By Scott Mayer
Franchi, the mid-level priced shotguns of the Benelli/Franchi/Stoeger family, is completely rebranding itself for 2012 with emphasis on how these guns handle over Old World craftsmanship. While the craftsmanship is still there, this is something of a “re-birth,” or renaissance, if you will, with “Franchi—Feels Right” as the slogan. During the real Renaissance, combining Italians with guns resulted in Leonardo da Vinci coming up with such things as armored tanks and water-cooled machine guns, so I take it pretty seriously when an Italian company says it’s doing a Rinascità.
In this case, it’s all about how you interact physically with the gun and how it responds in kind. Because shotguns don’t have sights that you align and consciously aim, gun fit is the all-important consideration that determines whether you hit anything or not. Your eye is essentially the rear sight, so making sure it’s in the exact same position from shot to shot means the difference between a hit and a miss. Mount a shotgun low on your face so your eye is high, and you will miss high. Likewise, bear down into the stock too much so your eye is low and you’ll miss low. Mount the gun differently each time and you will miss differently each time. Use a gun that fits, however, and you’ll be on.
But there’s more to hitting a moving object than just being “on.” In addition to “aiming” a shotgun, you also have to be able to move it so you can overtake or maintain the lead on a moving target. It’s one thing if that moving target is a goose. They fly like school buses. But when the game is sporting clays or flushing grouse, you need a nimble gun that is responsive and points more like a natural extension of your body. It’s that “natural extension” that Franchi is going for, and from the samples I handled at SHOT Show I think they got it right.
New offerings for 2012 include Instinct SL and Instinct L over/under shotguns as well as an inertia-operated Affinity semi-auto. Both the over/unders are available in 12- or 20-gauge with 3-inch chambers and 28- or 26-inch barrels so they’re equally viable for the field or range. The SL has a shiny lightweight aluminum alloy receiver that saves about a pound over the L model’s color casehardened steel receiver–though at a nominal 6.4 pounds the heaviest L model is hardly a heavy gun. The SL also has extended choke tubes so you can more easily swap those out to suit the station while the L has flush-mounted tubes.
The semi-auto Affinity has a different inertia system from Benelli. When the bolt comes back on a Benelli, it’s returned by a spring in the buttstock. The Affinity, on the other hand, has its return spring around the magazine tube. I don’t think one system is any better or more reliable than the other, but there might be a benefit to the access of the Affinity’s should you have function problems. There is a difference in handling and balance though because you have fewer parts in the butt and more up in the fore end. It’s easy to make a gun with a system like the Affinity’s “front-heavy” but I didn’t find that to be the case on the guns at SHOT. They’re simply responsive guns and though the saying has been done to death, “feel alive.”
Often, something that “feels right” comes with a steep price tag, but that’s not necessarily the case with Franchi. They’re certainly not entry-level guns—that’s where Stoeger fits in—but you’re not going to have to take out a second mortgage to own one. The most expensive is the Instinct SL and with a retail price less than $1,200 should fit nicely where the Ruger Red Label used to live in the price/quality spectrum. Retail on the L is less than $1,150 while the Affinity should come in at about $950.
For shotgunners who like nostalgia without giving up performance, the 48 AL remains in production. I could be wrong, but I think it’s the last of the long-recoil action shotguns being made. Long-recoil shotguns have quite a nostalgic appeal, as they were the very first type of semi-auto shotgun ever produced beginning with the venerable Browning Auto-5. In a long-recoil shotgun, the barrel moves backward under the force of recoil for at least the length of the shell. The bolt unlocks at the end of that travel and the barrel returns forward essentially shucking itself off of the fired shell instead of the shell being stripped out of the chamber.
From the shooter’s perspective, you will get almost any answer to describe the recoil sensation. Some shooters opine that recoil from a long-recoil gun is much softer because the recoil impulse moves more parts instead of being transferred to your shoulder. Others think long-recoil guns kick harder because more mass recoils backward. Some shooters describe the recoil sensation as a “double-shuffle” while others call it the smooth. Bottom line is that you’re going to have to shoot one to see how you perceive recoil.
Long-recoil guns tend to have a lot of parts and so they tend to be heavier than short-recoil or inertia-type shotguns. That said, current 48 ALs have aluminum receivers and are available in either 20 or 28 gauge so you have a gun with sufficient mass for a smooth swing, but not something so heavy that it’s sluggish.