While our once-great gunmaking industry started sliding into decline during the 1950s, the Italian gunmakers have thrived and become major exporters to the world.
New companies have sprung up, not only for niche markets but as major players in this remarkable post-war Italian renaissance.
One such company is BR Rizzini, formed 40 or so years ago, and now recognised across much of the western world.
The gun on test is a fairly typical example of an over-and-under game gun from this company.
It has slim, flowing lines, somewhat accentuated on this gun by the glossy, black 30in barrels and the fitting of sideplates.
The latter not only emphasises the lines, but gives more scope for eye-catching decoration.
Typical Italian features are the safety button/ barrel selector and the fitting of hinge discs (or trunnions) for the barrel pivot. The appearance is not deceptive the gun is light and handy, the long barrels give exceptional pointability.
Mounting is effortless this really is a gun with which one could tramp all day around fields and hedgerows without it becoming a burden.
A COMFORTABLE FIT
One curious thing about this pleasing middleweight is the fit. The length of pull from the trigger to the middle of the butt measured 14½in, a good average, and due to the styling it looks longer.
However, for me and any long armed six-footer, it would be better a bit longer, but that is the way this gun was ordered, so this is no reflection on Rizzinis skills.
A drop of 1½in at the tip of the comb to 2½in at the heel gives dimensions that will suit most shooters quite well.
This gun has a reasonable degree of cast and a narrow comb, very much in the style of an English side-by-side.
Combined with a long and exceptionally slim fore-end it is a formula that not only makes the gun look right, but it is also comfortable, which is an important aspect of gun fit.
THE ESSENCE OF SIMPLICITY
The silver-finished action body is of the low-walled type and scaled to suit a 20-bore.
Deep cut fences are attractive features that blend into the side extensions on the top barrel. This is what we are used to from Italian makers, who are master stylists.
Lockwork follows a layout that has evolved as the industry standard for this type of gun, in the same way as Anson & Deeley set the standard for the boxlock. It has the benefit of simplicity if a design works well, it is best not to meddle with it.
The layout is that of a modified trigger-plate action, with the sears hung from the top strap. The lifter, attached to the trigger, is pulled away from the sears when the safety is in the on position.
However, as it points out in the Rizzini catalogue, never rely on mechanical safety.
Wise words and useful snippets concerning safe gun handling appear adjacent to every illustration.
Apart from that attention to safety, it is nice to record that the safety button snicks back and forth in a positive manner and the trigger-pulls are crisp and even, set at a bare 4lb.
As for the actual trigger, it is, like everything else on this gun, slim and nicely shaped and set well back in a neatly proportioned trigger-guard.
MODERN HEAT-TREATABLE STEEL
Barrels are one of the most important aspects of any shotgun. Finery and fancy walnut count for nought if you do not have good barrels.
These are put together on the well-known monoblock principle, which is actually a form of sleeving.
However, it has the advantage that the breech piece (or block) is made from a single piece of modern heat-treatable steel.
The finely matted ventilated top-rib, finished off with a traditional bead foresight, is well laid, as are the solid side ribs.
Workmanship of the muzzles is especially tidy, with similar attention to detail at the breech end and jewelling on the sides of the block where it fits into the action body.
Externally, the barrels are struck up true, as evidenced by the lines of light that flow down their length when held up for examination. Internally, the 76mm chambered tubes are spotless with fairly short choke sections.
The chokes, when compared to the actual bore size of 15.9mm, are gauged a light half in the bottom barrel and a tight half in the top using the English system of choke measurement.
So far, so good, but it is results that really count.
Decoration includes not only engraving and embellishment, but the styling of chequering patterns, and perhaps even the type of finish to the woodwork.
The decoration on this gun is very complementary, from the typical honey-coloured Italian walnut with darker veining and a factory oiled finish, to the hand-finished engraving.
This comprises fairly simple game scenes on the sideplates, with scroll-and-bouquet work around the sides of the action body and dogs on the bottom and the engravers name applied near the triggerguard.
Such decoration also extends to the trigger-guard and top-lever with matted panels around the fences.
The laser-cut chequering is of the long diamond type that seems to be in vogue.
Patterns are quite extensive, while at the same time retaining that sought-after classic, almost restrained appearance.
Add into this package the chequered wooden butt-plate and the unobtrusive Anson-type push-button fore-end release, and you begin to understand what I mean by complementary styling.
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
On examination, this gun certainly ticks all the boxes, all the way from its pretty appearance to the good fit of wood to metal.
But how does it perform? There is an old saying that if something looks right it usually is right not always true, of course, but certainly so in the case of the 20-bore Rizzini.
Everything functions properly. There is no awkward stiffness on opening, the autosafe engages in a positive way and no real effort is needed to close the gun.
The geometry of the working parts is just right. Even the spring ejectors a modest load to overcome on closing were little noticed.
Primer strikers proved satisfactory and well centered, ejection was very positive and precisely timed, and the second barrel selection was faultless and as quick as one could wish for.
This is a gun that mounts easily, and I was soon looking across those long tapered barrels at the pattern plate.
With the foresight bead just under the mid-point target, both barrels threw patterns that placed 60 or so percent of the shot just above the aiming mark.
This is usually the ideal as most birds are rising, whether going away, crossing or driven.
As far as the actual patterns, all that careful barrel work seems to have paid off. They were very good indeed.
There you have it in a nutshell an attractive, well-made gun that is a pleasure to use and performs properly.
So what are the drawbacks of this paragon of the modern production shotgun?
I can think of an obvious one. It is a shame that we, once the workshop of the world, find it impossible to make a gun such as the Rizzini within this price range.
Shot patterns 4/5
Barrels: Fixed or multi chokes (26½in, 27in, 28in, 29in and 30in options)
Action: Over-and-under, modified trigger-plate
Stock: Semi-pistol grip or straight hand
Safety: Auto-safe or manual
Trigger: Single or double
Weight: About 6½lb, depending upon specification
Features: Side-plates, solid or ventilated ribs optional, colour casehardened or coin finish action
Price: £1,800 (depending on specifications and international currency markets)
Importer: J. Roberts & Son, 020 7622 1131