Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are no signs on the factory at 420 North Walpole Street in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, but open the old door and the pungent smell of machine oil is your first hint that the Ithaca shotgun is being re-born.
This rambling building that once housed a rolling rink, an automotive center and mold-making operation has been transformed into the backbone of the Ithaca Gun Company. Hard-working American men and women, like so many discarded in the upheaval of globalization, are now devoting their full measure of sweat and muscle to manufacture a new 100-percent American-built over/under shotgun code-named Phoenix.
“It’s nice to think that we could help our brothers and sisters in America by keeping and creating new jobs,” said Ithaca machinist, Tom Troiano.
Every screw, spring and steel billet is sourced from the U.S. as the company brings to life the stunning new 12-gauge Phoenix. From its inception, the Phoenix was designed to honor the proportions and sturdy sensibility of the classical over/under American shotgun.
Shotgun Life recently enjoyed the privilege of spending a full day at Ithaca talking with nearly everyone in the company. We spoke with the men who made the barrels, the receivers and the stocks. We spent time with management. And we were given the unique opportunity to be the first one outside of the company to shoot a prototype of the forthcoming Phoenix.
We can report unequivocally that design breakthroughs engineered into the Phoenix have made it the softest shooting 12-gauge over-under we have ever pulled a trigger on. The felt recoil on the Phoenix is virtually nonexistent – on par with the benchmark Beretta 391 Target Gold 12-gauge semi-auto – kicking only just enough to reset the inertia trigger.
Better yet, with a starting price of about $2,500 and moving to $10,000 depending on the type of engraving and grade of American walnut, the Phoenix could easily mark a renaissance of the big Ithaca shotguns.
That’s why Ithaca named the Phoenix after the dazzling mythical bird which rose from the ashes to fly once again. But leading Ithaca authority, Walt Snyder, author of the definitive books The Ithaca Company From the Beginning and Ithaca Featherlight Repeaters…The Best Gun Going observed that the new Phoenix also has an historical precedence.
In 1945, Ithaca had built a one-of-a-kind 12-gauge, over/under prototype. As the Model 51, it had serial number EX1, for experimental 1. It now appears that the new Phoenix is a direct descendant of that orphaned masterpiece.
Our first glimpse of the new 12-gauge over/under took place in January 2009 at the expansive Shot Show. There in booth 1736, I was drawn to the allure of an elegantly understated over/under that was all chrome-moly black steel and American walnut. The receiver, devoid of engraving, drew me in and I picked up the gun. I mounted it to my shoulder, my immediate impression one of a tight, well-balanced shotgun. Then I moved the top lever to the right and to my astonishment the barrels slowly fell open as though on hydraulics.
This was the shotgun that Walt would see several months later at a dealer event in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ithaca’s Mike Farrell arrived with it and Walt’s initial impression was that “It looked like a very well made gun. It seemed to mount and balance very well.”
At the time of the Shot Show, the gun remained months away from being in shooting condition and it hadn’t been christened the Phoenix. But after returning to the office, I would occasionally call Mike, the company’s number-two guy (no one at Ithaca has a job title), until he agreed to let me visit the company and actually try the shotgun.
For those of you familiar with Ithaca shotguns, it would be easy to dismiss the Phoenix as another heartfelt effort to salvage this fabled American manufacturer established in 1883.
Taking its namesake from the first factory in Ithaca, New York, the company’s fortunes in later years have been a tortured tale of missteps as one management team after another tried to reclaim the glory years that spanned the late 1800s until Pearl Harbor. That was a triumphant epoch when Ithaca manufactured shotguns such as the Flues side-by-side, the Knick trap gun, the 3½-inch Magnum 10 and the Model 37 pump based on a design by John Browning.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the company changed hands several times until it padlocked the doors in1986. The following year a new investor group took the helm until 1996, when entrepreneur Steven Lamboy acquired the assets and rights to make the Ithaca doubles. He turned out some beautiful shotguns in Italy bearing the Ithaca name but fell into bankruptcy in 2003. By 2004, the Federal government attached the company’s bank accounts for back taxes and a bitter lawsuit ensued in New York state between various stakeholders. In 2005, Ithaca’s assets were surrendered and the company liquidated.
That’s when Craig Marshall entered. Owner of MoldCraft in Upper Sandusky, he converted the family mold-making business into a new iteration of Ithaca. During the transition, the Marshalls assembled the flagship Model 37 pumps from existing inventory with every intention of restoring the marque’s luster. Unfortunately, the Marshalls eventually found themselves under-capitalized for the venture to the extent that they were forced to idle the factory for eight months between 2006 and 2007.
Finally, in June 2007 industrial glass magnate David Dlubak acquired the company's assets and Ithaca name from the Marshalls. He started making fresh plant investments in the nondescript Upper Sandusky facility and brought back the team working on the Model 37.
