing as discussed and make the gun a little more controllable with a minimal weight penalty.