Wednesday, 10 February 2010 00:00

Montana Pheasants... just stay on the porch

I know that if you want to hunt wild and hard to find pheasants in Montana you have one of two choices, either cold weather or very cold weather, and lots of hard hunting which means a bunch of miles on foot.

Published in Wingshooting
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 23:27

Winter Hunting Memories

I was hunting ducks one day, with a fine gentleman on the Massachusetts coast. Things were slow in the blind and we got to chatting about this and that. He gave me the impression that he was a well-educated man and I asked if he graduated from Harvard. He replied, "Everyone I have met that went to Harvard told me so in the first fifteen seconds of my meeting them." He went to Yale and Dartmouth himself, but only confessed after being held at gunpoint.

Another time, I was duck hunting with a good friend on the Massachusetts coast and taking a few pictures at sunrise. It was very cold and I tucked my very expensive camera into my gunning coat. Suddenly, a banded Red Leg came over the decoys and I leaped up and dropped him into the blocks with a single shot. In my zest, my camera flew out of my gunning coat and landed in a tidal pool that was several feet deep. We figured that northern red leg duck cost about $1,800 dollars to bring down, not counting guns and ammunition.

I once shot and killed a hen mallard and drake stone dead with a single round from my 12-gauge Browning Gold. The pair landed belly up on the other side of a small river. I walked up river looking for a place to cross, and fell through an iced-over ditch up to my neck. It was January 17th and I nearly drowned. A do-gooder, watching through his telescope from his trophy home, called the police – not to report a man through the ice, but to complain about a hunter in the marsh that he could see from his property!

Ever get caught in a forty-knot blow while sea duck hunting three miles offshore – in an open skiff – with the anchor lines and decoy lines wrapped around each other and then firmly wrapped around the prop – with your stern to the wind and sea in January with sub-freezing temperatures? I have. The water was over my knees and going over the gunwales. It scared me enough to re-think my idea about "hardcore gunning" for sea ducks. I still go, but I go differently than I did.

On a more pleasant note, when I was ten years old Dad took me rabbit hunting on the Island with my new shotgun I got for Christmas. I looked over a cliff, saw some ducks, and crept back and asked if I could try for them. He said, "Go ahead." I went back and shot my very first duck, an eider drake. Mum took my picture in the kitchen when I got home and Dad had the eider mounted. Thirty-eight years later I still have the mount, Mum's photo and my first shotgun. Thanks Mom and Dad. You have no idea how much that meant to me.

Capt. David Bitters is a writer/photographer and a striped bass/sea duck hunting guide from Massachusetts. His photos and essays have appeared in over one-hundred magazines. Capt. Bitters is currently finishing his first book, "A Sportsman's Fireside Reader – Tales of Hunting, Fishing, and Other Outdoor Pleasures." Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (781) 934-2838. You can also write him at P.O. Box 366 Duxbury, MA 02331.

Published in Captain David Bitters

Imagine a game of sporting clays without the hassle of a clipboard and pencil.

As you walk up to the cage, you don’t have to search for a place to rest the clipboard that holds the score sheet. Where should I put it? Lean it against the gun rack? Balance it on the railing? Leave it in the cart and remember the scores to write down later? Hand it off to a friend who hands it to a friend and so on until eventually someone in the squad ends up dealing with the clunky thing?

Published in Destinations
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 00:00

Leading Women: Jane Brown of the Annie Oakleys

Jane Brown is one of those rare women who can walk into a room or onto a field and capture the attention of men and women alike. She embodies grace, charity, and humility, and these qualities make her a natural leader.

Published in Heide Kaser

Common wisdom says one thing, Bobby Fowler Jr.’s trophy case says another.

Since he first started shooting competitively in 1993, Fowler has won about 150 titles in sporting clays and FITASC. He’s dominated the sports so thoroughly, that his middle initials should be HOA. Every gauge, on both sides of the Atlantic, in his home state of Texas – no tournament is safe from Fowler’s monumental skills in achieving the highest overall average.

Sunday, 01 November 2009 00:00

Combat to Clays: A Woman’s Journey

When I left theFBIAcademyafter sixteen weeks of training in 1986, I was covered in the most beautiful shades of purple, green, and yellow from my face to my collarbone, and down my bicep. The shotgun was too long, and my long neck and high cheekbones made it impossible to mount the gun properly to my shoulder while maintaining a proper sight picture (which is critical to defensive shotgun shooting). I lifted my face off the gun while shooting creating a horrible flinch, and all of the bad habits that ensue when shooting an ill-fitted gun followed suit. I was convinced that no one had ever hated a shotgun like I did in my bruised and frustrated condition.

Published in Heide Kaser

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.

InsideBreakOpen
Ithaca’s Phoenix in-the-white.

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.

Full-length
The Phoenix as we saw it at the Shot Show.

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.

3Guys
Ithaca craftsmen Roger Larrabee, Tom Troiano and Dan Aubill.

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.

CEO
Dave Dlubak with the Phoenix prototype.

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.”

Irwin Greenstein is the Publisher of Shotgun Life. Please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Useful resources:

http://www.ithacagun.com

Published in Guns
Saturday, 11 July 2009 20:46

VERONA

Verona

Hunters! Clay Target Shooters! All sportsmen who love shotguns! Now, for a limitedtime, Legacy Sports International is offering the Verona 401 semi-auto shotgun with a$100.00 rebate directly – and instantly –from Davidson’s Gallery of Guns. This means nomailing a rebate coupon to a manufacturer and waiting weeks to get your money back!

And there’s more! Each consumer ordering a Verona 401 during the Special period willbe entered into a drawing to win a waterfowl hunting trip in January 2010 with membersof Team Maniac from the Fowl Life television show.

Verona shotguns are being reintroduced to the shooting marketplace this year by LegacySports International. Many consumers and dealers alike will remember the Verona for it’sgreat line of Over/Unders brought in by PMC. Legacy Sports is not only bringing backthese guns, but they are significantly expanding the line.

In addition to the popular over/under lineup, Legacy Sports is also bringing in a family of Side by Sides, an Over/Under combo with a two barrel upland bird barrel set, and the 401line of inertia driven semi-automatics that have been field tested and endorsed by the castof the new television show, The Fowl Life. The Fowl Life airs on The SportsmanChannel, Pursuit Channel, ICTV and in Canada, Wild TV. Verona 401 semi-autos arefeatured on this show in all duck and goose hunting segments.