As Dave explained to us in Ithaca’s distinctly blue-collar conference room, “We want to make a high-quality shotgun, at an affordable price, that will fit in the working man’s hands. The gun is going to be that guy’s pride and joy. The old Ithacas lasted fifty or sixty years. Now we make them to tighter tolerances and with better steel. We don’t want cheaper, we want better.”
Like many luminaries in the industry, Dave did not get his start making shotguns. Just as Harris John Holland began as a tobacconist, and Charles Parker a maker of spoons, curtains and locks, Dave comes from a family that owns and operates one of the largest industrial glass recycling businesses in the U.S., Dlubak Glass.
Dave was in the process of finalizing a new product called “bubble glass” that combined concrete and glass in faux log building material. Replete with grains and knots, bubble glass is resistant to fire and insects but soft enough for an ordinary drill bit. He was looking for a mold maker who could package the bubble-glass logs for affordable and dependable shipment.
He went to MoldCraft and met the Marshalls. Dave was presented with an opportunity to invest in Ithaca. Instead, he bought it.
Although a long-time aficionado of Ithaca shotguns, he acquired the company because of “the quality of the people and their ability.” These tool-and-die makers were the “elite of the elite,” he said.
For example, barrel-maker Roger Larrabee has been a tool-and-die machinist for 47 years. He trained Tom Troiano, who turns out the receivers.
“Roger trained a lot of the guys here,” Tom said.
As a self-described “control freak” with a passion for quality, it was paramount for Dave to build a team with the capabilities to “make all the parts here,” he said. “I’m interested in making it all under one roof.”
He characterizes the Ithaca Gun Company as being in “stage two,” meaning that it has resolved the manufacturing issues with its current popular pump guns: the accurate Deerslayer series, the rugged Model 37 Defense, and the sweethearts of the pump-gun community, the 28-gauge Model 37 and the Model 37 Featherlight and Ultralight.
These shotguns showcased the production capabilities of the company. They demonstrated the team’s ability to craft receivers from a billet of steel or aluminum, to do away with soldering or any other heat-inducing joining, and to machine one-piece barrels with integrated rib stanchions that eliminate any potential warpage from the run-of-the-mill rib soldering.
“Ithaca certainly seems to have manufacturing savvy,” Walt said. “I’ve seen their Model 37 and it’s beautiful and I would assume they would be successful with the new over/under.”
These accomplishments came from “spending many midnights sorting these things through,” Dave said. “We’re not in love with wood, we’re in love with steel.”
The company’s passion for steel is clear when you tour the factory floor. As raw Pittsburgh steel goes from the mill-turn lathes to to grinders to finishing machines to polishers there is an almost monastic sense of duty among the people making parts for the shotguns. All the tooling and fixturing was developed in-house. Custom software was written by the youngest guy on the crew for the tightest possible tolerances. The individual components are funneled into an assembly room where one person hand fits everything together into a single shotgun.
After the factory floor I spent time with Aaron Welch, Ithaca’s designer and engineer. Looking over his shoulder in the cramped office, he rotated the solid-block 3D models of the Phoenix on his computer monitor.
There was the Anson-Deeley boxlock action ready to fire 2¾ inch shells.
I discovered that a secret to the low recoil of the Phoenix are the three capsule-shaped pockets machined into the bottom of the receiver. They are designed to distribute the load of shooting, improve longevity of the components and help absorb the spent gasses. Moreover, the slightly greater mass of the receiver and monobloc combine to give the Phoenix a lower felt recoil. The less-restrictive 1.5 degree forcing cone and somewhat heavier burled stock also helped tame excessive kick.
In examining the monobloc, Aaron talked about how the barrels are held to the breech section by a tubular connector, instead of being soldered, to improve reliability. At the business end of the 30-inch barrels, the muzzles are dovetailed together, rather than soldered, to prevent distortion from thermal expansion.
That sense of a hydraulic assist when opening the shotgun comes from cocking rods that push against the hammer springs when you move the top lever.
The top bolting mechanism was borrowed from the old Ithaca Knick. It sits high in the receiver for a stronger grip on the monobloc.
Next I looked at how the rib slides into the stanchions and is mounted with a single screw. Aaron said that interchangeable ribs would be available to provide different points of impact.
In the end, the Phoenix would weigh about eight pounds.
Now it was time to see how all the parts worked together.
Mike grabbed the prototype of the 12-gauge Phoenix. The shotgun was still in-the-white with a couple thousand test rounds through it.
We drove a few minutes to a piece of property on a lake that had once been a quarry. A house overlooking it was under construction. The house belonged to Dave and was being built from bubble glass in cinder-block form factors.
