Zoli Columbus 12-bore shotgun review.
It is a hallmark of the gun trade that successful designs are usually the result of evolution rather than revolution.
The customer base is inclined to be rather conservative and does not like to be seen with anything too different. As a result, most guns of their respective types tend to look similar. The difference is in the detail.
Italian company, Zoli, rose phoenix-like from the ashes of World War II and for some years output was concentrated on sound, if unimaginative, designs.
However, Antonio Zoli had a dream of producing something better. There are two ways to achieve this. The first is to take a basic gun, refinish it, fit good walnut and apply decoration.
The other way is where we came in, and that is to make a product that is not only finely finished but incorporates detailed technical advances while retaining familiar lines.
Zoli, to its credit, has chosen the latter route.
Presented in a sturdy gun case, there is nothing on first glance to suggest the Columbus over-under is much different to many other Italian guns of this type; an amalgam of sound and attractive walnut, polished action with pretty decoration and long, slim, glossy black barrels.
Look again and the sidewalls of the action bar seem a little shallower than many designs.
Also, the fences are deep cut and this gives the clue the action body is a touch wider than you might at first expect.
This is necessary as the twin lug locking bolt engages high up on the centre line of the bottom barrel, while the rearwards projecting barrel lumps slot into the face of the action.
Such a layout has made for a good strong lock-up, so strong that Zoli produces double rifles to the same design.
The other aspect, which probably gets more publicity, is the easily detachable trigger-plate and lock work. Once this is removed via a small socket-head screw accessed through the short tail of the trigger-guard, it only leaves in place the strikers (firing pins) and safety mechanism.
The instructions point out care is required, particularly for reassembly, and the hammers and safety have to be set as per the instructions.
The detachable lock is a delightful piece of work, nicely finished with well-shaped hammers and long serpentine sear arms.
Even the trigger is worthy of study, being a practical yet elegant shape, wide and comfortably curved, leaving plenty of room in the trigger-guard. Look inside where the lock work has been removed and you see straight through to the inside of the one-piece frame.
The polished, rounded ends of the strikers and the long, slim rod operating the auto safe are visible. What comes over most, though, is the technical neatness and simplicity of this layout.
Once assembled, the Columbus has a slightly chunky appearance, but this is only due to the necessary width across the head of the stock to mate up with the action.
The carved side panels exaggerate this appearance, which then flows into a comfortably curved pistol grip.
The fore-end has a flattened curve across its belly, which makes a good shape to sit in the forward hand.
At a bare 7lb, this is not a heavy gun and the handling is surprisingly fast, yet beautifully predictable with only a hint of forward bias.
It is one of those guns that feels right and this is always an aid to shooter confidence before even firing a shot.
The lock work and trigger-plate can be easily detached by loosening one captive screw, leaving the strikers and safety mechanism in place.
The lock is nicely finished and the trigger has a practical yet elegant shape with plenty of room for the trigger-guard.
The 29.5in barrels (750mm) are magnum proofed and assembled on the industry standard monoblock system.
There is quite a long piece of solid top rib before the ventilated section starts, and the well-laid side ribs are the classic full-length type, which all complements the appearance.
This continues with the neatly struck up sides of the monoblock and the pleasingly shaped forward extension arms of the ejectors, which mirror the curved form in the lock work.
These long arms are the subject of a detailed pictorial guide on how to detach the fore-end correctly.
Now, this is something that everyone thinks they are familiar with, but the top rear sections of the fore-end wood can be cracked if handled incorrectly. This is a useful guide, applicable to many such over-unders, not only the Zoli.
On viewing the barrels the slimness of the breeches becomes apparent, especially the bottom barrel, which is shaped to sit low in the action.
Having gone this far and found nothing but good workmanship, the barrel bores are, as one would expect, clean, bright and right on their proof size.
As for the fixed chokes on this gun, they gauged at tight improved cylinder for the bottom barrel and half-choke for the top – a good combination for many purposes, especially allied to the familiar barrel selector incorporated in the tang safety.
With the wooden butt-plate fitted to this gun the pull measured 14.5in, not overlong by today?s standards but sufficient for most users, even those a bit taller than average.
Drop came out at 1.5/8in at the tip of the comb to 2.5in at the heel with right-hand cast and a good amount of toe-out. The extensive panels of chequering provide a good grip and the slim comb is a particularly pleasing feature to find on a modern over-and-under. All this is cut from sound, fine-grained walnut of good colour and density.
In use in the field, the Zoli Columbus lived up to its expectations. Trigger-pulls proved short and crisp at about 4lb and the sprung ejectors did their job in a civilised manner without the wham-bang drama associated with some over-and-unders.
The safety button/barrel selector operates not off the top lever, but on the opening of the barrels and never failed to snick nicely on to ?safe?. Barrel selection is by the usual small side-to-side button set into a slim and shapely safety.
This is a gun that, in spite of its comparatively modest weight, seems to absorb recoil, making it pleasant to shoot.
Obviously the well thought-out stock shaping and balance are all contributory factors helping to blend old skills with new ideas.
As for putting the shot in the right place, with the top of the foresight bead just on the centre of the pattern sheet the shot spread came out fairly even within the circular markings.
This means with a bird just on the top of the bead it would fall right in the centre of the pattern, making this a fairly flat-shooting gun.
All in all, I have to admit I was most pleasantly surprised by the Zoli Columbus.
It does everything well and, such is the attention to detail and neatness of design, I would anticipate it is the sort of gun that, with suitable maintenance, would give long and trouble-free service.
Nicely made and incorporates some interesting features. Technically neat with a simple layout.
Not a heavy gun. Its handling is fast and well balanced, with only a hint of forward bias.
A good finish with sound walnut and pretty decoration. The gun is cased with comprehensive instructions.
The gun has a well-shaped stock and comfortable fore-end. Gun fitting is an extra service.
Good value in its class and with care and maintenance it could give a long, trouble-free service.
The Zoli Columbus 12-bore is a well-made, well-balanced and technically interesting over-under that is sufficiently conservative in many ways to ensure a wide appeal. It is a good alternative to other similarly priced guns.