Ben Cartwright’s Italian adventure

Ben Cartwright heads out to Lake Garda to discover the amazing world of the great Italian gunmakers

How do you manage to convince your slightly-suspicious-of-shooting partner that she would love to visit the home of Italian gunmaking? In my case, I suggested an end of season break in Lake Garda… with a short excursion thrown in.

The ruse lasted less time than it takes to make a bacon butty. On the basis that every relationship has to have a bit of give and take, a deal was struck. We would accept the invitation of Honesberie Shooting School to join them on a tour of the Rizzini factory and then we’d spend four days touring the Italian lakes.

Honesberie is a Rizzini dealer and I had been shooting a Rizzini V3 during my weekly lessons. I was interested in a new model they were bringing to market; the Rizzini BR110. In the spirit of carpe diem this would be a great opportunity to meet the manufacturer in person, try some of their guns and explore the options available on the gun I was interested in buying.

Tucked away in a lush valley at the foot of the Italian Alps is the small town of Gardone. It is home to the Italian gunmaking industry, producing about 40 per cent of the world’s sporting and hunting firearms.

At its heart is Beretta – reputed to be the oldest shotgun manufacturer in the world. The imposing Beretta villa leaves you in no doubt who the big guy in town is. And rightly so, they’ve been around since 1526. 

My partner Melanie, on the other hand, was less interested in the gunmaking history of the region and more focused on the holiday. I offer the following information as a public service for anyone wishing to copy my cunning plan: both Ryanair and easyJet fly into nearby Bergamo or Verona from various UK airports.

The beautiful sites around Lake Garda mean there’s plenty to see when you’re not having your gun fitted

The pretty towns of Sirmione, Salo and Limone on the Lake Garda shoreline are all perennially popular attractions, and Gardone is less than an hour away.

The cities of Brescia, Verona and Padua are also close by. Verona has a magnificent Roman amphitheatre where Adele played a couple of years ago. Also in the town is reputed to be Juliet’s balcony from arguably the most famous of all Shakespeare’s plays.

Padua has one of the oldest universities in the world where you can sit in the same classroom that Galileo taught in. And talking of Shakespeare, Padua is the city where most of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is set. Actually, thinking about it, forget that last one – it might not go down well with the other half.

Traveling ahead of the Honesberie party, we met up with the rest of the group at the Hotel Morgana (or, as we renamed it, the Mysterious Motel Morgana). There seemed to be only one person running the place – the ubiquitous Massimo, who kept popping up everywhere.

The experience of shooting under floodlights was a new one for Ben

Furthermore, on the ground floor there were enclosed carports outside each bedroom. Someone could drive in, close the carport shutter behind them, then step through a door directly into the bedroom, thus avoiding the hotel reception. I shall let you draw your own conclusions, dear reader.

In reception we met our tour guide, Filippo Adamati, the export sales manager for Rizzini, who appeared to be relaxed about everything except his food. His car boot was full of guns and dogs as we set off to shoot at a nearby range.

Before we got down to any shooting, predictably, we got down to some eating. In the restaurant, a friendly Nonna brought out plate after plate of her delicious, freshly-made pasta. 

Fed and watered, it was now dark as we made our way onto the floodlit trap range. I wanted to try a pre-production Rizzini BR110 but, unfortunately, there wasn’t one available.

Visiting the Rizzini custom shop is a dream come true for many shooters

It’s based on the V3 action so Honesberie’s Alex set about trying to replicate a BR110 by combining a V3 action, a BR440 forend and a Rizzini adjustable stock. The result was a Frankenstein gun – but it worked.

Shooting DTL at this time of night and under floodlights was an entirely new experience for me. I didn’t cover myself in glory. Seeing me struggle, Filippo offered me his father’s double trigger side-by-side. Time and again I just couldn’t get my brain to tell my finger to move onto the rear trigger.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and it started to come together and the clays began to break. Maybe I should switch to game shooting? Mind you, his antique gun kicked like a mule compared to my Franken-gun.

