When is a Remington not a Remington? The quick answer these days has to be ‘when it’s a Baikal’, because the latest range of budget-priced Spartan shotguns from the famous American manufacturer is made in Russia.
Here in the UK we seem to think of the Remington as a well-balanced semi-auto rather than a break-action gun, but there have been over-under Remingtons for many years. Current over-unders on the American market include the Premier range, which is made in Italy, and another range of Russian-built guns made, not apparently at any rate, by Baikal.
They also have their home-grown Model 332, the successor to the famous but long-discontinued Models 32 and 3200, which worked just like a modern Krieghoff. The 332 is available in the UK.
In the days of the old Soviet Union, Baikals had a huge reputation in the UK as rock-bottom, budget-priced over-unders. They were tough, simple, and reliable.
In the era there were jokes and rumours about Baikal guns in much the same vein as those about Lada and Skoda cars, and anything else built in the former Communist bloc. ‘Made from melted-down T54 battle tanks’, said some, while others maintained the stocks were made from reject sleepers from the Trans-Siberian railway. But the steel was good, and the wood,- although certainly not walnut, was a bit rough but serviceable enough.
Then, when the Soviet Union broke up and the factory had to stand on its own feet rather than be part of the state industrial apparatus, quality dropped to the point that the then importer said ‘no more’.
Happily, that was a temporary glitch, and the quality control is well back on course. Let’s face it, a company with Remington’s international reputation wouldn’t be involved unless the workmanship and quality was right again.
The Spartan is made in 12, 16, 20, 28 bore, and .410 gauge, most of which are available in the UK. The gun illustrated on this page is the 20-bore version.
Who makes it?
Baikals are made by Izhevsky Mekhaniches Zavod in the city of Izhevsk, which is about 1,000 kilometres due east of Moscow and 500 km west of the Urals. The area has a great gun-making tradition.
It was in Izhevsk that cannons were cast to fight against the advancing armies of Napoleon in 1812. The present-day Baikal factory also makes rifles, pistols, revolvers, air weapons, and other products as diverse as oil production equipment and medical appliances. Over the years they claim to have built ten million hunting guns.
How adaptable is it?
This will be a first gun for many people, and most likely an only gun as well. It will handle club clays, game and pigeons with equal facility.
How does it work?
Don’t be fooled by the action’s shiny exterior – this gun works on the same, proven principles of the Baikals of old. Hammers pivot from the bottom of the action, while sears hang from the top strap. Mainsprings are coils, running on guide rods, and the single trigger is set to fire the bottom barrel first.
Many people who owned Baikals for years never realised that the trigger is selective. There is no apparent switch anywhere on the gun to select top barrel first. The safety, in the usual position on the top strap, is just the safety, and nothing more. In fact there is a barrel switch, but it is cunningly concealed.
With the gun loaded and closed, if you push the trigger forward until a slight click is felt, then – just for that pair of shots – the gun fires the top barrel first. The mechanism always then reverts to firing bottom barrel first, unless you repeat the trigger trick every time you reload.
The gun’s ejection mechanism is also in a class of its own, and it also has a hidden switch. Straight out of the box, the Baikal is an ejector, but it can be turned into a non-ejector with the aid of a small screwdriver.
If you take off the barrels and look at the knuckles, you will see what looks like two small screw heads protruding through the top of the curve. Rotate each screw through 90 degrees and the gun is transformed into a non-ejector – a very useful feature if the shooting isn’t too frantic and you don’t want to be groping around in the undergrowth for fired cases before you move off.
The barrels hinge on a full-width cross pin, and the gun is locked by a bolt running on the action floor which engages with a bite in the rear of a shallow barrel lump. The exterior of the action frame is finished in nickel – a pleasing change as well as being a better quality finish than the blacking we remember on the older Baikals.
Barrels are built on the monobloc system, and those on the 20-bore version illustrated had a narrow, 6mm ventilated top rib and solid side ribs. The top rib is slightly ramped, giving a very good sight picture. It also had 3in (76mm) chambers, and came with four flush- fitting multichoke tubes – another excellent innovation, because all the Baikals we remember were fixed-chokes.
The woodwork on this gun is another great improvement on the Baikals of old, most of which had short stocks finished in a strangely reddish shade. It is still a bit basic and the chequer pattern is not brilliant, but it serves its purpose well. Length at centre is 14.1/2in, and drops at comb and heel are 1.1/2in and 2.1/4in respectively – a nice compromise which should suit most people. The stock is fitted with a rubber recoil pad. Fore end is a semi-beavertail design offering a good grip.
The 20-bore weighs 7.1/2lb, so expect the 12-bore to be a little heavier.
What the tester thought
Sporting Gun tested the Spartan in 20-bore in December 2005. It scored eight out of ten for both build quality and value for money, six for handling, and five for styling. “I have no doubt the Remington Spartan will do well in its intended market”, said the tester.
For a gun of this specification you are really looking at the second-hand market. A Lanber in good condition would be a sensible alternative.
From the importers, Edgar Brothers of Macclesfield, on 01625-613177.
www.edgar-brothers.co.uk for the importers. For the manufacturer, try www.baikalinc.ru and enjoy a very informative site, despite the sometimes quaint English.