SHOTGUN REVIEW: VERY SPECIAL
Created on 14th May 2009
Fancy a Sporting Clays shotgun but feeling the pinch? Check out the previously owned end of the dealer's rack, suggests RICHARD ATKINS
If you're thinking of trying some Sporting Clays, maybe you need a gun more suited to the discipline. Instead of using the same gun you take around the fields, try something designed for the job. There are many excellent over-and-under shotguns designed for Sporting Clays and the specification they offer at their price level can be very good. However, if a new gun is a step too far, how about a pre-owned one? It's possible to get a well-known make with a proven track record, spares and back-up available. If over six or eight years old, it should hold its price well, provided it's kept in good order. It might even have had some improvements already.
With a budget of around £500-£600 in mind we checked some local dealer's shelves and scanned the Guntrader adverts on the internet. Many dealer ads appear on this site. We fancied a Browning or a Beretta as they have several suitable models. Most were more expensive but then we spotted a Beretta 686 for sale locally for under £500: well worth investigating!
We borrowed the gun and had a closer look. It was so reasonably priced because it wasn't a multi-choke as most models now are. It was the 686 ‘Special Sporter', designed for sporting clays and in good condition for a gun over 10 years old. With a quality make and treated with reasonable care then age is not really a problem.
The Beretta action is well-known and proven around the globe. This one is just a derivation of the 680 series and features the low profile action with side trunnion hinge pins and twin conical pins that lock into side extensions in the top barrel, a readily recognisable Beretta trademark. These actions are quite slim too, the locking wedges being machined into the same barrel side extensions that the locking pins engage with. The tops of the receiver sidewalls are machined out to accept them and so there are no under lugs to deepen the action. It's an attractive, practical and sturdy design.
The action is a well-designed boxlock that uses coil springs to power the tumblers/hammers. The springs are long and placed low in the action providing plenty of power to the well-machined and properly hardened tumblers. The design and sensible dimensions of the parts ensures strength with quite fast lock times. This action can also have the trigger pulls adjusted to quite a light let-off weight while remaining reliable. The ‘Special' series have a bit more attention paid to them when built but I doubt even they would all come out with pulls like these. They proved crisp and light with the trigger pull gauge indicating almost exactly 3½lb for both triggers. That's a good pound lighter than typically found on many decent competition guns, suggesting there has been some input by a competent gunsmith.
The action lock-up was as tight as the day it left the factory. Removing the forend and giving the gun a shake produced no hint of movement at all and the gun locked closed with a reassuring clunk. It also had an advantage that comes with having fired several thousand shots (or expensive gunsmithing) and that's the smoothness with which a well-used and cared for gun opens and closes. New guns are great but can be a bit tight initially, taking a while to reach that easy opening and smooth closing that makes them more pleasant to use.
Beretta barrels have a reputation for quality construction. They use the monobloc method as does virtually every other barrel maker today, and they do it well. The tubes are bored straight and true and are well-finished internally and externally. The monobloc is so slim it just blends with the barrels as though they were always one item; it's very neat. The trapezoidal locking wedges on this gun are a separate and replaceable item, being screwed in place, should wear require them to be renewed. This is a feature that is now dropped on some later models and which may be seen as another advantage with an older model. In fairness, though, this is not a part that's likely to wear at any significant rate unless it is abused.
The barrels are joined with ventilated side ribs, which keeps weight down and aids cooling; a 10mm wide raised and ventilated top rib is also fitted. This is very finely cross-hatched to prevent glare and sits on well-spaced posts to ensure it remains straight while allowing good air circulation. Remember the top rib is not a sight for aiming, but there to dissipate heat-haze away from the shooter's line of sight so he or she can concentrate on seeing the target. This one achieves that beautifully.
Now, unlike virtually all Sporters made today, this one is plain-bored, meaning that it does not have screw-in multi chokes. Most will choose multi-chokes, but though convenient, they can be something else for a newcomer to contend with. Making the decision as to which choke to use can become an issue in itself. Many an experienced shot has pondered which choke tubes to put in for a tricky target; thoughts of "it's a long way off so I need a tight choke, but its high and coming in a bit so it should break with modest choke where I intend to shoot it" can cloud one's thoughts. It can actually lead to doing worse than you should as some concentration has gone into choke choice.
These barrels had choke restrictions of around Improved Cylinder and Half Choke, indicating that they had been opened out a little: more attention from a gunsmith! The boring had been well-executed and broke clays consistently.
Cartridge selection will enable virtually all targets to be competently tackled. Trap shells will deal with the longer targets and any reasonable modern sporting cartridge will deal with the rest. Skeet shells can be used for fast and close incomers. That's how we did it before multi-chokes took over and it worked then: as a round of 44ex-50 on a varied Sporting layout showed, it still does. Don't be put off by a plain-bored gun. If you get on with it and would like interchangeable choke tubes later, then Teague chokes can be fitted to plain-bored guns. It's expensive but they are a quality item.
Interestingly the barrels were stamped as 2¾" - 30"; in fact they were precisely 29½" long. That's a good length for a budding Sporting Clay shot: manageable yet long enough to be steady. Most guns today are chambered to 76mm/3" in anticipation of the need to use longer steel shot ammunition. Personally, I prefer the shorter ones and there will, I am sure, be perfectly usable 70mm steel clay cartridges should that day arrive. I wouldn't hesitate in buying a 70mm chambered gun: it may even handle fibre wad cartridges rather better than some 76mm ones.
The wood on this gun had fine and straight grain in the stock, which gives maximum strength. It also had sufficient darker figuring to look pleasant. Age had darkened the oil-finished wood a little too, which is perfectly attractive. I expected some wear and tear and there was a small dint in the forend wood, plus an easily and invisibly repairable small crack in the forend top edge, but nothing serious.
The forend style is one I like as it's comfortable in a choice of hold positions. The radius of the pistol grip stock is just on the open side for me, so check you like the wrist poisition it gives. It shot well though. With the good length of stock and rounded top to the rubber butt pad, it mounted consistently and smoothly and recoil was modest with 28g target loads.
The 686 Special Sporter balanced a fraction ahead of the hinge pin, making it handle and point very well; that too is a hallmark of these guns and why so many shooters get on with them well. At just under £500 it looks like a lot of gun for the money and would serve someone trying Sporting Clays a treat. Looked after it should give years' good service and not lose much when traded on: or it might be kept a very long time!
Model: 686 Special Sporter
Gauge: 12 g x 70mm (2¾") chambers
Barrel length: 29½"
Weight: 7lb 10oz
Trigger: Single selective (recoil-operated)
Trigger pulls: 3½lb
Top rib: 10mm wide RVR
Chokes: I/C and Half
Pull length: 14½"
Drop at heel: 2¼" (55mm)
Drop at comb: 1" (35mm)
Asking price (S/H): £495 (you should expect to pay at least £100 more if buying a multi-choke model)
UK agents: GMK Ltd
T: 01489 587500
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