It’s Las Vegas, January 17- 20, and the sprawling Shot Show once again served as a venue for new shotgun introductions in our universe of wing and clays shooting. While Benelli’s Franchi and Stoeger units took the cake for the most number of new model roll outs at the Sands Convention Center, all eyes were on FABARM’s forthcoming semi-auto as it pointed the way for what we can expect from the company’s merger last year with Caesar Guerini of Cambridge, Maryland.
Webley & Scott showed new over/unders that could easily set a benchmark for performance and aesthetics on the lower end of the market. Meanwhile, Ithaca Shotgun Company quietly unveiled a stunning new trap model that’s reverse-engineered from the original single-barrel 4E “Knickerbocker,” but with a high-tech topper. Ithaca also disclosed a surprise enhancement to its impending Phoenix 12 gauge that will clearly ratchet up the value and performance of perhaps the most highly anticipated over/under this year.
And Connecticut Shotgun had on hand its elegant Inverness round-body, over/under upland gun touted as rivaling the extraordinary McKay Brown shotguns from Scotland, but at a fraction of the cost – essentially applying the same economic philosophy as Connecticut Shotgun’s A-10 American sidelock against exclusive European best guns.
FABARM USA is poised to redefine the U.S. competition semi-auto segment with a version of its XLR5 called the XLR5 VELOCITY. The XLR5 is a shotgun that has garnered kudos from the European press in recent years. It’s best to think of the XLR5 VELOCITY as a semi-auto similar to sister company Caesar Guerini’s best-selling Impact high-rib clays over/under. The Impact now dominates the mid-range of the high-rib sporter market by offering a wide variety of adjustments that let shooters fine tune the rib height (point of impact), comb, trigger (length of pull), fore-and-aft balance and recoil absorption – along with other native attributes of the marquee such as balance, beauty and value.
Notably, the adjustable high rib on the XLR5 VELOCITY lays down the gauntlet against other semi-auto manufacturers. While semi-auto makers have been providing adjustable combs and shim sets for drop and cast, the closest the industry has come to an adjustable rib is the two-rib set-up on the Beretta 391Teknys Gold Target. That shotgun comes complete with both a 50/50 sporting clays and skeet rib (factory installed) and the 70/30 step rib for trap. Balancing on the 391Teknys Gold Target comes courtesy of three interchangeable fore-end caps (light, medium, and heavy) while drop and cast can be adjusted with factory-supplied shims.
Now that FABARM USA is importing the XLR5 VELOCITY into the U.S. from its plant in Brescia, Italy, the company has wisely sought to differentiate the semi-auto here by adopting a few features from Caesar Guerini’s best-selling Impact over/under clays gun. One thing is clear: the XLR5 VELOCITY is not a hunting gun. It only accepts 2¾ inch shells, accommodating light and heavy target loads interchangeably without compromising reliability. Likewise, FABARM cites the shotgun’s oversize bolt release and bolt handle as optimized for competition durability and ergonomics.
FABARM’s XLR5 VELOCITY boasts the Pulse Piston operating system that has drawn praise in Europe. Rather than rely on the valving used on most gas semi-autos, the XLR5 employs a soft polymer sleeve that lines the wall of the self-cleaning piston to ensure reliable performance by calibrating piston cycling time with the gas released from a discharged shell. Not only does the polymer clean the piston housing, it also serves as a brake for the action arm and reduces recoil. The European press reported that the Pulse Piston operating system has posted some very fast cycling times of about one-quarter of a second to empty the gun’s 4+1 capacity.
Quality is immediately apparent when you remove the forend of the XLR5. Highly polished components speak to FABARM’s manufacturing know-how and the exposed action conveys a high-tech vision more in line with Italy’s Ducati 1199 superbike. Eye candy aside, polished interior parts make for easier cleaning.
The XLR5 has nice engraving, but a bit too old world for my tastes – instead preferring the swooping, elegant lines of the Beretta 391Teknys Gold Target or even the anodized colored receivers of Beretta’s X400 family. Not quite sure that the cosmetics of the XLR5 really do justice to the underlying engineering. Real wood, however, is a welcome touch on a modern semi-auto these days.
The adjustable ramp-style rib on the XLR5 VELOCITY allows for a point of impact from a 50/50% to 80/20% pattern via a small thumb wheel that eliminates the use of a tool. An adjustable stock also helps shooters locate the sweet spot for powdering clays. The adjustability is extended to a trigger shoe that travels for a comfortable length of pull, making it the first semi-auto in the U.S. with this welcome feature. Like other high-end semi-autos, the XLR5 VELOCITY is packaged with a shim kit for cast and drop.