Shotgun Life, the first online magazine dedicated to the best in wing and clays shooting,also featured an in-depth story about the new Veronas. You can see the story at www.shotgunlife.com.

All Veronas are Italian-made and are premium quality shotguns. The new inertia driven401 semi-autos are a product of F.lli Pietta, well known for their quality reproductionguns of the Old West. The 501 and 702 Series of Over/Unders are again beingmanufactured by F.A.I.R. while the 662 Side by Side series and the two barrel O/Ucombo are made by Fausti. All are available through Davidson’s Gallery of Guns, or adealer near you.

Further information about these shotguns – and this offer – can be seen in SportingClassics magazine, On Target magazine and on www.shotgunlife.com as well as on www.thefowllife.com and www.legacysports.com.

For more details, contact Legacy Sports International at 775-828-0555 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Published in Press Releases
Wednesday, 03 June 2009 03:05

Doug Oliver: The Keeper of the 16-Gauge Flame

Anyone who shoots a 16-gauge shotgun should send Doug Oliver a big cigar.

As founder of the 16 Gauge Society, Doug has been keeper of the flame for a shotgun orphaned by the industry.

Over the years marketing decisions within the shotgun industry have relegated the 16 gauge from the second-most popular shotgun to an icon of perfection among a small band of bird shooters. They marketed the smaller 20-gauge rival, despite the superior ballistics of the 16 gauge. At the same time, the 12 gauge has been gentrified from its bruiser, meat-market heritage to a relatively comfortable, all-purpose shotgun.

The world of tournament shooting has also conspired against the 16 gauge. Simply put, there are no 16-gauge competitions in major clay-shooting events – depriving the 16 gauge of the credibility and high-profile marketing opportunities to sustain a thriving market.

Still, the perseverance of devoted 16-gauge shooters has kept the shotgun alive. And you could easily make the case that Doug has emerged as the voice of the 16-gauge shotgun community.

“If I were trapped on a desert island, I would want the 16 gauge, because it won’t beat you up and it kills birds without killing you,” Doug said.

Maybe it’s a confluence of happy circumstances that Doug, who owns a graphic-design firm in Bell Canyon, California, fell in love with 16-gauge shotguns to the extent that he started the 16 Gauge Society web site.

16GA2
Doug Oliver

He fondly recalls shooting 16-gauge shotguns as a kid in Newton, Kansas with his father.

“From the age of 10, I started hitting birds, and I became joined at the hip during bird season with my father. We’d hunt quail, pheasant, doves…,” he said.

During that period, he started out with a .410, and passed through a 16 gauge on his way to a 12 gauge. He remembered liking the 16 gauge, although for the bigger part of his life he shot 12 and 20 gauge.

“The 16 gauge is absolutely the perfect shotgun,” he explains. “It has a perfect load for wingshooting. Plus a 16 gauge will typically be a pound lighter than a 12 gauge if you’re carrying it all day in the field. The 16 gauge shoots like a 12 gauge but carries like a 20 gauge. It’s a great gun.”

When Doug turned 50, for his midlife crisis instead of a Porsche he bought himself a shotgun. It was a 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Rizzini over/under. It was a better gun than he had known at that point.

On a flight from Los Angeles to New York, he had been reading an article in Double Gun Journal about dove hunting in Argentina. Until that point he had every intention of buying a 20 or 28 Beretta, but the article deflected him to the 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Razzing.

Doug found himself smitten by the lovely 16 gauge. In doing his “homework” for that 16-gauge F.A.I.R. Rizini he realized “that 16 gauge was a stepchild,” he explained. “Information at the time was so hard to dig out and that’s where the 16 Gauge Society web site came in. I though I’d just design and throw up 16 gauge web site and maybe sell a couple of hats. The project itself was fun and informative.”

After a few months of hard work, the 16 Gauge Society web site went up in 2002 at http://www.16ga.com.

It now has approximately 1,500 members of the 16 Gauge Society, plus another 2,400 people who frequent the site’s forum which serves as a clearing house of information for everything 16 gauge. Over 60,000 posts have been recorded on the site.

ARRIETA
A 16-gauge Arietta 557

As Doug relates about the forum “You can throw a question out about a gun and 10 guys will answer you – civilly.”

There is a one-time, lifetime $25 membership to the 16 Gauge Society. But for Doug, the organization “is not a moneymaker. It’s a passion.”

Last autumn, one of the members of the 16 Gauge Society organized a pheasant shoot in North Dakota. A dozen or so members met for the first time there. “It was fun, everybody got pheasants,” he said. “A good time was had by all.”

In a way, that was a trip back to the good old days of 16-gauge hunting.

Doug is an active 16-gauge shooter. Of the 10 shotguns he currently owns, four of them are 16 gauge. He still has that F.A.I.R. Rizzini, in addition to a 1959 Beretta Silverhawk and two Browning Sweet 16 A-5s.

He recalled that when he began hunting there were a lot of 16-gauge shotguns on the market. Winchester Model 12s, Ithaca and Remington pumps, and the Browning Sweet 16 A-5s dominated the market, alongside a smattering of Fox, Parker and L.C. Smith doubles.

Although many a young hunter was started in the field with a 16 gauge, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, the 20 gauge, and later the 20-gauge 3-inch magnum, simply buried the 16 gauge shotgun in the U.S.

Doug now thinks that the 16 gauge is experiencing a renaissance. “After a 50-year decline in popularity, the sixteen is making a well-deserved comeback. And in a number of production lines, too.”

Today, although sometimes difficult to find, the industry still offers the standard and high-velocity lead and non-toxic loads from all major manufacturers. “Yet even though this situation has improved in the last few years, most serious 16-gauge shooters custom hand load their own shells. This is true of many shooters regardless of gauge,” Doug observed.

Affordable 16-gauge shotguns are available from a number of manufacturers including Griffin & Howe, Arietta, A. H. Fox, Browning, Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company’s Model 21, Cortona, Arietta, Dean, Grulla, Stoeger and a handful of others.

And of course, there are also thousands of used 16-gauge shotguns in search of a new home.