In addition to the house and lake, the property also had a trap machine set up by the previous owners.
Mike handed me the gun and in fact it did feel very well balanced. I practiced mounting it a few times. The straight stock fit quite well. Dan Aubill, the guy in charge of Ithaca’s custom stock program, had told me that it was measured to fit the “average guy” with a 14¼ inch length of pull, zero cast, drop at comb of 1½ inch and drop at heel of 2¼ inch.
Pushing the top lever, the barrels slowly fell open. I loaded in two 1? ounce shells. Mike took up the controller and when I called “pull” two things immediately took me by surprise. The first was the extremely low recoil, the second is how I completely pulverized the targets.
Mike and I went through a couple of boxes of shells, the two of us taking turns pulling targets. The trigger was light and crisp, the beads lined up perfectly and the tapered forend enabled a wide range of control.
I turned out to be the last one who shot the Phoenix that day and when the time came to return it to Mike I thought “I gotta get one of these.”
We’ve witnessed the revival of shotgun legends in recent years, but based on our field tests of the three new Veronas, none have combined the affordability, reliability and performance as these Italian workhorses.
The resurgence of cherished shotgun brands has been most active in the over $10,000 market.
In 1999 we saw a return of the glorious Holloway & Naughton marque, which brought the British legend that was started in the early 1890s back into circulation for some $90,000 in a bare-bones, in-the-white canvas of shotgun artisanship.
The stunning Victorian-era English Boswell was resurrected by writer, instructor and impresario, Chris Batha, with prices that begin in the neighborhood of $45,000.
And you could buy a reproduction of the legendary A.H. Fox shotgun with its entry-level price of $15,500. Or the same company, Connecticut Shotgun, will sell you a reproduction of another side-by-side great, the Winchester Model 21, also starting at $15,500.
When it comes to shotgun revivals you can’t escape the feeling that this is a club for trust-fund babies.
But Legacy Sports International has chosen a different path when it came to reintroducing the Verona pedigree to the American shotgun scene. The new Veronas now favor hunters and clays shooters who hanker after an Italian icon with a Main Street price tag.
Verona’s new over/under and side-by-sides embody the classical look-and-feel that have served generations of independent shotgun owners. The new Verona semi-automatics, meanwhile, pose a direct challenge to the inertia-driven shotguns from the other Italians, Benelli and Franchi
In short, the many qualities that made the first Veronas a go-to shotgun for thousands of American sportsmen have been inherited by the new Veronas.
The management team at Legacy Sports International jumped at the chance of resurrecting the beloved Italian brand that has quietly become a mainstay to thousands of American sportsmen.
“The original Veronas initially came into this country in the late 1990s and early in 2000,” explained Andy McCormick, the Vice President Marketing and Sales at Legacy Sports. “We discovered that the name was available again and when we trademarked it we decided to take the Verona back to its Italian roots. Everyone seemed to be happy that the Verona brand was coming back into the United States.”
Like their older siblings, the new Veronas are dependable shotguns for real people. They are fully capable of putting meat on the table year after year. This fine hunting tradition is in keeping with both the original Veronas and the folks at Legacy Sports who are serious hunters.
The new Verona over/unders come from the original factory in Italy operated by Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini, or F.A.I.R. as it’s known, in the Brescia region of Italy. Brescia is the cradle of the centuries-old, Italian gun industry.
Brescia is home to celebrated gunmakers such as Beretta, Perazzi, Fabbri, Fratelli Piottti, Rizzini and Abbiatico & Salvinelli.
It is here, in this exquisite valley, that F.A.I.R. got its start in 1971. F.A.I.R. now operates a 43,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art operation that houses everything from its own R&D group to CAD-CAM simulations to software-driven lathes that meet space-age tolerances.
The finishing can often end up in the skilled hands of a craftsman descended from the Medieval arms makers of the region.
Legacy Sports turned to another pillar of Brescia for the new semi-automatics. These guns are made by F. Lli Pietta. The company touts its expertise in making historical weapons such as Western-style revolvers, muzzleloaders and period rifles. It had an existing relationship with Legacy Sports, which clearly proved Pietta had the chops to make a modern semi-automatic with old-world TLC.
Legacy Sports turned to Fausti Stefano for its new side-by-side. The Brescia manufacturer has been in business since 1948 and sells shotguns all over the world. Its ultra-modern plant allows the company to produce quality shotguns at affordable prices with hand finishing by local artisans.
Although the Veronas are brand new shotguns, Legacy Sports has found a way to successfully mine a vein of expertise that stretches back hundreds of years.
In the spirit of continuity, Legacy Sports recruited Verona’s original gunsmith. As luck would have it, he had recently moved to Carson City, Nevada – a stone’s throw from Legacy Sports’ Reno operation.
