Zoli Z-Sport review with Becky McKenzie

Becky McKenzie is back with her latest review and looks back fondly on seven years competing successfully with her Zoli Sporter.

I started my shooting career with a Winchester 6500, and shot the poor thing until it just about fell to pieces. I then moved on to my first Krieghoff K80 Super Sporter 30in.

This was a reconditioned gun, rumoured to have been in a house fire. Supposedly all that survived was the action, so it had new barrels and wood fitted. It was probably around 20 years old, but it worked really well.

Back then, I really wasn’t strong enough or competent enough to shoot a Krieghoff. It was a cracking gun, but unless you set the beast up correctly it can make shooting rather hard work.

Then around 2010 I was asked by a British Shooting coach to try Olympic Skeet – which, to be honest, I had no interest in whatsoever. The Olympics is a hard path, you have to travel all round the world and shoot in competitions, and if you win, you win a place for your country, not yourself.

At the end of all those competitions, it’s down to the selectors to decide who goes – and back then it seemed they didn’t always select the best. Even so, after many phone calls I caved in and went to try Olympic Skeet.

I was actually quite handy at OS, and to begin with the funding was excellent, so the training, coaching, clays and cartridges were all free. I just had to find a proper Skeet gun. My husband John started to look into it for me.

We considered Beretta and Perazzi, but eventually came across a small advert from John Fawcett in Lancashire, promoting the Zoli brand. I’d never heard of Zoli but after a bit of Googling we called John, who turned out to be a lovely gentleman.

To cut a long story short, he put us in touch with Chris Little, who not only had a Perazzi Skeet gun but had also just taken delivery of the first Zoli Skeet gun to arrive into the UK. We met Chris at Park Lodge SG one very cold and snowy November day. On the Skeet range I tried Chris’s Perazzi first, and really struggled. 

It had a long custom stock to fit Chris, but even allowing for that the barrels felt whippy and too fast. I thawed out over a cup of tea before heading out again with his Zoli Skeet gun – and I really liked it. It had a lovely smooth feel and went where I was looking – and this one didn’t even fit me. As I recall I shot 23 ex-25!

Tech specifications

MAKE: Zoli
MODEL: Z-Sport
BARRELS: 28, 30, 32 and 34ins available
CHOKES: Flush titanium multichokes; extended chokes optional
RIB: Tapered 11-7mm as standard
SAFETY: Top tang non-automatic, selective
STOCK: Grade 3 Turkish walnut, various configurations available
OPTIONS: Adjustable stock, balancing system, various customisations available
RRP: From around £4,000
WEB: www.shootingsports.edgarbrothers.com

Factory tour

So of course we ordered a Zoli Z Skeet, 12 gauge, with 28in barrels. Paolo Zoli invited us over to the Zoli factory in Brescia to have a custom stock made for it. The factory visit was a fantastic experience.

I have never been that interested in the workings of a gun; I simply want to put a cartridge in, and expect it to go bang. So having the opportunity for a tour round the factory was fascinating. The Zolis are one of the nicest families I have met during my competition time, and we were treated like royalty.

On the factory tour, the first thing I noticed was a large cage on the floor, filled with heavy blocks of forged alloy steel. This was the start of the once-piece monobloc action, a very solid design. The detachable trigger plate is completely separate from the action itself, not subject to the stress and strains that could affect the adjustment of the firing mechanism.

All the Zoli guns have a particularly robust locking system which consists of a split locking bolt that mates accurately with the locking lugs of the monobloc. The central position of the locking system compared to the monobloc axis ensures maximum tightness. 

This is manufactured using spark erosion techniques that allow extremely close tolerances. When shooting, the joint between barrel and action is maintained over a long period due to the axis pins being positioned in the lower part of the barrel itself and the bottom lug engaging with the action body. It is very similar to the Boss design.

The hand detachable, Zoli-designed trigger system is hand fitted by Zoli’s gunsmiths. This system is used in every Zoli model from the very underrated Kronos, and the Z Sport I shot for seven years, up to the Ambassador SL model. 

All the critical parts of the trigger mechanism are titanium nitrate treated. The powerful main coil springs are coated with self-lubricating material for maximum corrosion resistance and wear. Hammers, sears and trigger plates are precision CNC machined, specially hardened and ground. The trigger blade is easily adjustable fore and aft.

The firing pins are worth a mention too. In all of my years of shooting the Z Sport I must have put the best part of 130,000 cartridges through it, but I never once had a firing pin fail. 

