SHOTGUN REVIEW: A FASCINATING HYBRID
Created on 18th May 2009
RICHARD ATKINS treats himself to some side-by-side clay-breaking action
MOST GUNS fall fairly neatly into categories that we understand and the basic format of what suits which purpose is well sorted and recognised. Take shotguns for clay pigeon shooting for example; they will be either an over-and-under double-barrel, or a semi-automatic single-barrel. Unless it's a Fabarm Beta Classis side-by-side, that is. There was a time when clays were shot predominantly with side-by-sides, but that harks back to when clay shooting was in its infancy and was really just an extension of game shooting; then it was mostly a means to maintain or improve technique in the off-season, ready for the next.
Today clay shooting is a massive sport which can be pursued right up to Olympic level, with guns specially developed to excel in shooting each of the clay disciplines. The sport has become so evolved that one gun is not going to be suitable for all the clay disciplines; a Skeet model would be at a clear disadvantage if used for ABT or OT, for example. So where does a side-by-side fit into modern clay shooting? Well, if you attend any of the major game and country fairs then you will have seen the ‘flush' type driven events. These involve pairs, trios and sometimes groups of four shooters pitched against a fast and varied barrage of clays that are launched randomly in small and large ‘flurries' right up to the maximum of shots the shooters could have (typically six in the air for a trio of shooters). Then there are an increasing number of events that stipulate the use of a side-by-side, and BASC has events of this type for 120,000-plus members to shoot at various venues around the country.
From previous reviews, we know that highly desirable features on a clay gun include a single-selective trigger; a pistol-grip-style grip to the stock; interchangeable multi-chokes and rather more weight than might be typical for a game gun. Side-by-sides have evolved into the supreme gun for game shooting as they are lightweight and fast handling, which is brilliant when a gun must be brought to bear quickly and carried long distances; in these circumstances the typical ‘English-style' side-by-side, now so superbly emulated by Spanish and Italian gunmakers, comes into its own. If put into a clay shooting context that same gun will still be very fast and handy in flush situations, but may prove a little too ‘flighty' for maximum consistency, and recoil from the light gun will also be more noticeable; this can mount up to induce fatigue that saps performance and can even lead to the dreaded ‘flinch' in certain circumstances.
The Classis is OK for game too, so provided you don't mind the weight, it handles superbly and recoil is very well controlled.
The Fabarm Beta Classis provides a novel blend of features that make it neither a lightweight game gun nor a conventional clay shotgun; so what does it offer?
The barrel tubes are set side by side, as for any conventional game gun, but from that point on the features lean toward a clay format. The action is a true single-selective type where the top tang mounted safety catch incorporates an effortless and convenient barrel selector, as any competition clay gun would. Indeed the action internals bear far more resemblance to those of Fabarm's Axis O/U competition guns than to a typical Anson and Deeley boxlock. Twin bottom pivoted tumblers (hammers) are held in the ‘cocked' position by overhead sears. A second, deep ‘safety bent' is incorporated to catch the tumbler if dropped or knocked, preventing accidental discharge. A transfer bar operating the overhead lifters as in a typical O/U clay gun disengages these sears when the trigger is pulled. An inertia block operating on the sear lifters prevents the second barrel from firing, a result of the involuntary pull in response to the shot fired and the recoil produced. This is sent backwards by the recoil of the first shot and creates a sufficient delay before it re-engages with the second lifter to ensure that just the barrel intended is discharged. It resets rapidly and we weren't able to ‘beat the trigger' in our test shooting.
Like all good clay guns the trigger is selective, meaning that the option as to which barrel fires first is changeable using the lever inset into the safety catch. This is useful for clay shooting where one clay target may be an incomer and the other going away, when immediate advantage can be taken to select the barrels with the most appropriate degree of choke for each target. It is usual to select a more open choke in the right barrel than the left and so in the incoming/outgoing scenario the right barrel would be selected first. If on the next stand the targets were presented in the opposite order then the selector would be flipped over to fire the left barrel first. This is much quicker and more convenient than swapping choke tubes over in the barrels. It is something that field and game shooters might also come to appreciate, if they had that choice.
The safety catch is also manual, meaning that it is not automatically applied when the gun is broken open to reload, and this is the norm for a game gun. The Classis requires the shooter to apply and disengage the safety catch, which is preferable for shooting clays.