“He was the Maytag repairman,” McCormick joked. “He did all the warranty work and maybe he’d get a cracked stock once in a while. That was about it.”
Having shot all three of the new Veronas, we can only surmise that not much will change for their gunsmith.
It was too early for bird season, but we did manage to get the guns out for skeet, 5 stand and sporting clays and they all felt rock-solid.
The Verona 401, 405 and 406 Semi-Autos
Verona’s inertia-operated semi-autos are available in 12 and 20 gauge, with either wood or synthetic stocks. The wood models come with 3-inch chambers while the synthetic models are also available with or 3½ inch chambers for 12-gauge only.
The wood versions will be available in three receiver finishes: blued, nickel and grey. We shot one in grey that had the traditional green Verona oval rendered in blue, and it was a handsome combination evocative of one of the most elegant and contemporary looking receivers in the shotgun universe, the Blaser F3.
¨ Chrome-lined barrel internally choked for steel shot
¨ 12-gauge barrel length of 28 inches; 20-gauge barrel length of 26 inches
¨ Brass sight on standard model; fiber optic on deluxe model
¨ Pivoted head bolt with integral double-charging lever and sleeve
¨ Oil-finished walnut stock and forend with checkering
¨ Black nylon recoil pad
¨ Patented locking forend
¨ 4 + 1 magazine capacity
¨ Length of pull 14¾ inches
The MSRP for the 12 gauge and 20-gauge Verona 401 varies between $1,199 and $1,250 depending on finish.
The Verona 405 is basically the Verona 401 with a black synthetic stock and forend and a blued receiver. The MSRP on the Verona will be forthcoming.
The Verona 406 is the model that handles 12-gauge, 3½ inch magnums. It’s finished with a black synthetic stock and forend and a blued receiver and has an MSRP of $1,199.
The Verona 501 and 702 Series Over/Unders
Named after the original over/under, the new Verona 501 Series field gun is distinguished by its nickel receiver. Standard features include:
¨ Enhanced walnut stocks with Scottish net-type checkering and oil finish
¨ Select fire single trigger
¨ Automatic ejectors
¨ Bottom locking bolt system on double trough
¨ Double sculptured receiver head
¨ Boxlock action
¨ Monobloc barrel construction
¨ 5 flush-mounted chokes (F, IM, M, IC and SK) and a choke key
¨ 28-inch chromed barrels with the X-CONE System (lengthened forcing cones) to reduce felt recoil
¨ Partially vented rib
¨ Fiber-optic front bead
¨ Solid lateral ribs
¨ Steel actions with automatic safety
¨ Ventilated rubber recoil pad
¨ Length of pull 14¾ inches
The Verona 501 Series is available with 28-inch barrels in 12, 20, 28 gauge and .410 models – all with an MSRP of $1,670.
A Verona 501 Series Combo set in 20/28 gauge has an MSRP of $2,599.
There is a higher grade Verona 702 Series, which is the one that we shot (more on that in a moment). It features more embellishment on the receiver, trigger guard and elsewhere on the gun. The Verona 702 Series has an MSRP of $1,780.
A great feature about both these guns is that they can handle 3-inch magnum loads, making them ideal for wingshooters with a flair for over/unders. The 12 gauge weighed in at seven pounds (with the smaller gauges getting progressively lighter), making it a nice compromise between basic heft for the recoil absorption of 3-inch magnums and easy lugability in the field.
The Verona 662 Side-by-Side
The 12-gauge version of Verona’s new 662 side-by-side upland shotgun packs the wallop of 3-inch magnums like its over/under brethren. That means, not only can you take this gun anywhere, but you’ll raise some eyebrows when you make shots that most would think impossible with a side-by-side that shooters assume is maxed out with 2¾ inch loads. In the vernacular of a muscle car, this baby is a sleeper.
Standard features of the Verona 662 side-by-side include:
¨ Boxlock compound-steel action
¨ Single trigger
¨ Color case-hardened receiver with fine laser engraving
¨ Reliable Anson-type forend mechanism
¨ 5 flush-mounted chokes (F, IM, M, IC and SK) and a choke key
¨ 28-inch barrels with concave rib (26-inch barrels on the 28 gauge)
¨ Oil-finished English-style walnut stocks and semi-beavertail forends, both checkered.
¨ Rubber recoil pad
¨ Weight of 6 pounds, 4 ounces
¨ Length of pull 14½ inches
The 12 gauge and 20 gauge models of the Verona 662 share an MSRP of $2,187. The 28-gauge model has an MSRP of $2,800.
Shooting the New Veronas
We had the unique opportunity to evaluate each of the new Veronas for some hard-core shooting. Since there’s not much bird shooting in the middle of June, we instead took the shotguns out for several rounds of sporting clays, 5 stand and skeet.
