Can making minor alterations make a major difference? Alex Flint investigates the result of British influence on an Italian standard.
You might be forgiven for heaving a sigh at the sight of yet another Italian over-under on these review pages. But it is rather difficult to ignore the fact our European cousins are responsible for much of the new hardware unleashed upon the sporting world. Unusually, however, this particular Italian over-under owes a significant debt of gratitude to some decidedly British influence. Having had the distinct pleasure of testing this gun on some challenging targets, including on the new grouse butt at Grange Farm Shooting School, I am certainly glad of its creation.
This gun is based on Perazzi’s popular MX12 but has been designed in conjunction with (and is available exclusively from) Sportarm of Dorchester. Sporting gun enthusiasts may well already be familiar with the Dorset-based firm for another of its unique collaborations, the AYA English Game side-by-side, built to evoke the feel of the very best inter-war English guns. In many ways the new Ribless Game stems from a similar idea, using Boss’s astonishing early 20th century over-unders as inspiration.
Removing the top rib from the barrels was a practice many English gunmakers undertook to bring down the weight of their firearms. Given how relatively small and simple a component the rib would appear to be, the idea that its removal could make any tangible impact on the weight or handling of the gun seems a little absurd.
Any reader similarly sceptical will be immediately disabused of this notion upon mounting this gun – it is astonishing what a difference such a small change has made.
And be in no doubt: we really are talking about a small physical alteration here; the removal of the rib is a weight saving in the region of a few grams. But in terms of changes in the balance and handling of the gun, the difference is almost revelatory. Tipping the scales at just a shade under 7lbs 6½oz, we are certainly not talking about a lightweight special when looking at the Ribless Game – indeed, it is somewhat standard in the world of over-under game guns, falling somewhere between what one might expect from Browning and Beretta.
Clearly then much more work has been done to it than the simple omission of a common component to create such startling results in the field. Visually, the removal of the rib has quite an impact: one simply does not expect to see the full rounded cylinder of the barrels. Though some vestiges of the rib remain at either end of the barrels, I would argue the change is an improvement overall, since Perazzis do tend to be a little on the larger side. The action remains an imposing feature as is common with most over-under guns, but it is clear much work has been done to slim the gun down, particularly in the long, attractive sweep of the Prince of Wales-style semi-pistol grip.
Hand engraving beautifully applied
The fences have been deeply carved out and the hand engraving beautifully applied, with some lovely acanthus scroll work and excellent game-scene vignettes featuring flushing woodcock, partridge and pheasant. Gold inlays have been kept to a minimum and only make an appearance on the top strap to indicate the application of the safety catch (a button shape which feels quite lovely under the thumb) and barrel selector.
The name of the gun and its maker appear only in engraving on the barrels, and really the only aesthetic disappointment is the rather loud brass-plated trigger, which seems a little out of place alongside the other restrained and refined visual features.
The wood on our test gun had not been finished but it is clearly a shining example of the quality of woodwork Perazzi is able to produce. There is some stunning figuring on display in both the stock and fore-end, and chequering has been beautifully executed. And when this test gun has been properly oiled and sealed it will surely be desirable even to the eyes of those with the hardest of sporting hearts.
It is in the field, however, where this gun truly excels. It is remarkably easy and instinctive to mount and swing, and it inspires great confidence in the user. Though by no means a simple firearm to shoot, it feels alive in the hands in a way that so few modern guns do. Both instructor Bruce Marks and I came away feeling like we had shot with something very special indeed and didn’t really want to stop. And that is as good a seal of approval as one could ask for.
View from the gun shop
This is another interesting gun developed by Sportarm in conjunction with a major European manufacturer. Here Sportarm has spotted a gap in the market for a bespoke English-style gun made to the quality and standard one expects of a major Italian gunmaker and at an achievable price. Perazzi is best known for being a competition gunmaker but in recent years has begun to make significant waves in the world of game shooting.
It is odd that removing the rib makes such a difference – if you pick one up it seems to hardly weigh a thing! Interestingly, a solid rib actually weighs less than a ventilated rib as it is hollow inside. One would normally expect to see a ventilated rib on a Perazzi, so the weight saving is, in these terms at least, not insignificant. The other change of note is the slimmer grip – something sure to please even those with the largest hands as Perazzi guns do tend to be large as standard.
These guns are available currently in 12 and 20 bore form, with a 16 variant available soon. Barrel lengths range from 29” to 31¾”. Chokewise they come in at ½ and ¾ and this will suffice for most buyers, although some do choose to have Teague multichokes fitted. However, this addition will affect the balance, which is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Ribless Game: it is noteworthy that a gun with such good-length barrels can be so well balanced and have such a lovely weight in the hands.
The Perazzi comes in a bespoke leather case with canvas outer cover, as is appropriate for a gun of this quality. Finishing generally is excellent and the engraving is particularly good, though you may order the gun with a classic Perazzi black body should you so wish – these are essentially bespoke guns after all. If you order one now you should be looking at taking delivery in around seven months’ time.
In the field by Bill Elderkin
This really is an astonishingly good gun to hold. From the moment you close it you notice its remarkable balance, feeling predictable but also quite lively. And when I mounted the gun I was repeatedly shocked at how naturally and quickly it came to the shoulder. The positivity was very easily observed, with instructor Bruce Marks immediately commenting on how well the Perazzi allowed me to move, both when mounting and swinging through the shot.
The sight plane down the barrels is quite fascinating: I found the lack of rib not at all distracting, and in fact it meant I concentrated entirely on the target at all times. This is almost certainly a major factor in how cleanly one can mount the gun.
Excellent recoil control
The Ribless Perazzi moves beautifully and is easy to keep on line, with no noticeable muzzle flip and generally excellent recoil control. It feels very secure in the hand thanks to excellent chequering, and the rounded fore-end is comfortable. Trigger pulls are crisp, and the gun performed well on a variety of crossing and driven targets.
It absolutely came into its own on Grange Farm Shooting School’s new grouse butt, where the speed and life of the gun was extremely rewarding in the face of some fast and exciting targets.
The gun is not entirely without fault, however, as I found the bottom of the grip caught my hand a little early on – though this was soon alleviated by some slight adjustments to the placement of my face on the stock and would most likely not be a problem with a stock properly fitted to the buyer.
Also, the Perazzi did not seem to open until the top-lever was pushed to the full extreme of its movement range – a somewhat unusual quirk that occasionally meant reloading was slower than I might have liked in the face of some adrenaline-inducing simulated grouse targets.
But overall both instructor Bruce Marks and I left this gun with smiles on our faces and the impression we had shot with something special. I would love to shoot one again and I am sure no buyer would be disappointed by its performance.
Engineering: 9/10 A proven and successful Perazzi design enhanced by some British polish.
Handling: 10/10 As exciting, challenging and rewarding a gun to shoot as I can recall in some time.
Looks & finishing: 9/10 The removal of the rib has had a significant impact and though unusual, it is undeniably pretty.
Reliability & customer service: 9/10 Sportarm is a well-established name with a track record of producing guns British sportsmen and women want to buy.
Value: 9/10 There isn’t an equivalent new ribless gun to buy. Perazzi offers a quality and level of service that is hard to match at this price.
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Remarkably easy and instinctive to mount and swing