Whilst many of us dream of taking a best English sidelock into the field, the versatility and strength of a 12 bore over-under is hard to ignore. A budget of £2,000 for a new over-under game gun gives you access to a wide selection of manufacturers and models. The three best-known makers in this sector are Browning, Miroku and Beretta, but there are also some very good smaller gunmakers, such as Caesar Guerini making inroads into this market.
All the guns I have selected this month offer great value and will give years of faultless use to the careful owner. The only reason you should ever need a new gun is if you fancy a change.
My suggestions for an over-under for £2,000
Browning 525 Hunter Classic – £1,780
Browning’s 525 range of guns are hand made at the Miroku plant in Japan. They are available with 26″, 28″ or 30″ barrels, fixed or multi-choke. I find that fixed chokes means the weight of the gun is balanced a little bit nearer the front hand with multi-choke models.
These guns are very reliable, with the action of the gun adapted from the classic B25, the last gun John Moses Browning designed himself. All these guns come as standard with 3″ chambers, and have a deeper action with a full cross-pin body bolt. The ejector kickers are housed in the fore-end, giving a good, positive ejector system. The gun has a single trigger action that operates on the inertia system, a principle that hasn’t changed for over 40 years.
All Browning 525 guns come with non-automatic safety and 15″ all-wood stocks. They have a slight bias for the right hand and bend of approximately 1½ to 2″. From these measurements the gun can be altered to suit any shooter. A reliable stocker or gunsmith should be able to get at least half an inch of bend or cast either way on these guns. Similarly, they can be altered to automatically apply the safety catch at an approximate cost of £80.
The other gun to consider from Browning in this range is the 525 Hunter Light, which can be bought for £1,580. This gun is made on an alloy action, making it approximately 6oz. lighter than a standard 525. This gun is not for everyone, though it is a very good alternative as a light gun without going down to a smaller 20 bore.
Miroku MK 60 Universal Grade I – £1,300
Miroku is a Japanese manufacturer that has been making guns since 1893. As well as producing guns for Browning in the UK and Europe, they also manufacture guns under their own name. They are becoming increasingly popular as they are slightly cheaper than others in this section of the market.
The MK 60 Universal is a game gun that is available in 12 or 20 bore. As you might expect from a Japanese product, the fit of the metal and wood and the strength and quality of engineering of these guns is very good. An 8mm rib on the 12 bore gives the gun a slightly heavier feel, but the gun still only weighs around 7lbs.
This gun has proved popular for higher bird shooting because the internal mechanism and action is identical to the Browning 525. It has fixed chokes at ¼ and ¾
and the stock has slightly more bend on the comb than its counterparts, though this is negligible.
Beretta Silver Pigeon III – £2,110
The Italian manufacturer Beretta is one of the most recognisable names in gunmaking, and hardly needs an introduction. Established in 1526, the firm has been owned by the same family for almost 500 years and now produces some of the most popular guns available today.
The Silver Pigeon range of guns is particularly popular. Available with fixed or multi-chokes, there are many models in the range, starting with the Silver Pigeon S for £1,615. All the models are identical mechanically but each grade is finished to a different standard – I have chosen the Silver Pigeon III as I find it the most appealing.
All of these guns are available with 28″ or 30″ barrels, though some guns with 26″ barrels can be found. They have 3″ chambers, a 6mm rib and fixed chokes at ¼ and ½. I find that the balance of these guns is similar to the fixed-choke Browning, with the balance of the gun falling nicely between the hands.
The Italian-style action is very slim, and like the Browning and Miroku function on a single trigger inertia system. All Beretta guns come as standard with an automatic safety catch, but can easily be made non-automatic by the removal of just one lever. This is an inexpensive process that takes approximately 10 minutes.
Like Miroku and Browning, Beretta make an alloy-action Ultra Light gun which starts from £1,670 and weighs approximately 6¼
Caesar Guerini Magnus – £2,045
Caesar Guerini is an Italian gunmaker based, like Beretta, in Brescia. They use modern technology to produce their guns but finish them all by hand, including hand-filing the fences, which is unusual on guns of this price.
These guns have the classic shallow Italian action and are available in various models as game guns. The Magnus model has very finely-engraved sideplates, the cheaper guns in the range like the Woodcock and Flyway having very distinctive black action bodies with minimal engraving and gold inlays.
A feature of all Guerini guns is a very good fit between the metal and well-figured walnut. They also have a more English-style fore-end with a push button instead of the Deeley edge of other Beretta/Browning-style guns. Stock measurements are standard and can be altered accordingly, and all guns come with a choice of automatic or non-automatic safety.
I find that the Guerini is a slightly heavier gun than the Beretta, with the weight being balanced just forward of the hinge pin. I feel that it wants to be slightly forwards, as this keeps the momentum of the swing going and helps to eliminate stopping mid-swing.
These guns from Caesar Guerini represent a very good alternative to Browning or Beretta and would be ideal if you wanted something a bit different.
Bill Elderkin is the managing director of Elderkin & Son (Gunmakers) Ltd. of Spalding in Lincolnshire. Tel: 01775 722919
All prices are recommended retail price.