SHOTGUNS

Hundreds of rounds of test firing led to tight groups, sore shoulders and some real surprises from one of the best selections of new guns we've seen.

SHOTGUNS Some readers have criticized our gun tests in the past saying we only report on fancy, high-priced firearms. For the record, our primary criteria for testing guns (or any other products) has always been that firearms must be new and innovative. That said, we test the field of guns that fit that criteria in any given year. Some years manufacturers focus on more expensive models, some years they don't. We simply tell it like we see it, based on what you'll soon be seeing at your local gun shop.

This year, some folks will look at our field of shotguns and say "too pricey." But think about it. Good shotguns don't come cheap-especially quality side- by-sides and over/unders, which is where the majority of the new guns introduced this year fall. Most of these models require additional hand fitting, so labor costs go up. And the additional parts required to make a nice double of either variety are costly. Add to this higher quality wood and more attention to engraving and aesthetics, and these guns are going to cost more.

Happily, the trend in shotguns seems to be toward more traditional designs, and we're glad to see the influence of European craftsmanship creeping into guns from major American makers that will be distributed here. In short, the field of quality shotguns has taken a great stride forward, and that's something all of us can get excited about.

Kimber Augusta
($4,350; 888-243-4522)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 8 lb.
Barrel length: 30 in.
Metal finish: Blue barrel/receiver
Stock: European walnut
Sights: Orange fluorescent/white
Trigger pull: Top, 4 lb.; bottom, 4 lb. 7 oz.
Intended purpose: Sporting clays
A new over/under bearing the Kimber logo represents quite a stretch for a gunmaker that made a reputation for itself with classy rifles and, more recently, a popular line of handguns. Built by Investarm, one of the "new age" Italian gunmakers that combine sophisticated machining techniques with traditional philosophies, the Kimber is beautifully fitted, richly sculpted and detailed with an elegantly slender profile made possible by a bifurcated locking system (locking lugs on the sides rather than under the barrel). The high-grade wood, fine checkering and deep, elegant blue with tasteful gold border exude class and expense. It is this latter, at $4,350 a pop, that will test the loyalty of Kimber devotees.

Extra Comments

1) "Great feel."

2) "Love the trigger adjustment."

3) "Wants to stop too short on opening."

4) "Ejector was unpredictable."

5) "Nice checkering."

6) "A lovely shotgun but not necessarily a good value."

Remington 332****OL GREAT BUY
($1,532; 800-243-9700)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 7.5 oz.
Barrel length: 275/8 in.
Metal finish: Blue
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead
Trigger pull: 4.5 lb.
Intended purpose: All-purpose field hunting Let's see now, is this Remington's third or fourth offering of an over/ under in the past decade? One tends to lose count, especially when some of the past efforts achieved instant forgettableness. This is a sad commentary on a company whose Model 32 was one of the all-time great O/U's (the pricey Krieghoff 32 is virtually a screw-by-screw copy) and whose M-3200 is still eagerly sought by skeet and trap shooters.

The new 332 looks, feels and seems to perform somewhat better than its immediate predecessors, which is perhaps damning with faint praise. And Remington is playing its nostalgia card by borrowing from the ancestral M-32 in both name and an exact reproduction of the simple but well-remembered pointing dog impressed on the receiver. Our shooting tests were handicapped by the only test sample available, which apparent had had its stock shortened an inch or so to accommodate a smaller-statured shooter. Otherwise, I would rank it as a solid, American-made shotgun with some nice features.

Extra Comments

1) "Too much felt recoil. Stock needs to be redesigned."

2) "Pistol grip is way too long."

3) Remington's best O/U since M-3200."

4) "Compares favorably to early M-32, especially for the price."

Traditions Elite Field III
($2,099; www.faustistefanoarms.com)
Gauge tested: .410
Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 14.5 oz.
Barrel length: 26 in.
Metal finish: Blue barrels
Stock: European walnut
Sights: Front bead only
Trigger pull weight: Right, 7 lb., 1 oz.;
left, 7 lb., 7 oz.
Intended purpose: Upland hunting
A side-by-side shotgun always attracts attention, especially when it's a cute .410-gauge that just begs you to pick it up and break a few targets. Made in Italy by the firm of Fausti, the trim little number submitted for our tests is classically styled with English (straight) grip and splinter forend, and it looks great at arm's length. On closer inspection, though, the engraving pattern, blotchy inlays and indifferent fit and finishing are disappointing, as is the all-too-tight opening and closing of the action, which only an optimist will expect to get easier with use.

That said, the gun feels good in the hand and mounts sweetly, which accounted for better performance on the skeet field than we had any right to expect considering its twin, full-choked barrels and seven-pound-plus trigger pulls. (When a shotgun's trigger pull is greater than the gun's total weight, you have a weighty problem.)

Extra Comments

1) "A good hitting shotgun & reliable."

2) "Priced too high for its quality."

3) "Crudely finished & stiff operation."

4) "A little rough for price."

5) "Very difficult to close."

Weatherby Athena
($1,549; 800-227-2016)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 2 oz.
Barrel length: 26 in.
Metal finish: Blue
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead
Trigger pull: 4 lb., 7 oz.
Intended purpose: General field
One of the pitfalls of our new gun tests is that in order to make our spring deadline we sometimes have to test pre-production samples. These may be one-of-a-kind samples that lack the refinements in mechanism and finish that will appear in production models. And so it was with both of the new Weatherby shotguns. But with this caveat duly noted, we have to call 'em the way we see 'em.

