Finding the right first shotgun

It’s important not to rush into things when it comes to your first shotgun. Ben Cartwright recalls his quest for true love.

In 2017-18 there were 9,696 shotgun licences issued by the Police. One of them was mine.

Having secured my licence in early 2018 I could press on with buying my first shotgun. I’d already started the process the previous summer when I was having my first lessons at Honesberie.

Shooting a variety of the teaching guns, I started to learn about which guns fitted me and felt good to shoot. I was actually really struggling to find something that fitted me. A lot of the issues I was experiencing stemmed from poor gun fit or poor gun mount. Or did they? I was beginning to think I had an odd-shaped bod.

Like many novices, I was started off on Berettas and Brownings. I found Berettas too low in the comb, while with Brownings I was looking down the side of the barrels.

With a Miroku it wasn’t just the barrels that were superposed; my left eye was almost above my right as I canted my head over like an owl. It did feel well-built though. I suspect I could drive a tractor over a Miroku and it would still pass proof.

Honesberie is a Rizzini agent so I tried a 32″ Rizzini V3 with an adjustable comb. With some tweaks I got on pretty well with this and used it during my weekly lessons. Nick Hollick, the owner of Honesberie, was very helpful and gave much of his time to discuss what I was looking for in a gun, and matching the input to some options.

I went quite far down the Rizzini route because I’d got accustomed to shooting one. This included accepting Nick’s invitation to go on a Rizzini factory tour in Italy.

In the end, I decided against one, as it didn’t feel as comfortable to shoot as some other brands. Also, Rizzini is a small manufacturer. I was concerned that if my choice didn’t work out, I might have a problem with re-sale.

That summer, with just a handful of lessons under my belt, I drove down to The Game Fair at Hatfield House. As a novice, this was an ideal opportunity to look at, and shoot, different guns.

I headed straight for the shooting line, which had have-a-go stands, seriously competitive stands, and everything in between. First stop was the popular CPSA stand.

A lively Irish instructor gave me a semi-auto, which was surprisingly light. It wasn’t for me, but I can see why they’re so popular with pigeon shooters.

Ian Coley’s open days always attract the top names and are a great opportunity to try out guns

Moving up the hill, I met a nice man on the EJ Churchill stand who had a bevy of shotguns, including a Blaser F3. This was a handsome looking gun, but with my weakling office-worker arms it felt heavy and was hard to swing.

Though I did marvel at the quality of the engineering and the wood. Then the instructor kindly gave me some extra cartridges to shoot through a spindly little gun that I was told was a .410. I waved it around in the air like Harry Potter with his wand.

With two stands behind me and growing confidence, I moved onto a stand called ‘Rabbit Mania’. This was an altogether different proposition. Four traps marked out the corners of a square, firing rabbit targets in all sorts of directions and combinations. I literally had no idea what was going on.

Stepping up to the firing platform I realised I had joined different company. These characters clearly knew what they were doing. I nervously hefted the Browning 525 they’d given me. This did not look like it was going to go well. I loudly commented that I had shot only six times before.

I got paired up with a friendly looking chap who didn’t mind me interrupting his flow. He was hitting the clays almost off the arm of the trap. He was blindingly fast – I’d never seen anything like it. Half in jest, I turned to a bystander and said, “Blimey, this bloke’s a bit good, isn’t he?”

“Yes mate,” came the reply. “That’s Chris Childerhouse.”

In January 2018 I received my shotgun licence, and three weeks after that I visited the British Shooting Show at the NEC in Birmingham. This was an opportunity to speak directly with the people that manufacture and sell shotguns.

On the professionally turned out Caesar Guerini stand I got chatting with a sales-rep called Alistair. He was extremely helpful and really knew his stuff. After listening to my requirements he guided me towards a Summit Ascent Black. This was a gun with all of the features I was looking for, and it felt well balanced between my hands.

