With a prize-winning pedigree, the F3 is an impressive shotgun - but can this latest clay-busting model entice the more casual buyer?
By now your eyes will no doubt have fallen on the picture of the subject of this month’s review. With a tall rib and flared muzzles disgorging exposed chokes, the F3 Vantage looks a little out of the ordinary. However, after spending a few hours in its company, it is evident this gun is worthy of your interest – and any gun developed by seven-times Sporting World Champion John Bidwell demands respect. While shotguns designed specifically for clay shooting may not normally be your cup of tea, one must not forget Blaser also produces a standard game variant of the F3, which would be ideal for the field.
Blaser has been producing firearms from Isny im Allgäu in southern Germany since 1957 and is probably best known in the sporting world for its innovative straight-pull bolt-action hunting rifles, the R93 and more recent R8. All the firm’s guns are sophisticated and famed for their strength and reliability. The F3 is no different and has a variety of proprietary systems built in to prevent double discharge and accidental firing. Innovative design also helps to prevent strain on the user, such as a clever ejector cocking system that activates the ejectors when the shot is fired, and which cocks when the gun is opened.
Blaser’s shotguns also have a variety of adjustable weights in the stock and fore-end that can be added to and adjusted to guarantee the perfect balance. Though given the F3 Vantage already weighs a hefty 8lbs 7oz, many will baulk at the idea of adding more weight, especially when it is perfectly balanced straight off the shelf.
Visually the gun is a success with a simple matt black finish on the action body, top lever and trigger guard, and a silver trigger. The only splash of colour comes from a small gold ‘F3’ logo, meaning the eye is drawn to the beautiful wooden parts. Here the F3 shines with some lovely, well figured wood complete with an excellent glossy finish. Chequering is cleanly executed, offering plenty of grip with no roughness in the hands.
In operation the gun is everything you might expect from a high-end manufacturer. It is extremely satisfying to open and close and has powerful ejection, all accompanied by a delightful array of clunks and clicks without any hint of wayward rattles or vibrations. Overall the F3 looks and feels entirely solid, with masculine dimensions and bold lines meaning it will be quite at home among any competition.
Higher quality wood grades are available, as are gold inlays and gold triggers, plus full sideplates and various engraving patterns including game scenes and English scroll. When applied to a standard game F3 I suspect you would be looking at a very handsome shotgun indeed.
Blaser’s aim with the F3 Vantage is to produce a more user-friendly clay gun, the sort of gun any shooting man or woman could pick up off the shelf and use successfully. In this respect it has succeeded – certainly the F3 looks a little different from a standard game gun, but it is not as alien as some clay shooting guns can be, with their fully adjustable stocks and huge raised ribs.
It is also beyond argument that Blaser has created a brilliant gun to shoot – the field of vision provided by the fixed medium raised rib is great and makes for a gun that is comfortable and natural in the hand. The addition of a moveable trigger and a clever system of weights that can be mounted onto a rail behind the fore-end mean just about anyone ought to be able to pick up the Vantage and make it work for them.
A gun I enjoyed shooting
The gun is not without its quirks, however. The barrel selector on Blaser guns is slightly unusual, taking the form of a lever in front of the trigger rather than being part of the safety catch. Moreover, our test gun was non-autosafe – a feature which always raises an eyebrow.
On the whole, however, the F3 Vantage is a real success and a gun I enjoyed shooting tremendously.
If you are looking for a full time clay gun I have no hesitation in recommending it. Indeed, the quality of the handling would encourage me to look at Blaser’s game guns as serious contenders.
In the field
It would be fair to say that the Blaser F3 Vantage proved a surprise in the field. Not being a game gun, I was prepared to find the experience of shooting it slightly unusual, but this big Blaser won me over.
The first and most obvious difference in shooting this type of gun is just how much you can see when it is mounted. There is a lot more rib on display than I am used to, but this coupled with the excellent balance and steady handling made getting and staying on line almost laughably easy. The height of the rib meant my head was always in the right place and proved remarkably comfortable when shooting. The Blaser was always quick to the shoulder and mounted well whether instructor Bruce Marks was giving me instinctive or more considered targets – quite a surprise given the gun’s weight.
The stock is nicely shaped, with a lovely fit in the heel of the hand and a comfortable swell into the palm. The adjustable trigger is an excellent addition, and the trigger pulls were crisp and predictable without being sharp. Recoil was also handled extremely well, doubtless in part thanks to the large Kick-Eez pad fitted as standard.
Fun and rewarding to shoot, the F3 Vantage certainly appeals as a full time clay gun. And it has left me extremely keen to get my hands on the standard game gun.
View from the gun shop by Bill Elderkin
Blaser’s shotguns are unlike anything else available on the market today, with virtually every working part being of the company’s own design. This means they have a unique look, the large lock plate in the bottom of the action standing out particularly. One major downfall of this unique design is that they are tricky for the average gunsmith to repair – indeed, for all but the most basic repairs, a Blaser gun has to go back to the manufacturer. However, given that every gun is sold with a 10 year warranty it must be said the company is clearly confident about the strength and reliability of its guns. And I have no reason to doubt that confidence.
This is clearly a clay gun, and is as weighty and solid as you might expect. Although the placement of the barrel selector in front of the trigger is unusual, it does actually make sense since it means the barrel is easily chosen before firing and certainly can’t be mistakenly changed when operating the safety catch.
Every F3 Vantage comes with Briley extended chokes and 32″ barrels as standard. There are a range of options available, including higher quality wood, a choice of semi-beavertail, English and Schnabel fore- ends, and straight or semi-adjustable Monte Carlo stocks. All F3 guns are available as full left-handers and top of the line models come with gold triggers, silver finish and high quality engraving, sideplates and an ABS case.
Engineering: This is high quality, modern manufacturing at its best. Well designed, with a clever range of adjustability for those so inclined. 9/10
Handling: Faultless. Moves and mounts tremendously well, recoil is dealt with superbly and it feels very comfortable in the shoulder. 10/10
Looks & finishing: Although basic and not terribly exciting, very well executed. Lovely finishing on the wood would sit well alongside the engraving seen on higher specification guns. 8/10
Reliability & customer service: Feels incredibly solid and the 10 year warranty as standard suggests Blaser is confident in its products. The only problem is that all repairs have to be carried out by Blaser itself. 8/10
Value: As a specialist clay shooting gun this looks very good value for money, sitting well alongside the competition. 8/10
Bill Elderkin is the managing director of Elderkin & Son (Gunmakers) Ltd. of Spalding in Lincolnshire – call 01775 722919
If you are looking for a full time clay gun I have no hesitation in recommending it