A prize of arms – the Zoli Z-Sport High Rib

The Zoli name has recently become much more prominent in the UK and that is set to continue with the backing and promotion of leading UK distributor Edgar Brothers. Zoli’s clay shooting range is broad, with a wide choice of specifications that includes several Sporters in right and left-hand stock options, style choices, adjustable combs and silver or black receiver bodies. The Z-guns are probably best know for the Boss locking system and detachable trigger units, as found in several noted big-name makers.

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Zoli is also known for its excellent barrels, an art perfected while manufacturing and regulating double-barrel rifles, which is notoriously demanding. Building upon the success of existing clay guns, Zoli continues to introduce new models with the latest features sought by shooters to enhance their shooting experience, and hopefully increase their scores.

Zoli guns are built to a high standard, as becomes clear when handled and viewed up close. The stock and forend are made from tight and straight-grain Turkish walnut with a nice amount of figure, polished to a supremely smooth surface with precisely fine-line chequering to the appropriate places, and protected by an easily maintained oil finish.

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Barrels are built on the industry standard monobloc principle: the two tubes being joined by full length and heavily ventilated side ribs. They gently taper towards the muzzle, increasing in wall thickness to accept the Zoli extended chokes tubes supplied, but without an obvious flared muzzle appearance. Barrels are marked 18.6mm bore diameter, which, at 0.732in, is close to the standard UK 12-gauge bore size and a sensible choice that will work equally well with fibre and plastic wad cartridges. Bores are perfectly straight, well polished and shot to the same point-of-impact.

Barrel tubes have been externally highly polished and given a deep, lustrous black protective surface that looks extremely good.

Boss style locking

Zoli receivers are machined from solid steel billet and built on a modified Boss design with barrels hinging on trunnions inside the forward receiver walls. Locking of the barrels to the receiver also follows Boss principles with a bifurcated locking piece coming through each inside face of the standing breech. The sturdy, rectangular locking wedges engage with locking surfaces machined into twin radius form extensions on either side of the lower barrel breech monobloc. These curved extensions slot into mating recesses machined into the standing breech for added stiffness. This produces a neat and compact arrangement with a reduced receiver height for a fairly shallow action profile.

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Where the Zoli Z-gun differs is that Boss incorporates a unique and hugely complex system whereby carefully profiled raised bosses inside of the receiver walls mate with matching recesses machined into the sides of the breech monobloc. These fit precisely together as the gun is closed and the locking bolts engage, reducing firing stresses on the hinge trunnions – Perazzi still uses this method in its top range models. However, Zoli dispenses with these complexities and replaces them with a pair of shallow under-barrel lumps that engage with the receiver floor to more easily perform similar strength-enhancing support and allow a narrower receiver width. The system must have merit as its much the way Perazzi has gone with its less expensive MXS model.

External embellishment is kept minimal, with the letter Z picked out in gold on the side walls and underside, with a light chain engraved on the borders. The fences are deeply scalloped and stippled to reduce glare, as is the solid top lever. A manual safety catch is situated on the top strap that incorporates a barrel selector for the single selective and recoil reset trigger. The trigger blade is broad, nicely curved, smooth and adjustable for position.

Adjustable High Rib

The feature that sets this Z-Sport HR model apart is what sits atop the barrels: A new and adjustable sighting rib that measures some 17mm above the top tube at its highest point. High ribs are a developing trend in competition guns and this is an interesting example. It is precision machined from aluminium alloy, so is mechanically attached to the barrel.

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At the breech end, a ramped section with a smooth top surface guides the eye to the rib using its finely cut anti-glare top surface. The ramp includes a hinge pin that retains the rib and allows it to rotate slightly, required because the muzzle end has the other mounting point with a threaded stud attached that enters the rib to engage with a notched wheel. Rotating this wheel raises or lowers the rib, enabling the point-of-impact to be adjusted to suit the shooter’s preference (in conjunction with the adjustable comb stock). A small grub screw in the end of the rib locks the wheel so it won’t turn out of adjustment while shooting.

Several rubber inserts are set into the rib along its length, these dampen the inevitable twang that such a sturdy, open and lightweight high-tensile alloy structure will produce when subject to shock. This can just be detected when closing the gun firmly but was not detected while shooting.

The top rib has a bright red, solid optic fibre insert at the muzzle and a small white metal central bead: a useful combination for checking gun mount.