Romantic comedy

When I asked about a gun on another stand the contrast with Guerini was palpable. The sales-rep just pointed to a rack and left me to it. When I tried to take the gun off the rack I found it was on a short wire tether, meaning that in order to mount it I would have to kneel on the floor. It was truly a Monty Python moment.

Coming away from the show, and thinking back over all the shiny toys that had been on offer there, I realised how tempting it had been to buy a gun there and then.

But I needed to shoot the guns before making any decision about them. Still, the show had been an enjoyable day out, and I had been able to browse the whole of the market, get advice and meet people.

In the Spring I saw an advert for an open day at Ian Coley’s ground near Cheltenham. The timing was perfect – It offered the chance to shoot the guns on my shortlist – the Caesar Guerini, a Browning 725 S2 and a Beretta 692.

On arrival, I made my way to the café area only to find the serving hatch closed. I was desperate for a cup of tea after my journey. In a corner I saw an oldish guy holding a hot drink. So I bowled over and asked where I could get one too.

Straightaway he said he’d make me one – result! In no time at all he went off through a side door and then the shutters screeched upwards to reveal a kitchen.

We got talking about the open day and engaged in some general chit-chat as he bustled about. And then the penny dropped! This was the eponymous venue owner Ian Coley MBE, former GB Olympic Coach. I was being made a cup of tea by the gaffer, in his own gaff!

Now that Ian and I were ‘bezzie mates’ he marshalled various staff and exhibitors to get me set up with a demo gun. First off was the Caesar Guerini Summit Ascent.

It felt good immediately; the slightly stepped rib gave me the head-up shooting position I was looking for, as well as keeping the barrels out of the picture. Straightaway I started hitting driven clays off a high tower. I was amazed! A hundred clays later I walked back into the clubhouse with a big smile on my face.

As the open day was starting to wrap up I had just enough time to try the new Blaser F16. It looked as well made as the F3 but was considerably lighter. A Blaser sponsored shooter offered to join me for a round. I was a little hesitant. “Are you sure?” I asked. “I don’t want to hold you back. I’m fairly new to clay shooting”. 

“Oh, it’s no problem.”

“Hmm… ok.” 

“So what’s your name?”

“Lee.”

“I’m Ben… well… as long as you’re not a GB shooter or anything like that.”

We made small talk as we started off down the path…

“So… what do you do then Lee?”

“I shoot DTL for England.”

It was one of those days.

Not all gunrooms are custom-built, and still fewer are as plush as those of Ian Coley, Honesberie and Doveridge. Nonetheless, I was to discover that some smaller gunrooms provide an exemplary service and are happy to go above and beyond the call of duty for their customers.

Caesar Guerini made a strong first impression on Ben at the British Shooting Show

That spring I’d begun shooting at Hereford and Worcester Shooting Ground, and I got into a conversation about my shortlist with the owner, Ian Butler. I had narrowed it down to a choice between a Caesar Guerini Summit Ascent and a Browning 725.

It just so happened that the ground’s shop had those two guns in stock, and they were more than happy for me to put a handful of rounds through each before making a decision. 

Both guns were excellent, but for me the Caesar Guerini just felt… right. My only concern before I handed over the money was that I didn’t like the grooved fore-end.

This was where Hereford and Worcester Shooting Ground and Caesar Guerini really stepped up. A phone call was made; Ian agreed that he would drive over to Guerini and swap the fore-end for a smooth one, free of charge. In addition to the gun being competitively priced, Ian threw in a gunslip and offered to store it at no charge until I’d fitted a gun cabinet. 

Now that’s what I call service. Thirty minutes later, paperwork signed, I was the proud owner of my first gun.

In 2018 there were approximately 1.36 million shotguns held under licence in the UK, and it makes me proud that one of those is mine – my Caesar Guerini Summit Ascent with grade 2 wood and a shiny black paint job.

I clean it regularly and lovingly, with far more attention to detail than I clean anything else in my house. This has not gone unnoticed. But that’s because it’s… ‘my precious’. 

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

Next month: Visiting the home of Italian gunmaking

@bencartwrightshooting 

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