Fabarm is a well known Italian firm based in the Gardonne region of northern Italy, an area famous for its gunmaking.
Its products are imported by Viking Arms of Harrogate, a respected and long-established company which also brings Merkel and Ruger firearms into Britain.
The Fabarm Beta 3T gun I tested is unusual in a number of respects. First, it is a mass-produced side-by-side with a recoil-activated single trigger and interchangeable chokes. It has a unique four-lump bolting system. It is back-bored (part of the main bore is wider than a nominal 12). And its internal barrel geometry has other unusual features.
On the looks front, the first impressions are rather good. The figure on the stock seems splendid. On close examination, however, one discovers the wonderfully figured walnut is Triwood, which means it has undergone an artificial grain-enhancing process. It looks better than straight-grained plank, and it’s not created by a transfer process but rather by inking or painting over the existing grain to give the effect of extra figure.
The colour case-hardened, border-engraved action is near my ideal of what a mass-produced gun should look like. Aesthetically, the only things that do not quite do it for me on the Fabarm are the gold-plated trigger, which is too bright and shiny, and the grip shape – which appears excessively radiused and rather large albeit with no palm swell. Bring the gun to face and shoulder, though, and it is a different story. This 30in barrelled, 7lb, slightly muzzle-heavy gun seems very steady and very comfortable.
The large grip and relatively deep fore-end make it feel very secure in the hands. The picture presented to the eye by the quite wide but subtly swept and tapered pigeon-style rib is excellent. The Beta, moreover – a fairly conventional side-by-side in appearance – seems to have many of the handling qualities of an over-under (a quality confirmed during live firing tests). As such, it will appeal to former stack-barrelled users looking for something in a more traditional configuration for game or sporting clays.
This Beta gun, which is in the process of being discontinued (but available from stock at Viking Arms), is part of a large range of side-by-side guns offered by the go-ahead Fabarm concern, which also makes a wide range of well-priced over-unders and semi-automatics. There are in 12-bore; a new Beta Classis round-action model with a silver-polished action and traditional oil-finished stock, for £1,650; and a side-plated, Beta Grade 4 which boasts an oil, or oil-like, matt-finished stock, at around £2,700.
Both these guns are available with interchangeable or fixed (quarter and three-quarter) chokes. In 20-bore one may get a Classis or the radical new Nobile Grade 3 – a very modernistic, side-plated gun with unusual features such as ejectors that can be turned on or off. I am a little surprised this Beta model is being discontinued as it seems to me to have a ready market in the UK: the people who used to buy guns like the long-discontinued Winchester Model 23.
To return to the test gun: the 3in chambered, Italian-proofed barrels are built on the monobloc system. The joints are good, and, as is usually the case on shotguns save Browning and Miroku, disguised by a couple of lines of engraving. The barrels are well constructed and pass muster inside and out. Their boring is most unusual (see technical data, below) as are the four lumps that become visible when one opens the gun or disassembles it (again, see technical data).
The shiny, gold-plated trigger has some chequering to its front. Frankly, it looked a bit naff to me as I dislike gold on guns save for names. Nor was I especially fond of the pierced top lever. Trigger pulls were a little crunchy but adequate, breaking just over the 3lb mark, right and left. Function of the top lever and Beretta-style safety and combined barrel selector was good. The ejectors were efficient and well timed too. My only cavil is the gun was a little stiff to open (and the gun I was testing had already had a significant number of shells put through it).
I shot the gun at the Braintree Shooting Ground on a variety of sporting and simulated game stands. Notably, I engaged some very long crossing birds with it. It was a terrific gun to shoot – one of the best of its type that I have tested.
– It pointed and moved well.
– Few if any birds escaped unscathed.
– Felt recoil was modest.
– The 30in barrels seemed to suit (though there are 26in and 28in options).
The Beta would be an excellent first side-by-side for someone used to an over-under (it is more controllable than a traditional British bench-made gun). It shoots much like an over-and-under.
It would also be a good gun for marsh or high birds where its weight and long chambers might come in handy, or for someone who would like to shoot game and sporting clays with a traditionally configured gun. I doubt that the Beta 3Ts which remain in stock at Viking will be there for long.
The Fabarm Beta side-by-side has a most unusual locking arrangement. Unlike the vast majority of side-by-sides which utilise twin Purdey-style lumps (first introduced in 1863 and, with the addition of the Scott spindle of 1865, creating the locking and opening system for the classic British side-by-side), the Fabarm has four lumps that enter corresponding slots in the action table.
It is a very strong-looking arrangement but not especially elegant. It has been a feature of Fabarm side-by-sides for many years and avoids any lateral weakness in the action. Older side-by-sides of traditional pattern can certainly become a bit sloppy with much use; it would be hard, however, to imagine this gun coming ‘off the face’ prematurely.
The barrels of the Fabarm Beta are rather unusual, too. They are bored on what the firm describe as the Tribore system. Apparently, this is patented (though I find it hard to believe that the patent would stand up to a challenge in this country, France, or the US where there is much precedent – over 200 years’ worth – for the over-boring and taper-boring of guns).
Essentially, the Tribore arrangement – which has much to recommend it – involves a barrel with an extended forcing cone (not especially evident in the test gun) leading into a wider than average bore (18.7mm or 18.8mm rather than the standard 18.4mm). For some 20cm behind the choke area, moreover, the bore gradually tapers down to 18.4mm before leading into a choke which itself has a 40mm cone leading into a final, parallel section of 10mm. Fabarm claims the arrangement increases penetration and leads to a more even pattern. I have no reason to doubt that based on my shooting tests. Similar boring arrangements have been used before as noted. Back-boring (sometimes called over-boring) is very popular in the US and offered on a number of Browning guns as standard.
The elongation of forcing cones is another modern trend. Beretta now has its Opti-bore system that combines long cones – the funnel-like constriction immediately in front of the chamber that directs wad and shot into the main bore area – with a back-bored barrel and long chokes with both conical and parallel sections – long favoured by British gunmakers over merely conical forms.
I have found that these Beretta Opti-bored barrels offer a significantly improved pattern and allow for the use of less-tight choke constriction to achieve a similar percentage effect. And since it’s proofed for 3in magnum cartridges, loaded with steel, it would also cope with tall duck on the marsh. The test gun certainly shot impressively and appeared to achieve excellent kills on clay birds at long range. It costs £1,328 from Viking Arms, tel 01423 780810, www.vikingarms.com.