September 2007

Three 20-Gauges Duke It Out On the Sporting Clays Field

Though all three get better-than-average marks, the Browning Cynergy Classic Sporting earns the highest grade from our shooting team—but even it was short some accessories.

Serious sub-gauge clay-bird shooters have two choices available to them when it comes to guns. They can either use tube inserts in their main 12-gauge gun, or they can pick a separate firearm. Tubes certainly have distinct advantages—cost and familiar handling characteristics to name two. But many of us want a separate gun, so we wanted to see if any of today’s sub-gauge sporting clays firearms were up to the task.

Clay-Bird Shooter Guns

Clay-bird shooters who want a second gun for sub-gauge work will ?nd three choices we tested to be able and willing competitors. Top is the $2950 Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon II Sporting No. J687435 with 30-inch barrels; middle is the $3850 Caesar Guerini Magnus Sporting with 30-inch barrels; and, bottom, a Browning Cynergy Classic Sporting No. 013245726, $3235, with 32-inch barrels. All three were ?ne choices, but we dinged the Silver Pigeon II Sporting for its lack of ?ber-optic front sight pins, extended choke tubes, and the option for 32-inch barrels. The Caesar Guerini Magnus needed porting to counter muzzle rise, and the gun’s stock pitch caused our shooters to miss high. The Cynergy Classic missed getting a straight-A grade for sloppy checkering, lack of a hard case, and thin choke-tube selection.

We pitted three 20-gauge over/unders that were similar in many ways, but particularly in weight—all of them coming in at exactly 6.5 pounds. In the lineup were a $2950 Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon II Sporting No. J687435 with 30-inch barrels; a $3850 Caesar Guerini Magnus Sporting with 30-inch barrels, and a Browning Cynergy Classic Sporting No. 013245726, $3235, with 32-inch barrels.

We patterned the guns at 40 yards on the National Target Company’s shotgun patterning target (all proved accurately regulated). Also, we used a Shooter’s Ridge Steady Rest on Midway USA’s MTM portable shooting bench for point-of-impact tests. Our team employed an RCBS trigger-pull gauge provided by Midway USA to measure trigger pulls.

Here’s how the three guns stacked up in these static tests and on the sporting clays and skeet fields:


Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon II

Sporting 20 Gauge

No. J687435, $2950

The Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon II Sporting is a traditionally styled and typically proportioned sub-gauge. Trim in stock, wrist, receiver, and fore-end, the gun is a symmetrically shrunken version of the 12 gauge.

Our gun’s buttstock was a well-grained piece of wood oiled to a dull sheen. We didn’t mind this, but think a higher polish or even a light lacquer finish would have better brought out the wood figure. We found the wrist long and sleek, angling gently back from the trigger guard and allowing ample room for larger hands. It did not sport a palm swell. Minimal checkering appeared on both sides and was classically done, neither sharply pronounced nor dull, and was cleanly executed with no runover at the points or corner. The buttstock was slightly cast off, best for right-hand shooters, but it was so slight that a couple of left-handed shooters who tried the gun didn’t notice.

The Silver Pigeon came with two buttpads, both soft rubber and rounded at the toe and heel to prevent catching on clothing. The installed pad was a slim 0.375 inch at its narrowest middle point, while the extra pad was wider by another 0.25 inch. We liked that Beretta provided two pads of differing lengths to accommodate different LOPs.

The inletting where the stock met the receiver showed the wood edge minimally exposed at the metal, and it was completely finished—quality on par with a Beretta Teknys we recently tested that exhibited a marked improvement in fit and finish.

The receiver’s metalwork was well done, too. Pretty without being ostentatious, the gun sported two different bas-relief gamebird portraits. On the right were hen and rooster pheasants; on the left were two flying woodcocks—not at all badly executed for machined engraving.

The remainder of the receiver’s metal, including the fences, hinge-pin screws, and lever head, was covered in delicate, traditional rose scroll-type engraving. This, too, was well done, with symmetrical coverage all around. The only "flaw" we could find was the inset screw in the trigger housing tang was slightly out of line with its parent screw.

The combination barrel selector/safety on the Beretta Silver Pigeon II held no surprises. We pushed the safety up for fire and down for safe (revealing an engraved "S"). We pushed the inset barrel selector left to fire the bottom barrel first (showing one red dot) and to the right to shoot the top tube first (revealing two red dots). Both required positive, firm pushes to engage, just what we want in such a feature.

We found the trigger guard provided ample room, both top and bottom and from the trigger itself to the front of the guard, for any finger size. We also found the single selective trigger to be crisp, if a tad heavy, pulling an average 5.25 pounds on the top barrel and 5.5 on the bottom.

