British makers are still better known for their side-by-sides, but there is always a good selection of over-unders out on the shooting field.
The majority are by continental makers.
Such a gun is the Zabala Toro 12-bore. It is a rather handsome gun in a colourful way.
In this case, the fact it is a little deep and wide in the action makes it look more substantial, but it weighs 7¼lb or so, which is very reasonable for a 27½in barrelled gun.
However, the depth and sweep of the forearm with its Schnabel fore-end, bag or rounded pistol grip stock (what, in polite circles, may be referred to as a Prince of Wales grip) and extensive chequering all accentuate the impression of a big, strong gun.
The point of balance lies well between the hands, almost exactly in line with the pivot point of the barrels. Though the handling is more deliberate than sprightly, it does come up well to the shoulder, partly due to a generous amount of cast off.
This is a particularly good feature and unusual in a factory gun. At 1½in on the tip of the comb and 2½in at the heel, the drop is the standard industry formula, which suits most users for a game gun.
The length of pull from the trigger to middle of the comfortable butt-pad is just under 15in. Though this is on the long side, such designs are becoming more common and have the advantage that the stock length can often be tailored to suit the owner.
Short and crisp trigger-pulls
The action body that contributes so much to the styling has a solid frame with the lockwork arranged in a conventional manner. Some of the detail is unusual, as Zabala seems to have a fondness for wire springs of surprising complexity.
Locating the ejector-trip arms into slots machined in the side of the hammers is a delightfully simple idea, and the safety bent in the top of the hammers is always a good feature.
The trigger-pulls are shorter than one might expect. They are crisp in the let-off, and not unduly heavy at a shade over 5lb. Though sear selection and therefore first barrel selection is set from the safety/selector, the second barrel selection operates by recoil or automatically using a simple mechanical system.
This is normally the most reliable system when using a variety of cartridges. Another good mechanical feature is the fairly large diameter of the nose of the strikers, or firing pins. Again, this aids reliability and the auto-safe is something most gameshooters will welcome.
Potential for dual purpose
While the barrels may at first seem to be an odd length, they are 70cm, which is fairly common on the continent. Though fitted with screw-in chokes, there is little discernible flare near the muzzles of the glossily blacked and well-finished tubes. The ventilated matted top rib matches the short ventilated side ribs, which means extra care will need to be taken in cleaning between the barrels after a wet day.
The red LPA foresight fitted to this particular gun means that though it is essentially a game gun, the Zabala Toro would not seem out of place for sporting use. In fact, like many over-and-unders, it has the potential to be a dual-purpose gun.
The barrels are proofed for steel shot with 3in chambers, reasonably long forcing cones and nice clean well-polished bores. Both are marked 18.4mm (0.724in) and the gauged sizes were almost dead on – within a thousandth of an inch of the proof size.
A cruciform style choke key, which works for 28- and 20- as well as 12-bore guns, is provided in the handy carry case along with three spare chokes. None of the chokes carry any marking except for the usual notches at the muzzle end.
The size range of the chokes provided covers cylinder, tight improved cylinder, half, three-quarters and full choke. Without any instructions to the contrary with steel shot one would normally use only the first three chokes listed. Any degree of choke would be acceptable for use with lead.
A riot of colour and decoration
The Toro is quite an eyeful in this department, and restrained is not the word that comes to mind. Most noticeable is the laser-cut fleur-de-lys pattern of chequering with ribbons through the centre of each panel.
Additional decorative panels either side of the head of the stock reinforce the fleur-de-lys theme. All are neatly proportioned. Such chequering work might be regarded as a bit extravagant, but this is a boldly-styled gun, so it is in keeping to go the whole way.
The walnut is a natural reddish-brown with some dark veining and a good tight grain.
It has a fine production oil finish that enhances its appearance without being too shiny. As for the action body, this is a riot of colour. Blues and even purple vie with more subtle yellow browns. It is again very bold, even a bit ‘in-yer-face’, but does not detract from the fact that it is beautifully done.
By contrast, the small and even delicate decorative patterns need a second look to notice the detail. Sections of small scroll are in abundance with stylised rose forms on the sides of the action body and in greater detail on the bottom plate.
Passing all tests
Though such things may be pleasing to admire when wiping the gun down at the end of the day, they are of little consequence in the field, where performance and reliability are far more important.
In this respect, the Zabala passed all the tests. The primer strikes were well centred and sufficiently deep to fire a few cartridges with noticeably dished heads.
The ejection on individual barrels worked well and the timing was correct on the double ejections with pairs of fired cases flying out side-by-side.
The manual barrel selection with the slightly unusual but eminently practical safety/selector proved firm and positive and the auto-safe never failed to return home fully.
A reliable gun in cad’s clothing
The good amount of cast meant that I had no problem centring shot patterns on the pattern plate. With the sight picture of the bird just above the foresight, the gun threw over half the pattern above it.
For most users this works well for driven birds, crossers or a going away shots where the birds are usually rising. Though the patterns created by each interchangeable choke were generally good, the tighter settings were the best with the cartridges I was using.
In spite of its rakish appearance, the Toro holds no unpleasant surprises. It mounts, points and swings well and performs all its functions with solid dependability.
In some ways, perhaps, it is a reliable gun in cad’s clothing – but that’s better than being dull.
Shot patterns: 3/5
Value for money: 3/5
(£760 for left-hand stock)
Contact: 01904 487180