We’ll get to the individual shotguns in a moment, but uniformly they shared a very solid feel. Nothing wobbled when you closed the over/under and side-by-side. The barrels met the frame with an authoritative thud.
On the semi-automatic, the forend tightened down firmly. The joints between the receiver, spacer and stock were also tight.
Overall, the wood-to-metal finish on the shotguns was very good.
Shooting Impressions of the Verona 401 Semi-Auto
When Verona departed from the gas-operated actions of the previous 401s, Legacy Sports decided to take on the inertia champs, Benelli and Franchi.
We loaded 1? ounce Estate shells into the chamber and once we started shooting our first impression was that the Verona 401 seemed a little quieter than the Benellis. For an inertia-operated shotgun with a conventional wood stock we were also surprised at the low recoil.
The Verona 401 was deadly accurate, the slim receiver giving you a clear runway view along the rib and beyond the fiber-optic sight straight at the target. We found that this played well into intuitive shooting in terms of easily following the target to the desired point of impact.
With a smooth recoil pad and 14¾ inches length of pull, the Verona 401 came up without a hitch.
However, the Verona 401 felt a little nose-heavy to us, but so many shooters prefer that dynamic to maintain their swing we can only chalk it up to our own little subjective quirk.
The scalloped checkering and forend shape contributed to a sold and controlled grip. Likewise, the pistol grip of the stock was the perfect diameter so that our middle finger and thumb could meet as we held the shotgun. It also placed the front joint of our trigger finger comfortably on the trigger. The trigger pull was short and crisp, we figured coming in at around four pounds. Basically, the ergonomics of the Verona 401 were excellent.
Speaking of ergonomics, our favorite feature was the placement of the breech bolt release button. Most semi-autos have it on the right hand side, under the ejection port. The placement of the button on the Verona 401 is on the left side. Initially, this struck us as odd until we discovered that your right forefinger naturally finds it. We liked that a lot.
Shooting Impressions of the Verona 501-702
The gun we received from Legacy Sports was the more decorative 702. It featured 80% coverage of the floral engraving with gold inlaid birds on both sides and the bottom of the receiver. The rounded half-sideplates and floral hinge pins created a classical fascia that complemented the Schnabel forend.
While the walnut was in keeping with a shotgun for this price range, ours had a rich, dark hue with a stratification of tan and chocolate grains. The oil-finished stock and forend were perfectly matched.
The shotgun’s center of gravity felt exactly where your left hand held the forend – directly ahead of the receiver. This was ideal for shooting low gun, since the weight in your left hand facilitated you drawing the gun straight up and out until the gun was properly mounted on your shoulder and face.
At the same time, the angle and diameter of the pistol grip helped prevent you from see-sawing the gun – meaning that you lift it by the stock and consequently drop the muzzle.
Ultimately, the gun came up every time consistently for a smooth shot and follow-through.
We found the auto-safety to be intrusive for clays shooting, but remember as a field gun it would be essential. The shotgun had a single selective trigger and automatic ejectors, which should really be expected for shotgun in this price range.
The gun shot flat and true with unremarkable recoil for our 1? ounce loads.
All we can say is that we wished we could’ve gotten this shotgun out in the field with a bunch of birds. It would’ve been a heck of a lot of fun to shoot.
Shooting Impressions of the Verona 662
We much prefer interchangeable chokes to double triggers in our side-by-sides and so we approached the Verona 662 already endeared to it. The semi-beavertail forend that helped prevent you from burning your hands was icing on the cake (and we think that deep down inside those guys who shoot vintage side-by-sides with those splinter forends that barbecue your fingers would really like to step forward and give us a big huzzah).
We keep hearing about effete Europeans who make these impossible wingshooting shots with their 28 gauge and feel compelled to admonish us Americans for overkill (as in big ammo, big cars and big food). For those of the European school of shooting we politely say, Go away. The Verona 662 is clearly a side-by-side for American sportsmen who relish overkill.
Despite its straight English stock and case-colored receiver with fine floral engraving, the Verona 662 loaded up with 3-inch shells is a shotgun that you want to use on big, stubborn birds. Pheasants come to mind, and if you’re a pigeon shooter with a penchant for side-by-sides you should buy the Verona 662 now.
We savored shooting the Verona 662 for the sheer, raw power it exuded. At the same time, the gun never ran away from you; the straight stock and broad forend worked together for an empowering and accurate shooting experience.
Our only gripe with the Verona 662 was the lack of a selective trigger. Like the Verona 702, it also had an auto-safety that proved inconvenient during clays shooting. But part of that problem was our own enthusiasm in really wanting to shoot the heck out of the Verona 662.
With the Verona 401 coming in at about $400 under the Benelli Legacy and a similar price as the Franchi I-12 Upland Hunter, it merits serious consideration for wood-finished, inertia-driven semi-autos.
