Charles Smith Jones used to tease a friend about his Baikal gun, a communist-era clunker, but the M27 prompted a rethink. He explains why
Back in the mid-1970s a group of us regularly used to get together to try for a rabbit or pigeon on a Saturday morning before going on to our pocket-money jobs.
Our guns were an eclectic assortment: Mike had a new over-and-under that we all secretly coveted; I used the old family 20-bore; and Andy had a single-barrelled Baikal. Poor Andy. It was a horrible thing with poorly applied blueing, a built-in rust problem, while the stock (which had been smothered in a thick, sticky varnish of some kind) was cracked. As for the balance, well, we only half-meant it when we suggested that you were better off holding the gun by the barrel and trying to club a bird out of the air with it. We never tired of the joke ‘How do you double the value of Andy’s Baikal? Put a cartridge in it’. It was what we used to call a ‘tractor gun’, and back then a Baikal was for someone who simply couldn’t afford anything else.
Baikal no longer the butt of jokes
Thankfully Baikal moved on and developed a reputation for good quality, competitively priced guns. By the 1980s they were certainly not the butt of jokes any more. True, they still sat firmly at the budget end of the market but their guns were solid, workmanlike affairs that a farmer in the Urals could rely upon to feed his family with complete confidence in its dependability. Sadly, thanks to a 2014 EU embargo on the import of firearms from Russia, the brand is no longer imported into the UK (although guns previously brought in were still allowed to be sold and available new for a while).
The Baikal MP 27 is typical of the more improved Baikal products. It may not have the lines of a higher-priced gun but it has a rugged elegance that speaks of solid reliability and affordable simplicity. It came in a number of variants: earlier models had double triggers and fixed chokes, while later ones were equipped with single triggers and had multichoke options. The earlier models often carry a reputation for a more robust construction. At one point, guns were even offered with two sets of barrels, one set choked to ¼ and ½ for game shooting, and the other more open for skeet. The mechanical boxlock action itself is very reminiscent of a modified Browning design.
A gun designed for hunters
Despite the attempt to engage the clayshooting market, this is definitely a gun designed for hunters, as evidenced by the sling swivel fittings that came in many cases factory-fitted. Another version, the Sporting, was aimed at the clay shooter and boasted more attractively finished furniture, a 30in ported barrel and deep checkering on the fore-end compared with the plainer finish of the standard Hunting model. It also featured a 10mm rib compared with the 5mm or 7mm rib of the latter. Very few appear to have been sold in the UK and they only rarely turn up for sale.
Stocks and fore-ends came in beechwood, which was initially only available in a heavily varnished finish. Some owners found that this had a tendency to crack and needed refinishing; later on, a more attractive oiled finish became the standard. The woodwork itself was simple and largely unadorned, with light chequering decoration around the semi-pistol grip and the fore-end. If anything, it is slightly less bulky than you might expect. Perhaps not that surprising for a gun designed for users wearing gloves, and the oversized trigger guard complements this impression.
The metal-to-wood fitting is surprisingly good for a gun in this price range, and buyers of a new gun often found that it needed several hundred cartridges to be put through them before the action started to ease up. The metalwork is functional, so don’t expect anything more than the most rudimentary decoration to the black action or slightly more upmarket nickel-plated version.
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York Guns, the UK Baikal importers until the 2014 embargo, reports that it still carries a good variety of spares, although chokes and ejectors can be hard to come by. That said, Baikal shotguns are built to put up with a great deal of use and neglect, shoot straight and rarely go wrong. They are designed to be functional rather than decorative (utilitarian would be a more polite description), so if you are happy with a gun that will win no prizes in a beauty contest but still give you years of dependable service, the Model 27 is more than capable of holding its own against more expensive options.