Tony Galazan, the founder of the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company, tells Roger Catchpole about his endless quest for engineering perfection.
Tony Galazan was born to be a gunmaker. Gunmaking as a trade is renowned for its great innovators; men who spent their lives striving at their benches and poring over their drawing boards to produce the world’s finest sporting arms. Names such as Manton, Purdey, Boss, Grant, Woodward and Holland capture the imagination and remind us of the great engineers who formed the UK’s gunmaking heritage.
Whilst innovation never ceased in the UK, there were certainly periods over the past 75 years when it slowed. Some even suggest that many of the great leaps forward in gun design during the last half century originated abroad and were led by the likes of Perazzi, Fabbri and Blaser. That said, the recent successes of new makers like McKay Brown, Longthorne and Boxhall & Edmiston in the UK prove that a hungry group of first-generation gunmakers are still willing to tread boldly in the footsteps of their trend-setting forebears. But there are others across the globe aiming to build ever better sporting arms.
One such innovator is Tony Galazan, who owns and operates the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company (CSMC). Tony studied engineering, but it was always guns that fascinated him. After completing a gunmaking apprenticeship under an Austrian gunmaker based in Connecticut, Tony founded the CSMC in 1975. Initially he traded guns and gun parts, many of which he made himself. Interestingly, his first commercial product was a choke and barrel gauge, made during his first year of business and still available for sale today.
Word spreads through the valley
By 1989 Tony Galazan was manufacturing virtually every shotgun component. However, he was still not actually making guns. This changed the following year when he decided to build a gun for the first time. Not one for taking the simple route, his first shotgun, built under his own Galazan name, was a best sidelock over-under inspired by his favourite Boss designed shotgun. What made this gun more interesting still was that it was built entirely in the Connecticut factory, to best standards, at a fraction of the cost of a London gun.
Before long, word spread through the Connecticut Valley – the traditional home of US gunmaking – that something special was transpiring. Tony’s craftsmanship had captured the attention of other gunmakers who were struggling to produce the higher-grade guns that had made them popular in the US between the late 1800s and the Second World War. Prior to WWII, the US boasted quality double guns manufactured by the likes of Parker, Smith, Winchester, Fox, and Ithaca.
At first, Tony manufactured spare parts for these classic American guns, before licencing the A.H. Fox name to produce its guns from 1992 onwards. This deal allowed Tony to begin building high-grade Fox side-by-side guns, which were extremely rare and highly sought after at the time. In addition to the 12 bore, 16 bore, and 20 bore Fox guns that were already in circulation, Tony introduced 28 bore and .410 models for the first time. Certainly, these CSMC manufactured Fox side-by-sides were superior to the originals.
Tony Galazan: a man in demand
Next Tony Galazan moved his attention the Winchester Model 21, where he resurrected the manufacturing of this classic American gun after striking a deal to take over the custom shop from US Repeating Arms. Subsequently, Remington asked Tony to build a number of best-grade Parker shotguns for the firm. This partnership with Remington proved successful, while on a modest scale, and remains today.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Tony continued to produce his best Galazan shotguns, as well as improved reproductions of the Foxes, Parkers and Winchesters. His team grew substantially, with both untrained locals and apprenticed international craftsmen from the UK, Belgium, Germany and Austria joining the CSMC to provide the right skills mix and training environment. Today, over 100 staff members occupy the 120,000 square foot facility in New Britain, Connecticut, just a stone’s throw from where Tony was raised.
“I just liked guns…”
Recently I travelled to meet Tony Galazan and Louis Frutuoso, his head of sales and marketing at the CSMC, to learn what makes this gunmaking business unique. On first impression it is obvious Tony is an authentic engineer. He was dressed not to interview but to build guns, complete with magnifying loupes permanently atop his head. Clearly, Tony is a man who cares deeply about guns, how they work, and perhaps most importantly, how they can be improved.
We sat on classic Chesterfield sofas in the ornately decorated showroom, and I asked Tony how it all began. “I just liked guns,” he mused. “I was a boy scout, then I started to collect. One day I got a visit from the government. They wanted to know why I had so many guns. My Mum wasn’t pleased.” He chuckles: “But soon after, my father helped me get a dealer’s licence so that I could trade with other collectors. After I finished technical school I decided to apply everything I learned towards gunmaking.”