The Benelli Legacy has more engraving while the Franchi I-12 Upland Hunter has a look that we think is bit more stodgy. The Benelli and Franchi are certainly celebrated for their reliability, but Verona’s own track record as a manufacturer of shotguns that go the distance certainly speaks to it own quality.
When it comes to the Verona 501-702, the price, quality and dependability pretty much put the guns in a class of their own. But does that mean you should buy the Verona a 501-702 on price alone? Chances are you are familiar with the most popular new over/unders in the $2,000 - $3,000 category. We believe the Verona 501-702 stands up for its workhorse virtues and classical looks – plus it will handle 3-inch magnum shells. From our perspective, that makes for a compelling package.
The Verona 662 has also carved out its own niche in the under $3,000 side-by-side market. Obviously, the Verona 662 is not for the breeks set. But with its 3-inch-shell capability, straight stock, interchangeable chokes and single trigger it would be hard to find a side-by-side that delivers more pure fun.
Legacy Sports International/Verona Shotguns
Shooting 100 rounds of sporting clays with the new Caesar Guerini Apex is best summed up by how the gun performed on the last station: I crushed a pair of teals with a single shot.
Even my shooting partners, made up of Blaser F3 and Beretta owners, were impressed with the incredible target-crushing power of the Guerini Apex. Like so many other shooters who appreciate fine shotguns, they heard the advanced buzz over the Guerini Apex but never had the privilege of actually seeing one in action.
These highly coveted shotguns have been in short supply since their introduction at the 2009 Shot Show, held January 15-18 in Orlando, Florida. Recently, shipments of the new Guerini Apex have started trickling into the U.S. from the factory in Brescia, Italy.
I managed to get one of the few Guerini Apex Sporting Models on the sporting clays course thanks to Bart’s Sports World in Glen Burnie, Maryland. The three Bart brothers – Jack, Wayne and Roy – live close to Caesar Guerini’s U.S. headquarters in Cambridge, Maryland. In fact, one morning I called over there Wayne was making his usual rounds on behalf of his customers.
The Guerini Apex is a premium shotgun. It ranks under Guerini’s most expensive Forum in the Caesar Guerini lineup. Although the Guerini Apex is not the top model, it exudes a transcendental vibe unlike any Caesar Guerini I’ve ever shot.
A round of sporting clays with the Guerini Apex delivers an epiphany by defining the benchmark for a $7,500 shotgun. The Guerini Apex makes you feel like every target moves in slow motion and is simply there to be pulverized.
I put the Guerini Apex through its paces at Schrader's Bridgetown Manor, in Henderson, on Maryland’s fabled Eastern Shore. Schrader’s is known locally for its challenging course. The stations are in wooded surroundings, with mottled sunlight and plenty of natural obstacles. Schrader’s rabbit targets seem to be powered by afterburners and bounce like they are cam-shaped. Schrader’s outgoing targets tend to be slower than at other courses, but far more acrobatic and elusive as they seek the trees.
I shot 100 rounds with Roy Bart, Bart’s store manager, Al Koch and three of their shooting buddies. Wednesday mornings at Schrader’s is a weekly ritual for them, followed by lunch at the Batter Up in nearby Ridgely, and then perhaps a second round of sporting clays at Schrader’s.
The Guerini Apex I shot possessed every attribute that sets the gun apart from the other Caesar Guerini shotguns, except that for some odd reason this one had arrived from Italy with standard quality wood uncharacteristic of the figured, hand-rubbed walnut you should expect. So rather than upgrade the wood, it was turned into a demo gun. That said, it displayed a flawless wood-to-metal finish and everything about this particular Guerini Apex was a testament to quality craftsmanship.
The 32-inch over/under barrels and Prince of Wales-style forend all fit into place with no trauma or struggle. The two IC chokes screwed in effortlessly even though the threads had never been touched by oil. I then grabbed four boxes of Estate #8, 1-ounce loads and was ready to shoot.
Since Shotgun Life was the first publication to cover the Guerini Apex prior to its unveiling at the January 2009 Shot Show, it was nice to also be the first to write about actually using the gun.
In my visit to Caesar Guerini prior to the Shot Show, I had spent about two hours with Wes Lang, president of the company. Wes had filled me in about what to expect on the Guerini Apex, but no gun was available for me to handle.
Now, all of that has changed…
Although the Guerini Apex shares the actions, barrels and accessories with other Caesar Guerini shotguns, it benefits from new high-tech applications that we’ll probably see in future enhancements to the Caesar Guerini family.
