This is not just a re-badged Italian model, as it is produced to Powell’s specification and it is obvious that the English influence is quite strong, especially noticeable in the detail, to produce a distinctive house style.
The slim comb, shallow curved pistol grip with the long tang (or tail) to the trigger-guard, two-screw grip-cap and chequered butt-plate are just some of the attractive features. Of course, looks, while much to be admired, are only part of the package.
However, from the moment of assembly from its luxury leather-bound case, this gun really felt right. While not an especially light gun at 8lb or so, it feels lively and mounts to the shoulder smoothly and effortlessly.
This is because it is very well balanced. But there is more to it than that; this gun has that indefinable feel that only a gun maker understands. Loaded with two cartridges, it balanced right in line with the hinge discs and one has to concede that this is in some part due to Powell’s insistence on marketing guns with longish stocks.
The company’s philosophy is that it is easier and neater to shorten than lengthen a stock. The advantage with this particular gun was a 15in length of pull that, even with a stock hollowed out for a stock bolt, proved a perfect match for the shiny, black 30in barrels.
As for the barrels, I was heartened to see that one of my pet hates had been addressed, with the welcome absence of faux engraving where the barrel tubes join the monoblock breech. Instead they are struck up so that the joint is virtually invisible.
This workmanship is further evident in the solid top rib being hand-file cut and fitted with a traditional foresight bead.
Purity of purpose
The chokes are fixed, which to me is entirely suited to the gun, though for fans of the multichoke, Teague chokes are an option.
Otherwise the degree of choke is very much a matter between customer and maker.
The example I had to hand had improved cylinder in the bottom barrel and a bare three-quarters in the top.
Allied to a single, non-selective trigger it helps to retain that purity of purpose that is very much the hallmark of the British shotgun.
The standard guns are set up for driven game shooting, firing the upper barrel first, which is also the easiest to reload if only one shot has been taken.
The gun I tested turned out to be a Powell rarity, firing the bottom barrel first, set up more in the general purpose mode as a walking-up gun.
The colours in the stock and fore-end of this gun are delightful, with dark veining on a russet and gold background enhanced by the oiled finish.
As for the chequering, it is very fine – at 33 lines per inch it is clever work, if not quite as practical as a coarser cut. The patterns are, as expected, rather restrained to suit the overall slightly conservative styling.
I found the stock and fore-end shaping very comfortable with the kind of drop across the comb most suitable for a game gun. Mounting it brought the foresight bead nicely in to the line of sight, though for me a touch more cast would be of benefit.
The lockwork is laid out in a very simple modified trigger-plate.
This type of design has become an industry standard, in some ways it is rather like an over-and-under version of the English Anson and Deeley boxlock.
A work of art
Decoration is part of the art of gun making, like the quality of wood-to-metal fit, and the Phoenix is not deficient in either department.
The rounded action body has full coverage of acanthus-leaf engraving, which extends along the top strap and also to the top-lever, triggerguard and fore-end knuckle.
I liked the serial number in a panel on the trigger-guard tang, again in the traditional manner, and repeated on the top strap, fore-end iron and barrels.
The mandatory (in Italy) warning to read the owner’s manual before use is tucked away on the bottom barrel and as such is nicely out of sight when the gun is assembled and in use.
What I did find a bit odd was the lack of clear information on gauge and chamber length. It was there on the bottom of the monoblock, but on this gun it was a little bit indistinct for such important information.
In the main, the attention to detail is exemplary, even the beautifully aligned tang screws are of two different lengths as found on most top class side-by-sides.
It is a pity that the butt-plate screws are cross heads; slotted screws to match the rest would really have impressed.
While the Rizzini handbook is comprehensive and in several languages, it would, I feel, have been a better touch to have a William Powell handbook, which potentially could be a collector?s item in the future.
The shooter’s companion
In the field the William Powell Phoenix 12-bore is a companionable gun, easy to carry due to its well-balanced characteristics, and even its length is not really obvious.
It is a gun that inspires confidence and had little recoil with the 30g loads used on test.
It would be nice to imagine oneself in a ‘hot corner’ on a stand, where I am sure the Phoenix would come into its own.
Anglo-Italian ventures such as this are not new, though they cause concern to those who believe English-named guns should be made by English makers.
I am ever sympathetic to this view, but realistically at the moment completely English-made guns are only affordable to the very rich.
It is worth considering how some London makers would have fared years ago without the back-up of the Birmingham trade, though in those days there would have been no admission of having guns subcontracted.
I found this Phoenix one of the better guns of its type and have little doubt that William Powell will continue with refinements and improvements to suit customer needs.
An interesting, alternative, choice for the shooter who wants a traditional name with the reliability of modern construction. Possibly one of the best Anglo-Italian ventures to date.
For more information contact William Powell tel: 01295 701701 www.williampowell.co.uk
One of the better guns of its type