Author (left) is shown with Daniele Perazzi and Ennio Mattarelli at Perazzi factory in Italy. Behind them is photo of Mattarelli's 1964 Tokyo Olympics gold medal win.
“Italy’s best shotgun” caught my eye in a magazine article I read while I was working in Los Angeles in 1968. Roger Barlow described a high-quality, competition gun, designed purely for ISU Olympic Trap (bunker). I handled one at Pachmayr's and it felt like a magical shotgun capable of breaking targets all by itself! By coincidence, a few days later, I flew to Milan to shoot a second series of sporting TV commercials for Fiuggi mineral water… and I was on the way to my first Perazzi.
Daniele Perazzi, a lithe, smiling, energetic 35-year-old, met me at Brescia station and we were off to tour his kingdom. That was where I watched chunks of wood and metal being transformed into my dream shotgun. I described Daniele then as a "shirt-sleeve dynamo, who appears to be in five places in the factory at the same time." Today, Daniele has the same trim figure and boyish face; but like me, he's turned gray. His energy and enthusiasm have not diminished one bit!
I had my Perazzi SC4 for 12 years and, along the way, once pointed it straight 100 times in a row, thus allowing it to shoot the world's first 100-straight at ISU Automatic Trap (Wobble Trap) at the Nordic Championships in Denmark, along with a winning score of 193/200. In 1981, I switched to the DB81, with its ultra-high, three-quarter-inch rib, named after top trap shooter Dan Bonillas and the year it was built. The idea was to accommodate my long neck, enabling me to shoot with my head up-right, rather than hunched down, peering up through my eye lashes.
Every top international bunker shooter and coach advised me against using the gun. However, I was determined not to be like so many shooters, who blame anything but themselves for poor performance and constantly change their stocks, chokes, barrel weights and lengths. But, after nine years of struggling with constant inconsistency, I’d given it more than a fair trial. My decision came when Mauro Perazzi told me that with the DB81 you "lose the trajectory of the fast bunker target" and that "the DB81 was designed purely for the slower one-shot American trap discipline". Mauro is Daniele's son, who used to sit on my knee when much younger. He is now vice-president of Manifattura Armi Perazzi, with particular responsibility for repairs and modifications. This involves him in traveling to shoots all over Europe in the fully equipped Perazzi mobile gunsmith van.
I arrived at Perazzi with my DB81 and a spare set of "normal" flat-rib barrels from my old SC4, which would turn my new gun into a standard MX8 configuration. Mauro checked gun fit and we agreed that present measurements - reached after years of experimentation - were just fine. These figures were fed into a computer and the beautifully figured piece of walnut was placed inside the only machine of its kind in the world. Designed by Perazzi, this machine completes the finished inletting in about 13 minutes. The previous machine took up to two hours, and no one remembers how long it took by hand! The machine has 12 drill bits and, as soon as one moves away to be changed, another is already at work. The machine also inlets forearms. Another machine finishes a standard-dimension stock in five to seven minutes. For a custom stock, it leaves extra wood for hand finishing.
Meanwhile, chief actioner Nando Riccabella was fitting the barrels to my action. Several times, I had to look away as he whacked hard in a way guaranteed to make strong shooters cringe!
Francesco Bonassa hand finishes author's stock at factory in Milan, Italy.
As my stock was non-standard, it went to chief stocker Francesco Bonassa, one of the few craftsmen who has been with Perazzi since the factory opened in 1964. The stock would have a deep Monte Carlo to accommodate my long neck. Unlike most Monte Carlo combs, I did not want it level, as this tends to dip the head and eyes down, thus inviting head lift. I believe head lift is a misnomer, as surely it is the eyes that come up to look at the target, which naturally causes the head to lift. Few Italian guns have Monte Carlo stocks. Instead, their combs have a 10mm slope from front to back to insure that the head and eyes are angled upward, thus reducing the possibility of eye/head lift.
