October 2008

Over/Under Shotguns for Less Than $1000: Lanber Is Best Buy

Our testers gave Lanber’s 2097 a thumb’s up. We would buy it ahead of Remington’s SPR310S and Mossberg’s Onyx Reserve.

The over/under shotgun stacks one barrel above the other and is loaded by hinging the breechface away from the barrel for direct access to the chambers. They are favored for their simplicity, accuracy, and reliability. In most cases, a hefty price tag reflects superior materials and precision fit.

Spanish-made  Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux

Despite a recent price increase, we picked the Spanish-made $1099 Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux (left) over two other shotguns. The Lanber had the best wood, dependable mechanical function, extras such as scroll work, and a supply of seven choke tubes. We also liked the $756 Mossberg Onyx Reserve Sporting because it fit a variety of shooters. Remington’s $770 SPR310S was appealing, but our team said that the stock, bead, and safety would need tuning before we’d be really happy with it.

In a category that can demand a five-figure entry fee, we wanted to see if we could get into the over/under club for substantially less. Toward that goal, we tested three new 12 gauges with walnut furniture: the $770 Remington SPR310S, originating from Russia; the $756 Mossberg Onyx Reserve Sporting, imported from Turkey, and the Spanish-made $1099 Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux.

We sought to judge each shotgun on looks, fit, finish, and performance. To test the latter, we patterned each shotgun from the standard distance of 40 yards with an eye on shot density and how true our pattern stayed to point of aim. We patterned the shotguns with their Improved Cylinder chokes, which were common to all three. To check pattern density with the IC choke, we shot one target load and one field load. We chose Remington’s R12HD8 ShurShot Heavy Dove load, a 2.75-inch round with 1 1/8 ounces of No. 8 shot rated at a velocity of 1255 fps. For the skeet and trap range, we picked our favorite round, Rio’s TLT32. This was also a 2.75-inch round loaded with 1 1/8-ounce of No. 8s, but with one-half dram equivalent less powder. Velocity of the TLT32 was rated at about 1155 fps.

To evaluate where the guns put their charges, we shot three rounds into the center of a patterning target with a 30-inch-diameter circle. We then divided the circle into four equal quadrants and read the pattern and calculated the pattern density. Here is what we learned.

Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux, $1099

Lanber shotguns are made in Zaldibar, Spain. Lanberusa.com lists as many as 22 different shotguns for competition shooting and hunting chambered for 12 gauge and 20 gauge ammunition. The 2097 was listed as being of competition grade.

Weighing in at 8.2 pounds, our Lanber was the heaviest of the trio. This may be due to its 30-inch barrel, but we think the extra weight could also be attributed to its wood. Fashioned from Moroccan walnut, the finish, grain, and density of the buttstock and foreend were superior to what we found on the Mossberg or Remington shotguns. Checkering on the pistol grip and on the sides of the foreend was clean and effective.

The receiver was tastefully engraved. The hinging lugs on which the barrel rotated in and out of battery were also engraved, as was the lower surface of the blackened trigger guard. The buttpad was rubber top to bottom, with the edge of the heel rounded off. This contour made the gun easier to mount, our test team said. Each of our guns offered this feature, but the Lanber’s contour was the most effective.

The barrels were topped with a generously vented rib. There was additional venting between the barrels to further aid cooling. The rib measured about one-half inch wide and was notched in line with the bead. The notch precluded the addition of a mid-length bead. The surface on either side of the notch was grooved laterally to reduce glare. A red light-gathering filament added glow to the front sight area. We would have preferred a yellow or green bead.

When we opened the action, spent shells ejected smartly. Once the action was closed, the Lanber trigger broke at 6.2 pounds to fire the bottom barrel and 8.5 pounds for the top barrel. The barrel selector was in the middle of the safety switch (push forward for Safe). The selector switch was moved side to side. Pushed to the left, one dot appeared, signaling the upper barrel would fire first. With the selector switch pushed to the right, two dots were exposed, indicating the lower barrel would shoot first. Dry firing produced only one snap of the trigger. The trigger itself was gold in color and matched the engraving that read "Lanber" on each side of the receiver. The trigger was smooth and polished.

