In my mind, I sell off enough safe queens to raise five or six thousand dollars to buy a used English double or a high-grade Spanish copy of one, like an Arrieta. Or I buy American and get an old Winchester Model 21. That’s the stuff my dreams are made of.
I’ve always wondered about your gun dreams, so last fall I took a poll on fieldandstream.com to ask how much you would spend on your ultimate upland gun out of six categories from “Under $1,000” to “The Farm.” More than a thousand of you responded, and almost half (48 percent) fell into one of two brackets: “$1,500–$2,000” and “$2,000–$3,000.” Here are the shotguns I would dream of in these ranges, three for each: a top choice, a runner-up, and a used gun.
Top Choice: Dickinson Plantation Grade
Made by Akus, one of Turkey’s top gunmakers, the Plantation Grade is a beautifully finished smallbore double, decorated with bone-charcoal case-colored side plates. It has a nicely figured Turkish walnut stock with an oil finish, and generally looks as if it costs much more than it does. Akus guns have a good reputation, especially if you forgo the single trigger in favor of the traditional double triggers. The Plantation Grade goes for $1,999, but if you’d rather spend less and can live without the side plates, you can get the Estate grade for $1,699. Both are rated for steel shot. cabelas.com
Runner-up: Rizzini BR110
An excellent, no-frills Italian o/u from B. Rizzini—one of the many interrelated Rizzinis in Italy’s gun trade—this gun bears a strong family resemblance to other Rizzinis and to Caesar Guerinis, all of which are based on eerily similar designs. What sets the BR110 apart is what it does not have: a lot of fancy engraving, finely figured wood, or a high price tag. At $1,999 in 12, 20, and 28, it’s a very good-looking shotgun in an unadorned, hard-hunting kind of way. rizziniusa.com
Used: Browning Superposed
Despite being made in Belgium, the Superposed is an American classic. John Browning was working on its design at the time of his death in 1926, and his son Val finished it. You can nitpick the Superposed—it’s a bit heavy, the fore-end latch is too complicated, the action a little too tall—but it is far greater than the sum of those parts. It’s a beautifully crafted gun, and in the 1960s it became the aspirational shotgun for U.S. shooters. You can find a near pristine Superposed Lightning for $1,500–$2,000 with one catch: It has to be a 12-gauge. Prices on smallbores run quite a lot higher.
Top Choice: Browning Citori Superlight Feather
The Superlight Feather combines classic good looks and a straight grip with the solution to the original Citori’s weight problem: The receiver is made of aluminum alloy, making this 12-gauge weigh the same as many 20s. The Citori was born when rising Belgian labor costs prompted Browning to move its o/u production to Japan in the 1970s. The Miroku factory has been turning out about 130 a day ever since. Visiting Miroku and seeing the skill with which these guns are built made me even more of a Citori fan. If you believe, as many people do, that the barrels are the heart of a shotgun, then you want a Miroku Browning. This one goes for $2,390 in 12 gauge only, with 26-inch barrels. browning.com
Runner-up: Beretta Silver Pigeon I
Berettas are made in a factory with much higher tech than Brownings are, so this is a gun touched more by robot hands than human ones. That doesn’t mean it’s any less great of a bird gun. The good-looking Silver Pigeon 1 has a very low-profile action that makes it an intuitive pointer. My regular pheasant gun is a 12-gauge Silver Pigeon III, which is exactly this same gun with game scenes in place of scroll, and it is deadly. The 28 and .410 are built on a smaller frame, making them trim and wandlike. All gauges go for $2,350. berettausa.com
Used: AyA 4/53
You can buy a whole lot of used shotgun for $2,000–$3,000. My pick would be an AyA Model 4/53 from Spain. These guns are made the old-fashioned way, with chopper lump barrels and disk-set strikers, and patterned after Westley Richards boxlocks based on the 1875 Anson and Deeley action. Shotguns don’t get much more traditional than that. A ton of handcraftsmanship goes into them, even though a few CNC and laser-engraving machines have found their way into Spanish factories. You can find a 4/53 at the high end of this price range. Some of the newer models are rated for steel shot, meaning nontoxic zones can’t stop this dream gun from becoming every gamebird’s nightmare everywhere.
TIP OF THE MONTH: Be a Good Closer
There are two schools of thought when it comes to closing break-action shotguns. Some people keep things simple and just close them; others put their thumb on the lever so they can ease the gun shut to save wear. New guns are typically tight and can simply be closed; if anything, they may need an extra push on the lever to fully seat. If a gun’s lever wants to snap shut—my dad’s Beretta is this way—I’ll ease it shut with my thumb, as do the owners of Foxes and L.C. Smiths, whose guns have rotary bolts that shut like mousetraps. To be on the safe side, I always ease the lever shut, then snug it closed, when I’m handling someone else’s dream gun. —P.B.