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Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Hand-engraving of Perazzi guns is carried out in a special top-floor atelier under full daylight illumination.

After 20 years of of shotgun shooting and amateur gun smithing, coaching and general involvement with firearms, quite a number of guns have passed through my hands. As most of those years were spent in England and Europe, many of them bore the names of the elite of the shotgun world: Purdey, Boss, Franchi, Beretta, Merkel and Sodia, as well as Parker and Ithaca from this side of the pond. When I first read about the Perazzi, my senses, including that monitor of them all, the sixth one, told me I was being introduced into something more than a little out of the ordinary. The author’s enthusiasm for the gun shone through and between the lines.

Events moved rapidly. The next day I went to see if all the rhetoric was justified. I had only to take the Perazzi over-and-under trap models in my hands to know instantly that, after those 20 years, here was a gun that truly rated the term different.

I had just never handled an over-and-under that was so… well, “handleable” and “self-pointable”! In appearance it was graceful and elegant, yet very practical in the simplicity of its design and craftsmanship. Was it possible that I had stumbled across my dream gun? A gun that might, perhaps, shot as well as it looked, and satisfy the fussy, perfectionist nature of an International Trap clay buster? When you have to deal with 100 mph targets hurtling out in any of 15 unpredictable angles and heights, I feel justified in being a fussy perfectionist!

The man who helped design the gun Perazzi constructed was Ennio Mattarelli. He held the unequalled record of winning the Italian, European, World and Olympic Games International Trap Championships. Even to a skeptic like me, there seemed a fair chance the man knew what he was doing! “Think I’ll try one,” I told myself nonchalantly, but I had about as much chance of getting one of these $1,000 masterpieces as a snowball had of surviving in - we all know where.

Every now and then, Lady Luck throws a morsel of good fortune to the traditionally starving actor. Three days later my Perazzi-dreams were interrupted at 3:30 A.M. and I found myself dazedly listening too a cheerful Italian calling me from Milan. He wanted to know if I would come back to Los Angeles and repeat a series of sporting TV commercials. I had done the year before when living in Italy. Through the haze came the glowing remembrance that Perazzis were made just one hour from Milan, at Brescia. My reply was swift - Perazzi here I come.

One week later I closed my eyes and prayed. Danielle Perazzi’s Mercedes was headed on a collision course with the steel factory gates. Then, a blast on the horn and the gates rolled smoothly back. I remember wondering if he made guns with the same flourish and precision-and then I remembered he did - which was why I was here. Grinning broadly at my reaction like a mischievous schoolboy, Perazzi ushered me past the attractive receptionist and on to further pulchritudinous delights.

At The Factory

The showroom housed a breathtaking collection of over-and-under; singles; combination interchangeable over-and-under with singles for the American Trap market and lateral doubles; all in different models for International Trap and Skeet, regular Trap and Skeet, live pigeon, game and wildfowl hunting. Beautifully engraved game scenes, English scroll work and finely figured walnut root stocks dazzled my eyes, reminding me of Bob Petersen’s and Frank Pachmayr’s collections. There were such refinements as a combination over-and-under Skeet/Field model for the rough shooter who likes the occasional round of Skeet. The Skeet barrels are unusual in having built-in muzzle brakes which, along with the special chokes, help give wider patterns and stretch the shotstring. There was even a prototype of a single trap gun with a standby hammer and firing ping built into the action!

Mattarelli was showing MX8 (for Mexico 1968) to a group of Italian International Team members. I didn’t like the look of the high, stepped, elevated rib, but it was designed to overcome the increased heat-dissipation problems encountered in Mexico City’s hight altitude. This was his personal gun for the Olympics and an interesting feature was an experimental, interchangeable screw-in choke for the lower barrel. I had read that nearly all Perazzi stocks and their unique detachable trigger assemblies were also interchangeable with any of their guns. A mass-produced gun like Browning didn’t have interchangeable stocks, so I found it hard to believe that this purely custom built thoroughbred could achieve it. Mattarelli’s demonstration took care of that. He also pointed out that there were single and double trigger assemblies, set to fire lower or upper barrel first and with release/release or release/pull. There was certainly no lack of customized versatility.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

About a quarter of the Perazzi shop shown here. The man in the foreground works on buttstocks and fore-ends.

