A slender French shotgun with beautiful chequering is distinctive without being quirky, says Lewis Potter
Until recently I had never had the privilege of handling a Chapuis shotgun, though I am familiar with that manufacturer’s double rifles, which I always found to be rather fine pieces of work. Chapuis Armes is, of course, a French company that was formed in the 1920s by the father of the current owner. The company motto is “Perfection, tradition and innovation”, which sounds similar to principles close to the heart of our British gunmakers.
Interestingly, it used to be possible to identify shotguns of continental origin either by a unique action, distinctly Gallic or Germanic styling or just detail differences — fittings for slings being one giveaway. UK shooters, being in general a remarkably conservative lot, would sometimes react negatively to anything even a little different — at times very much to their loss.
Therefore, even before I opened the sturdy guncase with the Chapuis logo, there was an element of anticipation regarding what I might find inside.
Chapuis C40 style
What I found was a shotgun of elegant form sporting no overt Gallic quirks, though retaining a pleasing style distinctive to this maker. It is a slim, good-looking shotgun, with this example sporting some very fine walnut. The stock and fore-end are oil finished, as one would expect with a gun of this quality, the chequering is fine and crisp and, unusually, the heel plate is covered with chequering with tidy, fine slot-head screws securing it in place.
The slim fore-end with the Deeley-Edge catch appealed to me and, while with my large hands I would have preferred a slightly shallower curve on the pistol grip, the modest palm swell was in just the right place. Another feature that I liked — because it is one of my favourite pieces of gun furniture — is the beautifully fitted engraved skeleton grip cap; a silver oval in the stock would, I feel, have completed the job.
With a length of pull of 15in, a fair amount of cast and a slim comb, it fitted me well. Though this gun has a long stock, it is worth recording that Chapuis will produce guns to the customer’s stock dimensions, there is a choice of wood with upgrades available on all their models and, of course, there is that silver oval if required. Balance with the 30in barrels fitted to this gun was just in front of the action knuckle, and pointability, handling and overall balance were very good. I suspect one of the shorter-barrelled options would produce an extremely fast-handling gun.
The barrels and action
The barrels are built on the well-known monobloc method of construction with solid side ribs and, on this gun, a solid game top rib, though there are other options available. It is chambered for 3in (76mm) cartridges, proofed for steel shot and fitted with multi-chokes, ranging from cylinder to full-choke and beautifully marked, with relevant details in both French and English as well as the usual notch marking. For a small-bore gun the permanently sprung extractors are surprisingly sturdy and have the novelty of cut-outs to accept the twin locking bolts situated in the standing breech halfway up between the two barrels. Fairly high locking lugs are a technically sound idea.
While the action body is slim and well rounded, it is internally a complex piece of work. To put it simply, it appears that metal is only removed where necessary. This makes for much more tricky machining work but the end result is style with strength. Barrel selection is bottom to top with, on this gun, the optional auto-safe. One of the usual advantages of a non-selective trigger is shorter trigger-pulls than with some selective types — this Chapuis C40 proved to have quite short and crisp trigger-pulls.
The lock work mounted on the triggerplate is tucked away behind the sideplates, with each main component part having a fine polished finish. I’m not normally the greatest fan of sideplates, but the dimensions, shaping and fit of this example are particularly good.
This 20-bore is decorated with laser work, a method that is becoming increasingly used to good effect. The gamebirds — pheasant, mallard and woodcock — are lifelike, while the scroll and foliate-type work is in a distinctly different but attractive style. As well as the sideplates and almost overall coverage of the action body, the decoration extends to the fore-end catch, fore-end knuckle, triggerguard and top-lever. For anyone who wants more, there are further stages of pattern, right up to hand engraving and an even higher grade of walnut. It seems that Chapuis is following the bespoke line of “you pays your money and you takes your choice”.
The test day was wild and blustery and spitting rain; not ideal conditions, but I did hope for a pheasant along the hedgerow bottom on the way to the pattern plate. It failed to materialise. Cartridges used on test included Eley VIP and Eley VIP Bismuth, Gamebore Pure Gold 20, Lyalvale Express Special 20 Gauge and, suitable for that bit of preseason practice, Hull Pro Twenty.
As anticipated, when dry-firing on snap caps the triggerpulls — when used “for real” — were delightful. It was almost a case of think hard and snap, snap, the shots were taken. The gun fit meant that it shot fairly much to point of aim, placing the centre of the pattern only a few inches high at 30 yards. Ejection of fired cases was also a strong point and the short movement of the autosafe button was a useful feature.
Felt recoil was modest, in part due to the cartridges I used but also gun fit and the shaping of the stock. Modern cartridges nearly all perform well and those used were no exception, especially as this Chapuis turned out to be the sort of shotgun where you did not have to be a bit picky on what was fed through it to get good patterns.
If two cartridges just had the edge in this gun — and given the weather conditions that was difficult to decide — it would be the Eley VIP with 28g No.5 shot and the Gamebore Pure Gold 20 with 30g No.5.
This 20-bore Chapuis is a fine game gun and it is the attention to detail that lift a gun like this from good to exceptional