November 2010

Sabatti 450/400: Affordable Double Rifle, Perfect Caliber

A double rifle for $5500? It can’t be very good, some of our seasoned hunters opined. However, after they tested the Italian Sabatti Double Rifle from Cabela’s, they came around.

A double rifle for $5500? It can’t be very good, we thought, when our neighbor phoned us to tell us he had just bought an Italian Sabatti Model 92 Deluxe rifle, new from Cabela’s for that price, in caliber 450/400.

Sabatti Model 92 test

The rifle’s owner, Paul Edstrom, holds the Sabatti in the classic manner used to bench-test double rifles. The forward hand cushions the forend from the machine rest. We would have preferred a standing bench, but didn’t have one available. Recoil was stout but entirely manageable. He plans to put a scope on it to overcome the sights’ flaws. The action was stiff to open, but that will become smoother with time.

The cartridge is an excellent one for double rifles. It’s known as the 450/400 3-inch or the 400 Jeffery. There is also a 3.25-inch version that was originally a blackpowder cartridge, but the 3-inch version was never factory loaded with black powder. It is one of the lower-pressure British cartridges, along with the 470 and 360 No. 2, and thus is an excellent choice for a double rifle, especially if it’s to be used in extreme heat. The cartridge was one of the more popular all-around cartridges for hunting use when it was introduced in 1902. Its popularity suffered when the 375 H&H Magnum came along a few years later, but the 400 Jeff throws a heavier bullet, 400 grains versus 300, and some hunters prefer that.

We went to look at our neighbor’s rifle, and then arranged to shoot it. What follows are our impressions and observations of what we now consider to be a bargain.

Sabatti Model 92 Deluxe, $5500

GUN TESTS GRADE: A-

The rifle came in a hard case fitted with Velcro straps and padding to hold the whole thing. Also in the case was a scope-mounting base for Weaver-type rings that could be attached to the quarter rib of the rifle. The one-piece top rib was already drilled and tapped.

Our first look at the rifle impressed us quite a lot. It had great wood, excellent checkering, very fine inletting, a stand-off cheekpiece in English tradition, modest cast-off, double triggers, ejectors, an Anson-rod type release for the beavertail forend, non-auto safety, quarter rib (integral!) and front sight base (also integral with the rib), excellent bluing, and a silvery finish to the action and trigger guard that looked like satin stainless, but was probably a plated finish applied over carbon steel. The action and trigger guard were heavily and deeply "engraved" with scrolls, acanthus leaves, oak leaves and acorns in a pattern that we thought was in excellent taste. The top lever was pierced into the form of a stylistic fox. We believe the engraving to have been machine done, but it was extremely well done. It was great to see such high-quality work on a double rifle. The engraving will keep the gun looking new no matter how much the finish wears. The engraving alone, if it had been hand done, could easily have cost about as much as what was paid for the entire rifle.

The action was a boxlock with leaf springs and had external reinforcing lumps at the corner of the water table. The butt stock was affixed to the action with a screw that came in from the rear, under the recoil pad, into the back end of the action. There were no screw heads visible on the action anywhere. The firing pins were bushed. The ejectors grabbed about one-third of the cartridge rim, more than the ejectors on most English rifles of the golden era (between the two World Wars) did. The back of the action was scalloped in such a way that the beautiful wood ought not to work loose, no matter how heavily the rifle is used, nor how long.

The fronts of the barrels were underslung a bit, which means that the lower edges of the barrels protruded forward more than the upper edges, which gives a slight muzzle-brake effect. We have seen this on extremely expensive British rifles, notably a circa 1925 double 470, and on some other very costly ones.

Sabatti Model 92 test

Team member Paul Edstrom supplied the Sabatti to test. He likes his new rifle a whole lot. The rest of the team agreed.

The non-auto tang safety worked properly, and had a shape that made it just right for the thumb to control. The rear sight was a V-notch standard, set into a dovetail, with two folding leaves. The front was a large bead with "gold" facing the shooter. The front bead was dovetailed in from the front. There was no dust cover nor protection for the front bead, which we consider to be one of the slight faults of this rifle. We also don’t believe the rear-sight V was wide enough, and would have preferred to see a smaller front bead with a larger fold-down bead for night or dim-light use. We had trouble with getting a perfect sight picture with the iron sights as they were. The rear corners of the front bead were beveled, and caught light severely on those corners. Thus it was hard to tell when the large bead was precisely in the bottom of the narrow V. In fact, the bead touched the sides of the sight before nestling into the bottom, which we believe made for elevation errors, which we observed with two different shooters. By startling contrast we tried a British Manton 360 No. 2 double rifle with a wider V and smaller front bead, and got a perfect sight picture. The Manton had a flip-up night sight, so its setup was more versatile than that of the Sabatti.

