Long before Blaser started importing their groundbreaking F3 shotgun into the U.S. in 2004, the German manufacturer founded in 1957 by Horst Blaser was renown for its dangerous-game rifles. The Blaser S-2 Express Double Rifle in either .470 or .500 Nitro Express was a go-to gun for traditionalists looking to bring down a Cape Buffalo or Elephant in Africa. Likewise, a big-bore Blaser R-93 was engineered with a silky smooth bolt action if you needed to squeeze off that critical second shot at a charging rhino. Then in 2010, when Blaser introduced its next-generation bolt-action rifle, the R8, its revolutionary design immediately made it the darling of the big-game set.
Although the company is pronounced “Blah-zer,” the English enunciation of the familiar Blaser is far more indicative of the fearless engineering that distinguishes its shotguns and rifles from the competition. Blaser has continuously blazed a different path that has led to exciting, new horizons in performance, quality and reliability. In the shotgun universe, Blaser-sponsored shooters have appeared in the winner’s circle at nearly every major competition of the past three years.
Given Blaser’s distinctive design philosophy, we decided to evaluate a shotgun that few people consider: the Blaser F3 in 20 gauge. And given the company’s big-game lineage, we asked Nelson Freeman, who handles Governmental Affairs and Public Relations for Safari Club International, to shoot 100 rounds of sporting clays with it and share his impressions.
Our venue was the Prince George’s County Trap and Skeet Center in Glenn Dale, Maryland. Known simply as PG County Skeet and Trap, the facility has a nice 19-station sporting-clays course that sees plenty of action from the powerbrokers in nearby Washington, D.C.
At PG County Skeet and Trap, as well as other clays-shooting clubs across the U.S., you’ll see F3s usually equipped with 12-gauge over/under barrels and the conventional sporting rib. More recently, the high-rib SuperSport has found a happy home with skeet and sporting clays enthusiasts. Saunter over to the trap field, and you’ll probably see the F3 Competition SuperTrap or SuperTrap Combo powdering targets with machine-like repetition.
But very few shooters consider the F3 for a 20-gauge gun. Perhaps it’s the company’s marketing emphasis on competition that drives the 12-gauge into the limelight. In reality, though, the F3 20 gauge is simply brilliant and ought to rank at the very top of the list for shooters considering a sub-gauge gun.
“It’s a precision instrument,” Mr. Freeman said after his 100 rounds of sporting clays with the F3 20-gauge equipped with 30-inch barrels and 3-inch chambers. “It’s the best 20-gauge over and under I have ever shot.”
The F3 20-gauge benefits from the modular architecture across the entire F3 family. An F3 receiver can accommodate barrels of the three gauges sold by Blaser: 12, 20 and 28. Because the company strives for a consistent shooting experience, all the barrels weigh the same commensurate with their length. So a set of 30-inch 12-gauge barrels will weigh the same as a set of 30-inch 20-gauge or a set of 28-gauge set of barrels in 30 inches (the barrels comprising 3½ of the approximate 8 pounds total weight).
Most shotgun manufacturers will make at least two receivers where the standard one handles 12-gauge or 12- and 20-gauge barrels, and a smaller 20-gauge receiver may go down to .410 barrels. Given Blaser’s competition pedigree, the reasoning behind the modular method is that competitive shooters can participate in multi-gauge events with full confidence that their performance will not suffer from weight fluctuations in the sub-gauge classes.
The receiver is also key to the low profile of the F3. For example, the F3 receiver is 2¼ inches high at its tallest point versus the receiver of a Caesar Guerini Sporting Model, which measures 2½ inches high at its tallest point.
While that ¼ inch may not sound like a significant difference, along with additional design advancements, the F3 delivers a lower center of gravity than most other over/unders for a balanced swing, plus a noticeably better sight picture that Mr. Freeman rated as “excellent.”
In fact, Blaser has gone to great pains to engineer a low profile shotgun. The bottom barrel is cut into the underlug notch, letting the over/under set sit extremely low in the CNC-machined steel receiver. Likewise, the underlug bite on the monobloc closes through a rectangular hole on the floor of the receiver – making it dramatically lower by fitting that bite lump flush with the receiver bottom.
