Merkel Model 50 British shotgun
The Merkel Model 50 is different; different, that is, from what has gone before.
Where this maker?s side-by-sides used to sport unashamedly Continental styling, the Model 50 has a British look, hence the model designation.
I believe Viking Arms, the long-time importers of Merkel firearms, had some influence in this matter, recognising the need to raise the profile of these guns in the UK.
Merkel as a company has been in existence since 1898 and has always ploughed a lone furrow, producing fine quality firearms with their own distinctive character.
It is, perhaps, better known for its over-unders which embody tradition with Continental flair and have proved worthy rivals to many London guns.
Now, with the Model 50, it has made the effort to compete head-on with British makers in the side-by-side stakes.
BRITISH STYLE, GERMAN DETAILS
The originality is mostly in the detail, such as the adoption of rose and scroll engraving and, surprisingly, Merkel?s penchant for barrel extensions and cross-bolting is absent.
This gun locks up on a straightforward double bite system which has been proven for years as more than sufficient for a gun of this type.
At first glance the Model 50 could be mistaken for a sidelock rather than a sideplated boxlock, so effective is the fit and shaping of the parts.
We should not be surprised as the metal-to-metal and metal-to-wood fit on Merkel guns has always been exceptionally good.
However, it is also when studying the sideplates that it becomes obvious that the maker has not slavishly produced a ?Brit-copy? because they still have more than a hint of Merkel?s house style in their shape.
Merkel has a proud tradition and I think there is little doubt that they still feel a need to do some things their way ? and who can blame them?
What this means is a shotgun of overall British styling with a few well thought out Germanic touches that only become obvious as one examines it in detail.
One such case is the fine chequering at the nose of the top and bottom ribs, only possible because they are profiled to fit the barrels exactly without any solder filler.
The top rib is in the concave English form, but file cut for its full length and the foresight bead a little larger than those used by many of our makers.
Even the chequering on the stock and fore-end qualify as a touch more exotic than restrained but this is, of course, a matter of taste.
FINE OIL-FINISHED WALNUT
As for the walnut, it glows with a chestnut hue that is only obtainable with an oil finish and there is dark veining in abundance, shot through with a blaze of golden highlights.
It is, in short, fine wood and, as it should be on a really good gun, the fore-end and stock match appearing to have been made from the same blank.
On this particular 20-bore, the stock has a fairly high comb so the drop from the tip of the comb to the hand of the stock is a little more dramatic than one would normally expect.
Also the drop points (sometimes called teardrops and, by old hands, bottle points) at the end of the carved sideplate panels were, I felt, just a touch bigger than they need to be for a delicate gun.
Once again, it?s a matter of personal taste, but they were nicely matched.
Looking at the rest of the parts in detail one cannot fail to be impressed by the little things that go towards making this gun especially attractive.
There are fine slots on the screw pins that all line up as they should, neat scroll engraving adjacent to the breech end of the barrels and triggers that are elegantly shaped and quite beautifully finished.
Other things are not so visible, like the tiny locking screws for the striker discs and extractor cam or, most intriguingly, the extractor guide legs locating into each barrel just above the flats.
As for the proof and barrel details on the barrel flats, they are a lesson in simplicity.
First the barrel flats are marked 20/76 meaning 20-bore, chambered for 3in cartridges, then the actual measured size at 16mm which is the larger size of 20-bore (actually 19-bore under the old British system) that seems the popular option nowadays.
Even the fixed choke detail appears ? no stars or other international ?easily recognisable? symbols, simply 1⁄2 and 1⁄4.
The barrels are flawlessly struck up on the outside and the bores immaculate, ribs nicely square edged and the under barrel lumps a work of art in precision filing and fitting.
To put it in words of few syllables ? it ain?t a bad job.
Sideplates, rose and scroll engraving and neat detail around the fences are typical of the Model 50.
The quality of fitting of all parts, both metal and wood, is exceptional.
As ever, though, the ultimate factor is the performance for which it is intended; in this case as a lightweight game gun.
At a bare 6lb it passes the weight test and the balance is such that it feels even lighter.
With a 15in length of pull it fitted me wearing summer clothing and proved very pointable, but the high comb meant a bit more of the bird would show above the barrels than I was used to with a side-by-side.
On patterning I found it did not shoot quite as high as I expected, placing the shot centrally with the bead just a couple of inches below the centre of the sheet.
The nominally 30in barrels and good amount of cast meant, for me, it shot straight, pulling neither to the right or left.
The operation of the safety was just as it should be, short and crisp without being at all hard in use so pushing it off became an automatic reaction.
The ejectors were timed exactly to each other, no matter how fast or slow the gun was opened ? a neat mechanical snap and two cases would fly out to lie almost touching a few feet away.
Somewhat inspired, it was time for a few clays, and my, this gun does give you confidence.
It is, of course, partly the balance, the handling, the simple fact that everything works properly and effortlessly, but also that indefinable something that lifts a gun from being just good to something special.
The Model 50 is a gun that looks good, feels good and performed well with the game cartridges that I used.
I did not get into using heavy recoiling Magnums or even steel shot, though it is superior proofed for both.
This gun is not some sort of commercially inspired hybrid to attract a certain section of the market; it is unashamedly a fine quality Merkel with the benefit of some tasteful British styling.
Merkel Model 50 British shotgun