Plain yet elegant and solid in the hand, this Franchi Esprit side-by-side 20-bore is a tidy little gun that is a pleasure to use and steel shot-friendly to boot, says Michael Yardley

Product Overview


Franchi Esprit side-by-side

This month we look at a Franchi Esprit side-by-side 20-bore from GMK. It has a single selective trigger, multi-chokes and weighs just 5lb 12oz. Our test gun has 28in steel-shot-friendly, fleur-de- lys-proofed barrels equipped with a traditional game rib, and is also available in 20- or 12-bore with 30in barrels. The bottom line is £3,250, relatively pricey for a base-grade gun, but it does come with a seven-year warranty and a degree of individuality.


First impressions are of a plain, elegant, small shotgun. Starting with the action, this has a colour-case-hardened-effect surface finish and is bare of other decoration bar restrained lettering. An absence of engraving does not spoil it and enhances the clean lines. The action colour, which looks good, is achieved by a chemical process rather than traditional bone-meal and oven. Styling of the action is well done, with the action body edges pleasantly rounded and the unsculptured round ball-fence design working admirably. The Esprit name is cut into the action belly, and the letter ‘F’ on to a subtly shaped blue steel trigger-guard. I didn’t like the gold-plated trigger particularly, but the gold does contrast pleasingly with the blued trigger-guard and action colour. Gold is not my preference on working shotguns.

The external finish on the gun is generally excellent; the barrel blacking in particular has deep lustre. I did note some machining or filing marks on the action flats on the top of the action with the barrels removed. The action walls are fine, and barrels are well executed with 3in chambers, bored at 15.8in, and relatively short forcing cones (all well suited to fibre wads). However, they presented a mystery: I could not easily determine by what method the barrels were made. They did not appear to be chopper lump. This left, essentially, two possibilities: monobloc with welded joints forward of the chamber section, or some sort of platform system with through lump, as seen in the Beretta Parallelo. Whatever the method actually employed here, it was evidently done well because no joins were visible even with the aid of a magnifying glass.

Moving on to the 14½in stock, this had a straight grip, although there is a pistol-grip option with a fuller fore-end on offer too. I have quite a lot of experience in this area, so let me begin by noting that the straight grip as presented would probably be my choice in this gun in 20-bore. It is not too slim nor round, and has a cross-sectional shape that allows for purchase and hence good muzzle control. There is depth to it. I do not think a full pistol would suit this smaller-bore gun either aesthetically or ergonomically.

Franchi Esprit side-by-side

Robert Churchill once opined that a pistol grip could check the swing. This is sometimes true, especially when the radius is too tight and the grip too large. But it has also been my experience when shooting stocks converted from pistol to straight grip that muzzle control may be negatively impacted, particularly when trying to hold the line of longer crossing birds or making sudden changes to line. Where does this leave us? Keeping it simple, straight grips are fine so long as they are well conceived with adequate width and depth and one can hold on to them.

The stock measurements here were adequate but the comb might have been just a little higher for the average shot. The drop at heel was just over 2⅛in, whereas 2in would be a better standard call as I could just begin to lose the bead as I brought the gun to the vertical applying normal cheek pressure. There was slight right-hand cast in evidence, which was fine as the comb is relatively thin, and I liked the contrasting orange-red recoil pad at the butt-end reminiscent of the classic Silvers pad.


The Franchi is built by FAIR, which also makes Lincoln-branded guns. The gun is not a trigger-plate design, as many cheaper side-by-sides are, nor could it properly be called a boxlock because the hammers and springs are not contained within the action body/box but between solid top and bottom straps, the hammers being hinged to the former. They are powered by coil springs with the sear arms located on the top tang. The gun has a full-width traditional cross pin forwards. There are the usual double lumps and corresponding top-lever-activated double bolt to the rear. Ejector work is conventional with two kickers in the fore-end powered by what are almost certainly coil springs (but not easily visible without disassembly). There is a projection at the knuckle that works as a primary extractor, lifting the ejectors. The stock is attached by a stock bolt rather than a vertical breech pin between the top and bottom straps.


I shot the Esprit at Fennes Shooting School with Alan Shearing, a keen side-by-side man, accompanying me. We both enjoyed using the little Franchi. It handles well and feels solid. I had initially guessed the weight at 6lb rather than the actual 5lb 12oz. The inertia-operated single trigger didn’t miss a beat, recoil was no issue with 21g and 24g Lyalvale loads, and function was fine save for one light strike. A straight grip and splinter suited the gun, although the comb might have been a smidgen higher, as highlighted. The Esprit might also benefit from slightly longer barrels (an option, as noted) but the 28in ones fitted did not stop us connecting with some tricky 40-yard crossers. It doesn’t feel overly light in use; it is nicely balanced and the weight is well distributed. Overall, I will go with Alan’s assessment: “a tidy little gun”.


♦ RRP: from £3,250

♦ GMK, Bear House, Concorde Way, Whiteley, Fareham PO15 5RL

♦ 01489 579999