Shotgun reviewer Alex Flint takes a look at 10 of the best guns for game available to buy today.
Beretta 687 EELL Classic
A modern icon, the EELL from Beretta is amongst the most sought after guns by sportsmen and women up and down the country, and with even a cursory glance it is easy to see why. With a design lineage stretching back to 1979, Beretta’s 680 line of guns have long been the go-to shotgun for many buyers, with the EELL moniker indicating the best finishing, woodwork and engraving Beretta has to offer outside of its custom shop guns.
The Classic variant is the one I would look out for thanks to its tremendous engraving across the sideplates and fences and the lovely rounded Prince of Wales-style pistol grip really adding to the gun’s excellent, flowing lines. The next gun in the range, the Jubilee, is doubtless a big step up above the EELL, however it is also over twice the price and one questions whether it is twice the gun.
With excellent balance, the EELL feels very lively in the hand and is a real joy when shooting instinctively. It is sure to reward you for every possible style of shooting imaginable, and certainly won’t look out of place on the best shoots. The EELL seems the real sweet spot in Beretta’s range and if you have a weakness for a Beretta then this is the way to go.
Rizzini Artemis 16-bore
Without question, of all the choices on this list the Rizzini Artemis is the gun I would go out and buy tomorrow. Made in Italy, Rizzini’s guns are all high quality items with superb engraving and finishing and tremendous handling characteristics present across the range. The Artemis displays all of these worthy characteristics at an attractive and accessible price.
Winner of the best new shotgun category at the 2012 Shooting Industry Awards, the Artemis is at its best in its UK specification with the simple bright steel finish really showing off the excellent engraving across the sideplates and displaying an impressive amount of depth. A couple of options such as an extended trigger guard tang and solid top rib are worth ticking, however an absolute must is selecting the option for the gun to be made as a 16 bore.
No longer the risk it might once have been thanks to the enormous array of ammunition easily available to buy, shooting a 16 bore gun really is as good as you’ve been lead to believe. The balance of this gun is absolutely outstanding, with the point of balance lying directly on the hinge pin. Recoil is virtually non-existent and muzzle fl ip is no problem even when using heavier loads. This is a beautifully sweet-handling gun, and the one I most regret leaving with Bill Elderkin to be returned to its maker.
AYA No.2 De Luxe
In many ways, this Spanish side-by-side sets the standard by which all other new side-by-side guns are measured. An unabashed and excellent reconstruction of a best London sidelock, this is not a continental gun wearing the name of an old English gunmaker but stands proudly on its own as one the best guns of any type available to buy today.
The gun has delightful proportions and is dripping with fine detail, from high quality, well figured wood, to more subtle touches such as the extended trigger guard tang. Engraving is carried out to a high standard and all this coupled with excellent finishing gives the impression of a gun worth a great deal more than its asking price would suggest.
The top end AYA model, the No.1, starts at almost £13,000 and offers more aesthetic refinement, however I think one would do well to look to spend a little more money on the No.2 and perhaps order the round body version for around an extra £300. Anyone looking to pick up a new side-by-side shotgun would do well to take a look at a gun Bill Elderkin describes as “as good as you could wish for”.
Boxall & Edmiston Round Action Over-Under
For the best in modern British gun manufacturing, look no further than Boxall & Edmiston. A new team led by experienced hands from the London gun trade, many of the young hands behind the building of these stunning guns point the way to a bright future for British gunmaking. More importantly, they are producing strong, reliable and desirable guns right now.
In truth, I could have recommended any one of their excellent products as worthy of a purchase, however I have a real weakness for a round action gun so this one won the day thanks to its delightful swooping curves. These guns feature a number of familiar design cues, taking some of the best elements from other guns but producing a coherent and distinctive visual whole. Wood is carefully selected by hand and the engraving is designed in-house for each custo
mer and is of a remarkable quality – far beyond the machined examples one might find elsewhere.
