A Pheasant Surprise

Two Chapuis guns, a 20-gauge side-by-side Chasseur (top) and the 28-gauge Faisan Classic O/U. Two nice guns that could be great guns, with a little TLC.

by Terry Wieland

Leave us start with a confession:  I was fully prepared to dislike the Chapuis 28-gauge over/under I was sent for testing.  Accompanying it was a 20-gauge side-by-side, and I was prepared to dislike that, too.

We’ll get to my reasons in a bit, but first I’ll say that the over/under was a hugely pleasant surprise when I actually started shooting it.  After a couple of rounds of Skeet, I found myself thinking fond thoughts.

The test was not done under the best of conditions.  I had four guns that needed a thorough outing—the other two being Tony Galazan’s Super Bird side-by-side and his new G1 O/U, both in 12-gauge.  Three of the guns had single triggers, two of them sported automatic safeties, and of course there were three different gauges to contend with.  I enlisted the help of two friends to help with the shooting and give their opinions.

I’ll cover the other three guns separately at a later date; for now we’ll deal with the Chapuis O/U.

The name Chapuis Armes is not familiar to most Americans, and is best-known to me as a maker of double rifles.  Two professional hunters of my acquaintance shoot Chapuis .470 NE doubles, and think well of them.  I knew Chapuis made shotguns, too, but had never encountered one.

In 2019, the century-old company was acquired by Beretta, and their guns are imported to the U.S. by the Benelli branch of that labyrinthine organization.  The Chapuis guns can be found at www.chapuis-usa.com.

The particular model I have is the Faisan (French for pheasant) and is intended as a field gun.  It has 28-inch barrels with interchangeable chokes, a single trigger, and an automatic safety.  Oddly, the single trigger is not selective, always firing the lower barrel first.  Another oddity is the automatic safety, something I can’t remember ever seeing on an O/U except for some old English Boss and Woodward guns.

The Faisan comes in three gauges (12, 20 and 28) with the 28 gauge the most expensive. There are two models.  In 28 gauge, the Classic lists at $6,700, the Artisan at $12,300. I believe I was sent the Classic; the wood is nice but not extraordinary, and the laser-cut ornamentation on the boxlock receiver is…well, forgettable.  To me, calling laser-cut embellishment “engraving” is like calling a mass-produced art print a “painting.”  But that’s a matter of taste and neither here nor there unless it drives up the price.  In which case, give me a nice blued receiver and let me save some bucks.

Be that as it may, I, for one, care considerably less about ornamentation and walnut quality than I do about function and the usability of the gun—the ergonomics, or what Gough Thomas termed its “eumatic” qualities.

The 28 gauge—all gauges, in fact, in both grades—has 28-inch barrels.  It weighs 5.5 pounds but actually feels lighter.  Its length of pull is dead on 15 inches, including the wooden butt plate.  This is also unusual, but certainly contributes to the gun’s shootability for an adult.  The trigger pulls were just under four pounds for the first, and between five and six for the second.  A little heavy, particularly for such a light gun; both pulls had a little creep (unless that’s a deliberate but almost minuscule two-stage pull, which Europeans are enamored with.)  Anyway, they were crisp enough and frankly I was surprised at the actual pull-weight when I measured them.  They seemed lighter.

Now the bad news.  For a gun costing, at the low end, more than six grand, one expects operation that is silky, eager, and cooperative.  That’s why fine gunmakers, at the final stage, have finishers who put the gun together and make sure every part is honed, bevelled, polished, and eager for duty.  This Chapuis is stiff to open, stiffer to close, the safety has a muddy feel when you push it forward, and the ejectors, while they work all right, do it with a certain sullenness.

These complaints were all apparent from the moment I put the gun together, and were equally apparent when we hunted quail with the gun, in Georgia in January.  That’s why I was prepared to dislike it.

The explanation I was given was that the company’s ultra-modern, state-of-the-art, CNC machinery cuts each part to extraordinary tolerances, and this stiffness is actually a good thing.  (No, really!  They said that!)

The gun will “wear in,” so they told me.  Yeah, well, as Steve Denny of Holland & Holland told me years ago, guns don’t wear in, they wear out.   When you leave it to the gun to sort out its stiffness, chances are it will grind away where you don’t want it.

If I were to buy a gun like this, I would immediately ship it off to a skilled gunmaker and have him strip it down and reassemble it as a finisher would do, stoning or polishing every part until all reluctance was gone, and all the parts were happily working together instead of fighting one another. It would cost me a few hundred bucks, but it would be worth it.

Three other experienced shooters tried the gun, and all had the same complaint:  Nice to shoot, very nice in fact, but too damned stiff!

However, I have to add, all of us shot the gun quite well, and at least two of my consultants allowed as how they’d love to take the Chapuis Faisan 28 gauge quail hunting.  Can’t argue with that.

In 1991, at SCI, Gray’s shooting editor, Terry Wieland, was handed a James Woodward 28-gauge O/U to put to his shoulder.  Ever since, his standards are unreasonable, his tastes jaded, and he’s ever more irrascible.  And he insists on telling the truth, which can be awkward.