We turned to the job of producing my gun and although I thought I had been very thorough in my specifications, as we went along, I was made further aware of the wide choice available in the Perazzi line. To pick the stock blank, they were kind enough (or unwise!) to allow me my choice from their entire collection. The result does not have to be described - the pictures bear eloquent testimony to the superb piece of Yugoslavian walnut. Franco, the chief stocktaker, started the task of shaping it entirely by hand - normally, they are part machined into rough shape and then hand finished. A part from obvious choices like having a Monte Carlo comb and a pistol grip; setting the length of the pull to the heel, center and toe of the butt; drop at comb and heel; cast at comb, heel and toe and down pitch, there were also width of the stock at the “cheeking” point and at the butt; depth of the butt, thickness of the recoil pad; distance from the face of the action to the comb; distance from the trigger to the front of the pistol grip and the width and thickness of that grip. Having weathered all that, I thought I could just have an ordinary beavertail fore-end (as opposed to a standard field one), but no - "What length please?" I settled for the standard 9-inch unit. Their beavertail has unusual sloping finger grooves - as against the normal parallel indentations. It is both comfortable, an aid to good pointing and very attractive.

Choosing My Gun

Over-and-under, trap model - no problem. "Sidelock or boxlock?" Although many refer the slightly more ornate and luxurious sidelock, I was happy with the simplicity of the boxlock. "Style of engraving and grade?" Apparently several of the grades have the same engraved scenes, but differ in the depth of the engraving (and the quality of wood). I choose a “lusso” or de luxe grade with a game scene incorporating partridges - naturally - and opted for the regular silver-like finish instead of the more colorful case-hardening so frequently found on English guns. 30-inch barrels are my favorite for International Trap, not too short to flip, not too long to be difficult to maneuver accurately at speed. A concave, parallel ventilated rib - it could have been flat or/and tapered - is deeply file-cut to practical eliminate reflection problems. The recommended a fluorescent post front sight. In time I found myself so mesmerized by this huge glowing creature, that I reverted to a standard gold bead - and started looking at my targets again! You can always have silver, white or red for front sight or middle bead.

Although momentarily attracted by the internally gold-plated trigger mechanism, I settled for two standard, non-selective, lower-barrel-first sets and then customized them by having my initials engraved in gold. I advise anyone getting a Perazzi to have a spare trigger assembly. This is not because they are likely to cause any trouble (my gun had remain malfunction-free after firing some 7,000 trap loads), but simply because this is the weak area of any gun. To have the security of knowing you can be back in a competition within seconds, should anything go wrong, is well worth extra $75. Finally, I confirmed the overall weight of 8 lbs. and were were in business. Yet I’d thought the English were the most exacting when it came to precise gun-fitting.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Chief members of the team that built the author's Perazzi: from left - Franco, Bruno, Pietro, Lucio and Aldo.

Franco was rasping away with visible effort at the tough walnut stock and it was obvious he wouldn’t have time to do the fore-end, so the chosen piece disappeared to another part of the factory. An action and barrels were found conforming to my requirements, and Bruno took them to the underground test tunnel where temperature and humidity are rigidly controlled. He pressed a button on the control panel and a pattern plate glided down a rail-track to pre-set distances, which may range from 17 to 50 yards. Once there, it stops and a spotlight hits a red disc which glows luminously in the center. He fired from behind the protective screen and on impact, the plate automatically reversed itself. After the second shot, the plate returned to us for pellet counting and percentage calculation. The patterns were a bit on the tight side, so up they went to Lucio who has the delicate and highly skilled job of removing just the correct amount of metal from the right place in order to give the desired percentage and retain the all-important even distribution of the pellets in the 30-inch circle.

Testing and Patterning

Normally each barrel is tested with the exact load and make of shell specified by the customer. I don't like to be so fussy, because in International shooting, you often find yourself in another country without your favorite shell and so your confidence may suffer. Consequently, we tried eight different International loads from five countries and when the patterns were consistently showing around 70% first barrel and 80% second with all the shells, I was satisfied. I would have been happy with 65/75 or even 60/70 as I shoot extremely fast. However, the pellet distribution was so excellently uniformed in spread, that I decided not to risk spoiling a good thing. The wisdom of this decision was proved later. The tight choking has never seemed to be a handicap and the satisfaction of completely pulverizing second barrel shots at International targets around 45 yards is both rewarding and psychologically reassuring.

