Flexibility is key for those who use their guns all year round. Alex Flint asks if a sporting variant on the classic Silver Pigeon can be the gun for all seasons.
Even those with only a passing interest in the world of shooting are likely to have heard of the Silver Pigeon. Indeed, my first proper shooting lesson after a childhood spent learning at my father’s elbow with my grandfather’s side-by-side was taken with Beretta’s most famous product – as I am sure it was for countless others at shooting schools up and down the country. As such, I am sure many readers will be rolling their eyes at the prospect of another glowing review of a famously competent and competitively priced Beretta.
The sporting variant of the Silver Pigeon in 20 bore guise, however, is a lesson in not judging a book by its cover, as I was able to test the gun directly against a standard 20 bore field variant. Although mechanically identical and visually almost indistinguishable, save the adjustable comb on the ‘Sport’ gun, it is remarkable just how different the two guns felt.
Our ‘Field’ gun had 28” multichoke barrels, weighed 6lbs 5½oz and could in many ways be considered the classic 20 bore. It was light in the hands, very manoeuvrable and would be ideal for a youth or a lady. The ‘Sport’ gun by comparison felt a much more serious tool, weighing in at 6lbs 14½oz, no doubt in part thanks to the longer 30” multichoke barrels. The gun was markedly different not just in weight but handling characteristics; the balance point was to the rear of the hinge pin and the gun came up to the shoulder flat and fast in a consistently intoxicating manner.
It felt a natural extension of my arms and controlled recoil superbly well, resulting in some of the most consistent and pleasurable shooting I have experienced in some time under tricky conditions, with high winds blowing at Grange Farm Shooting School.
The Silver Pigeon I remains an attractive gun at an attractive price. For under £2,000 you get a delightfully slim action, single selective trigger, pleasant scroll and foliate engraving, and nice, if not quite stunning, wood. Chequering is well executed and clean, providing plenty of grip, and the gun is as well constructed as any other with the Beretta name, feeling solid with smooth operation and good wood-to-metal fit.
Criticisms of the Silver Pigeon I are in line with those I have aimed at others at the lower end of the Beretta pricing scale – namely shallow engraving and somewhat disappointing figuring and finishing on the wooden parts. Anything other than a steel trigger is also likely to draw my ire, though I am sure many would disagree.
The trickiest area to cover is the very obvious adjustable comb standing clearly apart from the rest of the stock. This really does mark it out as a clay gun rather than a game gun, and although we have come a long way in making over-unders welcome on shoot day, I am not quite sure the game world is ready for adjustable combs just yet. This is a real shame as the Silver Pigeon I Sport is a truly excellent gun and would doubtless excel on game, especially high driven birds.
Ignoring any thoughts on aesthetic appeal (or otherwise) and acceptability in the field, I really cannot overstate just how good the gun is to shoot. The combination of long barrels and small-bore size produces absolutely exceptional handling and recoil management.
The comb was set perfectly for me straight out of the box and required no adjustment to produce a consistently good shooting experience. It is very difficult to think of any other gun under the £2,000 price point as good to shoot as this, and it certainly puts a number of more expensive guns in the shade too.
If you’re looking to pick up a gun specifically for clay shooting I can recommend this one without hesitation.
Beretta Silver Pigeon I Sport 20 bore on test
Both the Field and Sport versions could be considered excellent to shoot, however the Sport was a revelation. It has a lovely 8mm wide rib, providing an excellent sight picture, and came up to the shoulder with what felt essentially no effort.
Mounting was consistently good, resulting in strong shooting even on the tricky clays laid on by my instructor Bruce Marks to take full advantage of the high winds. Trigger pulls were satisfyingly crisp and recoil was handled well across both guns, but the Sport did a remarkable job of nullifying felt recoil and muzzle flip, doubtless thanks to the longer barrels and the greater overall weight.
The heft of the gun felt in the rear of the hand was very satisfying indeed, and the deeper semi-pistol grip with significant palm swell were both noticeable positives, giving consistent hand positions and security when shooting. Also impressive over both guns was the regulation of barrel temperatures as there was very little heat felt.
The Silver Pigeon I Sport just made shooting feel an incredibly easy and natural thing to do. It was most satisfying on straight driven targets thanks to its steady, smooth handling.
I really would recommend any sportsman or woman give this gun a try and urge you not to be put off by the adjustable comb.
If you are looking for a clay gun to get you through the off-season, then this could be perfect.
View from the gun shop. By Bill Elderkin
It is certainly an interesting exercise to compare these two guns directly. They have almost identical dimensions yet handle quite differently, largely due to the weight and balance of the guns. The classic ‘Field’ 20 bore Silver Pigeon will handle quite quickly and may be a little flighty thanks to its shorter 28” barrels and resultant reduced weight next to its sporting brother. Conversely, the added weight of the Sport gun with adjustable comb and the extra heft felt in the rear hand will likely make most users shoot in a much smoother, more deliberate style. I probably wouldn’t recommend a 20 bore gun with 28” barrels to most men, but it would be perfect for a youth or lady.
So, who is the Silver Pigeon Sport with adjustable comb really aimed at? It is heavier all round, limiting its usefulness to those looking to move to a lighter, more manageable gun due to age or physical condition. You probably could get away with taking it out on shoot day amongst friends, though you would want to shoot well. Really, it is for pretty serious clay shooters. An adjustable comb is ideal for DTL and sporting or skeet targets, enabling better vision of going-away clays.
It offers greater flexibility, certainly, but any buyer should be wary of falling into the trap of fiddling. You should not be worrying about whether your comb is set correctly but rather concentrating on the target and avoiding the temptation to make adjustments when things start going wrong. It is a step beyond changing your chokes after a miss!
For those looking for a clay gun that you could also happily use for a bit of game shooting – rather than the reverse – this adjustable Beretta Silver Pigeon is ideal.
I can recommend without hesitation this gun for clay shooting