An added bonus of a single-trigger mechanism is that it allows a full pistol-grip style of grip to be included in the design of the stock. This is again exactly as a competition gun and ensures both a secure and consistent positioning of the gripping hand. This is impractical with a double-trigger gun as with most game guns, because it is necessary to slide the hand back to engage the second trigger and this requires a straight-hand stock. The Fabarm has a sensible, fairly open radius to the grip that allows the wrist to sit at a comfortable angle without being too upright. It features neat and fine line chequering too for a comfortable and secure grip. The trigger blade itself is broad and the lower part has smooth, coarse chequered pattern on it for improved feel even in cold weather. The butt is smartly finished off with a walnut butt-pad that mounts readily and gives a quality look.
The barrels are built on the now universal monobloc system and the breechblock of the Beta Classis has interesting double under lugs for the barrels to hinge upon. Most side-by-sides have just one central lug with hinge radius that engages the hinge pin set in the action body/receiver floor. That means a conventional side-by-side is subject to the central lug being in effect ‘twisted' from one side to the other as each barrel is fired. By having two, the Fabarm considerably reduces any twisting forces upon its twin lugs, as each is much closer to the line of action so subjected to fewer leverage forces upon firing. The standard setup has proven strong enough for the job; it's just that in line with the Fabarm policy of having strength in reserve, this allows an extra margin, even if it is more difficulty to produce. Locking is effected by a flat locking bolt that sits at the base of the standing breech and engages with slots in the twin rear locking lumps: a very strong lock is achieved ideal when the gun is bored with 3" chambers so that it will handle Magnum field loadings and is also proofed for use with steel shot. It then becomes much more versatile as it can readily be used for heavier sporting shooting too, such as wildfowling.
The barrels are bored straight and true, beautifully polished and externally deeply blacked to a good lustre. They are fitted with the standard Fabarm chokes rather than the extended variety and these performed well in our tests. They are made from a very high strength and highly corrosion-resistant steel so if kept clean, the threads lightly greased from time to time and kept tight in the bore with the thread wrench supplied, they should provide long and trouble-free performance.
The top rib is of conventional side-by-side format in that it is of plain concave top form. Despite being very plain compared with the raised and ventilated rib I have become accustomed to on clay guns, I found the matt-finished rib of the Classis surprisingly practical in use.
Extra weight is a distinct advantage with any gun that's likely to see a lot of shots fired in a very short time frame. The Classis weighs over 1lb more than many game side-by-side guns, with some being far lighter still. If you have to perform well to the end of the shoot, and then maybe hold form for a shoot off, then the extra weight is a distinct advantage.
The barrels are fairly heavy and this leads to a noticeable forward balance to the gun, its actual point of balance being about an inch ahead of the hinge pin, whereas an English game gun usually balances directly over it. This forward weight is useful in a clay gun as it gives some steadiness to the swing as well as assisting in keeping it going on longer targets.
The only way to see if the format worked in practice was to take the Classis out on a Sporting layout. Here it performed surprisingly well and I was amazed how quickly I settled with a style of gun that I seldom use these days. I wasn't quite on form but among some poorly shot stands I managed a nine and a 10ex-10 for a final score just one bird off the lead, so I was well pleased with that! The trigger-pulls were of match grade, being light in weight and quite crisp. Recoil was no problem, the Classis proving very smooth to shoot. Kills were superb when patterns were centred, sufficient to be commented upon by others.
The game gun feature retained on the Classis as reviewed is its ‘splinter-style' forend. This is typically English and encourages the very light hold with which a forend should be held. However, when lots of shots are fired quickly the barrels get very hot and the fingertips of the forward hand are liable to get singed.
I used a leather shooting glove to prevent this: a better solution is to use a broader and slightly deeper piece of wood formed into a semi-beavertail shape that comes a little way up the side of each barrel, as Winchester once did on its model 23 shotgun that was popular with side by side category clay shoots; we note Fabarm offers this as an option.
In conclusion, if I were to enter many specialist side-by-side Sporting competitions and Flush events, then the Classis (with a ‘beavertail' forend) would be my choice of gun.
Model: Beta Classis
Gauge: 12g x 3" (76mm) chambers
Chokes: Fabarm ‘innerchokes' choke tubes
(five supplied, three in plastic tubes)
Overall length: 47"
Barrel length: 30"
Weight: 7lb 2oz
Trigger: Single-selective (inertia)
Trigger pulls: 3lb 12oz
Top rib: 10mm wide concave top rib
Pull length: 14¾"
Cast: Slight R H cast
Drop at comb: 1" (41mm)
Drop at heel: 2½" (63mm)
SRP: £1,600 (includes hard carry case)
UK agents: Viking Arms
T: 01423 780810
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