My shotgun would have a 4mm slope from front to back. Rather than having cast-off, which increases from the nose of the comb to the back, the whole comb is offset. No matter where you place your head, the amount of cast-off is identical. I also wanted a palm swell, which I consider essential to ensure a firm grip with the right hand. This helps to avoid holding the gun too tightly with the lefthand, which can cause the gun to be controlled by the left hand only, as opposed to being moved by the whole body.
The new shotgun factory is larger than the original one and was built to Perazzi's specifications. Highly sophisticated machinery and computerization have halved the work force. However, Mauro Perazzi made it clear that the standard of final workmanship is still just as good or better. Every piece is checked for exact measurements and tolerances by a machine that operates like Star Wars' R2D2, its probe moving along every surface, producing computer print-out dimensions.
Actions used to be in two halves, welded together. The action is now machined from a solid piece of steel. What Perazzi has continued to perfect is an optimum blend of modem technology, with the highest grade of hand finishing, while quality-control craftsmen check every single gun. Barrel straightening has not yet been taken over by the computers. The human eye still is used in the precise art of ensuring that your barrels are straight.
To achieve the overall weight required by Mauro, with 29-1/2-inch barrels weighing 1.570 kilograms, some wood had to be removed from the stock. In the old days, Daniele would have fired anyone found butchering a gun this way! Mauro explained that, in shooting the 1-1/4-ounce loads at bunker traps, a hollowed stock would increase recoil unacceptably. With one-ounce loads, such an operation was okay.
As with many aspects of gun fit, balance varies with shooter preference. According to Mauro Perazzi, about 60 percent prefer guns to be slightly butt-heavy to make the barrels move easily. The remaining 40 percent like a 50/50 balance on the hinge pin or a slightly muzzle-heavy gun for a steady swing. Four-time world champion Michel Carrega, a powerfully built man, has his guns muzzle heavy. I've always gone for 50/50 to slightly muzzle heavy, but allowed Mauro to persuade me to go with the 60 percent majority and make the gun slightly butt- heavy at 8.2 pounds.
Michaela Abate is hand-checkering stock on author's gun.
Young Michaela Abate checkered the stock in about 40 minutes. Almost all Perazzi checkering is done by women, and the speed at which they work is astounding. It's also nerve-wracking to watch, as you expect an over-run any moment! Michaela works next to her father, Bruno Abate, the only remaining member of the team who built my SC4 in 1968. As soon as Michaela had finished, Bruno and I went to the tunnel to test patterns and point of impact.
The patterns were excellent with Italian-made Winchester Thunder Gold shot shells, but a little tight. The chokes were Perazzi factory standard for bunker - 7/10 (28 thou, light improved modified) and 10/l0 (40 thou, tight full). My DB81 chokes, which destroyed targets, were only 5/10 (21 thou, light modified) and 8/10 (31 thou, tight improved modified). Mauro reminded me about only 28-gram - one-ounce - loads and suggested trying the gun on the adjacent Perazzi bunker layout before touching the chokes. He also observed that the point of impact was a little higher than desirable, but that could have been from my dislike of firing a shotgun like a rifle at the pattern plate!
To shoot the unfinished stock without ripping my face open, they put a wide strip of strong, transparent packing tape on the comb, thus simulating a normal finish. Under the watchful eye of instructor/technician Angelo Dusi, I broke more targets, but not especially well, and missed a few. Mauro said the gun was shooting a little too high, as he had noted in the tunnel.
Back to Francesco for a 2mm reduction, which would lower the point of impact by about four inches at 35 yards. Mauro was right and I broke the next 30 without a miss. Mauro didn't want me to open the chokes, so somewhat reluctantly, I decided to leave them alone for the time being, as they tended to produce balls of smoke (a sure sign of excessive over-choking), rather than exploding the claybirds into evenly distributed, starburst fragments. However, I would need to shoot many more days before making a final decision. Mauro observed that I shot relatively fast and smoothly. I responded that it wasn't bad for an old-timer. Angelo looked somewhat puzzled at my remark, so I asked him how old he thought I was? "Same as me. Early 4Os." When I told him I would become a veteran (55) in a few weeks, his face was a picture of utter disbelief. Good for my ego!
