By Jason Harris
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Gun reviews: Zoli Columbus shotgun: The Zoli Columbus will certainly turn some heads when out in the field.
Zoli Columbus shotgun.
In some ways guns are like girls - every now and again one sashays by in the crowd and you can't help but sit up and take notice.
Zoli's all-new game and sporting range does just that; it turns heads.
That said, the marque has invariably stopped just short of occupying the first tier in a buyer's consciousness.
The guns have never quite reached the level of Beretta, Browning and Perazzi. Until now...
Zoli has gone back to the drawing board with a clean sheet of paper to create a family of guns that owe something to tradition but are manufactured by the latest computer controlled technology.
It has produced a range of sporting guns that even the makers call the classic revolution. Is this just a hollow boast? I don't think that it is.
I have seen plenty of other guns that are supposedly made by the latest computer aided machinery, but all too often it's painfully obvious the people working the machines are not driving them anywhere close to their true potential.
This does not appear to be the case with Zoli.
All the metal parts on these guns are cleanly and crisply made with sharp corners and edges in the right places, and nicely rounded surfaces where they should be.
The action has been designed with a removable trigger mechanism which is not drop-out in the truest sense of the word, but is released by loosening a captive screw in the back of the trigger guard with a 2.5mm socket screw key, supplied.
To remove the mechanism one barrel must be fired and the safety catch moved so that the selector block can drop forward and not catch on the back of the action frame.
Screwing the trigger block in place is a little slower than a drop out catch, but I prefer this system because the trigger block is now more secure and will never display that slight movement which is sometimes apparent in other guns.
Removable trigger group guns usually suffer from two inherent problems in my experience - but both appear to have been addressed here.
One is most guns built to this design have a wide trigger block and an action body to match.
The Zoli's trigger group however has been made slimmer so while it might be wider than a Beretta, it isn't as bulky as a Perazzi in appearance.
What's more, the width of the trigger group and its surrounding frame also means the bulk of wood surrounding it can be kept quite slim in places.
Zoli has purposely kept the action frame thinner so that the sides of the stock can retain maximum thickness for strength in the places it's most needed.
In addition the woodwork has been well balanced by the thickness of the pistol grip so the gun is very comfortable to hold.
A couple of other points that some makers have struggled with on removable trigger guns is that the sear selector works from the safety catch, with a central pivoting button.
The problem to overcome here is that when the trigger group is put into the gun, the selector block on the group must engage properly with the safety button switch in order to work.
This is achieved through a funnel leading into the slot on the top of the selector block, allowing the two parts to come together as the group is placed into the frame.
The Zoli's selector button in the middle of the safety catch has good travel from side to side so it positively selects one side or the other and is difficult to flick over by accident.
Further insurance against this happening comes in the actual position of the safety button - it is placed some way behind the top lever to prevent a shooter accidentally switching it over when opening the gun.
Another problem with trigger release mechanisms is they can make it difficult to install an automatic safety return system.
The designers at Zoli have got round this however by fixing a rod from the cocking lever to the safety in such a way that the trigger group fits neatly around it.
Furthermore, because the auto safe rod is driven by the cocking lever, the safety catch is returned when the gun is opened - not when the top lever is pushed across as in so many other guns.
The cocking lever is made in one piece and is driven by a cam in the fore-end work.
The strikers are housed in sleeves within the action frame to ensure they are guided forwards smoothly and more directly onto the head of the cartridge primer.
A nice touch is that they also have vent holes in the sleeves to drain away any gasses and thus prevent pitting to the standing breech.
The ejectors are activated by rods running through each side wall of the action frame and these are pushed forward to lift trips held in the fore-end iron, which catch into hooks at the front of the extractors.
The extractors are directly powered by coil springs within the monoblock.
When the gun is opened after firing, small toes on the trips come into contact with shoulders on the front of the action frame.
As the gun is opened to full gape these trips disengage from the extractors, allowing them to kick out the fired cartridge cases.
I have to say this gun's trigger group is very well put together with all the parts being properly manufactured and treated to a silver finish.
The hammers are powered by coil springs but they are not held captive in an attempt to cause the hammers to rebound.
Instead, striker drag is prevented by the action's locking bolt which pushes back both hammers slightly when the top lever is activated.
Pushing the hammers back slightly gives the strikers just enough room to retract under their own return springs and so allow the gun to open cleanly.
The sears hang behind the hammers and are lifted from behind by a lifter that pivots from within the trigger.
This lifter rod runs in a slot in the selector block which pivots backward and is powered by a small coil spring.
From this you will see that the reset for the second shot after firing the first is by inertia; in other words, the recoil from the first shot throws the selector block back to release the first sear, and then come forwards again to pick up the second.
The action frame and top lever are engraved with a new type of machine etched engraving which gives a sharper focus to the detail.
There is a good covering of scroll work, with game scene on the sides and belly of the frame. It gives a good overall effect.
And the barrels?
These are made on the monoblock principle and come supplied in a number of different lengths. On the test gun they were 29.1/2in and fitted 3in chambers and multi-chokes. The ventilated top rib on this Columbus measured 11mm at the breech end and tapers gradually to 10mm at the muzzle - enough to make it extremely pointable.
I didn't check to see if the red strip fore sight can be screwed out but I'm presuming here that it can be - it's not to everyone's liking and a small brass bead would be a lot better.
Lock up on this gun is made with a substantial bolt wedging into bites on the monoblock.
These are level with the axis of the bore for maximum strength and they're backed up with abutments on the bottom of the monoblock, which mate into the floor of the action frame to give maximum strength.
The fore-end iron is interesting in that it is made from an aluminium alloy rather than steel which goes some way to explaining away the gun's relative lightness - between 7.1/2lb and 7.3/4 lb.
The woodwork is good on this gun with a well figured stock sporting a swept back pistol grip rather than the steeper curve found on its stablemate, the Kronos, which is more of a competition gun.
That said, the Columbus will be equally at home for game or clays.
The wood has an attractive and durable oil finish and the chequering - though obviously machine cut - is nicely executed, with full patterns to give a good grip in wet weather.
It's clear that the shape of the stock and fore-end have been given some careful thought because even though the pistol grip is gently swept back, the comb has also been made slimmer to match.
As for the fore-end, this has been given a positive rounded end, which allows good grip and swing.
One thing I'm not keen on is the pistol grip cap, which has the Zoli logo embossed into it, a simple chequer finish is the only decoration needed on wood in places like this.
The stock is finished with a wood heel plate of 20mm thickness, which fits well and gives a real quality look, but would, I think, be better about half as deep to give more inherent length should a gunsmith need to extend the stock length.
All in all this is a well made gun that deserves to succeed and it remains to be seen how it will be marketed.
If it's done properly then I can see this new Zoli range giving a lot of established names in the market place a real run for their money.
If I had a final comment to make it would be that the company really ought to look at introducing a 32in Sporter to the range with a fixed choke option for those who prefer it.
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