By Lewis Potter
Friday, 15 October 2010
With its Sagittaire, French gunmaker Verney-Carron has embraced an international market without compromising style, says Lewis Potter
Verney-Carron has been in existence since 1820, only five years after the Battle of Waterloo, where both sides were still equipped with muzzleloading flintlock muskets. By the latter half of the 20th century, the company had become best known for producing lightweight guns that were especially suitable for walked-up game. While these guns were not sold in the UK in large numbers, there were enthusiasts who appreciated the virtues of owning such light, fast-handling shotguns. It is possible that sales were held back due to features such as the semi-rotary safety located in the trigger-guard, which was alien to the conservative British gameshooter, who, at one time, was distrustful of anything “furrin” — an attitude that has changed enormously during the past 30 or so years.
Until recently, Verney-Carron was fairly content with a strong home market, but now it has its sights set on worldwide sales. Subsequently, features have been subtly altered on the Sagittaire 20-bore to give a broader appeal without sacrifi cing essential elements of design. There is still a hint of Gallic styling in the long, flowing top-lever and the Continental cross-slotted screws, but otherwise it has a modern look with its fluted fore-end, curved pistol-grip stock and safety button now mounted on an extended top tang. Also, even though it may have gained a little in bulk, it still falls into the lightweight category, at a bare 5 3⁄4lb.
A comfortable fit
The stock and fore-end wood are fairly straight, firm-grained walnut. The wood is light but strong, and honey-coloured with darker veining and a shadowline of fiddleback running through the butt. The shape of the fore-end sits well in the leading hand — it is slim yet comfortable — and the stock has a generous amount of drop and reasonable cast with a good degree of toe-out. With more than 14 1⁄i2n length of pull and a comparatively slim, slightly offset comb, it should prove a comfortable fi t for most users.
A real looker
The barrels are beautiful and typical of this maker, the cocking lugs engaging high up by the top barrel. With their chromed bores, ventilated top rib and monoblock construction, they are the same as many other barrels, but there the similarity ends. The sprung ejector system is Verney-Carron’s own design, which utilises long springs projecting forward to a block that is located between the barrels, with the mechanism lying in neatly machined slots on either side of the monoblock. For roughly a third of the length there is no side rib; in fact, there are no conventional side ribs at all, as the single rib between the barrels is a centre rib. How much weight this saves is hard to estimate, but it is a neat way of joining two barrels. The top rib is suitably slim for a game gun and would have been enhanced by a small brass foresight bead rather than the dinky red device, though this is a matter of personal choice. Yet it is the barrel tubes that are so typical of this maker. They are attractive by their very slimness, even though they are proofed for 76mm magnum cartridges. The whole assembly is a fine example of neat and tidy workmanship, with the flat form under the bottom barrel helping to reduce the depth of the action body.
This 20-bore was supplied with three screwin chokes that recorded improved cylinder, quarter and nearly three-quarter-choke. Other tubes, including extra full-choke, are available for those who want to push things to the limit.
Compact lock work
One area where Verney-Carron deviates from the road taken by others is in the layout of the lock work. This is the company’s own design. It is amazingly compact and, because of that, it appears more complex than it is. Most of the components are investment castings, as is the norm, the lock assembly being held together with neat, round-headed dowel pins.
Moving the safety button to the top tang has produced a trigger-lock operation, meaning that, if necessary, after one shot the safety can be reapplied. With some of the older Verney-Carrons, after tripping the mechanism for the first barrel, it prevented the safety, located on the trigger-plate, being applied until re-cocked.
Quick and effortless
This seemed like a gun for a walkabout, so I took the long way to the pattern plate through the fields. With the quarter-choke in the bottom barrel and the slightly open three-quarter in the top one, the theory was that a bit more choke with a smaller-gauge gun is usually beneficial. If I’d had more chokes to hand, my choice would have been a quarter and a half in anticipation of mixed sport. As it turned out, the pigeon were high and the rabbits failed to show. Nonetheless, a couple of snap shots at birds barrelling over a stand of trees showed how quick and effortless this gun was in action.
On the pattern plate it shot, at first, a touch low for me, with the foresight just on the centre mark of the sheet. In practice, this would mean putting the foresight just about on the bird rather than, as with many over-and-unders, seeing the target over the top of the bead.
The safety is not a barrel selector, so it is always bottom barrel first. However, some forms of shooting where the most choke might be needed on the first shot can be accommodated simply by fitting the choke tubes as required.
Trigger-pulls proved crisp, primer strikers with the cartridges used were deep and positive, and ejection of fired cases was nicely timed and strong without being of the wham-bang type often associated with over-and-unders. Altogether, everything worked with precision.
Verney-Carron has taken a step forward to a more international market while retaining some of its unique features. With the Sagittaire 20-bore, it has produced a gun that is equally useful for a walked-up day or standing at the peg. It is modern in appearance, but at heart it still has an undeniably Gallic soul, something of which Verney-Carron has a right to be proud.
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