“I liked the low profile,” Mr. Freeman said. “It was a slick gun that felt light and responsive. It’s an extremely easy gun for almost anybody to shoot.”
The slender receiver also benefits from an ingenious approach regarding the hammers.
Unlike traditional shotgun hammers that swing upwards, the F3 strikers move in a linear plane – driven forward by coil springs in tunnels that are aligned with the bore axis. The horizontal transfer of energy enables a lower receiver and closer placement of the over/under barrel set.
Naturally, the horizontal striker results in an extremly fast locking time for the mechanical triggers –vital when you’re chasing that second shot in a true pair. The factory spec on the adjustible trigger is 3¼ pounds – facilitating a highly instinctive reaction time by the shooter via a steel trigger blade that is adjustable for both cant and length.
As Mr. Freeman observed of the F3 20 gauge, “The trigger pull was very crisp and responsive.”
Blaser’s patented Ejector Ball System includes an activator rod that travels forward with the striker, emerging from the breech face when the gun is fired. The protruding tips of the rods penetrate holes in the front plate of the ejectors, depressing a steel ball that lets the ejector work when the gun is opened. The Ejector Ball System is an elegant invention that further trims excess receiver bulk.
Recoil isn’t typically much of an issue with a 20 gauge. Blaser’s flat forcing cones and internal overbore found on the gun shot by Mr. Freeman would contribute to lower felt recoil on the 12 gauge model – even with magnum loads for which the gun is proofed in both lead and steel ammunition.
Like other F3 models, the 20 gauge excels in ergonomics. The palm swell, available for both right and left handed shooters, supplies an expert measure of confidence with improved grip and trigger-pull leverage.
“I liked the palm swell,” Mr. Freeman commented. “It fit right into my hand. It was a very comfortable gun to shoot.”
He also found value in the flourescent orange front bead. “It’s a good color and not obnoxiously large,” he said.
There is a two-part, adjustable balancing system on the F3. A shaft in the stock contains moveable weights that are for fine tuning the balance. Up front, separate weights screw into the side-rib, under the forend.
“It’s an awesome gun to shoot,” he said. “It’s definitely a shooter’s gun.”
Mr. Freeman did have a few objections to the gun. He didn’t like the slightly bulbous muzzle that was needed for the Briley Spectrum screw-in chokes on the cold-forged, thin-walled barrels. He felt that the barrels were too light, even though we had added 3 ounces of weights before handing it off to him. However, he could have easily swapped the two 1½ ounce barrel weights for the longer, heavier 2¼ ounce or even combined them.
“I’m not nitpicking this gun,” he added, “because I really want to buy one.”
And as we all know, buying the gun is when the fun starts – especially with Blaser. The modular components of the F3 extend to a full array of customization options by mixing and matching options from seven different grades.
Blaser dealer, Jack Bart of Bart’s Sports World in Glen Burnie, Maryland, explained that he had on hand enough inventory of barrels, stocks and forends to build at least seven different versions of the Standard model “on the spot,” including selections with adjustable combs. Ditto with the barrels that range in length from 28 inches to 34 inches. “It only takes 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
Opting for the sumptiously engraved sideplates could take longer to configure, he noted, since they require different types of stocks.
The 20-gauge F3 shot by Mr. Freeman was shipped with a lovely Grade 5 wood from Blaser USA in San Antonio, Texas. It would be a breeze to upgrade to the Grade 9 wood that comes standard on the more expensive Imperial model. Regardless, you would still retain the incredible wood-to-metal fit that’s the hallmark of a well-made shotgun.
With the entry-level F3 Sporting starting at approximately $7,200 dollars, it’s easy to rack up options that could bring the gun to $11,000 dollars or more (or you could simply opt for the higher-end models). Still, to manage the different combinations, Mr. Bart compiled a menu that lets shooters mix-and-match components to build their dream F3.
Mr. Freeman’s ideal F3 had nothing to do with wood grades or engraving. He wanted to take that 20-gauge F3 bird hunting. “For a person like me who’s a hunter first and target shooter second, this is a gun I can use for both. It fit me so well that I could shoot doves all day from either a standing or sitting position.”
Hopefully, next time….
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.