Noe Roland is a frequent contributor to Shotgun Life. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Useful resources:

http://www.16ga.com/

http://www.griffinhowe.com

http://www.arrietashotguns.com/

http://www.connecticutshotgun.com/ahfox1.html

http://www.connecticutshotgun.com/model21.html

http://www.browning.com/

http://www.cortonashotguns.com/

http://www.dhshotguns.com/

http://www.grullaarmas.com/es/

http://www.stoegerindustries.com/

www.douglasoliverdesign.com

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Shooting Tips, Gear & Shotguns

Story1McKayBrownHome

When is too much never enough?

When it comes to a stunning matched trio of McKay Brown 12-gauge upland shotguns.

Published in Art of the Gun
Tuesday, 03 March 2009 10:23

The Secret of the Browning Superposed

The shotgun stood upright in a museum-quality case, halogen lamps kindling the mystique of the Prodigal Son.

The Browning Superposed in front of us was a one-of-a-kind called Golden Days. Belgian master engraver Dany Matagne had spent 300 painstaking hours detailing the doves, bobwhite quail and Gamble quail with gold, green gold, copper and palladium - the entire landscape study framed in a floral scroll. If ever there was a rendition of upland heaven, it was here on the receiver of this $80,000 Superposed.

Published in Art of the Gun
Monday, 05 January 2009 21:19

Shotgun Lust

It's an autumn afternoon in southern New Jersey and I'm in a luxurious tent browsing the best shotguns, when something different, beautiful, stunning catches my attention.

Published in Art of the Gun

First the black lab shows up at the door, then the gunsmith, who escorts me through the utilitarian building into a workshop where the president of shotgun maker Caesar Guerini, Wes Lang, has a file in hand working on a customer's barrel.

Published in Art of the Gun
Tuesday, 11 November 2008 21:37

Mister Big Bore

Bernie Liberati

It started in a pizza and sandwich shop in South Philadelphia, and eventually led to one of the great finds in the world of big-bore collectors.

Today, Bernie Liberati can legitimately claim he is the only man to own two consecutively numbered L.C. Smith 8-gauge shotguns -- a highly coveted find given that only 35 total were ever made.

The achievement is a far cry from the kid who delivered pizzas and sandwiches in South Philly. Delivering food in that neighborhood may not sound glamorous, but it opened the door into the world of big-bore shotguns for Bernie...

After working there for a while, the shop owner had taken Bernie out hunting one night.

"We didn't get anything, but I had fun," he said.

The Boy's First Shotgun

Afterwards, his boss suggested that Bernie may want to buy a shotgun. Bernie didn't own a shotgun (or any other kind of gun for that matter). The man offered to get one for Bernie, and soon the delivery boy entrusted his boss with the cash to buy his first shotgun.

It turned out to be a 12-gauge Daiwa, made by Singer Nikko in Japan.

"It was beautiful," Bernie recalled.

So beautiful, in fact, the man offered Bernie $175 -- a full $25 more than what the boy paid for it. Did Bernie bite? No way. But it was his first introduction into the value of shotguns -- planting a seed that would grow into a fascination with the thunderous big bores.

Telling Dad About the Shotgun

In the meantime, though, Bernie had to contend with his father. You see, when he came home that night with a shiny new shotgun in a cardboard box, he father reprimanded: "You can't bring that in the house."

I said "I have no place to put it."

Dad: "That's your problem."

As the sun went down, young Bernie was relegated to the porch. Wearing only a t-shirt, it was like sitting in a refrigerator out there -- until his mother intervened.

"My mother was inside, complaining, ‘How could you let my son sit out in the cold?'" Finally, his father let the boy in...along with his brand new shotgun.

Bernie and his friends loved to take his new Daiwa out to a field near the Philadelphia airport. "We'd set up a skeet machine and no one would bother us. The police would come by to make sure we weren't doing anything wrong, that we weren't drinking."

Yes, those were the good old days.

Fast forward to 1992...

Bernie's father, now 78, wanted to retire from the customs house broker company he owned since 1963, Morris Friedman and Co. So rather than sell the business to a stranger, he gave it to Bernie.

A Fateful Meeting With Jim Stahl

One day, Bernie was hard at work in the office, when one of his regular contacts from U.S. Customs stopped by -- a guy named Jim Stahl. He suggested to Bernie they go trap shooting one night. (As fate would have it, Jim would become active in the L.C. Smith Collectors Association.)

They had such a good time they thought it would be a good idea to make it a regular Wednesday night ritual.

After a few times out trap shooting, Jim invited Bernie to go hunting... and they had a great time doing that too.

As their friendship grew, Jim introduced Bernie to side-by-side shotguns. Bernie was bowled over when he discovered that Jim's collection actually reached 25 side-by-sides.

"That's unbelievable," Bernie told Jim, laughing about it today and given the size of his own collection.

Bernie's Shotgun Education

In conjunction with the side-by-side collection, Jim was an avid collector of books related to vintage and big-bore shotguns.

Thanks to Jim, Bernie embarked on his shotgun education.

But Bernie was about to get hooked.

One Saturday afternoon, Jim took Bernie to visit Hollowell's Gun Shop in Connecticut.

"We're walking around and Jim says what kind of gun do you want?"

Bernie's wasn't exactly sure what he wanted, but he knew what he didn't want: a 12-gauge.

"Everybody has a 12 gauge," Bernie remembers telling Jim.

As they wandered the around the store, Bernie thought he would go for a .410.

"But there was this 10-gauge Remington. It was cheap and unique," Bernie said.

Out of the Corner His Eye...

Then lightning struck...

Out of the corner of his eye, Bernie spotted an 8-gauge J.P. Clabrough "in the middle of the table. It was the first 8-gauge I'd ever seen." After negotiating about 90 minutes, Bernie brought home the first two big bores of what would become an extensive collection.

"And that's how I started. I was fortunate in that people were not that enthusiastic about buying them, and the prices were pretty affordable," he said.

After years of collecting 4-, 8- and 10-gauge vintage beauties, Bernie was finally able to put it together: his prized consecutively numbered 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 shotguns.

The first one he purchased was number 46291. As fate would have it, Bernie bought it on Valentine's Day 2006.

