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Gun test special: Great guns at the CLA

PUBLISHED: 12:27 17 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:27 17 September 2014

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If you missed the game fair or didn’t make it to see everyone along Gunmakers’ Row, here is Mike Yardley’s account of the bumper crop of exciting new shotguns

The Beretta 690's look isn't radical, but that's a good thingThe Beretta 690's look isn't radical, but that's a good thing

The CLA Game Fair, like the IWA show at Nuremberg, is always a great opportunity to see what’s new in the shooting world, and this year’s at Blenheim provided a bumper crop of new shotguns and rifles.

One of my first visits in Gunmakers’ Row was to the GMK stand where the new 690 Field III (RRP £2,500) was much in evidence, along with the 692 Sporter (RRP £2,900 with fixed chokes and £3,200 with multis) which had been launched first. Just to confuse things, there is to be a grade I 690 Sporter, too, with an RRP around £2,700.

Beretta were kind enough to invite me to the launch of the new 690 in Tuscany this summer. I was genuinely much impressed with the gun. There was a FITASC Sporting competition that went with the event and I was lucky enough to win it and 500 euros (the Brit team winning through, too). The aesthetics of the 690 are not radical (a positive). It looks like a member of the Beretta family, but it shoots really well with a good trigger, low recoil and a new low set rib which seems to give the 28” gun enhanced pointing qualities. I shot with half a dozen, and had no glitch with any of them, taking the eventual shoot-off with 24 ex 25. Overall, I prefer it to the industry standard and slightly less expensive Silver Pigeon.

Other new Beretta group guns that attracted my attention at Blenheim were the 20-bore version of the excellent Beretta Parallelo side-by-side, now available with a straight-hand stock or Prince of Wales with beaver-tail configuration and in 30” (something new for Beretta as far as side-by-sides are concerned). The RRP is £3,875 with multi-chokes – the only option in that department. In my opinion, the 12-bore version is the best side-by-side Beretta have yet made. On the semi-autos front the Benelli Raffaello ‘Powerbore’ is the latest thing. It’s RRP is £2,025 and is distinguished by the silver action, carbon rib and progressive comfort recoil reduction, which involves a clever inertia device incorporated within the recoil pad and stock. I’ve not tried this gun yet. For rimfire fans, Sako have re-introduced the Finfire, a quality bolt rifle in .22 and .17HMR.

Browning 725 20-bores: one of the best bargains out thereBrowning 725 20-bores: one of the best bargains out there

At Browning, there was a lot of exciting stuff, too – some of it, really exceptional. First, I will mention the 32” version of the 20-bore 725. As it happens, I have spent a lot of time shooting one of these recently (indeed, as I write this I have come in having put 200 shells through one). It is one of the best shooting 20s that I have ever shot, and I routinely carry one now when I’m teaching. It is supremely pointable, fun and easy to shoot (but my prejudice for long guns and small-bores is well known!). This one is a peach, and a peach with an RRP under 2k, making it one of the best bargains on the market.

Much the same may be said for the hand-engraved, hand-regulated and well stocked, new Miroku MK60 32” game guns. These are available singly around £2½k and in pairs, numbered in gold and leather-cased, for just over £5,300. I would order yours now because demand is outstripping supply. Where else can you get a highly efficient, hand-finished gun for this sort of dosh? You can’t! I shot them the other day at E.J. Churchill and I prefer them to the MK38 32” and that is praise indeed. The MK38 is popular both with clays shooters and high-birders. The new MK60s with narrower ribs will, I think, become collectors’ items.

At Edgar Brothers, I looked at the latest Zoli guns with Paulo Zoli (with whom I also had a long and interesting conversation on barrel making technology) and Becky McKenzie (who has done great things competitively with her own Zoli). The Z-Game special starts from £4,500 and shoots fine with a forgiving and pleasantly neutral quality. High rib clay guns were much in evidence as well with the Kronos, Z-Sport (black or silver plain action with ‘Z’ in middle) and Zextra. The Zextra I examined had adjustable point of impact 11-7 rib, adjustable comb too, and 11mm high rib (you can also get a 16mm rib height version). The delivery point of impact is about 70:30, there is a wheel at the muzzle end for adjustment (no spanner required). Barrel options are 29½ and 32”. Costs? From £4,400 for the Kronos, Z-Sport high rib £6,211, and Zextra £7,486. E.J. Churchill, I might add, offer their smart new ‘Coronet’ model made in association with Zoli from £6,675. On the concept of high ribs - they can be a real help for one-eyed shots needing extra visual field, and the high guns can reduce gun movement in trap shooting events for both one- and two-eyed shooters.

Moving along Gunmakers’ Row, I was pleased to see a 20-bore version of the William Powell, Rizzini-made Perdix, an especially good buy for a well finished, side-plated, English-specified but Italian-made gun – £2,995 in 12 and 20 (with 16, 28 and .410 carrying a 20% premium, but still not looking too expensive). William Evans were making much of their Grulla-built (Spanish) Connaught side-by-sides with an RRP from £7,800, including VAT. I spoke to both Inigo and Usobiaga Grulla, as well as Alastair Phillips of William Evans – an old pal. He showed me a pair of especially nice extra-finish Connaughts in 16-bore with Boss-ish style engraving. They weighed a handy 6lbs 6oz with 29” barrels, cost £23,000 (£11,500 each – Evans do not charge extra for pairs), and come cased in leather with a canvas outer. He also has a pair of standard Connaughts in 28-bore with true Prince of Wales stocks. About 16k with no premium for bore or pairing. Not cheap, but value by today’s standards for Holland system bench-made guns.

William & Son side-by-sideWilliam & Son side-by-side

ASI, famous for AyA and also bringing in Rizzini, have taken over the Huglu distributorship too, and are bringing in the full range with some guns still starting around the £700 mark. I have been to the isolated factory in Turkey and was struck by the fact that it is a co-operative in a town that only makes guns! The gun that really caught my eye on the ASI stand was a cheap but interesting colour case-hardened, multi-choked, hammer gun! I suggested to Ed King that the Huglu 30”, side-plated, 28-bore side-by-side would be a good thing to import especially if he could persuade them to add ejectors.

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