The fore-end and barrels proportionally followed the clean, classic lines of the buttstock, right down to the cleanly executed checkering patterning. The Schnabel fore-end featured a slight swell at the belly that could have been longer to assist longer-armed shooters, but none of our test shooters had any complaints about it. Finally, though the fore-end latch was proportionally sized down, we found it easy to engage/disengage, a pleasure compared to several other sub-gauge over/unders we’ve tested in the past.

Of the barrels, we liked that they were solidly seamed between each other, adding weight forward to a lightweight gun. We also liked the wide rib that provided a nice sighting plane on this small-frame gun. We also appreciated jeweling under its topside cuts, which reduced glare.

We do wish this gun came with 32-inch barrels, but beyond that, the only things we could complain about were the beads and the choke tubes. The 20-gauge Silver Pigeon II Sporting has a silver mid-rib bead and a prominent white front bead. Choke tubes supplied in Cylinder, Skeet, Improved, Improved Modified, and Modified were flush-mount, but we prefer extended tubes. We also think a Full choke should have been included on a sub-gauge.

We found fault with the bead not because it was inadequate, but because other Berettas dedicated to competition come with fiber-optic sight pins—as should this one.

The performance we received from the Silver Pigeon was nimble, fast, responsive to a wide range of targets, and light on the recoil and muzzle rise. It took on close-in targets with zeal, and a slight opening of the hand on the fore-end permitted an adequate address on longer targets where the gun might otherwise have been whippy. Note that this was not a gun to be pushed around. An overtight grip and an aggressive swing, especially on longer presentations, led to over lead. Those shooters in control of their leads and target approach found themselves making the breaks much sooner than with the other guns in the test.

Perhaps the greatest testament to this gun’s speed was that all our test shooters came off the sporting clays course liking the gun for that sport, but wanting to head directly for the skeet field. And, indeed, this gun excelled beyond the others at the more regimented sport.

Elsewhere, we experienced no mechanical failures with this gun. Both barrels fired reliably regardless of firing order, and the safety, barrel selector, and ejectors worked flawlessly.


Caesar Guerini Magnus

20 Gauge, $3850

At nearly $1000 more than the Beretta, the Magnus from Italian maker Caesar Guerini had a lot to live up to. We were pleased to find it did.

Sporting a piece of wood a bit fancier than the Beretta’s, the Guerini stock exhibited a hand-rubbed finish that showed off the grain to far greater effect. From the buttstock to the fore-end, it was prettier than the Silver Pigeon, our testers said.

It also felt a little bigger. Thicker in the wrist and fore-end and taller through the receiver and buttstock, this gun felt wonderful between the hands and possessed none of the wispy feel that so many sub-gauge guns have. For a sporting gun, we feel its proportions were on target.

We also liked a couple of other "big gun" features on the Magnus. First, we appreciated the wrist’s thicker proportions and its wide swath of deep and well-done checkering. While the gradual wrist angle on the Beretta Silver Pigeon accommodated a variety of hand sizes, the Guerini’s wrist circumference provided ample gripping surface for big hands.

Despite its generosity in this area, this was still a 20 gauge, and not outsized for smaller hands by any means. Best of all, we loved the right-hand palm swell on this gun because it gives this sub-gauge the feel of a standard 12 gauge.

Without fail, this gun initially shot high for every shooter who tried this gun. The problem was stock pitch. The key to getting these guns to shoot where they need to was to slightly rotate the trigger hand down and around on the palm swell. Instead of nestling the swell in the cleft created by the gripping hand, laying the swell more directly against the ham of the thumb neatly solves the high shooting issue. Though it felt strange to everyone the first time they adjusted their hands, within just a few shots everyone had forgotten they’d made the change. Of course, that the palm swell exists at all was a positive. It provides a constant reference point for the trigger hand, and it would be more difficult to make this kind of a change in hand position consistently without a swell.

This small hand adjustment made, every one of our test shooters was enamored with this pretty gun at the end of the day, though a couple commented that it had a bit more recoil than the other two. With its 30-inch barrels balanced just slightly ahead of center, the Magnus felt suited to the pursuit of sporting clays, and, in fact, it felt similar in balance and handling to 12 gauges our test shooters use in competition.

Mechanically, it performed flawlessly. The side-to-side barrel selector did its job as designed, as did its forward-and-back safety. Ejectors worked without fail, and the trigger pulls were the sharpest and lightest of the three we tested. Also, the trigger was adjustable for length of pull, which helped the gun accommodate a variety of hand sizes.