They are absolutely superb to shoot and priced to beat just about any other gun you would care to mention of this quality. These guns deserve to be making waves and I would encourage anyone with the budget and even a flicker of interest to give them a look – you will not regret it.
Chapuis Armes C35
Probably the single most surprising gun I have ever tested, this little French delight was a real eye opener when I tested it in the October 2015 issue of Shooting Gazette. Lightweight, sweet handling with excellent balance and superb recoil control makes for an intoxicatingly entertaining gun to shoot. Moreover, these guns look just as good as they are to shoot, showing off remarkable wood work, well executed engraving and tremendous finishing at a frankly astonishing price.
Higher grade guns, such as the Artisan model I tested, are breathtakingly good value for money at around £6,000 – you will not believe such a good looking gun can be had without a five-figure price tag. The whole range of guns are round-body as standard, and have beautiful lines as a result, particularly when specified with a rounded semi-pistol grip. Engraving and finishing even on entry level models is quite excellent and result in a gun you would quite happily display alongside your Purdey.
If it sounds like I am over-egging the pudding here, I really am not – these guns really do deserve to be seen and used and I would urge anyone looking to buy a new gun to investigate them.
Browning B15 Beauchamp
First unveiled in 2015, the B15 is the latest addition and entry to Browning’s John M. Browning collection, the new name for Browning’s high-end guns also including the likes of the B25. Built on the mass-produced B725 action and hand finished in Belgium, the B15 offers an intriguing mix of high-end visual appeal but without the necessary expense of hundreds of man hours.
A clear cut above the top end of Browning’s easily available off the shelf guns, the B15 is very striking visually thanks to some absolutely superb woodwork and wonderful engraving requiring 40 hours of work by hand to complete on each gun. Though the entry level Grade B gun is very attractive, I feel the false three-piece fore-end, capped Prince of Wales pistol grip and skeleton capped butt plate of the E and D grade guns really make the B15 something special. To my eye, the scroll engraving of the Grade E gun is also the way to go, though of course this is a much more personal choice.
Happily, the B15 is a joy to shoot as well as look at, whether taking on longer, more considered targets or a more adrenaline-fuelled snap shooting style. This gun has a remarkable ability to make anyone shooting it smile and looks more than special enough to justify its price tag – well worth a look.
Blaser F3 Vantage
Perhaps a surprise choice amongst this array of fine game guns, however this German gun designed in conjunction with seven times Sporting World Champion John Bidwell remains one of the best-handling shotguns I have ever used. Clearly the exposed chokes and raised fixed rib are likely to put a few people off and may not make itself terribly welcome in the field, but as a gun for taking on the clay ground I really cannot think of anything better.
It is not without its quirks – the unusual barrel selector to the front of the trigger guard will take some getting used to – but the quality of the handling is difficult to overstate. Your field of vision when shooting is quite magnificent thanks to that raised rib, recoil is managed superbly well and the balance of the gun is excellent.
Visually the gun is a little plain at the entry level, though even here the figuring and oil finish on the wooden parts of the gun is very good. Top-end Baronesse grade guns come with side plates, high grade wood and fulsome engraving and are very attractive indeed and will more than likely make you the subject of some jealous glances. Well worth a look if you need something to accompany you through the off-season.
Watson Bros. Round Action Side-by-Side
More often seen as perhaps an interesting alternative to the usual ‘Big Three’, guns bearing the name Watson Bros. really do deserve to be a part of the conversation when considering best quality London guns. Offering unique actions designed by founder Michael Louca, they are truly bespoke guns produced by hand in time-honoured tradition.
Often seen with bold Acanthus engraving, but engraved to whatever style the customer desires, Watson Bros. guns are always a feast for the eye and will certainly produce a glow of pride on shoot day. I was fortunate enough to test a pigeon gun, an unusual specification for any new side-by-side, and found the gun able to take on all styles of shooting, from considered long driven targets to snap shooting, with remarkable ease and ability. The self-opening action seems almost obligatory when discussing a best quality gun but it felt absolutely appropriate for a gun of this quality and would certainly hold you in good stead when in the hot seat.