I asked Tony about the first gun bearing his name, the Galazan over-under. “I personally love sidelock over-under shotguns. Take a Boss shotgun… I love Boss guns, they are works of art. But I wouldn’t take one to shoot pheasants in the West Country. I liken it to a Rolls-Royce. It’s a thing of beauty but you wouldn’t drive it from Connecticut to California.”
A truly durable sidelock
Tony’s first effort at gunmaking proved a resounding success in North America. Perhaps his greatest coup in those early days was convincing big-name engravers to adorn his actions. This gave his guns a true ‘best’ finish and, importantly, enabled him to position himself alongside the finest gunmakers from England and Italy.
Over the years that followed he launched a variety of new guns, inspired by the greatest gun inventors from around the world. First was his RBL (round boxlock), a round-body side-by-side based on an Anson & Deeley action, chosen due to its reliability, which was initially only built in 20 bore.
Then he built the American A10, an exceptionally pretty sidelock over-under. I asked him what motivated him to design the A10 when he had already created a best sidelock shotgun for his range. “I wanted to build a truly durable sidelock. That’s why I built the A10,” he explained. To prove the point he told me he has put over 100,000 rounds through his personal A10, and his friends even more through their A10 models. “I believe you can make a durable gun that’s also beautiful,” Tony continued.
Built on site
What is most interesting, however, is that he has now utilised innovations from his A10s in his Galazan best over-under, which recently reached its third generation of design. Indeed, this demonstrates a commitment to constantly bettering his work – if that were ever in question.
Following the A10, he moved his attention to the Inverness, a round-body over-under shotgun based on a Brescia action, but with a style more reminiscent of a McKay Brown. When designing the Inverness, Tony again emphasised strength and reliability in his choices – a recurring theme in the CSMC guns. The Inverness design then formed the basis of the Model 21 over-under shotgun that CSMC recently launched to complement its ever-popular Model 21 side-by-side.
The key to producing high quality shotguns in what Louis Frutuoso describes as the “gunmaking island” of Connecticut is the ability to manufacture components on site. Tony explains: “We make trigger guards from blocks of steel; we even make triggers from blocks of steel. Most everything is made on site using our own machines and craftsmen. This is more expensive, but critically we know we can get parts when we need them. We also know what they are made out of.” I asked whether CNC technology has influenced this process. He continued: “New technologies in manufacturing have certainly helped the CSMC, as they have all gunmakers. You can get closer tolerances, for example. But there is still much hand-work required in our shotguns.”
Aiming at the UK
This past year Tony Galazan introduced a gun aimed specifically at the UK market and distributed through Criddle Fieldsports. His Christian Hunter gun range is based on the same proven four-pin sidelock design used in the A10 shotgun. This model includes CSMC’s proprietary Hard Gold system to protect internal components, as well as V springs that provide silky-smooth trigger pulls, and also intercepting safety sears. Furthermore, the sidelocks on this action are truly hand-detachable, via pop-up hidden fastener releases. A single selective trigger comes as standard, but all other aspects of these guns are customised.
During my time at CSMC a fascinating factory tour gave me the opportunity to see these striking Christian Hunter shotguns being built first hand. I witnessed time-honoured skills such as case colour hardening and hand checkering, alongside cutting-edge technologies such as CNC machine engineering and laser engraving.
Finally, I had the opportunity to handle a variety of finished guns in the showroom. From the exhibition walnut and elegant shallow action, to the unique engraving patterns, this is an extremely attractive gun. With the Christian Hunter range, Tony and Louis have delivered a shotgun that is both durable and beautiful, one I am convinced will prove popular among British shooters.
I asked Tony one final question. Why has he been so successful in an industry dominated by such long-established firms? “I don’t know, I guess I just love guns. The returns are horrible, but I always wanted to work with guns. My friends say that I would pay to be in the gun business, I tell them that I probably do!”
For more information on Christian Hunter guns visit christianhunter.co.uk or call Louis Frutuoso at CSMC on +1 860 225 6581. Details on these guns are also available through UK distributor Will Criddle at criddlefieldsports.com