A set of three weight caps allows balance tweaking in 1½-ounce increments up to 4½ ounces. To dampen recoil and maximize pattern performance the barrel is designed with a tapered bore called Tribore HP. The bore diameter at the chamber end is overbored to .735 inches and gradually tapers to .725 inches at the muzzle end. Five Exis HP choke tubes are 3½ inches long and utilize a hyperbolic internal contour for pattern control.
Available barrel lengths are 30 and 32 inches. Owners can specify black or titanium finished receivers. Prices for the XLR5 VELOCITY range from $2,535 to $2,885. Delivery times are still up for grabs but it’s a safe to say that the XLR5 VELOCITY will start arriving in the U.S. during the first half of the year. A network of American FABARM dealers is under development, but current Caesar Guerini dealers are likely to participate.
FABARM USA doesn’t currently have a web site. We expect it to be up and running in a few months. For future reference, keep your eyes on www.fabarmusa.com or you can send an email today to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two new target guns from Caesar Guerini were introduced at the Shot Show – the Evolution Sporting and the Summit Ascent.
The Evolution Sporting uses the round-body action of the Guerini Ellipse as the basis for a high-rib sporting gun that grafts on the adjustable high rib evocative of the Impact Sporting model. The new 14mm rib lets you regulate the point of impact from a 50/50% to 70/30% pattern on the 12-gauge gun. By comparison, the Impact lineup has a 17mm-tall rib that adjusts from 5% low to 90% high.
Caesar Guerini also swapped the Ellipse EVO upland Prince of Wales stock for a target pistol grip and adjustable comb. The Evolution Sporting is a handsome gun, preserving the foliate motif of the original, which took mechanized shotgun ornamentation to an entirely new level. Overall, though, I’m not quite sure it would satisfy competition purists or avid recreational clays shooters. Still, anyone would appreciate the new vibration dampening system located midway on the barrel. The Evolution Sporting is an interesting shotgun. Let’s see the uptake by the market.
The 12-gauge Summit Ascent is an entry-level high-rib sporting model. It has a Monte Carlo stock with adjustable comb and higher, ramped tapered rib that starts at 10mm and graduates down to 8mm at the muzzle. It looks like a good starter shotgun for people interested in seriously evaluating high-rib clays guns for five-stand, sporting clays and skeet – disciplines where high-rib guns still remain rare compared with trap.
The guns carry an MSRP of $4,295 for a 12-gauge Summit Ascent with 32-inch barrels, and $7,950 for the 12-gauge Evolution Sporting with 32-inch barrels.
ITHACA GUN COMPANY
While the booth at the Ithaca Gun Company booth remained jammed-packed, the big news coming from this American manufacturer lay off to the side.
On a solitary gun stand in the shadows of the tumult, a stunning single-barrel trap gun heralded a new model in the wings. The shotgun is a reverse-engineered duplicate of the legendary Knickerbocker trap gun. Launched in 1922, the “Knick” dominated the winner’s circle for decades. Production finally ceased in 1988. Now, Ithaca is resurrecting the idolized Knick through a reproduction. The contemporary model on display was an opulent Larrabee model, which in fact pays homage to the original Ithaca trap gun in lavish Sousa grade. Long-time Ithaca master machinist, Roger Larrabee, had reversed engineered an old Knickerbocker, and so Ithaca owner Dave Dlubak wanted to recognize the heroic effort.
Despite the elegant, old-world lines of the new Knickerbocker, the gun will be available with an adjustable high rib made of aluminum, along with an adjustable comb. I have to say that the Larrabee sitting there was magnificent, even though it had lower grade wood than the final exhibition-grade wood. The gun exuded tradition – a real classic – and displayed wonderful lines. Personally, I’d forego the high rib and adjustable comb – especially since Ithaca can custom fit a stock – and retain that gorgeous traditional style in a good case for form over function.
Ithaca will make only 30 Larrabees. They are hand engraved by Bill Mains of Knightsown, Indiana, who we spoke with on the phone after returning to the office. Mr. Mains had worked as an engraver the last 11 years that the first Ithaca had been in business. He described the Larrabee’s engraving as a “medium-style scroll” with the dogs and birds inlaid with 24-carat gold on the blued receivers. Mike Farrell of Ithaca said we can expect a price tag of about $30,000 for the Larrabees. No prices or delivery dates have been set yet for the standard grade models.
Ithaca’s highly anticipated over/under Phoenix has been generating buzz for more than a year. We covered the gun in 2009, after seeing it at the Shot Show. Now, according to Mr. Farrell, the Phoenix is on the threshold of production. The big surprise is that it will come standard with a mechanical trigger – a feature usually seen on break-open models more expensive than the projected $2,500 MSRP for the Phoenix. This shotgun will definitely set our corner of the world on fire when it hits the dealers this March or early April.