Only three weeks later, another 8-gauge L.C. Smith Grade 2 became available.

As Bernie tells it, "There was a fellow who was member of the L.C. Smith Collector's Association. Unfortunately, he was going through some rough times." The man needed to liquidate his collection, and the dealer who got it immediately gave Bernie a call.

When Bernie got it, he realized it was numbered 46290.

Bingo.

Well, from the kid sitting out on the porch that one chilly night with his first shotgun, Bernie now owns about 50 big bores.

"I like the fact that they're unique, and have a history behind them," Bernie said.

But these stunning shotguns aren't mere museum pieces for him.

"I shoot them at least twice a year." 

 Bernie_and_Bernie

Bernie Liberati today with his son, Bernie. 

Useful resources:

http://www.10gauge.com/

http://www.lcsmith.org/

http://www.vintagers.org/
Saturday, 20 September 2008 13:22

A Conversation With Tullio Fabbri

By Irwin Greenstein

Meet Tullio Fabbri, shotgun maker to the stars.

His clients include director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Selleck, rocker Eric Clapton and writer-director John Milus.

“A lot of very, very wealthy people in the public eye are Fabbri owners,” noted Mike Burnett, manager of Dewings Fly & Gun Shop in West Palm, Florida, the only authorized Fabbri dealer in the world.

That’s because Fabbri shotguns are recognized as the pinnacle of shotgun achievement. Fabbris are technically perfect, and with their stunning Renaissance and fantasy-style engravings are truly “functional artwork,” said Mr. Burnett.

A Matched Pair for $395,000

Today you can purchase a matched pair of new 12-gauge Fabbris selling for a cool $395,000 on the Dewings web site (simply click on the “Add to Cart” button). The starting price for a new Fabbri is $100,000 -- and the waiting list can be up to five, very long years for a bespoke shotgun.

You can of course sidestep the queue and find yourself a previously owned Fabbri. Even then, you can expect to pay $60,000 to $240,000.

Or you can talk with Mr. Burnett. He has reserved time with the engravers and has several Fabbris in the pipeline whose stocks he could custom fit during production. In that case, your wait would be approximately 15 months. If you can accommodate an off-the-rack Fabbri, Mr. Burnett had six in his store as of this writing -- among the largest retail inventories of Fabbris anywhere.




The Fabbri Vision

The scarcity, quality and star-power of Fabbris elevates them into the same rarefied universe as the British legends: Purdy, Holland & Holland and Boss. Yet while these institutions have been making shotguns for hundreds of years, Mr. Fabbri’s father, Ivo, started the firm in 1965. The remarkable trajectory of Fabbri is a testament to the craftsmanship and vision that catapulted this tiny shotgun company straight to the top.

So what is the secret to a Fabbri shotgun?

Mr. Fabbri was kind enough to spend about 30 minutes on the phone with us from Italy, to explain the philosophy of the company.
“We have to use anything we can afford to do our job better,” he said. “The design and mechanics of our guns change according to new technology.”

The payoff, according to Mr. Burnett is “The details. A Fabbri gun is absolutely perfect. Not a flaw, not a burr, not anything that would cause that gun mechanical failure. They are mechanically perfect, and as close to perfection in an over-and-under shotgun there is.”

Only 30 Fabbris per Year

As a matter of course, Fabbri has been at the forefront of computerization and advanced manufacturing -- an approach that some critics judge as extreme when you consider that the business employs only 16 people who make approximately 30 shotguns per year.

For example, he will use one of these $10-million machines to make a single screw from scratch, explained Mr. Burnett.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate the effort we put into our shotguns,” Mr. Fabbri said. “We keep working very hard to make improvements. The design of the gun is alive -- it’s a laboratory for people who really want the best.”

Like a Silicon Valley Clean Room

In his quest, Mr. Fabbri broke ground in 2004 on a new facility that could rival the semiconductor clean rooms of Silicon Valley -- a place he knows quite well from his frequent visits to test and try new equipment for his shop.

Fabbri’s 50,000-square-foot factory is climate controlled. It uses 3-D software for design and manufacturing -- similar to what the big car makers employ to see renditions of parts and designs in 360º before committing them to production.

Laser-Welded Barrels

Mr. Fabbri has opted to laser-weld the barrels for enhanced precision. The sears in the locks are coated with a diamond dust finish for durability. Materials for making a Fabbri shotgun include titanium alloys and stainless steel for strength and agility. All 150 individual parts of a shotgun are manufactured in the Fabbri workshop -- an entire shotgun completing a rigorous 1,500 production steps.

Unlike his pricy British counterparts, Mr. Fabbri is unapologetic that his exquisite over-under shotguns are machine-made. In fact, he believes it’s the best way to make the best possible shotguns.

“We make a 12-gauge that weighs like a 20,” he said. “It’s perfectly balanced. You can’t do that with a file, anvil and drill.”

Fabbri is still blazing a path set in the 16th century of the Val Trompia region of Italy, where the company is located.

The Craftsmen of Val Trompia

Val Trompia is reknown for its Italian craftsmen who have been plying their weaponry skills since Bartolomeo Beretta started making barrels for the arquebus, a heavy matchlock gun favored by kings and popes.

The narrow valley of Val Trompia runs through the Columbine Mountains. The region is rich in high-grade iron ore and timber that fueled the furnaces and fire pits of the earliest artisans. The Mella River which flows through the valley supplied water and hydro power.

This rustic area has been at the leading edge of weapons development for centuries. It is home to Beretta, Franchi and an astonishing concentration of gun-making expertise.

The raw materials of the mountains enabled the Berettas to work the small fires that shaped rough plates heated and wrapped around steel mandrels. It marked the beginning of the fine art of welding the seam along the length of the barrel by hammering the overlapping edges together.

The Brescian Style

Over the centuries, magnificent guns and armor of Val Trompia were manufactured with intricate embellishments chiseled into their design. It came to be referred to as the Brescian style -- in acknowledgement of the nearby industrial hub of Brescia.

Val Trompia was relied upon to keep Napoleon’s Grand Army in guns. Almost 40,000 muskets were produced annually until Napoleon was brought to his knees in 1815.

