Mike George rates the Russian-built Baikal shotgun as one of his top ten guns of the last half century. So it might be worth considering one?
Why I give these shotguns such a good rating
Quite simply, it’s because Baikal guns make the big double – they are both inexpensive and reliable. They’ve allowed thousands of people in the UK on small budgets to enter shooting sports and worldwide must be responsible for millions.
The guns are made by the people for the people in the Russian city of Izhevsk, in the Western Urals. That is a couple of hours flight from Moscow.
Izhevsk has a legacy of iron working going back to 1760.
It survived the revolution of 1917. During the Second World War it was a comfortable distance away from the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s armies and so was of particular importance for arms manufacture.
This importance made it a designated closed city during the Cold War years, which meant it was forbidden to foreigners.
As the Soviet Union fell this all changed. However the arms factory – Izhevsky Mekhanicheski Zavod – is still turning out an enormous variety of Baikals – rifles, pistols and air weapons as well as shotguns.
Made from melted-down battle tanks?
Baikal guns first came across my radar in the 1980s and were then considered a bit of a joke. Theories abounded that they were created from melted-down battle tanks with the stocks fashioned from reject sleepers from the Trans-Siberian Railway…
Admittedly neither the metal nor the (certainly not walnut) wood had anything like an elegant finish. However the guns were tough and performed their task with a generally good degree of reliability.
The rise of Glasnot and Russia’s transition from communism to democracy marked a falling off in quality control but standards soon resumed normal service. Baikal over-and-unders also have the advantage of allowing the user to turn the ejectors on and off – an advantage over most other guns on the market in the UK.
There’s what looks like a tiny screw head in the face of each of the knuckles, and if you turn each one through 90 degrees, the gun is transformed into a non-ejector.
A further feature of most single-trigger Baikal shotguns is a very well-hidden barrel selector, which is not in the usual place on the safety thumbpiece.
The guns are set to fire bottom barrel first, but if you push the trigger forwards until you feel a click, then, for the loaded pair of shots, the top barrel goes first.
Surprisingly many Baikal owners haven’t yet cottoned onto this yet.
Since the 1980s the Baikal finish has been much improved. Most barrels are internally chromed, multichokes are available, and the wood is much smarter. On the other hand, the stocks are still a bit on the short side for some people.
On a value-for-money level though the Baikal shotgun is still very appealing.
All break-action guns are simple boxlocks powered by coil springs. On the over-and-unders hammers are hinged at the bottom, with sears hanging from the top strap.
Over-and-unders have single, selective triggers and turn-off ejectors. Stocks are generally about 14in, with drops at comb and heel of 1¾in and 2¾in at comb and heel respectively on newer guns.
You’ll discover a good selection of barrel lengths on new and second-hand examples, with multichokes now available.
There’s a lot of variance in this. But you could expect to pay around £300 for a second-hand 12-bore over-and-under in decent condition.
For a new gun you would pay £186 for a single barrel, £562 for a side-by-side, £617 for an over-and-under and £674 for a semi-auto.
Want to find out more?
York Guns 01904 487180.