Can our American cousins fill the hole left behind as we turn our backs on Europe? Alex Flint discovers a gun willing to take up the challenge
The fascination of US-based collectors for English sporting guns has long been known, but what of the trade in the other direction?
When one considers American gunmakers the name of John Moses Browning of course leaps the front of the mind, but even Browning has a whiff of the ‘Old West’ about it. Indeed, perhaps the best known of the American manufacturers are those from the films and games of our childhoods, with the likes of Colt, Remington, Smith & Wesson and Winchester ingrained alongside images of weather-beaten wanderers and the strains of Morricone’s great scores.
Beautiful lines, natural feel and top-end finishing
This is, of course, doing a great disservice to the American gunmaking industry, a feeling brought sharply to light the moment one lays one’s eyes upon the beautiful Christian Hunter sidelocks which are the subject of this review. Beautiful lines, natural feel and top-end finishing characterise an American-made gun more than a match for most guns you would care to mention– including those carrying a much larger price tag.
These guns are the brainchild of Tony Galazan, a man who has devoted much of his life to the pursuit and manufacture of fine sporting guns and will perhaps be familiar through his Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company (CSMC). Founded in 1975, the company have been producing best quality shotguns for some time, though without ever puncturing the consciousness of the British buying public. That they haven’t met with enormous fanfare and success is somewhat surprising given the quality of the product, and this is something Mr Galazan doubtless hopes will change with the Christian Hunter brand.
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Appeal to the sporting gun enthusiast
Based on the CSMC A-10, the Christian Hunter over-under is a very low profile, shallow frame true sidelock shotgun, and is sure to appeal to the eye of any sporting gun enthusiast. Reliability should be no concern for those wary of an unfamiliar name, since the A-10 (and hence the Christian Hunter) was designed to be a truly durable and usable sidelock shotgun, not just a work of art to be admired from afar. Indeed, in a Shooting Gazette interview with Roger Catchpole in 2016, Mr Galazan revealed he had put over 100,000 rounds through his personal A-10 gun.
Based on the Beretta SO
The Christian Hunter is based on the Beretta SO, itself a sidelock over-under shotgun inspired by the shallow-actioned Boss over-under. The wood on display is absolutely exceptional and features the carved teardrop shape at the rear of the lock plate one tends to associate with high-end guns. The lock plates provide plenty of room for fulsome engraving, first applied by laser and then finished by hand. On our 12 bore test gun the pattern took the form of bold sprays of ornamental foliate scroll of a surprising and impressive depth, with real areas of contrast almost giving the appearance of carving. The gun also featured wonderful blued lock plate pins and trigger, with some exceptionally fine chequering work on the capped Prince of Wales stock and Deeley fore-end. As standard, the gun includes many elements normally found as expensive extras, such as an extended trigger guard tang, either coin or colour case hardened finish, your choice of straight, Prince of Wales or full pistol grip and high quality American black walnut wood. Given these are bespoke shotguns, a full fitting service is also offered at various shooting grounds around the UK.
Alongside the 12 bore variant on test here, I also had the pleasure of testing a 20 bore gun with a straight-hand stock, rose and scroll engraving and colour case hardened finish which one might easily have mistaken for a best English gun. With a gold trigger and brass sight bead, this gun was a lovely thing to behold, and both 12 and 20 bore variants are sure to inspire envy in the line. Indeed, the only real aesthetic complaints one might make were over the standard sporting-style ventilated top rib which can be replaced with a solid rib for £600, and the red plastic sight bead found on the 12 bore test gun. While by no means a significant problem, I was happy to discover a brass sight bead is a standard option! For those with a desire for something truly special, these guns can also be ordered with custom engraving and higher grade wood, including Turkish or English walnut.
Performance in the field
Visually, then, the Christian Hunter is a certain triumph – but what of its performance in the field? Thankfully it is just as good to shoot as it is to look at, with superbly weighted trigger pulls, mounting in a consistently positive fashion and rewarding considered shooting. Given the quality of these guns and a price best described as extremely competitive (and likely to find several European gunmakers waking up in a cold sweat) you might find yourself wondering where the catch is. Simply put, there doesn’t appear to be one.
Engineering: 9/10 Built to exacting standards on an evolution of a design first seen in 1935.
Handling: 10/10 Consistently pleasing. Excellent, positive mounting and movement.
Looks & finishing: 9/10 A few small issues as standard, but hard to criticise given the price.
Reliability & customer service: 9/10 You are sure to be well looked after by the UK distributor, Criddle Fieldsports.
Value: 10/10 A crowded price point, but few other makers can offer guns of this quality at this price – let alone a true sidelock.
View from the gun shop by Bill Elderkin
The Beretta SO sidelock is a very fine basis for any gun, and the Christian Hunter is no exception. This style of sidelock has been around since 1935, so you should have no concerns over the reliability of strength of the gun, especially since the design has subsequently been altered and improved by Tony Galazan.
I like many of the visual decisions which have been made in designing the gun. The engraved cap on the Prince of Wales grip (shown above) is particularly attractive and an optional extra I would probably be persuaded to swing for. The wood is as good as you will find on any best gun and has been finished to an exceptionally high standard. There is delightful figuring present with good, strong grain through the hand. If I were being really picky, I would say that the safety catch is perhaps a little unrefined and the grip a little narrow and quite deep, though this is really only a problem for those with smaller hands. While by no means unattractive, I also might like to see a push-rod fore-end rather than the Deeley Edge, though this is a matter of personal taste. Overall, the gun is hard to fault, especially considering the price. I might also be persuaded to order the gun with fixed chokes and then have multichokes fitted by the likes of Teague should you so desire.
These guns are being looked after in the UK by Criddle Fieldsports, a company run by Will Criddle who has worked for the likes of E.J. Churchill and Bettws Hall, and who certainly knows his way around the British shooting scene. Anyone concerned over taking the plunge with one of these guns while waiting the four months for delivery should be reassured by this – you are sure to be well looked after. In the USA the A-10, upon which these Christian Hunter guns are based, come with a lifetime warranty, so you can be sure they are likely to be reliable.
In the field
When you have been testing shotguns for as long as I have, it is easy to get a little blasé when something really special appears for a trip to Grange Farm for testing. However, shooting with the Christian Hunter over-under was one of those rare occasions where I was reminded what a uniquely privileged position I find myself in each month – it was an absolute joy.
Grange Farm instructor Bruce Marks and I were able to test a 20 bore Christian Hunter alongside the 12 bore, which made for an interesting comparison. The 20 bore was short in the stock and had obviously been built for a lady or a youth, and though I found it to be quite lively in the hand it nevertheless impressed.
The straight-hand grip was a real pleasure and the gun swung beautifully, as you would expect of a 20 bore.
The 12 bore, meanwhile, at just a shade under 7lbs 7oz was consistently excellent, being well balanced, mounting beautifully and moving steadily, whilst allowing for quick and precise alterations in aim without losing control. It is a very positive gun, refined and satisfying to operate with particularly crisp trigger pulls. The flared barrel at the breech end, as well as being attractive, worked well with the intricately patterned top rib to create a strong sight plain.
Both Bruce and I were left very impressed by the Christian Hunter, finding it more than a match for the very best guns we have tested.
Hard to criticise given the price