At any shoot, shooters can be found peering down other shotgunners' guns to see how high their eyes are above the rib. It is most important when checking this for the position of the eye to be noted in relation to the flat of the rib, not the foresight; foresights vary in height, but the flat of the rib is constant.
After Mauro had the 2mm removed from the comb, the rib was just cutting into my iris, which is the position most Italian shooters adopt nowadays, as does world champion shooter and former U.S. Army coach, Dan Carlisle.
Years ago, you would have found most Italian shooters adopting a much lower sight picture, with the pupil on the rib. Carlisle adopted the eye position of rib just cutting into the iris. As he says, to be any lower only invites the eye to lift to better see the target. Describing the same eye position, Mauro said the Italians use it to give a little anticipo or lead to what always are rising bunker targets, no matter how low they are.
Check this out for yourself. Find a mirror with light shining into your face; e.g., in the bathroom. Mount the gun, and slowly and carefully inch forward until the barrels are touching the mirror. Ensure that the barrel and its mirror image are exactly parallel to each other. This is the only way you will get a true picture of where your iris or the black pupil is in relation to the rib. With the barrel and image still parallel, move slightly to left and right, enabling you to see the eye's position relative to the rib without the foresight obscuring your vision.
Barrels of author's shotgun are being fitted at factory by Nando Riccabella.
A standard check is to have someone place two quarters on the back of the rib near the breech. You then should be able to see the base of the foresight. You can do this yourself with double-sided adhesive tape. While this rough check does have some validity, another rough check on stock fit recently published in an excellent clay shooting magazine had pictures of stock-fitting by resting the stock in the crook of the arm and seeing if the finger reached the trigger. This method, frequently seen on shooting grounds, is almost meaningless; ask any professional gun-fitter!
Stock length is determined by a number of factors, including the overall reach of the arm and, most importantly, whether you have a thin, flat chest or a full, rounded one. Flat or rounded chests also affect the amount of pitch the gun should have. Flat-chested shooters require less pitch (known as down-pitch) than barrel-chested types.
The Perazzi factory produces about 3,500 guns annually; 40 percent go to the USA, Italy takes 30 percent and the remaining 30 percent covers the rest of the world. Ninety percent of their production is competition trap and skeet guns, with the balance being for game and live pigeon shooting.
After spending only a few hours in the hands of factory experts, I could hardly expect my gun to be as perfect as required by most international-level bunker shooters. The fine-tuning process would take time and experimental shooting. I also had the problem of the nine years spent trying many different ways to make the high-rib DB81 work for me. Now I was left with countless theories, which would take a lot of sorting out, before I could again hope to shoot successfully - and consistently - with a flat-rib gun.
First, the palm swell was too thick, reducing my grip; also the angle of the pistol grip was putting a strain on my wrist. I didn't like the muzzle-light configuration, as it made my swing whippy, rather than smooth. Gunsmith Malcolm Jenkins is a former British trap team member and engineer, who has a unique knowledge of the most delicate intricacies of fitting guns for competition shooters. His pistol-grip-filing surgery was almost imperceptible, but the results in my ability to grip the gun in comfort were enormous. He also removed some wood from where the back half of the trigger finger lies, as the excess was impeding proper placement of the trigger finger. Jenkins then added lead between the ribs at the end of the barrels and in the front of the forearm. This brought the weight up four ounces to 8-3/4 pounds, but the better-balanced gun now felt lighter overall and just tipped forward from the hinge pin.
I also had felt that the gun wasn’t staying with me for the all-important second shot, seeming to push my face up and away from the comb. Jenkins suspect the factory angle of pitch could be wrong for me and asked whether I felt the toe or heel more on shouldering the gun. It was the toe, confirming his suspicions, as a prominent toe will push the un up from recoil. He cut a thin, wedge-shaped slice from the back of the stock, altering the angle of pitch from 87.5 degrees to 85. Immediately I felt an even pressure from toe and heel, and the gun and I have stayed together from then on!
