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An attractive gun that handles well and inspires complete confidence... you can’t say better than that! Mike Yardley talks us through his gun of choice for game shooting – the Caesar Guerini Essex 20-bore.
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The gun test this month is a bit indulgent, but I hope interesting nevertheless. I asked our acting editor if I might write about my own favourite Guerini gun – the one I do most of my clay and game shooting with now (and much teaching). It’s a 30" 20-bore Essex model weighing in at 6lb 10oz – a near ideal game gun weight in my opinion. It has a square bar, side-plated action embellished with attractive tight scroll engraving. The stock is especially well conceived with a full (but not too full) pistol grip combined with a rounded field fore-end rather than the more usual lipped schnabel.
My Essex has had much use and has had no issues at all bar the failure of the top-lever latch, which was a small component easily replaced at modest cost. It is long overdue a service but has not had one yet. It doesn’t feel at all loose yet. But I will get it back to Anglo Italian in due course because it would be foolish not to. They back their guns with an excellent, and rapid, service operation (they can turn a gun around on service inside a week) as well as an exceptional 10-year guarantee.
Visually, this now discontinued model is most attractive; the understated scroll suits my traditional taste. There was an option of chemical colour-case hardening too; mine has a coin-finished action. Guerini still offer the mechanically similar game scene engraved Magnus, Magnus Deluxe and Maxum models, the last two offering a solid rib and similar pistol grip stock. So, you can buy a very similar gun with a slightly different look – RRPs beginning at £3,325 for the side-plated models (my preference for the little bit of extra weight between the hands) or from £2,595 without. This is not small change, but it is similar to the main opposition. Guerini also include in their stable the more expensive, finer finished, Apex and Forum side-plated models (as well as Invictus models on a different action design – see the technical section). All the guns now come with 1320 bar fleurs-de-lys proof, and barrels drilled from 42CrMo4 barstock with forged, nickel chrome moly actions.
My gun, meantime, has evolved. It did not begin life with 30" solid rib barrels (it once sported 32" tubes). The fit has been modified too. The length of pull is still the standard 14¾". But, I've put a bit of extra cast on the gun and raised the comb slightly. It measures 1 ¼" at the front and 2" to the rear. I surprised myself when I checked it for this article, I hadn't realised it was quite as high. It also has an excellent but not too steeply radiused pistol grip as noted. The ideal shape, which allows for even purchase throughout its length, is made possible by the excellent action proportions. Some guns with lower profiles have insufficient space between top and bottom tangs.
I enthuse about this gun to all and sundry because it handles and shoots so well. I often say to people now that, as far as game shooting is concerned, a 30" 20-bore is always right! Other marques offer great 20-bores too. The thing about a modern machine-made 30" 20-bore is that it offers handling dynamics similar to those of a Best London side-by-side game gun of yore at a fraction of the price, and, arguably, even better shooting qualities. I am not over-egging the pudding if I say that I know of no other over-and-under 20-bore that shoots better regardless of price. I’m not saying my gun is perfect, no mechanical object is, but you would go a very long way to better this at any sensible money (and even, for that matter, at silly money). It’s that good, and that’s why I am writing about it. I am laying out the specification so that others might copy it.
There is little technically exceptional about the design of the Essex/Magnus/Maxum (unlike their Invictus models which incorporate an interesting new locking system with cams at the knuckle – dispensing with the normal stud pins and monobloc recesses – and a replaceable draw amidships to supplement a conventional Browning style bolt to the rear).
The Essex/Magnus and Maxum have the usual replaceable stud pins and a single, simple, flat bolt to the rear, engaging a bit underneath the bottom chamber. Other makers in Brescia use this plan (although Beretta and Perazzi have their own arrangements – trunnion hinging and conical bolts in the Beretta, similarly 'bifurcated' barrel lumps in the Perazzi combined with Boss-style bolting). The basic Guerini has a single cocking bar positioned centrally in the action and equally straightforward spring-loaded ejectors. Coil springs power the rebounding hammers. Other Bresican makers (notably Rizzini, Sabatti and FAIR) use a similar, but not identical, design. It reminds of our old, much beloved, Anson & Deeley side-by-side. It's simple, tough, and goes on working.
I won't mince my words. I love this little gun. I shoot most of my clays and almost all my game with it. It’s a pleasure to shoot (and carry) at 6lb 10oz. Light enough to be fast handling, heavy enough not to be wild. I seem to shoot it as well as my 12s even at tough clays. I don’t feel in any way under-gunned. The gun controls recoil beautifully. I've put thousands of 24g and 21g loads through it (and, an ounce and heavier for game – my current favourite field load being 28g of 5 shot). I don't think about this gun anymore. I just shoot it. What chokes does it have? I've forgotten – about Half. Let's measure it (I’ve not looked for some years although I remove the chokes for cleaning periodically)! It turns out to be Half and Three-quarter! The extra cast and higher comb mean it points where I look. I like the steadiness of the solid rib barrels and the grip offers exceptional purchase. My Guerini inspires complete confidence.
■ The solid rib barrels
■ The stock shapes and especially the grip
■ The reliable mechanical design
■ Very little!
■ Make: Caesar Guerini
■ Importer: Anglo-Italian Arms
■ Model: Essex (discontinued)
■ Bore: 20
■ Action type: side-plate trigger plate.
■ Barrel length: 30" with solid rib
■ Chokes: multi
■ Weight: 6lb 10oz
■ RRP: similar models from £3,325
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