Chiappa Firearms is an importer that provides American shooters with a variety of guns from around the world. Many of the items in its catalogue are standard fair that you would expect to see in your local gun shop. But over the last few years this company has insisted on having at least a few interesting options in its lineup guaranteed to turn people’s heads. This year, Chiappa has teamed up with Akkar Silah Sanayi Ltd. of Turkey to launch a series of break-action, tri-barrel shotguns. That's right, three barrels instead of just one or two.
A few weeks ago I was able to catch up with Ron Norton, President of Chiappa Firearms, to get a sneak peek at these unusual 12-gauges. The two primary configurations launching this year will include the Triple Crown, a sporting model with full-length barrels and a shoulder stock, and the Triple Threat, a compact defensive configuration with a pistol grip or a shoulder stock that converts to a pistol grip. For this review, it was the pistol-grip-only Triple Threat that was available for a test drive.
The Triple Threat is based on a traditional two-barrel shotgun design. The lower barrels rest in a side-by-side configuration with a third barrel set on top. This pyramidal arrangement gives the shooter a single-barrel sight plane for aiming with all three barrels. While most defensive shotguns have fixed chokes, the barrels of the Triple Threat are threaded to accept Rem Choke style choke tubes. Five choke tubes are provided, ranging from Skeet to Full. The barrels are 18.5-inches long, and the overall length of the pistol-grip version is 27.75 inches. These measurements exceed the 18-inch barrel/26-inch overall minimum length requirements, so this shotgun can be sold over the counter without any additional tax stamps or federal forms.
The receiver features a skeletonized release lever, a tang-mounted safety switch and a large rounded trigger guard to house the single trigger. This gun has a matte-black receiver finish that matches the barrels. Opening the action resets the mechanical trigger mechanism to trip each firing pin once. The right barrel fires first, the left barrel second and the top barrel last. If only one or two rounds are fired, opening the action will reset the mechanism to start the right-left-top barrel sequence again once the shotgun is reloaded.
The overall fit and finish of the Triple Threat was superb. The release lever and hinge of the action were tight and smooth. The matte finish of the metal components was evenly applied and free of blemishes. The forearm and grip both feature high-quality hard wood and diamond-pattern checkering. The wood-to-metal fitting is expertly done and completely free of the gaping, rough spots or loose fit problems that show up with inferior craftsmanship. Even the interior of the receiver was precision cut and coated.
At the range, the Triple Threat proved to be more comfortable to shoot than expected. Short-barrel shotguns with pistol grips can be punishing to shoot. When testing the Chiappa 1887 T-Model last year, the nearly straight grip shape made it necessary to keep the T-model snugged into the hip with a support hand locked over the top of the barrel.
The Triple Threat was a different story. The forward weight of the three barrels mitigated felt recoil without feeling overly nose heavy. The support hand can comfortably ride under the barrels with a good grip around the forearm. The trigger provided a crisp, short break for all three pulls. Cutting down a shoulder stock to form a pistol grip turned out to be a brilliant solution for this shotgun.
A little trick that makes shooting shotguns, especially compact pistol grip models, more comfortable is to create a push-pull tension between the firing hand and the support hand. Push the forearm forward, while pulling back on the grip. The grip shape of the Triple Threat allows this push-pull tension to be used because the shooting wrist is straight in line with the barrels for maximum support. Leaving the grooved fin of the shoulder stock in place (instead of rounding it off) provides a natural indexing point to form this all-important solid, straight grip.
As a result, the pistol-gripped Triple Threat is surprisingly manageable to shoot. Testing started with hip shots using mild birdshot rounds, and ended with eye-level shots fired with full power buckshot shells. No shooting gloves were required. Just to be sure that I was not biased about the recoil levels, I invited some folks on the shooting range to try the Triple Threat with some of the hot buckshot I had on hand. They agreed with me that the gun had a much more moderate level of recoil than they would have expected from such a compact platform.
The Triple Threat fed, fired and extracted every test round fired, from bulk sporting loads to premium defensive loads. Like other break-action shotguns, this one was reliable and simple to run. The Triple Threat's safety does not automatically re-engage each time the action is closed, as is the case with some break actions. Whether or not this is a good feature depends on one’s preferences. This shotgun has a triangular extractor that lifts all three spent cases so they can be manually removed from the barrels. Would an ejector be better? Again, it's a matter of what a shooter prefers.
Pistol-gripped defensive shotguns are not intended for long range combat. With this in mind, test targets were rolled out to 7 yards to see how the Triple Threat patterns. With three barrels and five chokes to choose from, the barrel/choke/ammunition combinations were too numerous to include every possible permutation. Using the Skeet, Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes with birdshot and buckshot loads generated shot patterns ranging from 4 to 9 inches. All three barrels placed shots center-of-mass at this range, but with a little deviation from point-of-aim to the right and left for the two lower barrels, as would be expected from side-by-side barrels.
Shooting the Triple Threat reminded me of an interview I saw years ago with one of my all-time favorite movie actors: Peter O'Toole. There he was, all good looks and high-class sophistication, when the interviewer asked him why he became an actor. I expected him to reply with some deeply intellectual commentary about the importance of his art or the nature of the human condition. Instead, Mr. O'Toole leaned back, smirked (as only he can), and replied that he became an actor for the same reason that all actors do, so that he could stand up in front of the whole world and shout, "Look at me, look at me, look at me!"
There's no doubt that Chiappa's Triple Threat is a “look-at-me” shotgun. It oozes cool and has that Hollywood wow factor that generates big smiles at the shooting range. But under all of the flash is a shotgun with class. Think of all the best qualities of a high-end side-by-side and add one more shot to the mix. It’s a winning combination that shooters will enjoy. It was so fun to run the Triple Threat with the pistol grip that I'm looking forward to trying it with a full-length shoulder stock installed as well.