If you are considering ordering a gun from the likes of Holland & Holland or Purdey, then Watson Bros. really should be in your thoughts alongside them. If you are after something a little out of the ordinary but of unquestionable quality, then this name should be at the top of your list.
Holland & Holland Sporting Over-Under
Though something of a mouthful in name, there is no doubt that this, Holland & Holland’s most recent creation, is more than capable of holding its own alongside the brand’s more famous ‘Royal’ sidelock shotguns. Stunning in pictures but simply devastatingly handsome in person, the Sporting over-under has a profile just about approaching perfection for my money.
First built in the 1990s, these guns were the vanguard for the process of producing shotguns we are familiar with today, using Computer Aided Design and Computer Numeric Control to produce parts to astonishingly accurate tolerances before engraving and finishing the guns to the exacting standards their customers expect. The Sporting over-under has an action not unlike something from Perazzi, with the clockwork built onto a removable plate encompassing the trigger. This has resulted in the slim action previously mentioned, which not only looks superb but also is a major contributor to the gun’s excellent balance, handling and recoil control.
These really are stunning guns and occupy an interesting point in the market as it’s difficult to think of another gun of the same quality at anything like the same price. If you can keep your desire for optional extras under control, you might even come out feeling like you’ve secured something of a bargain. Classic scroll engraving with a colour case hardened finish would be a must for me.
William Evans Connaught
Another gun to totally eradicate my preconceptions when tested, the Connaught and its bigger brother the Premium Connaught are sidelock side-by-side shotguns I can recommended totally without reservation. Based on the 216 model gun by Spanish gunmaker Grulla the Connaught is a true sidelock shotgun with double triggers well worthy of wearing the William Evans name. It remains among the best guns I have ever tested in terms of shooting pleasure, a not inconsiderable feat for any gun let alone one coming in at such a low price.
The Premium model has been around for a couple of years now and is more expensive at around £11,500, especially when one considers the possible options list, however it is no less successful than its cheaper sibling. You may select your own stock blank when order the Premium version of the gun, and thoughtful touches such as a rounded edge to the trigger guard abound, giving the gun a real feeling of quality.
Shooting the gun is an absolute joy, with superbly neutral balance and very satisfying trigger pulls. Recoil is very well controlled indeed. This is a gun carefully designed with the British game shooting market in mind, and the care and attention the Connaught has received in development is clear to see when shooting. The 20 bore Premium I tested most recently was an absolute hoot and would be my number one pick for a new side-by-side.
Mentioned in despatches
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive and is necessarily subjective. The absence of a traditional side-by-side, for example, is a fairly major omission, however the decision to buy one of these guns new will very much rely upon your personal tastes. The Holland & Holland Royal, a Purdey built on the Beesley self-opening action, a classic sporting shotgun from Boss & Co. or a beautiful Westley Richards boxlock are all equally worthy of your attention but these are truly bespoke items, so the opinion of this reviewer is somewhat moot. Having laid my hands on all of these guns in the past, however, it is easy to recommend any of them if this is where your heart is set.
These gunmakers all set some store by their heritage, but if you’re after something a little more cutting edge then you might consider ordering something like the Hesketh Deluxe from Longthorne, their array of advanced patents and new construction methods producing an array of very attractive new shotguns. And, anyone who watched the Olympic shooting events must have noticed the number of Perazzis on display. This is not for no reason and many rate a Perazzi as perfect for high birds.
Ultimately, the choice of your new shotgun will come down to the one that speaks to you when you pick it up in your favourite shop. Guns which continually tickle my fancy but didn’t make it onto this list include the likes of a brilliant little SPE .410 over-under from Turkish manufacturer Armed Guns and the simple but classic Miroku MK60. Whatever route you end up taking, remember the true value of any gun will not be properly extracted without having it fitted to you first.