Detachable trigger unit

Detachable trigger units are found on several market-leading competition guns, notably from other Italian brands such as Perazzi, Gamba and Beretta (in the DT10/DT11 series guns). These were introduced so that a trigger problem could be swiftly dealt with, either repaired or replaced, with minimal disruption to shooting and especially reassuring for competition shooters.

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While some, like the Perazzi, can be dropped out in an instant via a catch, the Zoli requires a screw in the rear of the trigger guard to be loosened. There is a procedure to follow and may prove rather reluctant initially but it will come out with persistence. It’s something owners might like to practice occasionally in case it is ever required, though, the action internals are built to almost clockwork precision and key parts are coated in titanium nitride for maximum wear and corrosion resistance, as well as natural lubricity to help trigger pulls remain crisp.

Attention to detail is evident by the stainless steel firing pins set into hardened steel tubes within the receiver body, not just running in drilled holes. A sturdy plastic case supplied with the Z-Sport thoughtfully holds a spare pair of firing pins, with their washers and springs, plus a pair of new main springs that power the tumblers, so quick repairs are possible.

The lock-work geometry enables the sear and bent engagement to take place at the base of the tumblers, not the top surface as with some less sophisticated designs. Though more complex and expensive to make and assemble, the trigger action produces shorter and more crisp pulls with minimal free play and drag – features that experienced clay shooters appreciate.

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Tumblers do not rebound after striking the firing pins, they are, however, pushed back by the top lever’s action when the gun is opened, preventing pin drag.

The Z-Sport HR, with 32in barrels, weighed a shade over 8½lb with two extended chokes fitted, and is 501/8in long. The barrels are sufficiently light at 3½lb to give an almost neutral point of balance just ¼in (6mm) ahead of the hinge trunnions. This is an achievement and ensures the weight falls directly between the hands, helping the gun feel lighter than it is and be responsive. It handled smoothly and was not flighty.

The forend is fairly slim with a reasonably deep U section profile that tapers in towards the tip. There are no finger grooves, similar to what is sometimes termed a London profile, and can be seen on some game over-and-unders. It allows the forward hand to be close to the barrel line and the index finger to easily point towards the target – a style many prefer.

The stock is meaty with a comfortable, broad, roll-over-style cheekpiece that is adjustable for height and cast, with spacers supplied to easily retain your preferred height setting. It has a small amount of cast-at-heel and around 7mm at the toe, to make it easy to set up for alignment with the master eye and easily checked with the two rib beads, and then confirmed on the pattern plate.

The pistol grip radius is fairly tight with plenty of wood below the little finger for those with larger hands. It fills the hand with a nicely sized and well-positioned palm swell.

The high rib and Monte Carlo adjustable stock requires a head-up shooting style. I’m more used to lower ribs and stocks but it soon felt natural and relaxed with no straining neck muscles. The broad comb comes to the cheek and the rib just naturally aligns once the cast and comb have been set. Some shots on a pattern plate at around 20 yards soon show how rib height needs setting for your preferred point-of-impact.

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With your eyes looking straight ahead, not inclined upward to counteract a lower head position on a standard stock and rib set-up, a clearer view of the target with greater peripheral vision is possible, which helps to acquire and concentrate on the clay. It also puts the line of recoil lower and straight back into the shoulder to reduce perceived recoil. Trigger pulls broke crisply at 3¼lb and 3¾lb in the bottom and top barrel, respectively, and worked well to instil confidence.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at copyThis is a smooth gun to shoot with and one you could use to get through plenty of cartridges in a day without punishment. I found it easy handling and smoothly responsive on Sporting clays. I even equalled the club record I set 12 years ago, hitting 49ex-50 at my local ground and tried a line of DTL. The Zoli chokes supplied are excellent and gave good patterns and kills. My one suggestion is that Zoli indicate choke designation on the extension, though clearly etched on the tube body there is nothing visible once inserted.

This is a serious target-shooting tool for committed clay shooters, but could prove a revelation for anyone seeking to discover how a high rib, high-performance gun could help their game. It’s priced above many mid-range guns from the well established big brands but is still below others. You won’t know unless you try one and I suggest you look for an opportunity to shoot with one. Edgar Brothers organises dealer and show days and some dealers may have a demo model, and you can see them when Zoli and Edgar Brothers sponsor the Clay Shooting Classic Sporting at High Lodge on 15-18 June – call 01986 784347 or visit highlodge.co.uk.

If you are interested in a Zoli Z-Sport High Rib, visit Stutley Gun Shop for a wide range.

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