While some German makers have devoted themselves to more modern, technologically advanced shotguns, Merkel still makes traditional Teutonic over-unders, side-by-sides and drillings. But making old-school guns the old-school way costs craftsmen time, and therefore, money.
When importer Steyr Arms asked for an “entry-level” gun, the Merkel 40E was the result. It seems a sticker price of $6,995 to $10,995 is a barrier to entry for some. The 40E, at $4,595, is a Merkel without all the cosmetic work that goes into hand-finishing the stocks and hand-polishing and engraving the metal of its other guns. This is a “bird gun” in the vernacular of the southern hunters that import it. It can be used for other things, obviously, but it is the Germanic interpretation of the side-by-side game gun perfected in England, in terms of lines and features, about a century-and-a-half ago.
The 40E’s action is a self-cocking Anson & Deeley boxlock. Its 2.15“ tall receiver is made from a steel forging (Merkel offers three frame sizes, but only 12- and 20-gauge on the 40E), and like one would expect, it is stronger than it needs to be. There are side clips on either side of the water table, providing extra strength where the chambers butt against the receiver. The receiver’s bottom is 1.53“ across, while it measures 1.63“ where the receiver and barrels meet.
Lockup is by an H-shaped locking block in the receiver that mates to Purdy-style double underlumps. And there is a third locking point, a 0.247“-diameter Greener crossbolt top lock.
Merkel cold-hammer-forges its own barrels in house and then rust-blues them. The 27-7⁄8“barrels have fixed chokes, and the 20 gauge was listed as “Improved” for the right barrel and “Modified” for the left. Both bores measured a slightly oversize 0.626“ (20 is nominally 0.615“), with the right barrel’s choke constricting .0061“—right where improved cylinder should be. The modified barrel’s 0.011“ constriction was right on the money for that choke, too. The top rib is grooved to reduce glare, tapers from 0.46“ at the breech to 0.31“ at the muzzle, and is topped by a single 0.15“ brass near the muzzle.
The 40E opens via a blued top lever, and it has an automatic safely on its tang. When the gun is opened, the safety button moves to the rear, revealing an “S” on the tang, and both triggers are blocked. Ejection is selective-automatic, but the gun can be converted to extraction-only by a gunsmith. A single-selective (via a button on the blade) mechanical trigger or traditional double triggers are available, but the test gun had blued double triggers, which proved remarkably crisp and consistent in pull weight. The front trigger’s right barrel has a more open choke, while the rear trigger’s left barrel is tighter. If a bird gets up out there a ways, the hunter needs only to slide his finger back and slap the rear trigger.
Retention of the splinter fore-end, which has 28-l.p.i. machined checkering in a bordered point pattern, is by a steel Deeley & Edge latch inlet into its underside. There is light engraving, the screws are timed and the inletting as extremely well done. Like the fore-end iron, the long blued tang of the trigger guard was well inlet flush with the stock, and its screws are timed, too. The wood-to-metal fit was deliberately and universally proud where the stock and receiver meet.
The sample 40E has a straight-gripped, or English-style, stock (a pistol grip with a plastic grip cap is also offered), and this is another area where the price concessions come into play. Called “Grade 2” (out of five) by Merkel, it receives less personalized attention than the stocks on the company’s more extravagant models. It bears a linseed oil finish that can be easily repaired with no need to send it back to Germany if it were to be dropped on a grouse hunt. A simple black, plastic buttplate, reading “Gebr. Merkel Suhl,” tops the butt—and it is fastened by timed screws.
In lieu of hand-engraving or color-casehardening, the forged receiver is nitrided. It appears to have been left in the white, even though nitriding is a tough finish. The engraving is a laser-etched scroll pattern. It is on both the receiver sides and the underside. The top lever and trigger guard bear some laser engraving as well.
A staffer took the Model 40E to Five Star Plantation, a southern hunting venue with a rich history, on bobwhite quail over pointers. The gun was also fired on a challenging five-stand course at Five Star, as well as on several trips to northern Virginia’s Bull Run Shooting Center. In total, more than 1,200 rounds from Aguila, Browning, Federal, Fiocchi and Winchester were fired, both game and target loads, without a single malfunction. The extra strength of the action does not detract from the gun’s liveliness. It points quickly and swings solidly. It is a gun for instinctive shots but not whippy if one needs to stay on a bird. And it throws nice patterns, as can be seen from the accompanying table. The gun was patterned at 40 yds. with Browning’s new BXD Extra Distance 20-ga., 3“ shotshells with 1¼ ozs. of nickel-plated No. 5 lead shot—a load designed with late season pheasants in mind, not the shooter’s shoulder at the patterning board. The RCBS AmmoMaster clocked the load at 1204 f.p.s. at 10 ft., just shy of the 1250 at the muzzle listed on the box.
In the Merkel 40E, shooters and hunters will find a gun that can stand up to a lifetime of shooting, points extremely well and has the features one needs without the ornamentation many cannot afford.