I believe many shooters use far too much choke, as all today's choke borings still tend to be based on traditional values calculated before patterns were tightened up by the invention of shot cup wads. So, despite Mauro Perazzi's preference for 7/10 (28 thou, light improved modified) and 10/10 (40 thou, tight full), I still felt it was too much choke for my speed and target-killing distance. The 15 bunker traps throw widely varying targets between 76 and 87 yards. For an experienced bunker shooter, first-barrel kills will be between 32 and 35 yards, with second-shot kills around 38 to 42 yards (approximately the distance 27-yard handicap targets are killed).
Bruno Abate and author are about to check patterns and point of impact in the testing tunnel at the Perazzi factory.
Nigel Teague of Lady's Wood Shooting School near Bristol is a former Rolls Royce engineer and a shooting instructor. He is renowned for his precision choke tubes - which are virtually impossible to detect when installed. He relieves or lengthens the forcing cones, which markedly reduces recoil and, by ensuring less deformed pellets, achieves a more evenly distributed pattern. Instead of the typical dark shadow of short forcing cones, his highly polished cones now are almost indistinguishable from the rest of the barrel. He opened the chokes to 24 (6/10, tight modified) and 32 (8/10, tight improved modified). Using various combinations of Winchester shells, kills from both barrels were uniformly excellent.
In Los Angeles, I chatted with Lucio Sosta, a bunker shooter and the Perazzi USA service manager. He was opening bunker guns to 16 thou (4/10, tight improved cylinder) and 32 thou.
On my return to London, I spoke with my gunsmith friend, Tim Greenwood of Pembury in Kent. He runs a sporting shoot, and recently I got him hooked on bunker. He also believes in more open chokes and has been consistently killing quartering and going away, standard and mini clays at ranges measure in excess of 45 yards with only 9 thou (2/10, improved cylinder), using Winchester Trap 100, one-ounce 7-1/2 shot.
Being of a cautious nature, I decided to let him further open my bottom barrel only slightly to 21 thou (5/10, light modified). I left the top barrel at 32, because I believe that about 10 thou difference between bottom and top barrels produces approximately the same patterns at first- and second-barrel killing distances. Tim also relieved both barrels at the muzzles by 2 to 3 thou, creating a slight bell-mouthed effect beyond the tightest point of the choke to produce more evenly distributed patterns. The Perazzi factory has been doing this for some years now.
I also found that the flat, relatively smooth-faced and hard Perazzi recoil pad had a tendency to slide down in the shoulder between first and second shots. I believe their pad is designed for Italian-style bunker shooting, where the gun is mounted low, virtually on the chest.
For our style of trap shooting, with the gun mounted higher in the shoulder, a curved pad is more suitable. So, Tim Greenwood fitted one of my curved, one-inch Kick-Eez trap pads, available from Kick-Eez in Wichita, Kansas. These pads are 100-percent pure Sorbothane, which has exceptional recoil-absorbing qualities. Kick-Eez also makes flatter, non-trap pads in 0.6-, 0.8- and one-inch lengths. There's a 1.2-inch magnum version, which is fine for American trap or doubles, but not for bunker. The greater length gives a little movement between shots, which does not recover quite fast enough for the speedy delivery of bunker's two shots, but is okay with the longer delay between trap doubles shots. It may be hard to believe, but an experienced bunker shooter will fire both his permitted shots at the target in slightly less time than a similarly experienced 16-yard shooter fires his single shot. The Kick-Eez trap pad has a better gripping surface, and the more prominent heel and toe not only ensure more consistent mounting, but also help the gun stay in position.
That completed the fine-tuning and, after the inevitable period of somewhat indifferent shooting - changes usually cause some distraction to concentration - my shooting became consistent for the first time since changing from my SC4 to the DB81.
This article was written by Derek Partridge and originally published in Gun World, November 1995 issue. Republished with permission.