Today, the Val Trompia region is a Mecca for engravers. This ancient mountain region is now home of Sabbati, Pedretti, Torcoli and Pedersoli. How much are collectors willing to pay for Fabbris engraved by these masters? Well, that $395,000 matched pair on the Dewings web site was engraved by the legendary Mr. Pedersoli. An engraving by Mr. Perdersoli can easily add $50,000 or more to the price of a base, $100,000 Fabbri, Mr. Burnett told us.



That’s why it’s hard to believe that the Fabbri phenomenon could have happened anyplace else in Italy.

An Italian Feast of Shotgun Makers

The Brescia Consortium of Arms Manufacturers touts over 30 world-class shotgun manufacturers plus more than 40 subcontractors -- the artisans who specialize in barrels, triggers, stocks, engraving and other components that are scrupulously manufactured.

Go down the list of shotgun makers in the consortium and you’ll see Italian legends such as Pedersoli, F.A.I.R., Famars, Piotti, Rizzini, Zoli and others. And it is very similar to the concentration of talent that you find in Silicon Valley where tradition, genius and proximity give rise to a hotbed of innovation.

When you visit Val Trompia, it seems like every Italian gun maker in the country is housed here.

Now, when you think of the specialization that marks so many craftsmen in the area, Mr. Fabbri has taken that 16th century craftsmanship into the space age.

As Mr. Burnett explains, “Basically when you buy a Fabbri you’re paying for the labor. Tullio makes every part in house.”

The Maestros

Tulio Fabri img 3Mr. Fabbri deftly walks the high wire that spans digital manufacturing and old-world craftsmanship. Ask him who engraves his shotguns, and you’ll get a Who’s Who of Italian Maestros…Angelo Galeazzi, Gianfranco Pedersoli and Manrico Torcoli (the father of the fantasy style of engraving), among others.

Mr. Burnett said his customers buy Fabbris for different reasons, but mostly they see these shotgun masterpieces as investments. "They’re not going to lose money -- they’re so sought after. You could probably make 10% year over year on a Fabbri."
Published in Art of the Gun
Saturday, 30 August 2008 19:07

Shotgun Fit: What You’re Missing

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…

  • What to look for
  • Eye domination
  • Trigger pull
  • Adjustable combs
  • Adjustable butt plates
  • Common mistakes
  • Low gun fit
Published in Guns
Saturday, 30 August 2008 17:40

Ethics, Shotguns and a Man Made Whole

Michael Sabbeth
by Irwin Greenstein

The years passed in Colorado, he got married, had kids, and had not picked up a shotgun in nearly a decade. That would’ve been around 1970.

Now it’s 1996, and Michael Sabbeth vividly recalls that pivotal moment in the Denver suburb of North Cherry Creek…

“I’m in my law office, it’s lunch time and I get out and walk to a sandwich shop. That’s when I run into my friend, John, who I hadn’t seen in several years since he moved to Florida.

He had been a very dear friend who was a stock broker. He was an avid shooter, competitive trap. And we used to shoot together. After he moved away, the shooting sports became very ephemeral for me.”

The two old friends were catching up when John invites Michael over to his apartment.

“When I go over there, it’s covered with gun magazines, guns, reloading supplies…you name it. It was there that I picked up my first issue of Double Gun Journal. I had never seen anything like it, and I was very intrigued. I leafed through it, this world of elegant guns, travel, clothing, leather -- it all came at me like a sandblaster. I asked if I could borrow a few issues. John then made a comment: ‘You want to be a big shot? See if you can get published in this magazine.’ There was no reason for him to say that because I never expressed any interest in the magazine. I had never written about guns. But as I looked the magazines over the next several weeks, I had an intuition that if I could get published in that magazine, something good would happen, something elegant and out of the ordinary in my life.”

And over the ensuing weeks Michael did in fact come up with an idea to submit to Double Gun Journal. The topic? Teaching the ethics of shooting to children.

“They sent me a handwritten card that they would publish the article, and not pay me for it. That’s how I got involved in the gun trade.”

Journey to Spain

After that breakthrough article, Michael’s next assignment for the esteemed Double Gun Journal took him to Spain for a story about the exquisite gun maker, Kemen.

Michael traveled to the town of Elgoibar. “That is one of the two gun-making cities in the Basque region, in the province of San Sebastian. I called my wife, Nancy, to tell her I was OK. She asked where I was. I told her a tapas bar and she blew up -- thinking that I was at a topless bar,” he says, laughing.

After the Kemen article, Michael says he got his first big break in writing about shotguns.

Visiting Beretta in Italy

In 1999 Beretta acquired Benelli and Franchi. As a foundational advertiser for Double Gun Journal, Beretta offered the magazine an exclusive about the merged company. Double Gun Journal turned to one of their long-standing writers, but something went sour with the writer. That’s when editor/publisher Daniel Côté turned to Michael, who flew to Italy for a week-and-half on an all-expense paid trip to cover the story.

With that trip, “I had to ratchet up my understanding of shotguns voluminously,” he recalls. “That started me writing about many other guns. And as a consequence I was received warmly by gun makers and then transformed those relationships into articles.”

Michael believes that his deeper understanding of shotguns played a role in synthesizing his collected passions into a whole way of life.

“The great things about the shotguns, it has given a purpose for many disparate and unrelated aspects of life…food, wine, travel,” he says “I’m now seeing things that I would not have seen. Exquisite sunsets, a double rainbow -- the collegiality -- and meeting some of the esteemed craftsman and women on the planet. All of which has enriched my life immeasurably.”

And an enriched life is the one thing that Michael does not take for granted. In 1989, he survived surgery for an artificial heart-valve implant. “Being close to death made me value those people who strive for excellence in their craft: the heart surgeon, the chemist, the biologist, those people who created the artificial heart valve, and all of those wonderful nurses and staff who were so competent and expert who allowed me to live. I felt very blessed to have survived, and I thought, now that I've had this good fortune, what can I do?"

Repaying a Cosmic Debt

To repay his "cosmic debt," Michael developed a curriculum that teaches ethics to elementary school children. While recovering from the implant, Michael crafted a course to make it easier for young people to more critically analyze the consequences of their choices, with the hope that they will ultimately make the right choices as they get older.

He started with the students at Cherry Hills Elementary School in his hometown of Cherry Hills Village, Colorado.

