It happened to me, and only by virtue of the nimble handling of Fausti’s Class SLX 20 gauge was I able to, after collecting my wits, shoulder the shotgun and kill a bird as they scattered for safety, hurtling out of range, through the stippled light of loblolly pine trees.
The hunt had started on an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon in Moultrie, Georgia. Ellen Norman, who with husband John own Quailridge Plantation, started me out on the wobble trap a stone’s throw from the rustic lodge porch populated by rocking chairs where you can watch your buddies have a go at the low, fast targets. I had arrived too late for Quailridge’s famous fried chicken lunch, but promised myself not to make that mistake again.
There was a down-home feel about the place. The lodge and trap machine were within ambling distance of two rustic guest houses, each with four bedrooms, private baths, satellite TVs and fireplaces. With Ellen at the controls, it only took a few shots for the Fausti’s Class SLX to settle in as a comfortable shooter with a quick trigger and deadly intuition.
Before long, our Jeep bird buggy was ambling along a track through the loblollies that stand as ambassadors of South Georgia bobwhite quail hunting. In addition to myself, our party included guide Sam Baker and Henry Norman who was tagging along with his Ruger 20 gauge. Both young men were related to the Norman clan who owns Quailridge, and the namesake of nearby Norman Park whose population is a tad under 1,000 souls these so many years after its founding in 1902.
We used the languid Jeep time to cultivate our rolling conversation about shotguns, bird dogs and mutual acquaintances – some notorious, others straight shooters.
All the while, the Italian-made Fausti Class SLX 20-gauge over/under rested on my lap, cushioned against the ruts and bumps. It was a lovely shotgun fixtured with case-colored sideplates as a canvas for gold game birds and the maker’s name in gold as well. There were engraving accents on the trigger guard, tang, tang lever and forearm metal as well.
Twenty-eight-inch barrels held factory screw-in chokes. Compared to 30-inch barrels, the 28 inchers contributed to a lovely balance and swing for the fast birds that burst from the understory. The automatic safety is always welcome for shooters versed in field etiquette and protocols. A slender field forend proved comfortable and ergonomic in pushing the 6½ pound over/under to its impressive limits. And the 14½-inch length of pull felt ideal for quick, snag-free mounts that presaged a shot with the smooth, selective inertia trigger breaking at four pounds, ten ounces. The ejectors were strong and well-timed – commensurate with the impeccable fit and finish of the shotgun.
We had already been hunting for several hours through the soft plushness of the land. The Normans had generationally amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of pristine quail-hunting habitats on their 3,000 acres. Quailridge looked and felt like somebody’s vision of forever.
The land produced, as Fausti’s Class SLX had proved its mettle on singles, doubles and three coveys upwards of 30 plump quail. One of the dogs had bumped two birds, and after missing the first, I faced a shot of about 60 yards. I measured the shot, slipped into the zone, pulled the trigger then saw the quail drop. Talk about well-regulated barrels, the 20-gauge placed the shot exactly where I had aimed.
Then there was the double. On a flush, two quail rose together but split away in opposite directions. First, I took the bird to my left, and there was a transcendental moment as I swung some 180 degrees – the Fausti and me in a smooth pivot like a ballroom dance move – until the bird appeared over the front bead then was suddenly discharged with the matter-of-fact poise of believing in your firearm.
Clearly the Fausti could put meat on the table. But deeper into the shotgun’s DNA, with its oil-finished stock and Prince of Wales grip, skeletal top lever, single steel bead atop the vented rib at the muzzle the Class SLX evoked a classic quail gun (unless you were a side-by-side purist). The shotgun simply looked and shot like it was born on a quail plantation.
We were moving toward dinner time, when Ben stopped the Jeep. He released two dogs from the kennels and we followed them into the pines. Dog goes on point, when suddenly a few birds burst forth and just as I’m ready to mount and shoot there’s an enormous geyser of quail that seemed unbelievable. My eyes focused on the closest birds but within a heartbeat a second covey of some 60 birds arose behind them and together, the birds coalesced into a primordial cloud of quail timeless and amazing in the light of approaching dusk.
Dazzled, my eyes randomly drifted to a bird sweeping left. The Fausti’s poise appeared to slow down everything into a calm and measured mount and shot that sent the bird tumbling to the ground. Never got to a second shot.
After the birds dissipated the three of us remained absolutely gobsmacked. Even Sam and Henry, who had spent their childhoods on the property, had never seen such a big covey. Regaining our composure, we figured there were two coveys – one of about 30-40 birds and the other background swarm of 60 for a spectacle of approximately 100 birds.
Henry and I wrapped up the afternoon hunt with 38 quail between us.
I set the Fausti Class over/under in the gun box atop the kennel and we head back in the direction of the lodge.
Fausti’s Class SLX comes in all gauges and 26-, 28- and 30-inch barrel lengths. Standard accessories include five choke tubes, choke wrench and a hard case (the .410 has fixed constrictions of modified and full). The SLX lists for $4,190 in 12 and 20 gauges. The 16, 28 and .410 models have an MSRP of $4,820. A coin-finished version is also available.