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What would our esteemed gun tester choose for his own cabinet? Mike Yardley reveals 21 shotguns and rifles that would take pride of place in his fantasy gun safe
Being the festive season, I am going to go off piste with something rather special this month. Having shot thousands of guns and hundreds of thousands of cartridges over the years, a few really stand out. Here, for your interest, are the shotguns and rifles that I really rate (no doubt there will be omissions, for which, apologies). Most of the guns you will have heard of, some may be unfamiliar though. They are not in any special order of preference - more a stream of consciousness as they pop into mind (although a few are firmly placed there already)! I shall start with the premium stocking fillers, the guns most normal mortals only aspire to own...
1. H&H Royal 12-bore 30" side-by-side
Perhaps my favourite gun of all time. So wonderful, it is much copied. It appeared in its modern form in the 1890s and was Holland & Holland's way of getting around the Purdey-Beesley patent of 1880. It is an amalgam of all things good. My choice would be a pair of guns made before 1920 in perfect original condition, or, a modern 30" gun with Holland's single-trigger.
2. H&H Royal 20-bore over-and-under
Another from Bruton Street! This is a much more modern design but equally wonderful to shoot. A full sidelock with fabulous balance and trigger pulls. I am especially fond of the 30" 20-bore version (as I often say to friends: "a 30" 20-bore is really wrong.") Arguably, this is the best.
3. Purdey Damas hammer gun
A little eccentric, but for all the vintage looks and form it is still an amazingly good modern shotgun made from a very special material. It looks like Damascus, but is much stronger than the traditional variety.
4. Purdey Trigger Plate (PTP)
The latest thing from Purdey and designed for serious clay busters (there is a game version too). The gun has a Perazzi-style trigger lock and I went 50-straight on Sporting the first time I shot it at West London.
5. Purdey pigeon gun
I have owned a 32" Purdey pigeon gun and it was beautiful but a bit too long and large. My dream would be another 30" gun weighing about 7¾lb (about ¾lb more than my ideal side-by-side game gun weight).
6. William & Son .410 side-by-side
This sidelock was a dainty creation that I tested recently. It was blindingly good for a 36-bore, and I would happily take it on a driven day. With a Purdey-Woodward .410 over-and-under I tested a few years ago - the best small bore that I've ever shot.
7. Rigby .275 bolt rifle
I love the old, svelte, Rigby .275s. Jim Corbett and Karamogo Bell carried one - the former, famously, for tigers, the latter, most skilfully and not without enormous risk, for elephant (using solid bullets). The old guns do come up in auction sometimes, but there is also the attractive option of the new Rigby Highland Stalker.
8. Mauser M12
Not an expensive gun but an excellent one, and I especially rate it in .308. I have one which has been modified to look much like a pre-WW2 Rigby and it is one of my most prized sporting weapons.
9. Sako 85
Solid quality - whatever the calibre. My call would be .308 or .375 H&H (I have shot a lot of boar with a .375 after I had some interesting situations with .30-cals and charging beasts. The .375 puts them down).
10. Sako Finnwolf
Although quite rare now, I rate the rotary-bolt Sako Finnwolf as one of the best rifles ever made - it offers the speed of a geared lever-action and the accuracy of a normal bolt-gun. Someone should start making them again.
11. Miroku model 60 Grade V 30 or 32" 12-bore
Built on the famous Miroku modification of the Super-Posed Browning action, this is probably the most shotgun for the least money currently available. I consider this an excellent gun and a brilliant buy.
12. Browning 525 SL 30" 12-bore
This is Browning's latest version of the 525, intended especially for clays. In 30", it performs superbly with noticeably less recoil than other 525s, and, like the MK 60 Grade V, offers spectacularly good value for money.
13. Beretta 694 12-bore
The new Beretta 694 might be described as an improved 692. It is a terrific gun with a new style of fore-end, a reprofiled stock and action and some very sensible, if subtle, improvements. It benefits from the most scientific R&D of any modern shotgun.
I also really like the pretty 695 game gun (mechanically similar to the 690/692). In both, I'd opt for 30". I find the 32"-barrelled guns can be too heavy when mass-produced.
14. Webley bolt action single-shot .410
You can buy one for under £100 if you are lucky and nothing is better to teach a boy or girl to shoot with (provided the stock has been modified appropriately).
15. Beretta 303
No secret here. This is my all-time favourite gas-operated semi-auto. It is simple (dispensing with a complex valve mechanism is de rigeur on many more recent designs) and is particularly well balanced for a repeater.
16. Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus
Another recent test. I was not that fond of the A400 initially, I was too aware of its operating mechanism. This gun though is extremely well sorted - it feeds any ammo 24g upwards and the recoil is VERY light with the combination of the gas-operated mechanism and a new recoil-reducing stock.
17. Guerini Essex 30" 20-bore
My go-to game gun with a solid rib, although any of these Gueinis in 20-bore 30" form suit me well for driven birds and walking up. The 32" Maxums and similar are excellent too. Not expensive, excellent stock shapes - they will hold themselves well in any company.
18. Webley & Scott 700 pigeon gun
This is a rare beast, but a wonderful one if you can find one. Percy Standbury famously used a Webley & Scott pigeon gun. The one I have and would never part with is built as a copy of 'Stan's' gun on a 700 action rather than the 400 type of the original. Its distinguishing features are wide-ribbed 30" barrels with loads of choke. Mine has a stock made by Manuel Ricardo in Portugal to my own specification (but much like a Purdey pigeon gun with a full comb).
19. Perazzi MX8
Made originally for the Mexico 68 Olympics, it was a joint venture between Ivo Fabbri and Daniel Perazzi. It is the definitive modern over-and-under and hence has inspired many makers, Purdey included. Clever action design (incorporating some London ideas as well as Ivo Fabbri's brilliance), superb barrel making and excellent trigger pulls in a V, or occasionally coil spring powered action.
20. Kemen KM4
Essentially, this is a copy of the Perazzi, but in some ways better when it appeared a couple of decades back. It had light, long barrels and better stock shapes for sporting (or game shooting) than the contemporary Perazzi. The MK1 version is a brilliant buy second-hand if sorted; the MK2 has a slightly narrower bottom tang. The newer Titanium version is lighter amidships but not cheap.
21. Browning 725 32" English game
Not a pricey gun, but a very good one. I shot one for a couple of seasons at game and may acquire another. Very pointable, very user-friendly. Great fun for clays (when you give up trying to win competitions) as well as live quarry.
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