From Michael’s perspective, ethics is shorthand for applying moral reasoning to problems such as racism or peer pressure. It’s a form of character education to engage students to work hard to reduce bullying, sexual harassment and drugs in schools.

In effect, Michael uses current, historical and personal events in the lives of the children to frame an ethical theory. His approach is to stimulate conversations about issues that most adults believe are over their heads.

The conversations allow the children to use terms such as the "sanctity of life" and "beneficence.” What Michael achieves is a format that helps them understand how to make choices, that in turn can help other people, and help elevate humanity.

11 Concepts

At the core of Michael’s curriculum are 11 ethical concepts that he calls The Moral Measures..

Four of them are universal ethical principles drawn from the writings of Aristotle and biomedical ethics. They are autonomy, beneficence, justice, and sanctity of life.

The others are the "Seven C's," which Michael devised. They are character, choices, compassion, competence, consequences, conscience, and courage.

Michael has since conducted his program more than 500 times. It has gone beyond children to first responders as well. His efforts have garnered him an impressive article in the Christian Science Monitor in 2002.

His ethics course also set Michael on a path of what he calls the “political aspect of gun ownership.” He has become involved in Second Amendment issues -- lecturing nationally.

“I’ve become politically involved in the general field of selectively defending and advocating gun ownership rights,” he says. “That involvement with guns as an advocate, has enhanced many relationships, and is generally very well received.”

Among Michael’s accomplishments, perhaps those most cherished are the friendships he’s developed with the most elite shotgun makers in Italy.

The Craftsmen of Gardone

It started in 1997, when Michael and his wife traveled to Switzerland and Italy to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. After racking up miles of skiing in the Swiss Alps, they took a train to Milan…and then to Gardone, where craftsmen have excelled in making fine shotguns for more than 500 years.

Through introductions from Double Gun Journal, he met Italy’s greatest artisans of the shotgun craft -- many of whom are still his friends today.

There was engraver extraordinaire, Mauro Dassa. His company Incisioni Dassa has engraved numerous Beretta premium shotguns, including stunning new SO 10 models, which can cost upwards of $80,000.

Dassa then introduced Michael to other Italian shotgun legends.

Ivo Fabbri, who at the time made shotguns in the basement of his house -- using state-of-the-art computer systems. Fabbri shotguns then started at $90,000. At the 2008 Safari Club Convention, they were selling for over $250,000. Making only 30 shotguns a year, Fabbri’s clientele include Steven Spielberg, Tom Selleck and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

There was Piotti Fratelli, who is widely respected as among Italy's premier gunmakers. Their shotguns and rifles are made to individual order -- tailored to meet the customer's specifications. The result is an elegant gun that has been rated among the top-10 shotguns produced in the world today.

He also met Elio and Remigio Bertuzzi. The brothers learned to build shotguns from their father and grandfather. Working in a space no bigger than a garage, they only make 10-15 shotguns annually -- each one a collector’s prize.

Michael also visited FAMARS di Abbiatico y Salvinelli. In their small factory, they helped usher in the computer-designed artisan shotgun replete with stunning, old-world engraving. Starting at the $25,000 price point, a stunning .470 N E Express double rifle sold for $165,000 at the 2008 Safari Club Convention.

From Vail to Italy

But one of Michael’s greatest memories is about the improbable connection between a modest Beretta semi-automatic shotgun and Beretta’s Patriarch, Ugo Guassalli Beretta.

The story starts on a road trip to Vail, Colorado in 2001. He was going to drive his daughter, Alexandra, then 13, to a friend’s bat mitzvah, when he remembered that Piney Valley Ranch Sporting Clays Club. was about 20 miles west of their destination. He asked her if she would mind bringing a book to read so he could shoot afterwards.

After the bat mitzvah, as they approach Piney Valley Ranch, his daughter said that she would rather go shooting with him than sit around and read. The only shotgun he had on the trip was a Dassa-engraved Perazzi that weighed about 8½ pounds. Michael knew it was too heavy for his daughter. Fortunately, Piney Valley Ranch just took possession of a new Beretta 391 Urika youth model 20-gauge shotgun, an ideal shotgun for his young daughter. They went trekking off into the mountains to do some shooting.

Well, not only did she run the first station, but she “creamed” the course, Michael says. “She was outstanding. I was stunned.”

The following month, he was Beretta’s guest for a week to write an article for Double Gun Journal about the seven extraordinary shotguns and rifles built as a surprise gift honoring the birthday of Ugo Gussalli Beretta. On the afternoon of his last day there, he found himself in a large conference room behind the world-famous Beretta museum. In attendance is the family patriarch, Ugo Gussalli Beretta -- a direct descendant of Maestro Bartolomeo Beretta who started the company in 1526.

As they are admiring the collection of shotguns on the velvet-covered table, Michael began telling the story about his daughter’s incredible sporting-clays game at Piney Valley Ranch.

Realizing that the Urika youth model was constructed merely 200 yards away in the Beretta ‘industrial’ facility, and in a moment of inspired enthusiasm, he ordered the shotgun directly from the boss himself, Ugo Gussalli Beretta. Michael’s only request was that the names of his two younger children, Erik and Alexandra, be engraved on the receiver -- one name on each side.

“Then, Mr. Beretta, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Europe, excitedly said ‘We put today’s date on the gun.’ Michael recollects. “Here’s this industry titan and he’s as exuberant as if he’d just made the largest sale in the company’s history. It was a magical moment. Now I have the gun, but more importantly I have the story. The cost of the gun was not at all that much, but the story, well, that is priceless.”

Useful resources:

http://www.kemenarmas.es/web_en.asp

http://www.fabbri.it/

http://www.piotti.com/

http://www.famars.com/

http://www.doublegunshop.com/doublegunjournal.htm

http://www.clayshootingusa.com/readers/archive/jul_aug06/Modern%20Classics.pdf

http://www.pineyvalley.com/shooting-sports.shtml


http://www.berettausa.com/product/product_competition_guns_main.htm

http://www.beretta.com/
Saturday, 30 August 2008 17:39

Alessandro

Alesandro
Was it because he used to cut class to go shooting? Was it because his father was a champion skeet shooter in the Army? Was it that darn Remington 1100 of his? He was shooting 100 straight in skeet -- and that was no fluke. His vest was covered with patches. What’s up with that kid, anyway?