While in the tunnel, Ennio Mattarelli drew my attention to one of his pet "toys." He and Perazzi have rigged up a trap synchronized to a firing stand for the gun and set to throw a clay towards the pattern plate at 35 yards. This is about the distance most shooters fire first at an angle target from the International Trench - 40 yards and over being the approximate distance for second shots. Shotstring has a span of roughly 8-12 feet from leading to trailing pellets. By setting microsecond delays in the firing of the gun, they can break the target with any part of the shotstring. It just goes to prove that you can "miss" a clay a long way in front and still break it, but just one inch behind - forget it! On the way up, Perazzi mentioned that after the Italian proof authorities have subjected barrels to a double charge proofing test, he then makes them undergo a triple charge - just for our safety.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Quick-detachable Perazzi trigger assembly. This entire unit is removed by simply pressing safety fully forward and pulling down on rear of guard.

The interchangeable trigger assemblies are of the inertia type, requiring recoil to set the second pull. They are removed simply by pushing the safety fully forward. Triggers are Daniele Perazzi's specialty, as he started making them as a boy. These have an extremely fast lock time and can be safely set to very light, crisp pulls, which do not vary once set. Pietro, the works foreman, set mine to about 2-1/2 lbs. and 3-1/2 lbs. second - and they really were crisp and sweet. From there to Aldo, who let in the gold initials while I watched his companion, the only other engraver, working on a delicate Renaissance scroll pattern. Their engraving is of a very high standard, comparable to the best English and German work. All too often other engraving looks like something I might have scribbled in 5th grade. On the next bench, the sole checkerer and polisher was cutting the fine 24-line to-the-inch diamond-shaped islands.

The completed gun weighed exactly the 8 lbs. asked for, but to me and almost every other shooter who has handled it, the weight seems a whole pound less, so perfect is the balance. This is one of the secrets of the phenomenal success of this gun; the weight is so well-distributed between the hands that one has this impression of effortless, therefore easy, pointing.

The slim, graceful lines of the gun are due in part to the basic simplicity of its over-all design and in particular to reducing the frame depth to a minimum by doing away with under-locking lugs. Instead, they are set in the sides of the lower mono-bloc barrel. The mono-bloc construction means that the barrels are brazed into the chamber end, which is a solid forging.

Perazzis Virtually Handmade

Their present output is around 100 guns a month and it requires the same number of workers to produce them. Although much previously time-consuming handwork has been taken over by ultramodern machinery they designed, all parts are still hand-finished. After compressed-air cleaning, parts are submitted to inspection by ultraviolet light which shows up any internal defects and also surface dirt that could not otherwise be detected even under high-power magnification. Perazzi, through his happy, informal but highly efficient personality has succeeded in imbuing his workers with a tremendous sense of pride in their work and an air of cheerful dedication pervades the place. Having a master craftsman and an Olympic Champion for bosses obviously means a great deal.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Perazzi stock blanks are rough-turned on this machine. The metal master stock is at top.

In the design room the two architects amazed me when they told me that any new model involves around 500 drawings for the 112 parts and that's in addition to hundreds of sketches illustrating the machining processes of each part. I was then not so surprised to learn that the creative cycle is a good 2-1/2 years. They use an optical comparator to verify the accuracy of each new part - the magnified outline of the part is projected onto a glass screen and compared with the original drawing.

During the next few days, I studied these two remarkable men and it the evenings, I learned about their backgrounds and how their company, the Manifattura Armi Perazzi came into being. Perazzi is only 35, but looks so much younger that clients frequently ask for his father, unwilling to believe that he could be the famous Perazzi. Laughingly, he asks if they want their shoes repaired - his father was a cobbler! Although of so-called humble origin, Daniele is a true gentleman with a warm, open, honest manner, and one who applies the same cheerful dedication to living and to his work.

Early Training

When only 14, he started working for a gunmaker, doing unpaid menial tasks, but profiting from the experience by study and observation. The first results were single-trigger mechanism, which he sold to the world renowned artisan gunmakers of Brescia, turn up from time to time in guns which have gone throughout the world. A spell with the Franchi firm convinced him that mass-produced guns were not his line. Working on his own, he completely made his first shotgun. Traveling the country, he eventually sold it. That enabled him to make two guns, which were again sold by the same method. The pattern was repeated until he was able to take on a few workers, train them and form a small company. Not being in a position to pay good wages, he frequently found himself the recipient of a back-handed compliment when well-established firms took his workers from him. Never discouraged, he managed to recruit new ones as fast as he lost the others. Today, the situation is reversed. Those same employers now come asking to study his methods. He doesn’t hesitate, but is happy to show them around. I hope his generosity is not take advanced of again.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Partridge happily holds his completed dream gun, created by the combined talents of Daniele 'Perazzi (center) and Ennio Mattarelli (right). Behind is Mattarelli's 1964 Olympic Victory, on which the firm was founded.

