Mike George looks at three secondhand Sporters in three different price brackets - by Beretta, Zoli and Miroku
Miroku MK60 Universal Grade 5
In the 1980s a type of gun for the Sporting disciplines was just evolving. All too many Continental manufacturers were trying to palm us off with slightly modified trap guns, while their game guns were too light and often too tightly choked, and skeet guns were too open-choked and not nearly steady enough for the more distant targets.
Nowadays the skeet gun has all but disappeared, while every gunmaker’s range seems to include a Sporter. One of the very best Sporters of the 1980s was the Winchester 6500, available in fixed choke or multichoke format. Both guns handled brilliantly well, with the 30-inch fixed choke gun just having the edge.
Sadly, the 6500 – made by Kodensha in Japan – was not destined to be with us for long; it was a victim of gun trade financial games rather than poor engineering. But another Japanese company, Miroku, had just the gun for the fixed-choke Sporter fans.
The fixed-choke Mirokus first came out as the 6000 series, which had chopper-lump barrels, then evolved into the MK60 guns, which had the more modern monobloc barrels that are still with us today. And one of the best of the breed is the MK60 Universal, which is particularly elegant in the Grade 5 format illustrated.
The guns you will find on the new and second-hand racks are almost the same mechanically as they were 30 years ago, and only the engraving styles have really evolved. It’s not so much as Miroku have let the grass grow under their feet as the fact that the designers got things right in the first place.
And when you consider that a new Grade 5, with pleasant engraving and well-figured walnut woodwork, will cost you a little over £2,400, that’s what I call real value-for-money.
One of my few criticisms is that the gun is choked ¼ and ¾. I feel that ¼ and ½ would be better, particularly for the average club shooter, and certainly for the person who likes to use a Sporter to double as a game or pigeon shooting gun. Mind you, the ¾-choked top barrel would be mustard for really high pheasants.
On the plus side, the weight is just about right at a bit over 7½lb, with variations for barrel length and wood density.
More information: From any Browning/Miroku dealer, or visit Browning
Zoli Ambassador EL Z Sporter
I can remember testing Zoli Sporters and game guns for Sporting Gun 30 years ago, and I have good memories of the excellence of their construction. So impressed was I with one of their game guns that I bought one for myself.
It seemed, however, that excellent as the guns were, the make never seemed to stay long with an importer, and supply became erratic. Those days are, fortunately, now over, and the Italian maker is with the capable and long-established agency of Edgar Brothers of Macclesfield.
There have been changes within Zoli, too. In the late 1990s they completely redesigned their range so that they could compete internationally against top companies such as Beretta and Browning. For instance, their action bodies are now forged from a single piece of steel and fi nished with computer controlled machine tools. They are so strong they can be used on double rifles.
The bolts Zoli fit to this frame are deeper than average, and engage with bites in the barrel monobloc just below the spring-loaded ejectors. The barrels hinge on stub pins and, on the Ambassador, the trigger mechanism is a drop-out unit retained by a small locking screw.
This type of trigger mechanism has two main uses: firstly it is a good security measure in that it can be easily removed and stored in a separate lock box to the gun. Secondly, it can be easily taken out for cleaning and maintenance. It looks as if the replacement of a broken mainspring would take only minutes.
Some parts of the action, notably the hammers, look as if they have been gold plated, just like the finish employed on the mechanism of some very fine sidelocks. In fact, the finish is titanium nitrate, just the same as is used to impart high wear resistance to some drill bits and lathe tools.
The barrels are particularly well made – a matter of pride to Zoli, who bore the tubes in their own factory.
A new gun like the one illustrated costs anything from £11,000 upwards, depending on the discount the retailer is prepared give you – but do watch this point in the light of exchange rate irregularities due to Britain’s vote to quit the European Union.
More information: From the importers, Edgar Brothers of Macclesfield, Cheshire, tel 01625 613177, or visit Edgar Brothers
I remember just how impressed I was when I first fired an SO-series Beretta. When loaded, it closed with a satisfying “clonk” reminiscent of the closing of a Rolls Royce door, it swung with an elegant precision, and the trigger pull was the crispest I had ever experienced.
The only criticism I had was that it seemed a bit heavy, and I note that the present-day SO5 Sporter weighs a robust 8¼lb. Good balance, however, does much to compensate for the extra half-pound it carries over what is generally accepted for an ideal Sporter.
All of the SO series are hand-built sidelocks and all follow the principles laid down by Beretta’s famous designer, Tullio Marengoni, who had started work as an apprentice with the company in 1894. He became chief designer in 1904 and, like his American opposite number, John Moses Browning, a string of Sporting, military and law enforcement arms were soon rolling off his drawing board.
The first SO sidelock came on the market in 1933. Like all successful Beretta shotguns, the first SO was a shallow-actioned gun with barrels hinged on stub pins. Apparently, he had seen Browning’s famous B25 boxlock, and it didn’t appeal to his Italian sense of elegant engineering design. It was perhaps a bit like comparing a classic Ferrari to an American Chevvy Corvette.
Marengoni’s early SOs had double triggers, but, like the modern series, were built for both clay shooting and field use. Production ceased during World War II, but resumed afterwards. Marengoni died in the mid-1960s, in the same era that the SO2 and competition versions of the SO3 were introduced. The SO5 in trap, skeet and Sporting variants came in 1989. All modern SOs have single triggers.
Nowadays versions go up to SO10, but the SO5 is still in production as a Sporter. At a cost of around £20,000 it is nowhere near the top of the tree. The SOO, designed for field shooting, has a RRP of more than £62,000, and that of the EELL version is more than £72,000. That’s still nowhere near that of a “London Best” gun, but it’s getting on that way!