For nearly all of us involved in clay sports, shooting those fast flying targets is a lifetime passion. We are moving through the ranks; some with more success, some with less, but always with an undying enthusiasm and persistence, which push us to strive for that flawless technique and that consistent mental performance. As we advance in skill our knowledge of what it takes to deliver grows to be more and more nuanced, and the equipment we use becomes one of the more important components of our success. Experimenting with various brands, models and the myriad of features they offer, often lead us to a good understanding of what works best for our style of shooting. Fit, weight, balance, swing dynamics, trigger pull weight and quality, rib design and sight picture, the amount of felt recoil – those are among many aspects that now come into play. Finding the right combination of the above might be the major contributing factor to our confidence while we are on the line. Enter top 5 upper mid range sporting shotguns…
MSRP $6,420 *
Fairly unknown to the U.S. market until recently, the Antonio Zoli name has become much more prominent with the introduction of Kronos and Z line competition shotgun models. Established in 1945 in a town of Brescia, this Italian gun maker has been famous for their high quality shotguns, which include premium features like Boss-style locking system and a detachable trigger group usually present on much more expensive models produced by the big-name gun manufacturers. In the late 1990s Zoli completely redesigned their shotguns to be able to compete with the field-dominating Perazzi and Beretta, and have done that with a considerable success.
The Z-Sport is a full featured competition shotgun and a true hidden gem, available in 12 and 20 gauge with 28”, 30”, 32” and 34” gloss black silver-soldered monobloc barrels with a set of titanium-coated flush or optional extended factory choke tubes, featuring three different rib designs – flat rib on Z-Sport, medium height step rib on Z-Sport MR, and high ramped rib on Z-Sport HR. Optional set of the matching interchangeable 28 gauge and .410 bore barrels can be fitted to the 20 gauge frame upon request.
Forged as a single piece of billet steel and CNC-machined to precise tolerances, the low profile Boss-style boxlock action is offered in a durable, corrosion resistant silver-carbon nitride, a hot-blued deep black, or a beautiful color case hardened finish, fully or partially engraved. The firing pins are housed in bushings to ensure the exact alignment and to prevent any corrosive hot gas escaping backward during firing. The detachable trigger group with titanium coated components and self-lubricant springs features single selective inertia-operated trigger with an adjustable trigger blade for fine-tuning of the length of pull.
The fit and finish on the interchangeable, high gloss straight-grain Turkish walnut stock with a nice figure and a fine checkering as well as on the elegant rounded London-style or more target-centric beavertail forend with Anson-style latch are simply excellent. Optional adjustable comb and the innovative Zoli Bilanx barrel and stock balancing system, which adds a desired amount of weight to the barrels and pistol grip unlike the usual rear-of-the-stock kind, is also available for extra charge. All in all, Zoli Z-Sport is designed to outperform its competition at the highest levels of the sport. For more information, visit the Zoli website.
Caesar Guerini Invictus Sporting
MSRP $6,995 *
The Caesar Guerini, established in 2002, has been producing affordable, feature-rich, high quality over-and-under shotguns since its inception. This Brescia-based gun maker is also known for its exceptional customer service and the very popular Pit Stop program, which provides original owners with a free periodic maintenance and tune-up service. Each gun manufactured by Caesar Guerini comes with a limited lifetime warranty – yet another attractive selling point for the brand.
In 2014 Caesar Guerini introduced the Invictus (derived from the Latin word meaning “invincible”) – the revolutionary system of modular locking surfaces, which presented an entirely new way how barrels and action lock together, designed to withstand the million-round wear. Unlike the most traditional over-and-under shotgun designs, which employ trunnions to engage slots on each side of the monobloc, the Invictus System reverses that approach by placing such trunnions (called “cams”) on the barrels to engage slots machined into the sides of the action. These cams provide slightly larger pivoting surface for added durability and longevity, and are user-replaceable. Also, located at the bottom of the action, with the traditional Purdey-style underbolt, is the gold-colored Invictus Block, which provides more bearing surface for added strength to the action-barrel connection.
The Invictus Sporting is available in 12 gauge only with 30” and 32” barrels with a slightly raised 6mm ramped tapered ventilated rib and a set of 6 MAXIS competition choke tubes. Its elegant low profile receiver is machine-engraved and offered in the hand-polished coin finish covered with Invisalloy™ clear protection. The DTS trigger system, with two trigger pull weight options and length of pull adjustments, is intended to ensure precise fit to shooter’s individual requirements. A single and double release trigger options are also available.
The gun is stocked in a very attractive, hand-rubbed oil-finished Turkish or European walnut with 26 lines per inch checkering and a rounded forend with Anson-style release button, both with an excellent wood-to-metal fit. The overall gun weight is just over 8 pounds. If you are looking for a modern, virtually unbreakable, attractive European shotgun – the Caesar Guerini Invictus might be the one. For more information, visit Caesar Guerini website.
MSRP $7,245 *
When it comes to clay target sports, the Perazzi is probably the most well-known and the most respected brand in the world. Established in the 1950s by late Daniele Perazzi, the factory is still owned and operated by the Perazzi family, with Daniele’s son Mauro at the helm. One of the first competition shotguns introduced by the Brescia-based company was the phenomenal MX8, which was designed with the help of the world-renowned Italian shooter Ennio Mattarelli and which, to this day, remains the gold standard of shotguns.
While the MX8, its fixed-trigger cousin MX12, and the latest addition to the vast nomenclature of Perazzi models the High Tech continue to maintain their top of the line status, the semi-custom MXS Sporting, often described as an updated and reworked version of the earlier MX5 model, originally introduced back in 1985, is the lowest-priced right of passage into the Perazzi world.
