A gun with more than one set of barrels is by no means a new idea, but is still of such novel appeal to be not only different but strangely attractive. Indeed, the attraction is so strong that in an odd way it almost makes one feel guilty, as though ignoring some dark and ordered logic that states this is not really the done thing. Critics will claim that such a combination will only ever handle and balance properly with one set of barrels. Anything else is bound to be a compromise. If not exactly the worst of both worlds it is not quite the best. That is the theory, but I wonder how many critics have actually ever had a chance to try such a gun.
Supporters of a gun with alternative sets of barrels will point to its flexibility, its ability to encompass a wide range of shooting disciplines and fi nancial savings in not having to purchase several individual guns. It is also a good talking point and, for the shooter who dares to be different, it is an object of pride.
The Guerini Essex on test not only had two sets of barrels, but barrels in different gauges. Being multi-choked, this added greatly to its flexibility. My first impression, once it was liberated from the substantial guncase, was of a handsome, elegant gun bearing that slightly understated style that is popular in the UK.
With the 20-bore barrels fitted, it sits comfortably between the hands, balances well and comes up smoothly into the shoulder. Swapping to the 28-bore barrels with their dedicated fore-end sheds hardly an ounce from its 6½lb 20-bore weight. It does move the point of balance back a fraction nearer the fore-end knuckle, however, adding a hint of liveliness when compared with the slightly more precise feel of the 20-bore set-up. This is hardly a criticism, though. It is what one would expect in switching between a 20-bore and a 28-bore. It is the same as having two guns that both balance very well, with the 28-bore having the edge in the fast-handling stakes.
A Prince of Wales grip
In spite of the slim lines accentuated by the 30in barrels, this is a good-sized gun with a length of pull of 14¾in to the middle of the classy wooden butt-plate. There is adequate wood around both fore-ends and the grip has nice dimensions and is shaped in such a way as to suit large or small hands.
The drop from tip to heel across the comb runs out at 1½in to just over 2½in with a good amount of right-hand cast and toe out. The bag or Prince of Wales grip has enjoyed something of a revival in the past few years and I feel it suits over-and-unders far better than it ever did a side-by-side. Add to these features the slim comb, the slightly curved face to the stock and details such as the nicely cut tulip fore-end tip carrying the Anson push-rod release, and you have what is undeniably a game gun.
Timeless in appearance
Enhancing this English styling is the decoration, which includes extensive fine-lined chequering. Around the action body and sideplates there is a riot of rose-and-scroll work, which extends along the top strap and is matched to that on the highly polished and glossily blacked top-lever, trigger-guard and fore-end knuckle. The real beauty, however, is in the shaping and proportions around the breech, fences and sideplates and, of course, the colour case hardening. The colours really are just right a blend of blues and browns with a hint of reddish gold as the gun catches the light. The result is timeless in appearance and as refined as good manners.
An unusual feature
This attention to detail is not only skin deep but extends to the lockwork and internal finish. Laid out in the fairly familiar modified triggerplate pattern, each part is obviously polished and either has a bright finish or is blacked. The majority of dowel pins are solid with rounded, polished ends and the sideplates are cunningly held in place without screwed cross-pins.
A bar operates the auto-safe in a very positive manner. An unusual but impressive feature is the safety button/barrel selector spring fitted to work under compression. The operation of the lockwork for second-barrel selection relies on the inertia block system and does not incorporate any form of mechanical changeover. Out on test, even changing from fairly hot 20-bore cartridges to light-loaded 28s did not give any cause for concern.
Materials and assembly
Both sets of barrels are fitted with full-length side ribs and a solid matted top rib. The traditional brass foresight bead is a little larger than I would expect on such dainty barrels. To give the same line of sight, the top rib on the 28-bore tubes is deeper than that on the 20-bore and undoubtedly a contributory factor in balancing out the weight between the two gauges. The two pairs of barrels weigh almost exactly the same. It is often the case that seemingly solid top ribs are hollow, but I suspect that of the 28-bore is a little more substantial to balance the weight. Not that this matters as, hung by the rear lump, they ring with the clarity of tubular bells, audible proof of the good quality of both materials and assembly.
A one-and-a-half gun package
As part of this one-and-a-half-gun package there are 10 choke tubes, five for each gauge, ranging from full to cylinder. Each tube carries the familiar notch markings as well as the identification mark on the side.
The breech end of the barrels features the monoblock method of assembly with the usual decorated line around the top barrel joint. This is jointed so neatly that the decorative line could easily be dispensed with. It is also a pity that the makers are legally required to add Warning, read owners manual before use, but information such as gauge and chamber length in both metric and imperial is welcome.
The very precisely applied jewelling on the side lumps of the monoblock, the polished sprung ejectors and cleanly finished barrel breech ends are all easy on the eye. The striking up has been carried out with care and finished in lustrous black. Internally, the bores are flawless, reflecting beautifully the lines of light.
In the field
Out on test the 20/28 did everything that was expected of it. Trigger pulls proved nice and crisp, averaging 4¾lb and the ejectors on both sets of barrels tripped together. The safety neatly snicked fully back into position each time the gun was opened and empty cases were thrown far enough to be out of the way but not so far that it would be difficult to find the empties.
Patterns were very good with the cartridges I was using 25g shot loads in the 20-bore and 16g in the 28-bore. The gun fit suited me, as the shot placement of the pattern was how I like to see it only a touch high when viewing the centre target on top of the bead. Handling both set-ups was delightful. They were different but complementary. There is, however, the potential for problems. Much like the well-publicised 12/20-bore scenario, where the smaller cartridge is loaded into the larger-gauge gun and sits unseen at the front of the chamber lodged in the forcing cone, the same is possible with a 28/20-bore combination. It should not happen, as it is very much like having guns of both sizes in the cabinet, but extra care is necessary given that this gun looks and feels virtually identical in either guise. Keeping safe is only a matter of being careful, organised and disciplined. Nothing detracts from the fact that this combination allows you to tailor the gun to suit your needs.
ESSEX LIMITED 20-/28-BORE
Gauge: 20 and 28
Action: Modified trigger-plate
Stock: Pistol grip
Safety: Auto safe
Features: Two sets of barrels of different gauges
Price when tested: £3,952 (individual guns £2,845)
Maker: Caesar Guerini
Supplier: Guerini UK, tel 0121 772 1119