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Zoli XL-Evo – a gun aimed at competition shooters

Becky McKenzie knows Zoli shotguns well, but was excited to try the Italian maker’s XL-Evo, a gun aimed at competition shooters with numerous user-friendly features

Zoli XL Evo

Zoli XL-Evo

Manufacturer: Zoli

Price as reviewed: £7,600

This gun test is on the Zoli XL-Evo, a 12-bore, 32in over-and-under. I have waited a long time to get my hands on one of these. There is another Zoli that I was desperate to have a jolly good drool over: the Zoli Z Vintage. Edgar Brothers were kind enough to send me both.

Zoli’s XL-Evo model fulfils the always hard task of being a very good competition gun. It achieves it very well. The XL-Evo embodies all the fundamental concepts that have distinguished the success of the entire Zoli range, but this model goes just a little bit further in dedication and design. The XL-Evo is a shotgun dedicated to the experienced competition shooter; actually not just competition, but all shooters who require a gun that is of professional standard and also very customisable.

Looking closely at the Zoli XL-Evo

On receiving the Zoli and opening up the cardboard box, you are presented with the silver ABS case. With three locks, it’s airline approved. The barrels and stock are in Zoli blue socks to protect them in transit. Taking the relevant pieces out of the socks and putting them together, I am presented with a rather handsome gun.

The Zoli has some particularly good-quality Turkish walnut adorning it, with fine chequering on the fore-end and around the palm. The main difference between the Z-Sport series and the XL-Evo are the adjustable sideplates. Adjustable, as in, different weights. Unlike the other Zolis in the range, the Evo is fitted with an increased action, with a variable weight structure, which can be adjusted by the owner.

This innovation is known as the Between Hands Balance (BHB) system, introduced many years ago by Zoli, which is also fully adjustable and allows you to add as much or as little weight to the stock and barrels as you require. This means you really can fine-tune the dynamic behaviour of this gun to make it do what you actually want it to do.

There is a good range of different colours available for the sideplates: the standard silver, black, silver/black, and a very pretty ‘colour case hardened’. There is also a choice of three different ribs. The gun I had was a flat rib, so I guess there is also the mid rib and high rib. Not forgetting Zoli guns all have silver-soldered barrels, forged tri-alloy action, a detachable trigger unit, plus titanium-coated parts, self-lubricating springs and stainless-steel bush-firing pins, all in a Boss-style bolt-locking system. Barrel lengths available are 28in (only available in flat rib), 30in, 32in, and I also think, on request, they do a 30¾in and 34in lengths, available only in flat rib also.

The action of the XL-Evo is delicately engraved on the sideplates. Underneath is the ‘Z’ gold logo badge, and a little more engraving, but it’s all tastefully done.

Zoli XL Evo

Engraving is subtly done and just right for a practical gun

On the scales

After putting the gun together, I weighed it on my good old kitchen scales and it came in at 8lb 12oz. Barrel weight: 3lb 8.5oz. Bore: 18.5, and LOP: 15. The stock also comes with an adjustable comb.

First impressions while swinging it around my kitchen and practicing mounting it, I have to be honest, it did feel a little heavy. But its good looks and nice sideplates swayed me towards already liking this gun.

The more I moved the gun, the better and more balanced it felt. I was starting to feel keen to get out on to the shooting range.

I have shot and been sponsored by Zoli Italy for seven years, so I am well accustomed to the feel of the Zoli range. I wasn’t expecting anything untoward, or anything spectacularly different either.

I took the two Zolis and another gun to be tested. Choice of ground this time was Pinewood Shooting Ground, Gainsborough, DN21 3LN. For those of you who have never been there, it is well worth a visit. It has an excellent range of targets, from some nice steady ‘warm-up’ targets to tower birds, fast crossers and a couple of Sportrap layouts.

