EJ Churchill Hercules shotgun.
It is one of several new guns bearing the Churchill name. The dynamic firm has also launched another stack-barrel made in association with Perazzi ? the first time the great Italian maker has entered into such an arrangement with another gunmaker.
It will be available in both 30in and 32in form. The test gun, though, has been built in association with Demas, a respected French firm, and is very definitely a model grande de luxe.
First impressions are excellent. It is a sideplated hunting gun of classic modern form, brush polished with fine London-style rose-and-scroll engraving on its sides and belly (with a touch of something a little more florid at the fences).
“E.J. Churchill” is set in subtly highlighted gold letters on either sideplate.
And the full but fairly open-radiused pistol grip is steel capped. The serial number is set in gold on the extended trigger guard.
The fore-end iron is also extended and elaborate, in similar fashion to some London and Italian best over-unders, and extensively engraved.
Barrels are monobloc, 30in, and fitted with a ventilated 7mm rib with metal bead and solid joining ribs.
The quality of finish is excellent in all departments.
Wood-to-metal and metal-to-metal fit are impeccable. My only criticisms are that the barrels could have benefited from a little more surface preparation before blacking (internally, they pass muster well), and, why not use a solid sighting rib which would be less prone to damage?
The figuring of the stock wood is exceptional, with good, strong, straight grain through the grip.
The shapes please the eye and the hands. The oil finish and the hand chequering are of the highest order.
There are tear-drops to the stock. Overall, it looks and feels very good.
The Hercules weighs a substantial 8lb, which you wouldn?t guess because it is so well balanced.
The rounded fore-end, the tapered stock comb and the grip are all as ergonomically efficient as they are aesthetically attractive. The gun glides to the face and shoulder effortlessly.
Is there a catch?
A couple, potentially. First the price. The Hercules is not at all cheap at £17,500 plus vat (a pair will cost you £38,495 plus the dreaded 20%).
Indeed, it is quite pricy. But, one must take all the hand finishing into account and note that fully bench-made guns begin at little less than £40,000 these days and may top £100,000.
If you explore the gun you note that it is, in fact, not French but Italian in its mechanical origin. The machine-made action and the ejection mechanism are classic Gardonne (and probably keep the price out of the Eastern European ?entrepreneur? class).
Is this a bad thing? Not really. The mechanics are so well proven.
The gun is significantly better finished than similar Italian guns, too. It has, in spite of its mixed heritage, a Gallic je ne sais quoi, most evident in its detailing and woodwork.
I prefer its stock shapes to many of the products of Northern Italy (EJ Churchill may have had a hand in this).
The Hercules is built on a plan that we have seen many times before. Bifurcated lumps and stud pins for hinging à la Woodward and Beretta, with a full-width bolt beneath the bottom chamber in the manner of a Browning.
The selective single trigger is inertia operated. Coil springs power the tumblers. It all works.
It would be as unfair to criticise this gun for lack of novelty
as it would be to criticise an Anson and Deeley, a Silver Pigeon or a Holland Royal.
The design in 12-bore has the potential drawback of being a little high in profile but this is not especially evident here thanks to clever action shaping and well-proportioned sideplates.
I was also impressed by the back-bored, fixed-choke barrels. The internal dimension of 18.6mm was ideal.
They weighed in at 1420g, which is perfect for a 30in, 12-bore game-gun and significantly lighter than average.
In a word ? great. This was not only a beautiful gun to look at, it shot superbly. Pointability was first class, and the gun felt alive.
There was weight between the hands. The stock shapes were near perfect. The round fore-end, which is full but not too full, promoted front hand control.
The grip has enough radius to allow for good rear-end control ? though the rear hand should never dominate the mount it does fulfil a vital role ? nor, is the grip so acutely angled as to make holding the gun up in safe ready position uncomfortable (as is the case with some full-pistol designs).
Felt recoil was low because of the well-designed stock and the larger-than-average bore dimension (the overall weight did no harm either).
The Hercules was pointable because of its relatively long, light, narrow-ribbed barrels.
Is it worth the money? I?m not sure, but it sets a superb example with regard to form, finish and specification and has that magic quality of shootability.
EJ Churchill Hercules shotgun
£17,500 plus VAT