The new round-body Inverness from Connecticut Shotgun takes square aim at the bespoke Scottish gems from McKay Brown. So says Connecticut Shotgun’s Sales and Marketing Manager, Lou Frutuoso. But while a McKay Brown will cost at least $60,000, the Inverness is selling for an introductory price of $2,995 after all discounts apply for the initial 500 orders. If you don’t qualify for the discounts, expect a starting price of $4,995. Expect the price to hit $6,000 – $7,000 after the incentive promotion.
The 20-gauge will be available with 28-inch or 30-inch barrels – screw-in chokes come standard. It has a single selective trigger, bone and charcoal case color and straight grip or pistol grip. Weight is about 6 pounds, 5 ounces. Wood upgrades are $350 for 3X, $600 for 4X and $900 for Exhibition grade. A long trigger guard is priced at $700, while a leather covered pad is $550.
Mr. Frutuoso brought an Inverness with all the options except the Exhibition grade wood. I have a sweet spot for round bodies and so was duly smitten. The Inverness felt a slightly more flighty than a McKay Brown, but overall it would be hard to beat in terms of quality and handling at the price.
WEBLEY & SCOTT
Continuing the value theme, Webley & Scott is ready to unleash new over/under models in the U.S. that will push the envelope on price and class through a recently established American presence in Reno, Nevada.
If the name Webley & Scott rings a bell, the company was originally a British manufacturer noted for innovative, rugged firearms for middle-class sportsmen, which remained in business from 1834 to 1979. There is now another UK operation. The mission of Webley & Scott USA continues with the new management team headed up by Derick Cole.
Leading the charge in the U.S. market is the Webley & Scott 900 K Sporter in 20 gauge with 28-inch barrels, which has an MSRP of $1,199. The single-trigger boxlock features gloss-blued barrels and receiver. It’s also available with two stocks that can turn the gun into a women’s or youth model, giving parents a chance to let a young shooter grow into their shotgun. This model is also available in 12 gauge with 30-inch barrels.
Next up is the 2000 Premium Game in 12 gauge. It shares the action of the 12-gauge 900 K, but has a scalloped, case-color finished receiver and higher grade wood with a Prince of Wales grip. It’s chambered for 3-inch shells for the 28-inch barrels. The price is $2,499. Based on aesthetics alone, the gun appears to be a good buy for the money.
The top-line Webley & Scott is represented by the 3000 series of removable sidelock, single-trigger, over/unders. The 3020S is the 20 gauge, while the 3012 S is the 12 gauge. Both models have case-colored receivers with sideplates, wood butt plates and other touches that make for an extremely competitive gun at the $5,999 price point.
Webley & Scott is building a dealer network now, but Mr. Cole can send a gun to your favorite FFL by calling him at 775-825-9835.
Franchi introduced a lightweight semi-auto called the Affinity. The non-gas, Inertia Driven shotgun is available in both 12- and 20-gauge. With the 12 gauge weighing just 6.4 pounds and the 20 gauge at 5.6 pounds, the Affinity benefits from a receiver of a lightweight, durable aluminum alloy that’s strengthened with steel inserts that ensure a solid steel-to-steel lock-up. The 12-gauge Affinity handles 1⅛-ounce target loads up to the heaviest 3-inch Magnums. The Affinity’s synthetic stock can be tailored for drop and cast with an adjustable shim-kit. Recoil is tamed via a newly designed recoil pad that is unique in both form and function, allowing deep compression that spreads recoil energy over a wider area of the shooter’s shoulder.
The shotgun comes with three screw-in chokes. Prices range from $849 to $949.
In addition, Franchi unveiled the Instinct family of over/unders, which includes the Instinct L and Instinct SL. The L model comes with a case-color receiver with gold complements and Select A-grade satin walnut. The SL has a brushed silver alloy receiver and AA-grade satin walnut. Both guns have a Prince of Wales stock.
The Instinct L and Instinct SL are available with either 12 or 20-gauge with 26 or 28-inch barrels that are chambered for 3-inch shells. The shotguns are packaged with three screw-in chokes. Franchi’s Instinct L is priced at $1,149, while the Instinct SL costs $1,349.
A new 28-gauge over/under rounds out Stoeger’s line of Condor field and clays shotguns. Weighing 6 pounds, the gun should be pretty easy to haul around upland country. It’s available in 24 and 26-inch barrel lengths. The 28-gauge Condor carries an MSRP of $449.
Stoeger also introduced a turkey model of its P-350, 12-gauge pump. It has an extended pistol grip with rubber grip. The 20-inch cantilevered barrel accommodates accessories such as optics. An extended, extra-full turkey choke is standard. In an open choke configuration, it can fire slugs for deer hunting. The gun can also handle shells up to 3½ inches in length. Worried about its kick? An optional 13-ounce, mercury-filled recoil reducer is available.
Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: We really appreciate Shotgun Life for this contribution. Thanks Irwin!