Does this French fancy prove one can have one’s cake and eat it too? Alex Flint investigates.
You might be forgiven for having never heard of Chapuis Armes. While this French firm has a fearsome reputation for producing double rifles of enviable quality from its factory to the west of Saint Etienne, its shotguns have very rarely found their way across the channel to the UK. Master gunmaker Stephane Dupille of Stephen & Son is now hoping to change that as an official dealer for the French gunmaker.
With over 24 years’ experience in the gun trade making stocks for the likes of Holland & Holland, Purdey, Boss and Atkin, Grant & Lang, it would be fair to say Stephane knows his stuff, so his backing of these guns is a fairly significant statement in itself. I must admit, however, to some nerves on picking this gun up for review; I interviewed Stephane for Shooting Gazette some years ago and hated the idea of having to be critical of a project he has clearly poured his heart and soul into at not insignificant personal risk. After all, one might reasonably assume there must be a good reason these guns are not more common in the UK.
An eye-catching design
Having tested the gun, I can safely say we couldn’t find any reason they are not more common on these shores. You really will not believe you can buy such a stunning, hand engraved, hand finished gun for anything under five figures. In pure presentation terms at this price point it really is quite stunning, and while not a sidelock it even stands up well against guns from some of the biggest names in shotgun manufacturing. Even better, it is just as pleasant to shoot with as it is to look at.
The first thing to catch the eye is the beautifully figured and finished wood. Our test gun had a truly stunning stock, with a wonderful oil finish and a good straight grain through the straight-hand grip. This may seem a little odd in an over-under, where one might be more used to finding semi or full pistol grips, however the straight hand stock not only adds to the sleek lines of the gun but it also feels very natural and comfortable when shooting.
The attractive figuring extends into the fore-end where one finds a well-sculpted Schnabel design and very well executed chequering, providing plenty of grip without feeling rough and also without disguising the natural features of the wood. There is also a very nicely shaped and finished walnut butt plate, also notable for how comfortable it was in the shoulder.
A close second in terms of visual appeal is the hand engraving covering almost every square centimetre of metalwork on the gun. The design features Acanthus scroll work with some real depth to the engraving, along with a game scene vignette on each side and the bottom of the action body, each featuring a different flushing game bird. The extended bottom trigger tang is a feature I find adds to the good looks of any gun, and particularly suits our test gun with its long, slim straight hand stock. Also of note is the top rib thanks to a subtle stippling effect noted by all who laid their eyes on the gun during the test.
Good looks are an important part of any gun buying decision, of course, but they are nothing without good shooting manners. Happily, the C135 proved it could stand up to the big boys in the field too. Our test gun had 30” barrels with multichokes and weighed in very impressively at just under half an ounce over 7lb. The weight of the gun was felt in the front hand but this went unnoticed while actually shooting, mounting naturally and being easy to keep on line.
The gun’s most impressive feature, however, is how well it deals with recoil. One would expect any gun on the lighter side, particularly a 12 bore, to give you a bit of a kick, but the C135 felt benign with little felt recoil and no noticeable muzzle flip. Trigger pulls were lovely and crisp, and a rolled edge to the trigger guard provided plenty of protection and comfort while shooting. The only disappointment was the lack of barrel selection, though this is mitigated by the use of multichokes.
Our test gun was a little stiff to open, though this is likely to ease off quickly with use. This is a tremendous gun and one I recommend you seek out without reservation. Given the quality of engraving, finishing and shooting characteristics, coupled with the price tag, most shooters will find it hard to resist.
Chapuis in the field
Shooting this gun was probably among the most pleasant surprises I have had when taking a gun out on test; it is a rare occurrence to find a gun which shoots as well as it looks.
The C135 is very well balanced, coming to the shoulder consistently and comfortably, and feeling very lithe in the hands. The gun moved well without feeling too flighty and trigger pulls were very satisfying. Recoil control really is tremendous for a gun this light, and would surely be most welcome on a long day in the field. The lack of barrel selection may be a problem for some, and the gun occasionally required a little extra effort to open, which may become wearing if one found one’s self in the hot seat on a busy drive.
Overall, this gun left an almost universally positive impression. Given the price it seems extremely good value for money.
View from the gun shop. By Bill Elderkin
This is a pretty gun which will surely sell on looks alone – it really does need to be seen and picked up. It is based around Chapuis’ own round action design which reminds me of a McKay Brown. The gun features ejector springs in the barrel which are quite powerful and give the feel of an assisted opener in operation.
Chapuis has always produced very good quality guns, the problem has been getting them into the UK. Stephane Dupille has taken it upon himself to bring these guns into the country as an official dealer, and with a long and successful history in the gunmaking industry he is sure to provide good service. The master stockmaker has personally selected the walnut on this gun and the quality of the wood and finishing on display here are certainly up to his high standards.
The price point is particularly attractive given the quality of the gun. When you compare it to a top quality Turkish gun at a similar price it really is miles ahead. It looks a better gun than something like the Caesar Guerini Apex, one of the top guns from that maker, and frankly the wood on display here would not disgrace a gun 10 times the price of the Chapuis.
One wonders a little at the long-term values should you come to trade it in, as with any relatively unknown manufacturer. However, looking at something like a year-old Beretta EELL, a gun in almost constant demand, one would have to say second-hand this gun would probably sell for a pretty similar figure thanks to the quality of construction and finishing. Given the EELL starts at almost £1,000 more than the C135 when new, this represents remarkable value and bodes well for the future.