Wildfowlers looking for a gun to fire the heaviest loads usually have to settle for a semi-auto.
Meet, then, the Zabala Century Classic – one of the few over-unders currently on the British market chambered for the 3.1/2in in magnum 12-bore cartridge.
The gun comes from a Spanish company perhaps better known for its side-by-sides. Some may remember these guns from 25 years and more ago, when the side-by-side was very much more popular than it is today. They were tough guns in the value-for-money price bracket – and so is this over-under.
Who makes it?
Zabala Hermanos S.A. is a family enterprise based in Eibar, in northern Spain’s Basque country to the east of the major city of Bilbao.
The company started making shotguns in 1932, and say since then they have produced nearly a million guns. More side-by-sides than over-unders still feature in their current catalogue.
Eibar is Spain’s main gun-making town, and firearms of various kinds have been built there since the 1500s. Because of all this activity, Eibar is the home of the Spanish proof house, the standards of which meet those of the CIP (the international organisation of proof houses) and are therefore acceptable in the UK.
How adaptable is it?
Because of its long chambers and rugged build, this gun will appeal to wildfowlers. It is a bit heavy for general field shooting, but it would certainly bust clays with the appropriate cartridges.
How does it work?
‘Very simply’ is perhaps the best answer – and with simplicity comes strength and ease of repair. The action frame is machined from a solid steel forging, inside which hammers are pivoted at the bottom, while sears hang from the top strap. The sears are lifted clear of the bents in the hammers by the trigger mechanism, and the hammers feature second, safety bents to save an accidental discharge should the gun be dropped or banged sharply.
Mainsprings are coils, running on guide rods. The spring-loaded ejectors are worked by trip rods attached to the hammers.
The barrels hinge on stub pins fitted in the forward ends of the action walls, and lock-up is via a full-width bolt running along the bottom of the action to engage with a substantial bite in the shallow barrel lump. When the gun is closed the lump also drops into a recess in the bottom of the action frame.
A small, rounded pin protruding from the top of the standing breech is depressed as the gun reaches the fully-closed position, allowing the top lever to be centralised by its spring. This is a good feature which saves wear on the bolt tip and the barrel lump.
The action is cocked by a single rod running along the action floor, which is pushed back by a cam on the fore-end iron. The safety is non-automatic, and side-to-side movement of the safety thumbpiece selects which barrel fires first – right for bottom, left for top. That is on most guns. However, Zabala also produce a version in which the bottom barrel fires first with the selector to the right, and both barrels fire simultaneously with the selector to the left.
Now, with two 12-bore magnum cartridges going off together, you have pretty well enough energy on the loose to stop an elephant – and the recoil would be formidable. Not a feature for the faint-hearted!
Outwardly, the action block has been treated with a most attractive colour-hardening process, which gives a random pattern mottled with dark greys, blues and reds, complimented by a fine pattern of scroll engraving. In contrast, the top lever, trigger guard and safety are blacked.
– Constructed on the monobloc principle, and appear as strong and solid as you would expect on a fowler’s gun.
– No over-boring here – the tubes are very close to the British standard of 0.729 inches in internal diameter.
– Chambers and bores are chrome plated internally – a sensible feature on a gun which may be used on salt marshes.
– Five flush-fitting multichoke tubes are supplied with the gun.
– The ventilated top rib, which carries a small red fluorescent foresight, is in the narrow, game-gun style – just 7mm wide.
– Side ribs are ventilated, and exterior finish of the barrels and ribs is in an attractive, dark blue gloss.
– Perhaps strangely, the gun does not seem to carry proofing for magnum steel loads, but will handle lead and non-steel alternatives.
– Length of the walnut stock is 14.1/2in at centre, with drops at comb and heel of 1.5/8 and 2.1/4in respectively. These dimensions would make the gun shoot quite flat for most people.
– Fore-end is a semi-beavertail design, and the general dimensions of the fore end and pistol grip mean that the gun should be comfortable to handle with cold, gloved hands.
– Stock is fitted with a non-sticky rubber recoil pad.
– Woodwork is lightly lacquered to bring out the detail of the wood, which has a more attractive grain pattern than that on many other guns in this price range.
The gun weighs around 8lb, which is a bit heavy for a general field-shooting gun, but just right to soak up some of the recoil of heavy cartridges.
What the tester thought
We tested the Zabala in July 2005. It scored 6 out of 10 for build quality, seven for both handling and styling, and nine for value for money. Picked out for particular praise were the price and the quality of the wood, although the tester did feel the comb could be a little higher to advantage. However, the tester commented that the low comb might be a good feature for wildfowlers in the depths of winter, when thick layers of clothing make gun mounting difficult.
If you want 3.1/2in chambers, the only alternatives are either the Browning 425 Waterfowl or semi-autos which will cost you at least twice as much as this gun. However, they will carry superior steel shot proof. For semi-autos look at versions of the Browning Gold, the Winchester Super X, and the Beretta Xtrema 2, which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
The importers are York Guns; tel 01904 487180.
www. zabalahermanos.com for the manufacturer; www.yorkguns.co.uk for the importer.