At the budget end of the market, where most of us will look for our first gun, it's worth considering a Turkish model, says Simon Reinhold
Buying your first gun is a genuinely exciting feeling and one of the great pleasures of taking up shooting as a new hobby.
A first gun is almost always bought at the budget end of the market, which is now dominated by Turkish guns. It is a shift of power that has taken place, gradually at first, but with the full force of the growing economy of 80 million people.
Competitive Turkish manufacturers
There is ferocious competition for your money at this end of the market and much of it is now between different Turkish manufacturers.
When I started in the gun trade more than 20 years ago, the market leaders at the bottom end were Baikals — no-nonsense Russian-made guns lacking finesse but rarely breaking — Lanbers, Spanish-made over-and-unders; and Italian-made alloy action over-and-unders sold by others such as the Browning Medallist and Lincolns made by the Italian Firearms Group (FAIR).
Enter the Hatsan Escort semi-auto
Then Hatsan began exporting its Escort semi-automatic to the UK. At well under £500 the retail price seemed ludicrously low, even with a reasonable mark-up for the dealer, but they came with a guarantee that was long enough for most people to get full value. We sold hundreds. A good percentage of the early ones we sold were returned with mechanical issues but, if we couldn’t fix them we replaced them and customers were generally happy.
Instead of continuing with this policy of repair or replace, what stood out was the willingness of the Turkish makers to listen to their importers and improve their products. This was a pleasant surprise. Looking back, Hatsan must have been aware of the others snapping at its heels and felt that continual development was the only way to stay ahead.
Turkey’s involvement with the gun trade is nothing new: they have been the major suppliers of quality walnut for stock blanks to the European gun trade for many years. But their confidence in their ability to undercut the rest of the Europe’s gun manufacturing costs was becoming evident with the first trickle of guns.
Turkish shotguns flowing in
That trickle has now become a strong tide. Hatsan was followed by Huglu, then Yildiz; more recently ATA Arms, Revo, Armsan. With each new European trade show comes a new player on to the pitch, it seems.
One manufacturer, Kral Arms, even introduced a battery charged shotgun with an electric firing mechanism, such is the confidence of Turkish manufacturing. They are experimenting; putting in front of consumers products the customer may never have even considered.
Do you want a starter gun for a youngster; an all-rounder that won’t disgrace itself on the odd pheasant day, practical for the marsh and useful for the summer clay shoot; or are you looking for the best-value clay gun that you can find?
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The all-rounder over-and-under: ATA sporter
- The first thing you notice about this gun is its similarity to the Beretta 68 series. However, those who tell you it is a clone of the Beretta are mistaken. Internally it is different.
- The early ones had a few issues with the trigger mechanism but these have been ironed out and the gun’s popularity increases.
- This is a classic of the problem you face when buying your first gun. If your budget is £600 do you opt for a second-hand model of a Beretta 686, or do you go for a new ATA Sporter? The answer depends on the vendor of the second-hand gun. Buying it privately — which is probably where you’re most likely to find 686s at this money — means there is no after-sales backup. If there is a problem you have missed when looking it over, you are stuck with it or you have to move it on and lose money.
- Buying from a gun shop with a good reputation for after-sales service means you will probably have to find closer to £700 for a reasonable model. You can therefore see the appeal of a similar gun, around £600 brand new, with a warranty behind it.
The starter gun: Kofs Sceptre 28-bore over-and-under
I am not a fan of teaching youngsters with ill-fitting .410s. If they can’t handle a 28-bore, you should question whether they have started too soon. It used to be that good-value 28-bores were almost impossible to find, compared with the ubiquitous bolt-action .410, which is one of the reasons why the myth of the .410 perpetuated.
Guns like this Kofs Sceptre have changed that utterly. It is an attractive gun with foliate acanthus leaves laser-engraved, properly finished grain on the woodwork and well-struck barrels. It also comes with multichokes so you can make the chances of success as high as possible.
Part of my dislike of .410s for children is that they are quite difficult to shoot and can therefore be demoralising. At £500 for a starter gun, this represents brilliant value for money and a youngster would happily make the transition from the clay ground to live quarry with this gun. It is so impressive that it will almost certainly be the shotgun that my children will start shooting with after they have completed their safety and fieldcraft apprenticeship with an air rifle.
The good-value specialist: Yildiz Pro Sporter
- At first glance this looks to be a copy of a highly regarded Italian thoroughbred Perazzi MX8 — but not quite. The Perazzi is a trigger-plate action and this is not.
- At under £2,000 it represents incredible value for money.
- The quality of the wood-to-metal fit, the finish overall and the highly figured woodwork on upgraded models are all impressive.
- It is only when you get inside that you find the differences. Coil springs rather than leaf springs are one example. Some may see it as cutting corners but I believe it is sensible budgeting during manufacture with one eye always on the primary selling point of this gun — the price in relation to others in the market.
- With out-and-out clay-busting guns such as this, the proof will be how they stand up to the wear of many thousands of cartridges a year.