The next morning saw us drive up the valley to the Rizzini factory in Gardone. It quickly became obvious that the manufacturers all live cheek by jowl in the Val Trompia.

In a matter of minutes you will pass such distinguished names as Salvinelli, Piotti, Rizzini, F.A.I.R, Beretta, Zoli, Fausti and Caesar Guerini. The Rizzini dynasty has familial links with several of these houses.

Our host for the day was Giuseppe Rizzini – son of Battista, the founder who set up the business in 1966. Over coffee in the showroom we picked up and played with many of the Rizzini models, past and present. I was quite taken by the seductive lines of a Round Body EL game gun with a delightful acanthus scroll on the action.

The tour followed the process of making a gun. Starting on the factory floor, there was an array of CNC machines milling and cutting the components from rough metal ingots.

At first, it was hard to determine what the finished component would be, but as we moved through the various stages of manufacturing, the forms became ever more recognisable. 

The Creative Arts engravers’ workshop was an opportunity to witness the creation of true beauty

It wasn’t until we moved up to the first floor that we encountered some staff. We were now in the finishing rooms. One workshop contained a group of craftsmen, each armed with a small arsenal of hand files, heads down over their benches, fettling the guns. On trolleys everywhere, rows upon rows of finished parts were lined up like soldiers awaiting final assembly.

We were then led downstairs to choose a stock blank. This got everyone excited, with the inevitable schoolboy jokes ensuing – “Hey, I got wood!”. With our Honesberie hosts on hand to offer advice, we each cast our eyes over the many pallets of Turkish walnut – from grade two all the way up to exhibition standard – to find an appealing blank of the grade we could afford .

Giuseppe personally selects the blanks on his regular trips to Turkey, and his eye for detail showed in the quality of what was on offer. No sooner did a particularly attractive blank catch my eye, than I’d see another – and then another.

He told us that the British typically opt for darker wood with burls and fiddleback. The European market prefers lighter contrast wood with marbling lines further apart. In both cases it’s important that the grain runs along the length of the stock for maximum strength.

That afternoon we visited the Creative Arts studio. This small team of master craftsmen were quietly engraving designs of breathtaking beauty. Even the pencil drawings they worked from would be considered a work of art.

This beautiful gun was created to celebrate Rizzini’s 50th year as a shotgun manufacturer

One standout piece for an Arab prince was two years in the making. In the age of AI and robotics it’s humbling to see what the human hand and eye is capable of creating.

A short time later we pitched up at the small workshop of Ugo Sabatti. He is the stocker for Fabbri – a maker of best Italian guns equal to anything that London has to offer.

I’ve struggled with gun fit from day one in clay shooting. A custom stock could solve this problem. I knew it wasn’t me being difficult when each time he gave me a try-gun, a puzzled look would pass across his face.

He would then dive into a dusty old cupboard to find another candidate. This happened three or four times, to the point where I had to look in a mirror to make sure I wasn’t the Elephant Man. 

Hand engraving is still a hallmark of quality that distinguishes the best guns

That evening after the conclusion of the tour, we went on Filippo’s dinner recommendation to a nearby farmhouse restaurant called La Stacca. For €30 each we dined on some of the best Italian food we’d ever had, and toasted our Rizzini and Honesberie hosts. We’d had an exhilarating whistle-stop tour that had showcased some of the best Italian gunmaking. 

If you are interested in buying an Italian shotgun then I heartily recommend a factory tour. It’s a great opportunity to meet the people who will be making your gun and discuss all the options with them.

The sky’s the limit! You might also be pleasantly surprised at how affordable it is to buy a gun in this way. Any leftover change can then be spent holidaying in Lake Garda with your amoré! 

Ben Cartwright shot rifles in his youth but only recently took up clays. He has since immersed himself in the sport. We follow his journey as he strives to improve

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