I experienced very few misfires, and when I did it was usually down to a low primer on the cartridge, not the gun. This is partly explained by the design of the firing pin, which is guided by a special bushing. With typical Zoli thoroughness, the bushing has vent holes to allow gas to escape safely if a percussion cap should fail and perforate.

Great barrels

Zoli have been making their own barrels for over 50 years, and I was interested to watch the process. The top and side ribs are fixed by silver soldering – not the cheapest method by a long way, but the best. 

Once again my experience backs this up – never once have I come across a rib failure, either on my own gun or anyone else’s. So the barrels are strong, and they do perform well, throwing excellent patterns. The Z-Sport comes with extended Zoli titanium coated chokes, which as a standard choke patterned as good as anything else out there for sure. 

There are many different models under the Zoli brand. The Sporting competition models start with the Kronos, then the Z-Gun. Next comes the Z-Bella, which is the ladies’ version of the Z-Sport, with a nice female shaped stock and a bit of bling in the action.

Then there’s the XL Evo, with a different style of action with sideplates you can change for more or less weight. The Z-Extra is like the Z Sport but with some nice engraving, and the Z-Vintage is a stunning looking gun, with case hardened action and a slightly higher rib. All these models are available to order in barrel lengths of 28, 30, 32 and 34ins.

My Z-Gun comes in different configurations including Z-Skeet HR (High Rib), Z-Sport, Z-Sport HR, Z-Trap US and Z-Sport MR, which is a style of step rib. Many models are available in 20 as well as 12 gauge, and if you’re brave you can even have a 28 gauge!

Walnut stock

All Zoli stocks are made with Turkish walnut. I found the walnut on the Kronos and Z-Sport wasn’t a particularly handsome bit of wood, being rather straight grained – but that meant it was very strong, and throughout seven years of constant shooting and competitions it stood up to a lot of hard work, rain and heat, and never failed me. Of course, should you want to, you can upgrade your stock to something much prettier.

There are many different styles you can also choose from, from a standard stock, to Monte Carlo, Trap, adjustable… indeed you can order a fully custom Zoli and choose exactly what you want, including barrel length, action, custom engraving and all the rest.

Part of the family

Shooting a Zoli I truly felt like I was part of the Zoli family. Their customer service is second to none and they really looked after me. Whenever we travelled abroad to the European or World Fitasc, Davide and Paolo would be there in the Zoli bus, along with Emilio who serviced the guns if needed. When the weather turned bad, Paolo would always provide one of his amazing espressos to warm me up.

As for shooting, the Zoli was a very smooth gun, easy to mount, pointable, and with low recoil too. I’ve already mentioned that the barrels patterned well, in fact the longer the target the better the Zoli barrels seemed to like it! 

The only thing about the gun that I wasn’t so keen on was the top lever. I found it felt a little ‘notchy.’ As you have probably noticed I have a bit of a thing about smooth top levers, however, so I am being a little picky!

Another thing I like about Zoli guns is that you can balance them exactly how you want. There’s a BHB or Between Hands Balancing system, along with magnetic barrel weights that fit out of sight underneath the fore-end. 

The system is designed to address not just the balance of the gun but also its dynamics – as they point out, two guns could balance on the same point but have different dynamics, and customising the dynamics to suit you gives you better control. This is something that is personal to each individual shooter, taking into account factors such as height, weight, strength and experience.

The Zoli experience

Shooting the Zoli over seven years of competitions was a real experience for me. Being part of the Zoli family was a very special time in my life, and I cannot thank Paolo and Elena enough for providing me with the Zoli experience.

I won many competitions with the Z-Sport, and thoroughly enjoyed shooting the gun. I changed only because I felt I needed a new challenge in my life as my shooting had plateaued.

For anyone wanting to shoot a good competition gun, I’d suggest you take a look at the Kronos, which I really rate as a good entry level competition gun. The Kronos starts at £2,095 new; secondhand you can pick one up for around £1,400. The Z-Sport that I shot is around £5,000 new, and secondhand is £3,000-3,500.

Don’t forget that Zoli guns come with a five-year Edgar Brothers warranty too. The guys up there are fully factory trained, so if something does happen to your pride and joy then it can be sorted professionally and quickly, without having to wait months for it to go back to Italy.

That is priceless, as no one wants to be without their gun for long. I know because as I write this we are in our third lockdown, it’s snowing outside, and I have an itchy trigger finger!

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