There are shotguns you like and then there are shotguns you can’t put down, guns that make you want to take to the fields and the hills and wherever birds fly. Price has surprisingly little to do with this reaction. When someone comes up with a classic—the Model 12, the Superposed, the 101—sometimes it costs a lot and sometimes it doesn’t, but the feeling is there from the first time you hold it. When Franchi sent me a prototype Instinct SL a few days before we left for the gun’s inaugural field test in Kenya, I pulled the gun out of the box, raised an eyebrow at the fine walnut stock, tried a few practice swings and found myself wandering around the house 20 minutes later with the gun still in my hands. This is not my normal reaction to new shotguns.
My reaction, as I learned during the Kenya trip, was exactly what Franchi intended. Faced with tepid sales in the crucial North American market, two years ago Franchi began plans for a complete redesign of its shotguns with a conscious and very deliberate emphasis against trendiness and in favor of classical elegance and “feel.” Indeed, getting the feel of each new design exactly right became the focus of an intensive year-long collaboration among Franchi’s Italian and North American marketing and production experts, led by Bruno Beccaria in Urbino, Italy, and Stephen McKelvain and Jason Evans in Accokeek, Md.
The Americans spoke little Italian, the Italian engineers little English, so the biggest initial challenge, McKelvain relates, was finding a way to convey subtle nuances of design across the language barrier. They solved the problem the old-fashioned way by meeting extensively in person at Franchi’s production facilities in Brescia, Italy, where they worked out details via sketch pad and physical modeling: the profile of the stock, the shape and cut of the checkering, the engraving, the sweep of the Prince of Wales grip, even the size and shape of the Franchi “F” on the trigger guard. Throughout the process the team returned again and again to its mantra that “feel” was everything: each gun should evoke, through balance, fit and appearance, a unity among shooter, gun and their surroundings in the field.
By late 2011, the prototypes were ready for testing: the Instinct over-under and the Affinity semi-automatic, both in 20 and 12-gauge. As a confirmed double-gun addict, I was naturally more drawn to the Instinct, and particularly to the Instinct SL, the lighter and higher-grade version that weighs in at 5.3 pounds in 20-gauge. It was the gun I fell in love with even before we left for Kenya. The L version is identical to the SL mechanically, but uses a steel, rather than an aluminum alloy, receiver and therefore weighs about a pound more. It has a case-colored rather than a brushed finish. Both guns have a single-selective inertial trigger design, and barrel selection is via the safety button on the top tang. The safety is automatic, and it is engaged each time the gun is opened. The barrels are cold-blued and assembled on a monobloc. There is a recess in the bottom rear of the latter for the single wide underlug, activated by the top lever that locks the action when closed. The monobloc’s rear is nicely jeweled, which is surprising for a gun at this price. Ejection is selective-automatic.
Kenya was the perfect place to put the new guns through their paces, as wingshooting there runs the gamut from driven guinea fowl, francolin and spurfowl to high passing shots on sand grouse. Another reason was Kenya’s hunting history and stunning beauty. What better place to invoke a tradition of classical hunting elegance than the sere plains of Tsavo and the rolling foothills of Kilimanjaro?
The limit was 20 sandgrouse and 25 dove, and we were usually able to bag limits by 10 o’clock or so. I alternated between two SL’s, a 12 and a 20, and while there’s no doubt the 12 made things a little easier, the 20 did quite well even on high sandgrouse, a famously challenging target.
One point I was particularly curious about was how my shoulder would stand up to three or four boxes of stout field loads out of a 5-pound gun in the space of a couple of hours, day after day. Somewhat surprisingly, I found I didn’t notice much recoil at all, either while I was shooting or after. The reason, according to Franchi Product Manager Jens Krogh, is a combination of careful stock design and a new polymer used in the Instinct’s recoil pad.
By the end of our safari I’d put several cases of shells through the little prototype 20 SL that had impressed me so much out of the box. Not only did I not want to put it down, I didn’t want to give it back. The nice folks at Franchi took pity and let me buy it, just in time for a Christmas tour of our local quail coverts.
Franchi Instinct L
Manufacturer: Franchi, www.franchiusa.com
Franchi Instinct SL
Manufacturer: Franchi, www.franchiusa.com