While the 12-bore is the norm and the 16-bore very much for enthusiasts, there is something about the 20-bore that most shooters find attractive.
Even the proportions of the cartridge look just right. You may be so taken with this lightweight that you are seduced into believing it a useful alternative to the 12-bore, only later realising that the more shot and the denser the pattern, the greater the chances of success for most of us – big loads are not really the forte of the 20-bore.
A direct comparison is unfair, however. The 20-bore is a delightful gun in its own right and well worth trying.
An evergreen gun
The Lincoln Premier is now something of an evergreen; it has been around for 15 or so years in various guises. Developed as an economically priced alternative to the Lincoln No.2, its specification has been gradually enhanced until now, when a replacement model has taken the original slot in the line-up.
David Nickerson’s Lincoln Premier 20-bore range, made in Italy to Nickerson’s specification, is available with barrel lengths ranging from 28in to 32in, with a choice of fixed or multichokes.
The gun on test was supplied in a royal blue guncase, with key, spare chokes, manual and Nickerson’s own guarantee.
The Premier model is listed alongside a similar but slightly more expensive gun with an alloy action, marketed as the Lincoln Lightweight, and, for those with somewhat deeper pockets, the Lincoln Jubilee and Jubilee Prestige, both with sideplates and extra-fancy finish.
The lines of a 20-bore have a slim elegance that is difficult to achieve with a gun of a bigger bore and the Premier’s style is pleasing and unfussy. The handling of this 6¼lb gun is fast, even with the long barrels on the test gun and slight extra forward weight, almost inevitable with screw-in chokes.
Balance is well between the hands, a fraction in front of the fore-end knuckle, and while the 28in barrelled version with fixed chokes would offer quicker handling, this longer barrelled gun, while appearing a little ‘leggy’, has a pointability that gives it a positive feel.
The slim stock and fore-end – of fairly typical honey-coloured Italian walnut with darker veining – has a commercial oil finish and sports crisp laser-cut chequering, while the butt is finished with a sensible and practical black plastic buttplate. With some right-hand cast and a good amount of toe-out, the length of pull measured a generous 14.1/2in to the middle of the butt. Drop at the tip of the comb is 1.3/8in and 2.1/2in at the heel.
The shape and dimensions are what my old mentor would describe as a good starter stock for a lady, though the curve of the pistol grip will easily accommodate large hands. Wood to metal fit is neat and the head of the stock is supported against the action in all the right places.
The action is very much the uncomplicated stock-in-trade Italian over-under boxlock (or modified trigger plate action for the technically-minded) that has served well on countless similar guns. At the front are pressed-in hinge discs, which have the advantage they can easily be replaced if a gun needs to be rejointed. A full-width bolt locks the barrels shut, helical mainsprings power the hammers and second barrel selection comes via the familiar inertia system.
Though no safety should ever be trusted, this one, in common with similar designs, does disconnect the trigger and lifter from the sears, but does not block the hammers, a feature found only on very expensive guns.
The safety button/barrel selector is of no-nonsense proportions, with chequered finish for good non-slip use and quite suitable for gloved hands on a cold day. Similarly the trigger, which combines practicality with an attractive shape, sits within a nicely-sized guard bow of good styling.
Italian makers do produce some good barrels and those on this little Lincoln are no exception. Externally, the 30in tubes are struck up well, giving good clean lines of sight. They are well polished with a deep black finish and the 6mm-wide file-cut ventilated top rib is well laid with a dainty foresight bead befitting what is essentially a game gun.
The bores are chromed and when gauged were found to be tight on the bottom end of the proof size – always a good sign. It is chambered for 76mm or 3in magnum and I did feel that, though the chambers were quite smooth and tightly toleranced, just a little extra polish would have been a visual improvement – but then improving the smallest details means the price has to go up. Having said that, there is some good attention to detail, such as the jewelled finish on the sides of the breech that fit into the action and are therefore usually out of sight.
The choke tubes are quite well finished, a point of considerable importance, and notch-marked at the muzzle end to denote the degree of choke. They are also clearly marked on the side, especially important for any bearing the legend ‘no steel’.
The barrels are assembled on the monoblock system, with tubes spigoted into the breech block. The join lines between the tubes and block are good and the barrels, when smoke-blacked, proved to fit snugly against the action. Constantly sprung ejectors, while not to everyone’s liking, are not any real disadvantage in operation as long as, like these, they have adequate clearance from the action face when closing.
Appearance is worth a lot to many owners, not only the lines and style, but also the detail in the decoration. The machine engraving on the Premier, while simply executed, offers clean and uncluttered lines, and the addition of the gold-finished gamebirds on the satin-finished background is more than one would normally expect from a gun in this price range.
Its overall appearance is enhanced by contrasts such as the gold trigger, well-blacked guard and matt-finished safety. All together, wood, barrels and decorated action make up an attractive package.
The 20-bore experience
Sometimes one component can spoil the complete experience of a gun, while at other times everything works so well the product can seem more than the sum of its parts. The Lincoln sits comfortably in the middle: a gun with no real vices. The trigger pulls are a little longer than is my preference, but this is regarded nowadays as a safety feature; the autosafe works properly, while ejection is rapid and faultless.
The stock may not have been tailored to my physique, but it still proved a forgiving and easy gun to get on with. It was not at all difficult to compensate for shooting up the left of a driven bird or over the top of one presented going away.
The lightness and quickness one would expect from a 20-bore, allied to its almost steady pointability, meant you did not have to think too much, simply react to a given situation.
I feel that the 20-bore experience is about a gun that is slim and light, pleasant to handle and carry, and of modest recoil. With both 23g and 25g loads, this gun fitted the bill very well, but the handful of magnums I tried led me to conclude that the extra snappy recoil spoils the formula.
I was brought up to appreciate that if you want a larger load it is appropriate to use a heavier gun with a bigger bore, and I have no doubt there are plenty of magnum aficionados out there who will disagree with my conclusion.
None of this detracts from the Lincoln Premier 20-bore, however, and owners will be entitled to experience it the way they want.
LINCOLN PREMIER 20-BORE
Barrel: 30in, multi-chokes
Stock: Pistol grip
– Handling and balance
– Overall finish
– Slightly long trigger pull