His Father’s Beretta

Well, Alessandro credits his father, Rinaldo. In fact, Alessandro still owns his father’s first shotgun, a Beretta SO3 that he bought in Brescia, Italy, while stationed at Fort Darby there.

The Beretta SO Series marked the company’s entry into sidelock over-and-under shotguns. The elegant design of the lock work has only five basic parts, plus three pivot pins and a single screw -- in an attempt to make the shotgun extremely reliable. The minimum number of parts, and a chrome-plated action, made the SO Series smooth and easy to use.

Alessandro recalls that his father paid $300 for the SO3. These SO3s are no longer in production and today can bring in upwards of $5,000 -- with some exemplary combo sets demanding nearly $10,000.

That Beretta SO3 was the Vitale family’s introduction into shotguns. Rinaldo had emigrated to the United States from Calabria, Italy in 1961 at age 16. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and then found himself stationed back in his native country -- this time, in the Tuscan region surrounding Florence and Siena. He became a small-arms training Sergeant and fell in love with firearms and cooking.

Rinaldo befriended many local chefs and restaurateurs -- enabling him to become a restaurant success story in Maryland. Today, along with Alessandro, his older brother Sergio and their mother Regina, the Vitale family operates Aldo’s in Baltimore’s Little Italy and Cibo Bar and Grille in nearby Owings Mills.

The 10-Year-Old Skeet Shooter

While laying the foundation for the family’s culinary legacy, Rinaldo continued to pursue skeet shooting. He joined the Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Center in 1971 -- the year before Alessandro was born. But by age 10, the kid practiced skeet with his father. Firmly planted on stations 1 and 7, Alessandro kept shooting away at targets with a pint-size .410.

The kid graduated to his first gun, a Remington 1100 Sport in 20 gauge. That was the shotgun, in fact, that really got the goat of the Loch Raven shooters. Alessandro recalls shooting several 100-straights with it. As he got older, he completed a full set of Remington 1100s, buying them in .410, 28 and 12 gauge.

Alessandro thought he would be a Remington 1100 guy for life until his first visit to Italy to spend a summer with family. Like his father, Alessandro found Italy to be a turning point when it came to shotguns.

It was 1988, and he was shooting skeet and trap. That was the year Enzo Ferrari passed on, and Alessandro remembers the entire country went into mourning (Of course, Alessandro had no way of seeing into the future when he would become a Ferrari owner himself.)

Love at First Sight

But that fateful summer Alessandro laid eyes on his first Benelli M1 Super 90 semiautomatic shotgun -- the civilian model. “It was love at first sight,” he recalls.

With its black synthetic stock and forearm, and the optional magazine extender, the thing looked like a riot gun. Italy’s famous voluminous paperwork, though, prevented him from bringing it back home with him.

So he started calling just about every gun dealer in Maryland (this predates the Internet) until he found a small gun shop in Maryland’s Eastern Shore called Vonnie’s Sporting Goods in Kennedyville that had one left in stock.

Alessandro was there in a heartbeat. It was the bomb: matte black finish, 18.5-inch barrel, imported by Heckler & Koch. He shelled out about $800 for it, twice the price of a Remington 1100.

Just by looking at it, you could tell the Benelli M1 Super 90 was way ahead of its time. The shotgun incorporated a patented, super-fast, recoil-inertia system compared to the more usual gas-operated systems found in most other semiautomatic shotguns.

The engineers at Benelli had figured out how to perform both extraction and ejection into a single mechanism using something called a rotating bolt head. A model of shotgun innovation, it uses only three components: the bolt body, the inertia spring and the rotating bolt head.

Fires Five Rounds Per Second

The reduced mass of parts makes the system extremely fast and reliable. Alessandro said the shotgun was capable of firing five rounds per second without ever jamming.

And because it uses recoil rather than spent gas to chamber the next shell, the system stayed clean -- a big benefit for Alessandro.

As much as he loved the Remington 1100, the gun consumed a lot of time in maintenance. He still bemoans the cheap rubber O-rings used to seal the barrel. It was a twenty-five-cent part when he used the shotgun all the time; and once the O-ring broke the shotgun went kaput (that only happens once before you learn to pack extra O-rings).

Then there were the gas ports that needed to stay cleared. And the oil had to be just right when he took it waterfowl shooting -- or too much moisture in the lubricant would jam up the shotgun.

Out Shooting on the Farm

These are common complaints among the legions of loyal Remington 1100 owners who now swear up and down that the factory improved its quality control. (Plus you can buy after-market O-rings that may be more durable.)

Still, back then, Alessandro grew reluctant to take his Remington 1100 hunting. When it comes to the Benelli M1 Super 90, Alessandro swears the dirtier it gets the better it shoots. That’s why he now owns almost every model of Benelli shotgun -- his collection is up to about 20 models.

He’s also a Beretta aficionado. Add it all up, and he has some 35 shotguns in his gun room.

There are plenty to go around as Alessandro shoots with his father and brother. The family owns a farm on the Eastern Shore and leases others for waterfowl hunting. And the three Vitales get out there whenever they can to shoot geese, ducks and even doves.

In addition to his shotguns, Alessandro loves his cars. Ferraris, BMWs, Mercedes -- he’s had them all -- the top-of-the-line, tricked-out models that nail you to the seat when you floor them.

Not that the old crew at Loch Raven expected anything less from Alessandro.

Useful resources:

http://www.lochravenskeettrap.com/

www.aldositaly.com

www.cibogrille.com

http://www.remington.com/products/firearms/shotguns/model_1100/

http://www.benelliusa.com/

http://www.benelliusa.com/firearms/inertia.tpl

http://www.berettausa.com/

http://www.berettaweb.com/Premium%20Guns/prima%20pg.htm

http://www.berettaweb.com/sezionati/sez%20SO.htm

http://www.mdisfun.org/planningamarylandvisit/outdoors/ huntingandshootingsports/
Outdoors-Hunting-ShootingSports.html


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrari_F430

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Shooting Tips, Gear & Shotguns

Saturday, 30 August 2008 16:33

Shotgun Safety

Nothing -- repeat nothing -- is more important than safety when handling your shotgun.