The Lanber came with flush-fit Modified and Full choke tubed, along with extended chokes of Cylinder, Skeet, Modified, Improved Modified, and Full constrictions. Checking with Camfour we learned that the Skeet choke, marked SK2, was closest to Improved Cylinder, so we used it for our patterning. A spanner style choke wrench was supplied.

Patterning with the Rio ammunition, our 2097 Sporting Lux produced a wide shot spread. Inside the 30-inch circle, the pattern was slightly more dense in the lower quadrants. There was a small hole in the otherwise even pattern located about 3 inches left of center. Firing the Heavy Dove load, our pattern was even but less dense than our target load. We couldn’t detect any major variation from point of aim.

Still, we think the SK2 choke tube may not be an exact replacement for an Improved Cylinder choke. Given the overall quality of the Lanber, it would probably be worth trying a variety of choke tubes to find the densities you need for any application. Should you need even more choke selections, TruLock is one of the manufacturers making replacement chokes for the Lanber shotguns (trulockchokes.com).

On the skeet range at American Shooting Centers (amshootcenters.com), we learned that the weight of the Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux was offet by its balance. Our staff might have preferred a lighter gun to carry into the field, but in terms of swing, the Lanber did not prove too heavy to start nor so light that it stalled our follow-through. The Lanber barrels were not ported, so a little extra weight was welcome. The point of balance was almost directly below the hinging point of the barrels. None of our guns were custom fit to our shooters, but the Lanber was the most comfortable to shoot of our test trio.

In the heat, our hands began to sweat, and the fore-end, although checkered on the sides, began to slide in our grasp.

Remington SPR310S 89570 12 Gauge, $770

The Remington SPR over/under shotguns are imported from Russia. There are ten different SPR310 shotguns ranging in price from $578 to $770. They are available in 12 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge, and 410. Top of the line SPR310S shotguns sell for $770 in 12 or 20 gauge. For this price you get the longest barrel (29.5 inches) and a nickel receiver to go along with a walnut stock. Our gun’s receiver had a neat little engraving of a flying clay on each side. If you would rather have a bird scene on your nickel receiver and can do with a shorter barrel, then you can choose either the 28-inch-barrel 89576 or the 26-inch-barrel 89716, chambered for 12 or 20 gauge, respectively. They each cost about $100 less.

Common to all the SPR shotguns are chrome-lined barrels and walnut stocks. Our sporting model (ending in the letter "S") likewise had porting in both the top and bottom barrels. The buttstock was fit with a thin rubber pad that was not much thicker than the spacer it was mounted on. The walnut had a flat finish with close grain and a solid, if not luxurious, feel. The fore-end had a grip indentation toward its top edges. The checkering pattern at the pistol grip was useful but rudimentary looking. Checkering on the fore-end ran from side to side, covering the bottom surface as well. This afforded a very good grip even when held with sweaty hands.

The receiver had a brushed finish with a touch of scroll work where the barrels closed up. Tool marks were most noticeable on the barrel release. The trigger was gold in color with a smooth face. The rib measured 0.40 inches across and was grooved to reduce glare. Beneath the rib were narrow vents. The area between the top and bottom barrel was sealed. There was a middle bead, which our shooters liked, but the primary bead itself was dim. Simply painting it white or yellow would be a big improvement. Four flush-fitting chokes—Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full—and a flat sheet-metal choke wrench were supplied.

When our shooters opened and closed the SPR310S, they commented that it remained stiff even after lubrication with oil and Pro Gold grease plus 100 or so rounds of ammunition. The auto safety demanded that each time we closed it we had to slide the safety forward to fire. This feature is recommended in the field, but the action of the switch was stiff and harsh on our fingers. Once ready to fire, the gun switched automatically from bottom barrel to top barrel. The trigger snapped twice when dryfiring. The trigger for each barrel felt about the same, but measured resistance between the top and bottom barrel was 8.5 pounds and 10 pounds, respectively.