The low profile rounded boxlock action, offered in nickel or blue finish with model denomination embossed on each side, is of the same overall dimensions found on the higher-priced MX models. The lockup design features a bifurcated locking bolt and the extensions to the rear of the barrel lumps that meet with reciprocating recesses on each side of the breech face but without familiar bearing surfaces created by the wedges on the interior walls and the matching draws on the monobloc. The large font decorations on earlier examples, met with somewhat mixed reviews, were later replaced with a small engravings to match other Perazzi models.
The MXS Sporting is available in 12 gauge only with 30” and 32” M/IM fixed choke barrels, which are accurately bored, regulated and balanced up to the usual high standards, topped with a flat ventilated rib. The optional interchangeable factory choke tubes are also available at an additional cost. The non-detachable coil spring based trigger group, similar to the one on the MX12 platform, features single selectable trigger with the top safety and barrel selector, and with the same legendary trigger pull the Perazzi guns are known for.
The stock with a standard sporting profile and a pistol grip is available in two sets of dimensions with wood selection that is limited to only two grades. An adjustable comb can be added for an extra charge. Despite on the “entry-level” label, the 8 pound plus MXS Sporting is clearly a Perazzi, with a phenomenal trigger as well as exceptional handling and point-ability. For more information, visit Perazzi website.
Blaser F3 Competition Sporting
MSRP $7,475 *
Based in a small town of Isny im Allgau in South Germany, Blaser is one of the leading gun makers in Europe, world-famous for their rifles and fine shotguns. In 2003, Blaser has made its entrance into the world of competition over-and-unders with their now flagship model F3, which has presented a completely new design unlike anything else on the market at the time. Though early iterations of this model have been plagued by an excessive recoil issue, this shortcoming has been long rectified and, since then, the F3 has earned a solid reputation among serious competition shooters in nearly all clay target disciplines.
The Blaser F3 platform boasts many technical innovations, including a very low action profile that provides an exceptionally low center of gravity, a fast lock time due to the unique inline hammer system, and an intriguing mechanical trigger with IBS® or Inertia Block System that consists of a horizontal inertia block and a pendulum, which add to shooter safety by preventing the ability for the shotgun to fan fire or double. Also featured is Blaser’s proven EBS® or Ejection Ball System that cocks the ejectors only when the shot is fired. An easy access to the firing pins is facilitated via removable plate at the rear wall of the action.
Weighing approximately 9 pounds, the F3 sporting model is available in 12 gauge with 28”, 30”, and 32” back-bored barrels with long forcing cones, offered in three different rib configurations – flat rib on Competition Sporting, medium height rib on Vantage, and high adjustable rib on SuperSport, and supplied with a set of flush titanium-nitrated Blaser or extended Briley choke tubes. Also available optional 20 and 28 gauge, as well as .410 bore barrels of the matching length, weight, and swing dynamics that are fully interchangeable and can be added to the 12 gauge frame without any fitting due to the high tolerances achieved by the precision CNC machining, proving that modularity is one of Blaser’s core principles.
The innovative mechanical trigger, featuring length of pull adjustment and front barrel selector, is set to a light and crisp 3-1/4 pound trigger pull. The shotgun’s overall balance can be fine-tuned with Blaser’s stock and barrel balancing system – another advanced competition-centric feature standard on all F3 models. A nicely figured oil-finished Monte Carlo stock, with a standard adjustable comb and English-style or semi-beavertail forend, compliment F3’s contemporary gunmetal-colored receiver. Both receiver and wood can be ordered in six different grades – from Standard to Baronesse. In sum, the Blaser F3 is a modern, feature-rich, top of the line clay crushing machine. For more information, visit the Blaser website.
Beretta DT11 Sporting
MSRP $8,650 *
Having been in the gun manufacturing business since 1526, Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta is the longest-established gun maker in the world. Over the past several decades, it has earned (and rightfully so) a solid reputation among competition shooters and hunters all over the globe, by producing a vast variety of semi-automatic, over-and-under, and side-by-side shotguns, suitable for every clay target discipline or a hunting adventure imaginable. Constantly evolving and improving their products, this Italian brand is well-known for their never-ending pursuit of perfection.
One of the crown achievements of the Brescia-based company is the DT series, which encompasses centuries of gun making tradition and the highest level of craftsmanship. Since its introduction in 2012, the DT11 has been used by many of the world class shooters and has already won an impressive number of Olympic and World Championship medals. Derived from previous ASE and DT10 models, the DT11 inherits their monobloc design with a distinctive crossbolt that emerges on the left side of the action and engages recesses on either side of the barrel, providing exceptionally strong, vault-like lock up. The receiver walls are machined slightly thicker than on its predecessors, making the action 3mm wider and a few ounces heavier, placing more weight between the shooter’s hands, which enhances shotgun’s phenomenal handling qualities and balance.
Among other innovations are Beretta premium-grade Steelium Pro barrels, which available in 12 gauge only with 30” and 32” on the sporting model and supplied with factory Optima-Bore® HP choke tubes. Constructed of a proprietary tri-alloy blend and engineered to provide extreme durability and superior ballistic performance by employing long, 480mm forcing cones, these barrels are designed to minimize shot deformation and reduce felt recoil as well as muzzle rise.
The trigger group with leaf mainsprings powering the hammers, features a single selective inertia-operated trigger with a crisp and consistent trigger pull set to break at 3.5 pounds, and is detachable for a quick and trouble-free cleaning and maintenance. The traditional, oil-finished high grade stock with the optional B-Fast adjustable comb and B-Fast balance system, is available for both right and left hand shooters, and can also be tailored to the customer’s specifications upon request.
Considered to be one of today’s absolute best competition over-and-under shotguns, the 8.5 pound Beretta DT11 is designed as a serious gun for shooters who are serious about their sport. For more information, visit the Beretta website.
* All MSRP prices are as of 2017.