That the gun was aesthetically pleasing was a bonus, and one that helped justify its higher price tag. In addition to the nicely finished wood, we were taken with the metal work on the Magnus. Sporting false sideplates and a brushed-nickel finish, gold inlays embellished both sides and the bottom of the receiver. On the right were three bobwhites in flight above prairie grasses; on the left were two grouse on the wing, framed by a hardwoods setting. The bottom sported a pheasant flushing above tall grasses and rows of cropland. The bottom of the trigger guard sported an engraving of the Caesar Guerini trademarked mounted horseman. Other areas of the receiver were finished in a light floral motif. All of the engraving was tasteful and uncluttered, in our opinion.

Other positive points included the fit and finish between wood and metal, which was excellent. The Magnus also got points for including extended choke tubes, and we liked that they were finished in a deep blue that matched the vented barrels. They were also checkered and much easier to remove than the Beretta’s.

We also appreciated the slightly longer fore-end—both the Guerini and the Browning fore-ends measured 10.5 inches in length from the rear-most bottom edge of the fore-end to the front, while the Beretta measured at the same place came in at 9.33 inches. The longer grip better accommodates a wider variety of shooter sizes. We also favored the Anson & Deeley button latch.

These features, combined with extensive hand-finishing and the company’s pit-stop program that allows owners to send their guns back to the company once a year for a complete going over, means this firearm has a tremendous amount of added value built into its price tag.

However, we deducted a couple of points for the beads—a silver mid-rib and a white muzzle-end—just as we did for the Beretta. Fiber-optic pipes should be included on a sporting gun, in our view.


Browning Cynergy

Classic Sporting 20 Gauge

No. 01324572, $3235

We thought the Beretta was good and the Guerini even better, but before we’d gotten halfway through the course with the Browning Cynergy Classic, we knew we’d found the gun that aced the test.

After sampling just a few targets, our test shooters agreed that this gun was the most agile of the three. We chalked its abilities up to a number of factors.

First, this gun’s 32-inch barrels contributed to more precise target acquisition. (The Guerini Magnus is also available with 32-inch barrels, but the Beretta is not).

Second, the gun’s stock dimensions felt right to us. Though the receiver was trim, the buttstock from wrist top to buttpad felt full size, which we preferred. The pistol grip swept deeply away and back from the trigger guard, allowing for a variety of hand placements. We do wish the Cynergy had a palm swell, but given our ability to move the hand up, down, or back on the pistol grip with ease, almost no one will feel this gun was sized wrong. Too, because this gun has slight cast-off, right- and left-handed shooters were both accommodated by the absence of the palm swell.

Third, this gun had the most forward balance—partly due to the 32-inch barrels, of course, but part of it was just the gun itself. This gun just went to the target more naturally, more deliberately, and more often, than the other two did. Our test shooters who shoot Browning 425 and 525 12 gauges for their main-event guns agreed that this sub-gauge was nearly identical in balance, swing, and overall feel to their 12-gauge firearms, just with a lot less weight.

Moreover, like the Guerini, the Browning Cynergy has a bevy of "12-gauge" features that contribute to its shootability. Of the three, this was the only one with ported barrels, a bonus when shooting heavier loads. It also comes with extended choke tubes, the trigger was adjustable for length of pull, and it was the only one of our three test guns that was provided with a full set of fiber-optic sight pins.

Mechanically, it performed as well as the other two, and the "U" barrel selector/safety configuration in particular pleased us. This type of design can feel a little sloppy on some guns, but on the Cynergy, it moved cleanly and directly where it was needed.

We also liked the distinctive, modern good looks of the Cynergy. With subtle angles at the receiver edges, trigger guard, fore-end back edge, and the top lever, this gun had a forward-leaning appearance that echoed the way it handled. We also liked that Browning kept the embellishments to a minimum. The Browning Buckmark symbol appeared on both sides of the receiver, surrounded by a wreathing swirl of oak leaves. A three-quarters wreath of oak leaves appears on the receiver’s underside, encasing the words "Cynergy Classic."

The wood, decently figured, was left in a simple oil finish. It complemented the low-gloss, brushed stainless receiver and trigger guard. Fit and finish we found to be nearly as good as the Guerini’s, and on par with the Beretta Silver Pigeon.

We did find fault with the checkering. We liked that it was deep and a little rough, providing a good purchase for an ungloved hand, but it was sloppy at the points and on a couple edges. Mechanically, the triggers broke cleanly enough, but with at least one of the barrels coming in at close to 6 pounds, the trigger pulls needed to be lighter.