Breaking with tradition, Michael Yardley tests a machine-made, inertia-operated semi-automatic. Designed for US duck hunters, what does it offer the British shooter?
Michael Yardley is pleasantly surprised by the Franchi Affinity 3, which he finds well put together and solid — despite the garish finish.
Take a look at Michael’s review of the Guerini Forum 32in 20-bore — and find out if he prefer the 30in or the 32in.
FRANCHI AFFINITY 3
Much as I love bench-made guns, occasionally it is fun to put something different through its paces. Not just machine made – some great guns are made by machine now – but a gun that has no pretensions of being anything other than a shooting engine. Such a gun is the Franchi Affinity 3, an inertia-operated, 3in-chambered, high-performance, steel-proofed semi-automatic, weighing about 7lb, from GMK. It is built on a Benelli-type action. The latter firm has been owned by Beretta since 1983, and Franchi itself operates as a separate brand headquartered within the Benelli facility at Ubino, Central Italy.
Franchi looks to Benelli to make its actions and, like Benelli, to Beretta to hammer forge its barrels. Corporately speaking, the Beretta empire now includes Benelli, Franchi, Sako, Tikka, Uberti, Burris Optics and Stoeger (with a manufacturing facility for budget semi-automatics in Turkey; Beretta stresses that no components for its guns are made there). Beretta itself has two major factories in Gardone: ‘Beretta 1’, making standard models and military weapons; and ‘Beretta Due’ making Premium guns (such as the DT11 and SO sidelocks) and housing a repair department. Beretta also has a factory in Spain making chokes.
All of which brings us to the test gun. The Affinity was clearly designed with budget-conscious US duck-hunters in mind (hence GMK can offer it at a good price to UK shooters). Our specimen is decked out in Realtree MAX-5 camouflage, which is the height of rural fashion in duck blinds from Virginia to Oregon. ‘Camo’ does not float my punt but it has a growing band of aficionados, who may adopt clothing and head gear to match.
This camo fashion trend was perhaps most obvious in the hugely successful Duck Dynasty American reality TV series but also relates to the US gun industry pushing the militaristic look more generally amongst civilians. You will see quite a few wildfowlers with camo-finished guns here these days.
Meantime, I am not convinced that camo offers any real-world advantage, but it is becoming almost a tribal fetish in some quarters. In the US, you can get camo everything, from baby-ware to ballpoint pens. Go to any Cabela or Bass Pro shop and you will see whole families resplendent in camouflage.
The test Affinity 3 is available with a 28in barrel only. I have a preference for longer-barrelled semi-autos but a semi-automatic has the advantage – as far as its sighting plane is concerned – of a long receiver. So, a 28in gun has a 35in sighting plane or thereabouts. The top of the receiver in the test gun is machined as an extension of the rib (which is 10mm wide and slightly stepped). There is also the facility to attach scope mounts for those who might want to use the gun to shoot rifled-slugs. This is a common practice in the US for turkey hunting and in Europe for boar shooting. Few shotguns are better suited to slug use than those of Benelli type, although, ideally, one would opt for one with higher than 2+1 magazine capacity (an un-crimped FAC 4+1 model is available). I have used one for Barbary boar in Tunisia.
What else is there to be said about the Affinity? Ignoring what traditionalists may see as a garish finish, the gun is well put together and feels solid. The grip, which has no palm swell, did not anchor my hand very effectively, and the gun has a pronounced forward balance. I liked the rib picture, however, and the small (but potentially fragile), translucent foresight. The oversize bolt-handle and bolt release were comfortable and positive in operation. They would suit gloved hands. A similar gun is also available in left-handed form with a black synthetic stock. Next year, an Affinity 3.5 will be on offer suited for use with 3½ magnum loads. Cerakote (thin film ceramic) finished ‘Elite’ Affinitys are also in the offing.
The Franchi is based on a Benelli-style action, save for its return spring, positioned over the magazine tube (Benelli puts it in the stock). It does not bleed off gas from the barrel to act upon a piston beneath but is inertia operated, harnessing recoil energy; Benelli has certainly refined this. Another feature of recent Benellis, and the test gun, is a rotary bolt head, which may have been inspired by Winchester (Beretta has adopted a rotary bolt head in its gas-operated semi-autos since acquiring Benelli). There were earlier Benellis (such as the 121 and SL80 models) without it. In later Benelli guns (and, notably, semi-automatic rifles) there is a short, stiff spring located between the main body of the bolt and the rotating bolt-head. On firing, this compresses as the gun accelerates rearwards. As it comes to full tension, the bolt-head unlocks out of battery and bolt-head, spring and main bolt body move rearwards, cycling the action.
I was not expecting that much from the Franchi but was pleasantly surprised by the way it shot. It was one of the better inertia guns that I have used in recent years (and as good or better than some costing significantly more). Recoil was less than expected for an inertia design. The gun pointed well. It was not too heavy. General handling pleased. I liked the rib as well. The negatives concerned the balance – a little too far forward – and the trigger pull, which showed some creep. The grip was quite thin, my hand tending to slip forward. The engineering was sound and impressed. Most importantly, the Affinity was reliable in use. I had no malfunctions even when using lighter Lyalvale 24gm loads, which many semi-autos would not digest. It struck me as an ideal ‘Land Rover gun’ and offers good value.
Franchi affinity 3 semi-auto
♦ RRP: from £795
♦ GMK, Bear House, Concorde Way, Fareham, Hampshire PO15 5RL.
♦ 01489 579999