New Silver Pigeon is a well-rounded performer

This month we look at the latest, rather up-market, version of the best-selling Silver Pigeon 1; the Silver Pigeon Deluxe. Our specimen is a 20-bore game gun with fixed chokes and 30” tubes and it comes from the shelves of the E.J. Churchill gun room. It is a classic Beretta with scroll and game scene engraving and a typical Beretta stock with fairly open radius, pistol flat-bottomed grip and schnabel fore-end. The RRP is £2,075. The multi-choked version is £2,250 and the 12-bores are priced similarly, so you don’t pay extra for the smaller bore.

The engraving here is attractive, if a little sparse on the fore-end iron. The scrollwork is tight and the gamebirds well formed. It all looks pleasantly traditional, though my preference is usually for scroll alone unless the game scenes are absolutely fabulous. You may be interested to know, meantime, that machine engraving – whether cut by laser (as in this case) or rolled on by press – is by no means the automated process that you might think. A lot of handwork is still required, especially at the finishing stage. I once visited Giovanelli’s Creative Art studio up the hill from the Beretta factory. I discovered that the application of machine engraving – some of the processes of which he developed for Beretta – was, in fact, a highly skilled business involving a dozen or so different machines, each responsible for one small portion of the finished design.

Returning to the test gun, the general specification presents few mechanical surprises. This is the Silver Pigeon we know and love, as far as the basic engineering is concerned. It comes to face and shoulder well and it is not at all heavy at 6lbs 2oz. I have always liked the fixed choke Beretta game guns because muzzle weight is reduced and therefore practical handling in the field enhanced. There are benefits to have 30” barrels in a 20-bore, too – improved pointability and controllability without undue weight penalty. English game guns achieved their reputation for effortless handling because the barrels were relatively thin and therefore light. I might also add the machine-made modern 20-bore over-and-under achieves very similar handling to much more expensive bespoke 12-bore side-by-side guns at a fraction of the price (which is why I think the 20-bore over-and-under is becoming so popular for live quarry).

Workmanship on our Deluxe Beretta is good, as it is on the standard gun. The monbloc barrels are fabricated from Beretta’s famously tough tri-alloy steel and bear Italian proof marks for 2¾ and 3” cartridges. The hammer-forged tubes are chromed internally and without surface imperfection or internal flaw. The joint between tubes and monobloc is well done. Chokes are ¼ and ½ – ideal, and the narrow rib keeps barrel weight down and is an excellent choice for game shooting, though my preference is for a ‘solid’ type – the inverted commas are there because they are usually hollowed internally – because they may dent less easily.

The action on the test gun, decoration apart, is familiar. It is probably the world’s best proven low-profile design, sharing joint honours with the Browning Superposed and its Japanese-made siblings. There are bifurcated lumps (dispensing with lugs beneath the barrel and hinging on studs) and conical locking lugs, the ingenious simplicity of which I always admire. The trigger is inertia operated and there is the usual Beretta barrel selector on the top strap sliding safety. The trigger blade itself is of simple but elegant form and is gold plated.

The stock on the Silver Pigeon Deluxe was well formed but, frankly, the figure was pretty average (one would have expected something just a little better for the premium). Length of pull was 14 ¾ with drop of 1½” and 2¼”, a little right handed cast was in evidence. Checkering is laser cut and crisp, both diamonds and borders are improved by this process. The timber may have been a bit plain, but the quality of finish was good.

As for the schnabel fore-end, I usually prefer rounded ones, but this suits the gun, is not too bulky – helping to keep the weight down – and, if the lip offends you, it may be removed in a few minutes by a good wood worker (a modification I quite frequently carry out). My thanks to Robert, Malcolm and Mark at GMK, and to Chris and Rob at E.J. Churchill. By Mike Yardley.