At the pattern board we saw density falling off noticeably in the upper left quadrant. The gun may have been shooting low and to the right. A hole in the pattern was also very noticeable. Its center was located about 2 inches up from center and about 5.5 inches to the left. Firing the Remington Heavy Dove load produced a dense hourglass-shaped pattern. The lower portion of the pattern was wider.

Both the Remington and Mossberg shotguns weighed in about a half pound less than the Lanber. In the opinion of our staff, a weight of about 7.75 pounds seems to be about right for toting into the field for birds. Balance point was more than an inch forward of the receiver. Shell ejection was reliable, but the trigger guard loosened at its rear screw. Happily, we found that the fitting was not stripped, and we were able to tighten it.

Swinging the gun through the target was no chore at all, and handling was quite neutral. However, the SPR310S proved to be long for some of our shooters, despite the thin butt pad and its 14.4-inch length of pull. Also, because the buttpad did not reach to the top of the buttstock, our testers said the gun hurt them, even when mounted before calling for a bird. The thin rubber pad was inlaid, leaving a hard wooden edge to transfer shock directly into the shooter. We think you should be prepared to spend money on shortening the stock and adding a shock-absorbing pad if you buy this gun.

Mossberg Onyx Reserve Sporting 12 Gauge, $756

Our Onyx Reserve Sporting 75431 unit had key features that we liked: a full-length ventilated buttpad with contoured heel, a mid-barrel bead, and porting on both barrels. The top rib measured about 0.40 inches wide and was machined with a fine checkering pattern that was as artful as it was subtle. There was narrow venting below the rib, but none between the barrels. The flat black, or rather Onyx, colored receiver was understated. A close look revealed pleasing engravings. The onyx color had an antique quality all its own.

The wood on the buttstock was sealed to enhance weather protection. This treatment masked the grain of the wood, giving it an unusually smooth feel. Checkering at the pistol grip was traditional in shape but muted in feel. The fore-end was checkered on the sides only. These cuts, or more likely impressions, looked a little cheap, in our view. Combined with the slick finish, the stock was plastic looking, our shooters opined. The fore-end had a thin profile that gave it a slabside feeling. The upside of this design was that the Mossberg was very quick to point. But thanks to a balance point found at the forward edge of the receiver, we didn’t find that the Mossberg wanted to stop too early or swing too far through the target.

In the description of these shotguns on the Mossberg.com website, the company claimed that thanks to the "underlock design boxlock action," the barrels are "set lower in the receiver and in closer alignment to your arms and hands." Based on how quickly each member of our shooting party adapted to the Onxy Reserve, Mossberg may have something there.

Accessories included with the Onyx Reserve Sporting shotgun was a set of five choke tubes and sheet metal wrench in a plastic case. Rather than supplying a Cylinder bore choke tube, Mossberg supplied two Improved Cylinder chokes, and Modified, Improved Modified, and Full choke tubes. Opening the action revealed the most scroll work on the barrel assembly of our three shotguns. Oddly, the most expensive shotgun, the Lanber, did not offer this feature. When the shooter closed the Onyx’s action, the Mossberg did not jump to Safe. But you could move it backward for Safe if you liked. With the switch to the rear, on Safe, you could shuffle the lever from side to side to select barrel fire. Moved to the right, the switch exposed the letter "U," and the lower barrel fired first. Shifted to the left exposed the letter "O" and the top barrel began the action. When dry-firing two snaps of the trigger were possible with the selector in either position. Trigger-pull weight was nearly identical for each barrel, 7 pounds for the bottom barrel and 8 pounds for the top barrel). The Mossberg did not eject spent hulls. We had to pick them out manually. Reloaders and environmentalists will probably favor this design. At the very least this removes one mechanism that can possibly malfunction.

The pattern board showed bias to the right with both our Remington and Rio ammunitions. There was a slight void in our Rio pattern about 3.5 inches up from center and about 10 inches out. Otherwise density was even. The Mossberg matched up better to the Remington R12HD8 ammunition. Printing slightly low and to the right pattern density was nonetheless uniform.

Lanber 2097 Sporting Lux 12 Gauge

Remington SPR310S 89570 12 Gauge

Mossberg ONYX Reserve Sporting 75431

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD