Our gun tester's own shotgun preferences
PUBLISHED: 12:03 19 March 2015 | UPDATED: 16:45 10 November 2015
Ever wondered what our esteemed gun tester looks for when choosing guns for his own use? Mike tells us about his own shotguns and why he likes them
32” Beretta 303 semi-automatic: The shooting qualities of the 32” 303 are unique. It is pointable, well-balanced, very soft on the shoulder and forgiving to use. I have shot tens of thousands of clays, not to mention thousands of pigeon, a significant number of partridge, a pig (with slug and a shorter barrel) coming head on to me, and a snake with mine. It is almost part of me. It has paid for itself many times over.
32”, Guerini Maxum 20-bore: I have had this – a ‘sporter’ rather than a dedicated game gun – since the model was first introduced in the UK, and it remains my first choice for driven game. As it weighs just over 7lbs, I normally put Lyalvale fibre 30 or 32g 5s through it (an excellent game cartridge). The gun has a semi-pistol grip stock and a schnabel fore-end. The vented barrels carry a 10mm rib on the top. It is a mechanically simple gun in which I have complete confidence. I tend to shoot with half and three-quarter chokes fitted (whereas in my 303 Beretta, a Briley, ported, Light Full is my norm). The gun is attractive with its scroll-engraved side-plates but, more importantly, there is quite a lot of weight between the hands. It breaks the rules of balance too, being distinctly front heavy, but it works! And nothing is more important in a gun.
32” Kemen KM 4: I rate the detachable trigger lock on Kemens very highly. They can have issues with cracking in the grip area because of their removable trigger mechanism, which is why Kemen introduced a new model with narrower metal-work to the rear to reduce the need to cut out wood at a weak point. Nevertheless, when a Kemen is good, and equipped with barrels weighing about 1570g and a well shaped stock (most are), I think they are near unbeatable. Arguably, the best sporting clay guns in the world in my opinion when they are well sorted.
30” 28-bore Beretta EELL: a much cherished shooting tool. For a couple of seasons, I did all my game shooting with it. Why? Because it was fun – always bringing a smile to my face in the field – and very effective with Lyalvale or Winchester 28g/1oz loads of 6s. It is a solid little gun, and, having side-plates, weight is concentrated between the hands where it should be. It has also proven to be supremely reliable. It has never skipped a beat. I have often advised others to buy 20 and 12-bore EELLs. They are efficient shooting tools, attractive, and they hold their value very well (especially when bought pre-owned in good condition).
UK Game Browning 725, 32” 20-bore: The action design on the 725 is particularly sleek. Even with a a classic Browning full width hinge pin, it remains low. Apart from long barrels, this gun has an ergonomically efficient semi-pistol grip stock, rounded field style fore-end, DS (Double Seal) multi-chokes, and an ideal weight for type at something just over 7lbs. The high tech recoil pad reduces thump, and the long barrels are easy to point and very controllable. It is another light-for-length gun which works.
30”, Damascus-barrelled, Holland & Holland 16-bore: Using this gun, I was undefeated in class for six or seven years in the British Side-by-side Championship. It is fairly light, but long again.
28”, sleeved barrel Joseph Lang with non-rebounding locks: I finally won the British Side-by-side competition overall with a 28”, sleeved barrel Joseph Lang with non-rebounding locks. This ancient (late 1860s) gun is a joy to shoot to this day. The sleeving-on was done to a particularly high standard where the barrels were most carefully struck up. Another plus of the Lang is great Victorian stock shapes – full, tapered, comb and great grip and fore-end.
30”, Webley & Scott 700 pigeon gun: This has a broad breech and a flat rib, making it quite unusual. Tightly choked, I gave it to ex-Purdey and ex-H&H barrel-maker Bill Blacker to breathe on. He struck up the barrels externally to make them more concentric and did a little of his magic on the inside, too. Portuguese stocking genius Manuel Ricardo also restocked it for me (and I worked with him in Portugual for several days trialling it as the new wood took shape). The result was a double-trigger, semi-pistol grip, side-by-side gun which is as much at home shooting automatic Ball Trap targets as pigeons. I have given up on the number of people who have asked to buy it. But, it is not for sale (never sell a gun you can shoot with!).
Beretta 690 III game: Last year, I went to Italy for the launch of the Beretta 690 III game. I got on very well with the new gun – and only a 28” field model was on hand – winning the launch competition with it in Tuscany and a very generous prize into the bargain. As I had not shot a competition for several years, I was delighted. And, when funds allow, I will be adding a 28 or 30” 690 to my collection. The model seems very well sorted. It has a wider than average bore, full length joining ribs and a 6mm sighting rib, which I thought near ideal. The stock is well sorted, too.