The Guerini Apex combines laser, EDM (electrical discharge machine) hand engraving and other techniques to yield deep, elaborate patterns on the full sideplates. In the case of the Guerini Apex, the results are a stunning marriage of floral and scroll patterns with gold details on a polished coin finish. The full coverage of the engraving continues beyond the frame to the trigger guard, extended tang and forend hardware.
By using trunnions instead of hinge pins, and a “blind” sideplate mounting, Caesar Guerini receivers are free of the visible screws and hinges that can detract from the engraver’s art. That’s why the Guerini Apex can present a museum-quality sideplate on a shotgun that starts for under $10,000.
The integrity of design also extends to a trigger guard that eliminates screws, as it joins seamlessly with the elongated tang devoid of screws, which dovetails into a skeletal grip cap fastened by two screws. In effect, it’s a minimalist industrial rendition of an old-world, best gun approach.
The continuous ribbon of engraved metal from the trigger guard to grip cap creates an elegant line through the swept-back pistol grip. The stunning cosmetics are more than skin deep. As I discovered, the motif also gives the shooter a smooth, ergonomic grip that enhances the shotgun’s handling.
Caesar Guerini Apex Tale of the Tape
30”, 32”, 34”
7lbs. 14oz. - 8lbs. 4ozs
Coin finish, urethane coated
Hand rubbed oil
26 lines per inch
10mm (.4”) Parallel
Avg. Barrel Weight
30” (3.28lbs), 32” (3.35lbs.), 34” (3.44lbs.) **
.735, Chrome lined
6 MAXIS competition chokes
White Bradley style front, brass center bead
Single selective, adjustable for length of pull
Manual (Automatic as an option)
Stock and trigger wrench, choke case, friction choke wrench.
Plastic and leather hard case with fit interior.Source: Caesar Guerini
Mind you, the feel of the Guerini Apex won’t be mistaken for a round-body FAMARS Excalibur, but I will say that in a blind test the Guerini Apex would probably emerge as the most comfortable shotgun among its peers.
Out on the sporting clays course, one of my immediate reactions to shooting the Guerini Apex was how sturdy it felt. The Caesar Guerini boxlock actions are machined from solid billets of steel and alloys. This process provides both stronger actions and better recoil absorption. That’s one of the reasons why shooting 100 rounds of 1-ounce loads never bothered me.
The inertia trigger group on the Guerini Apex felt crisp enough that it contributed to a more aggressive and confident shooting style. Caesar Guerini’s triggers are designed for reduced friction. Marry that with the inspiring ergonomics of the Guerini Apex and the gun seemed hard-wired to my brain for nailing that critical point of impact in the more difficult presentations at Schrader’s.
One particular station featured a simo-pair consisting of a fast quartering away bird flying straight for the trees, followed by a much slower looper suddenly popping out from a bush about 15 feet in front of me before plunging into tall weeds.
Instinct dictates that you go after the fast quartering away bird, thinking that the slower looper would be the natural second shot. That wasn’t the case. It took a lot of patience and gun control to wait for that looper to finally appear, smash it first, then track the quartering away bird as it transitioned into a low, fast, 20-yard shot.
The new Prince of Wales-style forend on the Guerini Apex gave me the superior control in a shot that demanded a combination of nerve-wracking patience followed by a burst of speed.
Making its debut at Caesar Guerini, the Prince of Wales-style forend replaces the Schnabel forend on other Caesar Guerini models. In comparison to a Schnabel forend, the Prince of Wales-style forend tapers toward the muzzle and eliminates the lip on the leading edge of the forend to create a more organic contour.
Like forends on other Caesar Guerinis, the Guerini Apex features an Anson pushrod forend latch. It appears as a small button on the nose of the forend. It’s recognized for three significant benefits: By eliminating the big external latch used by most other gunmakers, the checkering can wrap completely around the forend for a more secure grip. In addition, it’s self-adjusting over time. Finally, there are fewer working parts to deteriorate.
The payoff of this beautiful forend is a steady left hand in waiting for a slow looper plus the effortless handling in establishing and crushing the second, faster quartering away bird.
As we made our way through the sporting clays course, it became increasingly obvious that the Guerini Apex was an extraordinary shotgun. My squad-mates repeatedly praised some of the more difficult shots I had made with it. But for me, it was a shot made by Al that truly opened my eyes to the gun’s superiority.
We were at a station where rising outgoers were thrown from a hand trap: two reports followed by a simo pair. They were pretty much lay-ups, but for whatever reason Al missed one bird in the simo pair. After we had all shot, Al asked the trapper to throw him another simo. Al totally crushed the birds and I immediately thought, wow, I hadn’t seen Al hit targets that hard all morning. When Al turned around he raised the Guerini Apex in a triumphant thrust. Until that point, I had no idea he was using it for that shot.
What was it about the Guerini Apex that made it feel so special?