Many shooters get so focused on making the shot, that they lose track of what’s going on around them. Once that happens, it’s simply a matter of time until an accident happens with your shotgun.

In this section, you’ll learn about everything you should do and should not do when handling a shotgun. You’ll also discover the most important safety tips regarding children and shotguns.

Ignoring or forgetting the safety basics is very easy to do. Shooters get complacent, over-confident or distracted. Eventually, every shooter at one time or another does something unsafe with a shotgun. This section makes you realize when you do it, how to prevent it and how to spot safety slip-ups in others.

This section is a must-read for every shotgun shooter -- and for anyone who is even contemplating owning a shotgun or being around others who are shooting shotguns.
Published in Safety
Saturday, 30 August 2008 16:10

Shotgun Triggers

When it comes to shooting shotguns, if anything goofy is in your head, it will likely show up in the trigger.

Recoil aversion, doubt over the break point, longings for banana-nut pancakes and bacon drenched in warm maple syrup -- whatever distraction or bugaboo that causes you to miss a target can easily manifest as a fickle trigger finger.

Even then, assuming the target has your full concentration, the trigger is the place on the shotgun where you commit: if the trigger pull is too heavy, too light or too long the results are likely to be the same: a target that just keeps on going.

When it comes to trigger-pull weight, the ideal is between 3½ to 4 pounds for single- trigger shotguns. On a side-by-side shotgun that has two triggers, the front trigger should set at about 3½ pounds. The rear trigger can be slightly heavier due to the fact that it rests on a slightly stronger part of your finger.

Shotgun Triggers and Your Local Gunsmith

If you have any doubts about the weight of your trigger pull, you can purchase a trigger-pull gauge for anywhere between $20 and $70 -- or you can visit your local gunsmith. A trigger-pull gauge is standard-issue equipment for gunsmiths.

The next problem with your trigger could be the length of pull. If it’s slightly too long or too short, you could find yourself shooting prematurely or flinching because the trigger is simply too far back for you to exert the proper pressure.

The first thing to do is check to see if your trigger is adjustable. These adjustable shotgun triggers generally come in two flavors: notched and variable. The notched variety will let you move the trigger in preset increments. The variable has no preset increments -- providing a more accurate fit.



Is Your Shotgun Trigger Adjustable?

The give-away as to whether or not you have an adjustable trigger is a tiny Allen-screw in the trigger (or you could just read the manual). And if your gun did come with an adjustable trigger, the proper Allen wrench should have been packaged with your shotgun.

After adjusting the trigger, if the gun still doesn’t fit right, then its time to consider adjusting the length of the stock. You can either cut the stock or get any number of adjustable recoil pads.

One thing about shotgun triggers that may surprise you is how your efforts to combat recoil could impact your trigger performance.

Shooters with recoil problems try to address the predicament by either going with low-recoil shells or inserting tubes that allow you to shoot a smaller gauge with reduced recoil. Suddenly, you find that your trigger won’t reset on the second shot.

Here’s what happened…

Shotguns With Inertia Triggers

Most shotguns are manufactured with inertia triggers. That term is derived from a mechanism where the recoil from the first shot actually enables the trigger to get off the second shot. The prerequisite recoil set by the factory takes into account a standard off-the-shelf load that would be used for the original gauge of the shotgun.

When you manipulate the recoil, you’re also manipulating the inertia necessary to cycle the trigger for the second shot. So if you develop trigger malfunctions as you experiment with low-recoil and subgauge loads, it could be that you’re not generating enough pressure.

At that point, your recoil problems become more complicated. Do you buy a smaller gauge shotgun? Do you reload your own shells to custom-tailor your own load? Do you take the trigger to a gunsmith to see if they can adjust the trigger to a lighter load? Or do you replace the inertia trigger with a different type of trigger?

(Actually, there could be one more incredibly easy solution. Change the selector on your shotgun to reverse the order of which barrel shoots first. Most shooters want their bottom barrel to fire first. But if you select your top barrel to shoot first, it could conceivably solve the problem with inertia triggers.)

Mechanical or Release Triggers for Your Shotgun?

If you opt to replace the trigger entirely, that leaves you with two alternatives: mechanical triggers or release triggers.

With a mechanical trigger, both hammers are cocked when you break open the shotgun. By eliminating the inertia factor, the second barrel will fire when the first barrel fails to fire.

Then there are release triggers. They sound counter-intuitive, but shooters who use them can’t go back. Think of a release trigger as drawing back the string on a bow. To fire the arrow you simply release the string. It’s similar with a release trigger.

To set the trigger you pull on it as though to fire it. But the trigger won’t fire until you take your finger off it. Release triggers were originally designed for single-shot trap guns -- the idea behind it that you were less likely to flinch on targets that generally flew straight out.

Over time, release triggers migrated to skeet and sporting shotguns. And the technology has grown more sophisticated. You can now either order, or have customized, just about any configuration of a release trigger.

You can have release-pull, release-release, pull-release -- pretty much whatever your heart desires.

Look for the Big R on the Shotgun

Be advised: release triggers can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. In fact, any responsible shotgun owner with a release trigger will affix a sticker that sports a big R on a fluorescent background as a warning. It is highly advised not to let new shooters try release triggers, since instinctively they want to pull the trigger to fire the shotgun.

Whether or not you’re looking to solve a problem with your shooting, some shooters simply prefer different kinds of triggers to make them more successful.

Side-by-side owners really go for the original double trigger. This system predates screw-in chokes. Since early side-by-sides were mostly field guns, the barrels were choked to hit birds at different distances.

If you missed the first shot on an outgoing bird, then the assumption was that the second shot would be further away and you would need a tighter choke. For incoming birds, a wider choke ensured bagging the bird on the second shot.

To remedy the problem with fix-choked shotguns, the early side-by-sides (and the modern English variation) are fitted with two triggers in one tang. The front trigger fires the right barrel and rear trigger the left.

Shooting double-trigger shotguns is definitely an acquired skill -- especially if you’re a vintage shooter.

Most shooters are happy with the standard inertia trigger. If you want to experiment with your shotgun trigger, though, you’d be pleasantly surprise at the different options available to you.
Published in Guns
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