Cortona Legend

The recently arrived Cortona over/unders belong to a rather new category of gun making I call the Italian Renaissance. Along with the Caesar Guerini, the newly revamped Franchi O/U and a few others yet to set foot in the U.S., the Cortona ingeniously blends state-of-the-art metal- and wood-cutting technology with the detail and classic styling we normally associate with higher grade (read: more expensive) smoothbores--provided you don't look too closely. In other words, these guns look classy enough to make your brother-in-law jealous, yet fall into a comfortable price niche.

Made in northern Italy, the Cortona line currently includes three grades of over/unders, beginning with the Grande at $1,795 and topping out with the $2,995 Prestige. All come in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge, with the receiver size matching the gauge, a nice feature that makes for a sleeker-looking profile in the smaller gauges and, of course, a lighter weight. (The Prestige also comes in 16-gauge.)

All the Cortonas have boxlock mechanisms, but the Legend and Prestige grades have false side-plates, giving them the aristocratic air of true sidelocks plus more metal surface for embellishment. There are too many choices of gauge and stock styles to list here, but all told I count two dozen combinations in the price list.

The Cortona I tested was a 20-gauge Legend Grade with the round-knobbed Prince of Wales semi-grip stock. With so many shotguns coming out of Europe and points farther east these days, I've gotten into the habit of taking a critical look at the barrels. The Cortona's chrome-lined barrels are every bit as dimension-true and ripple-free as one could wish for, and fully equal to the quality of another famous Italian brand's more costly models. Also, the locking lug recesses show evidence of some hand fitting, as opposed to the hit-or-miss engagements found in some imports.

The Turkish walnut stock has no figure but enough color contrast for character, and the wood-to-metal fit is a testament to the precision of the above-mentioned machinery. The slightly wavy surfaces, however, suggest that improvements are needed in their sanding machinery. The oil finish appears to be hand rubbed, which the maker claims it to be.

The Schnabel tipped forearm features almost total coverage of exceptionally sharp machine-cut checkering, while the grip-panel checkering is laser-cut, with some hand work touch-ups evident here and there.

The metal ornamentation can best be described as bland, with open spaces on side-plates being populated by what appear to be lost dogs rendered by Picasso on a bad day. Italians usually do better--a simple scroll design or none at all would be preferable. Also disappointing is the unfinished look of the trigger guard and the way it terminates in a rut gouged in the stock.

Not at all disappointing, however, is the way the Cortona performs. Mechanically the gun we tested was flawless, with powerful and beautifully timed ejectors. The stock fit me about right, so hitting skeet targets with full choke screw-ins (a test of the pointability of a shotgun) seemed almost effortless.

The Cortona comes with five screw-in chokes and a good one-year warranty, and is distributed by the makers of those great Kalispel gun cases.

PROS: Well-made barrels, excellent wood-to-metal fit, and high-quality machine checkering on forearm; functions flawlessly.

CONS: Blandly engraved metalwork and roughly finished trigger guard not up to the standards of the rest of the shotgun.

FINAL WORD: Very well built, especially for the price.

THE CORTONA UP CLOSE

BUTT PLATE Wood butt plates, which give the stock a fine look, have become a signature feature on many of the new imported Italian shotguns.

TRIGGER GUARD The finish work on the trigger guard was somewhat of a disappointment, although the shotgun's mechanical functioning was superb.

FOREARM The sharp machine-cut checkering and full coverage on the Cortona's forearm is a testament to the capabilities of the newest gun-making equipment and production techniques.

SIDE-PLATES The false side-plates on the Cortona, which is actually a boxlock action, give it a sophisticated look and plenty of room for ornamentation. The engraving shows signs of hand touch-up.

BY THE NUMBERS

MANUFACTURER: Cortona MODEL: Legend TYPE: O/U shotgun CALIBER: 20-gauge CHAMBER: 3 in. WEIGHT: 6 lb. 6 oz. FINISH: Blue-Silver STOCK: Walnut BARREL LENGTH: 28 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 45½ in. TRIGGER PULL, TOP: 5 lb. 8 oz. BOTTOM: 4 lb. 6 oz. PRICE: $2,595 CONTACT: 800-398-0338; kalispelcaseline.com