I will say that the Guerini Apex I used felt more balanced than the other 12-gauge Caesar Guerinis I’ve shot. It could have been the density of the wood or any combination of factors, but the gun performed as though all the incremental improvements made to the Caesar Guerini family of shotguns had been unified in the Guerini Apex. There’s a sense that the Guerini Apex is the culmination of the entire Caesar Guerini aesthetic and philosophy.
Its perfect center of gravity, clean elegance of the design and that touch of Italian magic gave the Guerini Apex the authority and poise rarely found in a production shotgun for under $10,000.
If you’re interested in a Guerini Apex, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $7,550. Standard options include $200 for a left-hand stock and $120 for an English Stock.
You can also consign your Guerini Apex to the company’s new Custom Shop for upgrades such as the D.T.S Kinetic Balancer, custom engraving, bespoke stocks, adjustable recoil pads or anything else a proud new owner could desire.
Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can contact him at
At the Southern Side by Side Championship and Exhibition we set out to answer the question: Can you find a good hammer gun for $2,500 or less?
There has never been a more closely guarded launch of a shotgun than Benelli's new Vinci, and once you see what finally came out of the black box at noon on March 31st the cloak-and-dagger secrecy is fully justified.
A proper fitting shotgun is so important that some folks are willing to spend $90,000 and more to get it. For that $90,000, you can take possession of a bespoke Purdey side-by-side custom fit to you much as the company did to the British landed gentry in the 19th century.
But for shooters who don’t have the money or the time to wait 12 long months for their shotguns, you can fit an off-the-shelf shotgun to your frame in ways that will enable you to hit plenty of targets -- consistently.
Ask the experts about purchasing a shotgun and the first thing they’ll advise is to make sure it fits. In this section you’ll find everything necessary to help you understand the dynamics of a well-fitting shotgun…
The components of a shotgun shell include the rim, primer, brass, shell case, powder, wad and shot — with the exception of shotgun slugs, which are like blunt bullets encased in a shotgun shell and used on larger game.
What’s the difference between a choke and a tube?
The choke controls the constriction at the muzzle. The tube (or subgauge insert) is a sleeve that fits inside the barrel in order for you to safely shoot different gauges from a single gun. Each tube is machined to a specific gauge -- like the gun barrel itself.
These tubes don’t work with pumps or semi-autos because the receivers are gauge-specific. For example, you can’t load a 20-gauge shell into a 12-gauge pump or semi-auto receiver under any circumstances. With your over/under or side-by-side, however, the shells are loaded directly into the chamber. Crack open the gun, and the proper set of tubes can turn your 12 gauge into a 20-, 28-gauge or .410 shotgun.
There are plenty of options when it comes to finding the perfect tube set for your shotgun.
Some shotgun manufacturers bundle tube sets with a new gun. For retrofitting, tube sets can be purchased over-the-counter while others have to be sent to the tube manufacturer where they are fit to your gun. You can go with a full-length set of tubes or shorter chamber-length tubes.
Your decision is usually based on price and weight.
Full-length tube sets can weigh 5-12 ounces, affecting the balance of your shotgun. But if you’re a nose-heavy kind of shooter who believes the extra weight improves your swing, then these tubes are for you. Other shooters balk at the extra up-front weight, and may opt for shorter tubes.
Into the Chamber
Chamber-length tubes let you reduce your gauge preference without going for a full-length version. When you fire, the subgauge shell then patterns with a 12-gauge barrel. How does that affect your shooting? Some manufacturers swear that there’s no penalty whatsoever -- or even go as far as to claim an improved pattern compared with an original subgauge shotgun.
Given their size, these chamber-length tubes are less expensive than the full-length alternatives and are obviously lighter (3-4 ounces).
Regardless of which tubes you ultimately use, there are a few cautionary measures to consider. Make sure your shells eject properly and your chokes still fit. If you’re using chamber-length tubes, you also have to examine if the ejectors start moving them out of the gun. Hunters will want to verify that their tube sets can accommodate 3-inch shells as well as steel shot.
Shooters who reload their own ammo may encounter ejector problems. Since reloaded shells tend to get distorted, their imperfections may contribute to persistent troubles when combined with auto ejectors and tubes.
And then there’s the triggers…
Your 12-gauge shotgun probably uses an inertia trigger, where the recoil from the first shot resets the trigger for the second shot. Since subgauge shells have less recoil, the second shot may not automatically reset. A quick trip to your gunsmith could fix the problem. For shotguns with a mechanical trigger (not recoil-dependant), shooting subgauge shells in your 12-gauge won’t impact trigger performance.
While tube sets are plenty of fun and open you to new shooting experiences, they are not to be trifled with. Remember, tube sets change the character of your shotgun, and there are always inherent risks with this kind of undertaking. So read the user manual carefully before installation.
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