Starting off on stand one, a couple of tricky driven, my client Mike went first and rinsed the targets inside out. I went on with a Zoli I thought I’d like the most, as it was stunning and similar to what I used to shoot four years ago. It felt good. Moving on to the XL-Evo, I thought I would never get the beast going. I was pleasantly surprised that I could easily swing through the driven target. Moving on to stand two, a right-to-left low edgy crosser, on report a faster left-to-right. Again the first Zoli came out, then the XL-Evo. Being brutally honest, after having half a dozen shots on this stand, I was hooked onto the XL-Evo. It’s very difficult to explain in the written word how this gun felt, how it made me feel and the experience it gave me when shooting, but I shall try.

Zoli XL Evo putting in cartridges

The gun features an adjustable comb and chequered grip in walnut

To start with, gun in shoulder or gun down, it came into the shoulder easily. Looking back to my first hold point, calling for the target, staying slightly in front to start with then gently pulling away, it made me feel that I was never going to miss – it was so very smooth in its movements with a clear view of the target at all times. Once pulling the crisp trigger on the first target, getting back to the second hold point was done without thinking, and acquiring the left-to-right crosser was no effort at all – smash smash, pair dead.

Another stand on, a simple pair, again no problem, even doing the sim pair the wrong way. The pair consisted of a going-away target and an incoming. So a sim pair – incoming first, taken at distance – then on to the going away, which by that time was a good 50 yards out, again pair hit.

I was really starting to like this gun, and by this time I had forgotten about the physical weight as it felt so well balanced in the shoulder you just didn’t notice. So the ‘feelings’ it was giving me – it’s a pleasure to shoot, exciting to shoot, with low recoil as well.

Moving on to some bigger targets at the ground, a long right-to-left looper, on report a high going-away from the tower, the Zoli again made it feel effortless. And that was despite making a complete hash of my hold point for the looper.

At this point I decided to put the other two guns back in my car as I was having so much fun with the XL-Evo. I have been a bit down on my shooting lately, having experienced recurring issues with my neck, and have been using my semi-auto just to give it a rest. I was falling a little bit out of love for the sport, as it just wasn’t doing it for me. The Zoli XL-Evo had lit the touch paper again. I’m not saying everyone will get this experience, but from a stubborn woman like myself, it takes some doing to get that thrilling experience.

Having raced horses and motorcycles, among other things, I guess I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker. I love smashing clays, and the Zoli was doing just that. Mike also had many a go with this gun, and loved it too. (Read more clayshooting tips here.)

Now on to some really testing targets. Two left-to-right high crossers in a very small window. Time to see how quick the Zoli could move. It quickly answered that question with relative ease. Of course I missed targets, but that was mainly because I either didn’t have a clue where they were coming from, or I just put the wrong lead on.

Quartering targets, where I have to really concentrate on shooting at the front edge, the XL-Evo coped well. Screaming teal: hit the first one on the way up, second on the way down, missed the third. (Read how to shoot the teal target.)

Zoli XL Evo

At the shooting ground Becky finds the Zoli hard to fault

Honestly, I cannot find one thing about this gun that I actually did not like. I tried, because no gun is perfect; maybe I could say I didn’t like the bright orange bead on it. I didn’t, but that didn’t even distract me.

It’s heavy, but not when you are shooting. Did I get tired? Yes, but I shot just over 200 clays in two hours which would be tiring whatever your choice of gun.

It patterned well, it’s such a low-recoil gun and it looks ace. I probably sound biased towards Zoli, but having shot a Perazzi for 18 months or so – which is a far more expensive gun – they are both similar, yet different. (Read our review of the Perazzi MX8)

Would I shoot an XL-Evo? Yes, absolutely. Would I buy one? No, as my husband would probably divorce me. But if he didn’t, the XL-Evo would definitely be in my cabinet. Either that or I would be saying to Edgar Brothers that I had lost the keys.

For those of you out there who fancy trying one, if you go on to the Zoli shotguns UK Facebook page, they list all of their demo days all around the UK. Or contact Edgar Brothers directly. 

Tech specs

  • Model Zoli XL-Evo
  • Bore 12
  • Action Boss-style locking
  • Barrel length 32in
  • Chamber 3in
  • Chokes Zoli multichoke extended, titanium-coated
  • Rib Tapered sporting rib, vented
  • Fore-end Sporting
  • Weight 8lb 12oz
  • Price £7,600