On the range, we also shot the Manton a whole lot better than we did the Sabatti. We avoided the use of a scope with the Sabatti so we could test those iron sights. We believe they need work, and the factory ought to do that. Our best two-shot group was 2.7 inches at 50 yards, one shot from each barrel. Most of our groups were about 5 inches higher than the point of aim, which was the bottom of a 4-inch bull. Our best group with the Manton was two shots into 0.7 inch at the same range, both shots cutting the X-ring, 2.5 inches above the point of aim. We tested the Sabatti with the only ammunition available at the time, a limited quantity of Hornady soft-nose and solids. The ammo sells for about $85-$90 for a box of 20. To that must be added delivery costs, because it was impossible to get this ammo locally. The two types of ammo, softs and solids, gave essentially the same results, which was two-shot groups of just under four inches at 50 yards. We don’t think that’s good enough. The owner, who has occasional trouble with his eyes, intends to try the rifle with a suitable scope when he can obtain more ammunition, which is currently scheduled for production later this year, and currently almost unavailable.

In our experience, careful reloading with proper powder (Reloder 15) and good bullets (Woodleigh, Hornady, etc.) can often improve the quality of a double rifle’s grouping. We found the average velocity of the Hornady ammo to be 1985 fps with the soft-nose, and 2035 with solids, but we had one solid load fly over our Oehler 35P at 2138 fps. Why it gave this 100 fps extra speed we don’t know. The original 400 Jeffery loads by Eley and Kynoch, the standards for the cartridge, were supposed to clock 2125 fps, about 100 fps faster than Hornady’s ammo provides. The rifle was regulated around the Hornady ammo, so that’s what we based our opinions on.

The accuracy we encountered was not as good as other Sabatti owners have reported on Internet forums, but most of them used a scope. In our experience, a really good double rifle ought to cut the groups we got in half. The owner of this rifle has not yet had enough opportunity to wring it out, and he much prefers scopes because of his eyes. We recommend widening the rear-sight notch and at least filing off the rear of the front sight to eliminate the beveled edges. We also recommend a smaller front bead for general use. A proper wide V will act somewhat like an aperture to some extent, which we noted with the Manton. Its entire sight picture, rear, front, and target spot, were in perfect focus for even some of the older eyes here.

Otherwise, we liked the Sabatti a lot. Most of it was done exactly right, we thought. Its balance was superb. The stock was a bit too straight for some of us, but therefore better for scope use. The rifle had nearly all of the greatly desirable attributes of the best English doubles, lacking only a front hood, perfect sights, and one or two other details. The sights could be altered easily enough. The triggers were a touch on the too-heavy side, but could be fixed, or lived with. The recoil pad was too thin and too hard. We’d put on a softer, thicker recoil pad, live with the triggers, add a front-sight hood with a smaller front bead under it, and widen that rear V considerably. We’d experiment until we had a perfect load, and then we’d shoot the dickens out of it.

The ejectors were perfectly timed and adequately strong. The rifle was on the stiff side to open and close, more so when cocking the ejectors, but that was hardly a fault. Some graphite and use should take care of that. We’d be sure to experiment with lighter bullets (such as for the 405 Winchester) or cast bullets, and see just how versatile we could make this rifle. A similar new English rifle would cost perhaps ten times as much as this one, so there’s a bit of leeway there that’ll let the owner play with it. You just might be able to afford several safaris with the money saved.

Our Team Said: The Sabatti has been offered in a variety of calibers, from 9.3x74R to 500 Nitro. There are also extractor versions for $5000 for those who don’t want ejectors. If you’d be happy with a plainer non-eject 45-70, they go for about $3000. Some of the large-caliber versions are way too light for the power, but the weight of this one at 9.6 pounds is perfect by British standards. We understand one of the next batches of Sabattis will be one type or another of 375 H&H, which we hope is the flanged (rimmed) version. But it has higher pressure, so we’d still pick the 400 Jeffery as the best of the Sabattis. We had to give it an A- because of the questionable accuracy at press time. Maybe the scope would help, but the rifle wasn’t quite up to full A status as we found it.

Written and photographed by Ray Ordorica, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

SABATTI 92 DELUXE 450/400 3-INCH