The Athena side-by-side is a typically Spanish mid-to-upper-class shotgun in that it struggles mightily to imitate a British best-grade sidelock (no fault in that) but falls way short on the details in order to keep production costs at a minimum (no blame there either). Fair-to-nice engraving and checkering on our sample, augmented by nicely contrasting oil-finished walnut, were pleasing, as was the cleanly sculpted, English-style stock.

But in disappointing contrast to these features were rough chambers, too-obvious reminders of rough hand filing and coarse wood-to-metal fit, not to mention a malfunctioning single trigger. Hopefully, these faults will not be present on production guns that reach dealers' racks. If they are, this import will be an unworthy bearer of the Weatherby name and nowhere in the class of its earlier smoothbores. Faults corrected, it will be a darn good deal for those hankering for a classy-looking sidelock double at an affordable price.

Extra Comments

1) "Very temperamental, only fired when it wanted to."

2) "Nice looking shotgun."

3) "Some difficulty opening & closing."

4) "Very hittable when it worked."

5) "Will be a good value when bugs are worked out."

6) "Fit & finish need improving."

Weatherby SAS****OL GREAT BUY
($799; 800-227-2016)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 8 oz.
Barrel length: 26 in.
Metal finish: Blue
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead front
Trigger pull: 4 lb., 7 oz.
Intended purpose: Upland/field
The Weatherby SAS (Semi Automatic Shotgun) that we tested suffered some of the same pre-production faults outlined for the Weatherby Athena, principally a grip configuration designed by King Kong himself or someone with a fist of equal size. We're told a correction is already in the works, which should greatly improve the feel of this gun.

On the plus side, this Italian-made, gas-operated self-feeder has tapered shims that can be fitted between the buttstock and receiver to add cast-off or cast-on (for the usually forgotten left-handed shooter). The field-grade model we tested proved highly reliable throughout our test, but there were questions about what seemed to be excessive kick for a gas-operated gun firing low-recoil ammo.

Extra Comments

1) "Why would a consumer buy this shotgun, there are cheaper, well-established autoloaders available."

2) "Good value."

3) "Lives up to Weatherby image."

4) "Nicely finished & reliable."

5) "Not too pretty but great all-around shotgun."

6) "Very easy to use."

Browning Citori 525 EDITOR'S CHOICE

($2,493; 801-876-2711)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 15.5 oz.
Barrel length: 28 in., plus 3/4-in. tube extension
Metal finish: Blue barrels
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead
Trigger pull: Top, 4 lb., 9 oz.; bottom, 4 lb., 11 oz.
Intended purpose:
Sporting clays A more appropriate name for Browning's Citori O/U could well be Pygmalion: Every season she reappears in a new image. This latest is perhaps the most radical costume change yet and may not appeal to traditionalists who prefer classic smoothbore styling. Competitive-minded shotgunners, however, will recognize the curved-forward Etchen-style grip configuration and appreciate its enhanced feel of control. (The Etchens demonstrated this by shooting one-handed.) And if you look closer you'll spot even more refinements, such as the tapered rib, the ventilation ports between the barrels and the target-contoured trigger.

a good value when bugs are worked out."

6) "Fit & finish need improving."

Weatherby SAS****OL GREAT BUY
($799; 800-227-2016)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 8 oz.
Barrel length: 26 in.
Metal finish: Blue
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead front
Trigger pull: 4 lb., 7 oz.
Intended purpose: Upland/field
The Weatherby SAS (Semi Automatic Shotgun) that we tested suffered some of the same pre-production faults outlined for the Weatherby Athena, principally a grip configuration designed by King Kong himself or someone with a fist of equal size. We're told a correction is already in the works, which should greatly improve the feel of this gun.

On the plus side, this Italian-made, gas-operated self-feeder has tapered shims that can be fitted between the buttstock and receiver to add cast-off or cast-on (for the usually forgotten left-handed shooter). The field-grade model we tested proved highly reliable throughout our test, but there were questions about what seemed to be excessive kick for a gas-operated gun firing low-recoil ammo.

Extra Comments

1) "Why would a consumer buy this shotgun, there are cheaper, well-established autoloaders available."

2) "Good value."

3) "Lives up to Weatherby image."

4) "Nicely finished & reliable."

5) "Not too pretty but great all-around shotgun."

6) "Very easy to use."

Browning Citori 525 EDITOR'S CHOICE

($2,493; 801-876-2711)
Gauge tested: 12-gauge
Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 15.5 oz.
Barrel length: 28 in., plus 3/4-in. tube extension
Metal finish: Blue barrels
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Bead
Trigger pull: Top, 4 lb., 9 oz.; bottom, 4 lb., 11 oz.
Intended purpose:
Sporting clays A more appropriate name for Browning's Citori O/U could well be Pygmalion: Every season she reappears in a new image. This latest is perhaps the most radical costume change yet and may not appeal to traditionalists who prefer classic smoothbore styling. Competitive-minded shotgunners, however, will recognize the curved-forward Etchen-style grip configuration and appreciate its enhanced feel of control. (The Etchens demonstrated this by shooting one-handed.) And if you look closer you'll spot even more refinements, such as the tapered rib, the ventilation ports between the barrels and the target-contoured trigger.