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Three of the classiest boxlocks around

A reader can't afford a sidelock over-and-under from a prestigious gunmaker but will settle for a side-plated boxlock. Mike George advises ...

Beretta 687 EELL

The Beretta 686 EELL sidelock shotgun

“I would dearly love to be able to afford a sidelock O/U from a prestigious maker, but I can’t afford one. Instead, I am going to have to settle for a side-plated boxlock. I have a budget in mind, but I will happily exceed it to get the right gun.” Brian Taylor, Sheffield

The best boxlocks around

There’s no mechanical reason why a boxlock should not shoot just as well as a sidelock, as long as the design is good and the gun is made of the correct materials and put together with great care.

Great boxlocks include:

  • John Moses Browning’s immortal B25
  • Most of the Italian-built Berettas and Perazzis
  • Germany’s Krieghoffs
  • Japan’s top-grade Mirokus
  • The modern-series AYAs from Spain

A good boxlock is an excellent gun. The three I have chosen all have elegant engraving. With my first choice I have stayed within his budget, but with my second choice I have most certainly broken it – he does say “£4,500 or more”, doesn’t he?…

Beretta 687 EELL

Beretta 687 EELL

Some versions of this gun are known as the 687 Diamond Pigeon, but they amount to basically the same thing – proven, long-life versions of a hugely popular design not just in the UK but throughout the world. The gun’s current incarnation is the 687 EELL Classic Game Scene, with a recommended retail price of £7,850.

I would suggest something like the gun which Sporting Gun reviewed new in 2009. In that year the new cost of the gun was £5,745.

The gun is one of the finest of Beretta’s “68” series, which includes the 682 competition series and the hugely popular Silver Pigeon. This gun stands out because of the fact that it has been put together with extreme care, the quality of its woodwork, and the excellence of its engraving. The gun we tested eight years ago was decorated with pheasants on the right-hand side-plate and woodcock on the left, and another woodcock on the underside of the action. Even the top lever was elegantly engraved.

Barrel lengths available are 28, 30 and 32-inches in the sporter version, and all have ventilated top and side ribs. All of the ribs taper from 10mm to 8mm. The chrome-lined barrels of the sporter are bored on Beretta’s Optima system, with internal diameters of 18.6mm – or 0.732-inches – compared to the traditional English standard of 0.729-inches.

William Evans St James

William Evans St. James

Normally I don’t like the idea of guns bearing traditional British names but are really made abroad – usually in Italy. But I make a total exception with this gun because it is so elegant and so, well, English-looking. And some of the final finishing is done by William Evans, whose headquarters are in London’s exclusive St. James area.

Evans has the gun made by Caesar Guerini in Italy, and many wonder why the London craftsmen don’t do the fabrication. One of the answers, of course, is cost, and when former Sporting Gun gunsmith Jason Harris first evaluated the St. James in 2009 the retail cost was £9,500.

The gun is available in 12, 20 and 28-bore. Can Brian afford a second-hand gun? I think he would have to stretch his budget to somewhere around £7,000. And he would have to be patient, too, because second-hand examples are quite rare.

Caesar Guerini

Guerini Maxum

Here’s a gun which is not quite as elegant as the St James, but costs very much less. In fact, the price is so reasonable that Brian could spend slightly less than £3,000 and get a well-conditioned sporter with an adjustable comb, should he wish.

What’s more, with this gun you get excellent engraving in a beautiful abstract pattern, which I always think is better suited to what is basically a competition gun than game scenes.

Multi-choke barrels are built on the expected monobloc principle, with separate tubes set into a forged section comprising the chambers and shallow lump. Chambers are 2¾-inches rather than the currently-preferred 3-inches, thus making the point that the gun is for competition and field shooting, but not for the occasional wildfowling trip.

The tubes are finished with long forcing comes and, unusually, come in a 34-inch version in addition to the 28, 30 and 32-inch lengths. These super-long barrels suggest that they would make the gun ponderously slow to swing, but users suggest that this is not so. The barrels hinge on replaceable stub pins, as is the Italian tradition these days.

Stock length (measured from the trigger to the centre of the butt pad) is 14¾-inches, with drops of 1½ and 2¼-inches at comb and heel respectively. The gun, with the 30-inch barrel set, weighs 7lb 14oz.