Ennio Mattarelli shares Perazzi’s humble beginnings and like him, had to start work at 14, becoming an electrician. Showing outstanding skill at hunting, he was persuaded to try competitive clay busting where his successes drew the attention of Bashchieri & Pellagri, famous ammunition manufacturers. They took him on as a salesman and developed his shooting abilities. The two met in ’63 when Perazzi came to learn more about shells with a view to improving the choking and pattern regulation of his guns. Mattarelli, having a very practical knowledge of exactly what he felt he needed in a gun, had asked several gunmakers to produce what he wanted. None had succeeded.

Perazzi did. With the gun he built, Mattarelli won the Italian and European titles, the Moscow Tournament and the highest honor any individual can win - an Olympic Gold Medal. This victory clinched it. Between them, they could start the world’s first company dedicated exclusively to the making of custom-built, top-quality competition shotguns. Backing was provided by Doctor Pasquale, a keen shooter and important industrialist, who had already shown interest in their efforts. The Manifattura Armi Perazzi became a reality.

In common with many other shooters whose performances have improved from using Perazzis, my scores almost immediately started exceeding those I had put up six years ago when I last did any serious International Shooting. I made one change in my style and cheeked the gun much more firmly than before. This was to try to eliminate the shooter's worst enemy and cause of most lost targets - the fatal desire to lift your head and look at the clay. It meant raising the comb. I couldn't bear the thought of covering any part of the beautiful wood and delayed the necessary work for some time - to the detriment of my shooting!

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

The completed stock is being checked to make certain it conforms in dimensions to the customer's specifications.

Then I was fortunate enough to meet that master stockmaker, checkerer and all-round gun genius, Leonard Mews, who was working at the Hollywood Gun Shop. I put my problem to him. Over the next few weeks he worked under the constant pressure of my taking the gun back at weekends to use it. But after much painstaking experimentation, he was able to find a particular epoxy which would bond to the wood, keep its shape and most important of all, be so transparent that it was impossible to tell that a whole 5/16” had been added to the comb. Even people who know of its existence are often hard put to believe it has been done until it is held against the light as in the picture here.

Watching and listening to Leonard Mews over those weeks, I gained more knowledge about guns and shooting than I thought existed - and I had devoted much of my life to studying the subjects! He is a mine of information on all aspects of shooting and gunsmithing and their practical inter-application. It is not widely known that at one time he was also one of the nation's leading Schuetzen-style rifle shooters. After 40 years of working on most of the world's top-quality guns, Leonard can only think of one gun which he considers comparable in quality to the workmanship of the Perazzi - the renowned English Boss. High praise from a man who knows what he is talking about.

Perazzi... Ferrari of Shotguns by Derek Partridge

Partridge's allpurpose, de luxe Perazzi Trap Model with extra trigger assembly, Skeet barrels and stock, all fitting the same action. Stocks are changed with tool projecting from recoil pad. Slots in end of Skeet barrels reduce recoil.

Thanks to the Mews comb and the Perazzi, my International scores are now averaging consistently in the low to mid-90s. Previously I used to shoot the occasional score in the 90s, but averaged in the mid 80s. For those of you more familiar with the 99-plus averages common in the upper echelons of American Trap, it would put International/American Trap averages in proportion to mention that England's Bob Braithwaite, who won the Gold in Mexico with 198/200, runs an annual average in the 92-93 area.

Recently, thanks to the Ithaca Gun Company who import Perazzis into the States, I was able to try out the Skeet model and found (not really to my surprise) that it too was a very sweet-shooting, good-handling gun designed specifically to meet the demands of Skeet. In fact, as I finish this, I am looking forward to leaving for Italy in a couple of days, where I will renew my friendships with all at the Manifattura Armi Perazzi - and get myself a Skeet model! For those of you who can get over there, I recommend the trip, as a visit to the factory is very worthwhile. For those of you unable to at this time, you can get your Perazzi from Ithaca. The trap models start at $825, Skeet at $900 and the MX8 at $1500.

My dream gun was no let-down in reality and every time I use it, Perazzi takes me a little nearer to realizing my highest shooting ambitions. From my own experience and that of other delighted Perazzi owners, I feel confident it can do the same for you. If the number of shooters who come up to talk to me about Perazzi is any guide, it seems that many of them are already thinking this way. Perazzi advertises that his guns are as personal as your finger print - he means just that!

 

This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Gun Digest, 1970 Annual issue. Republished with permission.

The Perazzi Experience. Video essay by Chris Potter Country Sports.

 


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