Michael Yardley is immediately impressed by this lightweight sidelock side-by-side and finds that its slightly eccentric styling proved comfortable – and no impediment to performance
Michael Yardley is impressed by the Merkel 60e 20-bore. It is well made and well priced and, despite some eccentric styling, comfortable to shoot.
For more gun reviews, read Michael Yardley’s review of the Blaser F16 Game Heritage.
MERKEL 60E 20-BORE
The Merkel Model 60e sidelock side-by-side is a 20-bore, 30in-barrelled gun with straight-hand grip and double triggers. It comes from the extensive stock of Horton guns in Birmingham, imported into the UK by Viking Arms of Harrogate (both firms have a long association with Merkel). It weighs in at just under 6lb 3oz, light by modern standards, and has a profusely scroll-engraved back-action mechanism with Greener top bolt.
First impressions are good. This attractive, well-presented gun might be seen as a Germanic take on the classic London carriage-trade product. I must declare an interest, before proceeding further. In 2013, I went over to Merkel’s factory to help it to specify its shotgun range. Some interesting, rejigged models arose out of this, including a gun not unlike the test gun. I had always thought, and still think, that Merkel shotguns could go a long way in the UK market with a slightly revised specification. Well made and engineered, they tended to have Continental stock measures (short and low in the comb) combined with unfamiliar styling.
Returning to the test gun, its pleasantly familiar form is accentuated with quite bold, nicely executed, tight rose-and-scroll work set off by a coin-finished action, which also suits. The gun looks distinct, not only because of this typically Merkel engraving (which they call English scroll though it looks quite continental to my British eyes) but because of a squarish action bar and the unmissable (when opened) top extension/supplementary lock. We will consider this once popular feature more thoroughly in the technical section.
The barrels of the Merkel are choked ¼ and ½ and chambered for 3in cartridges. Steel shot friendly, they carry a wider than average, slightly concave sighting rib. They are constructed in an unusual manner, with the top rib glued on using, literally, space-age adhesive technology. Do not let this put you off. They are among the best I have seen recently with regard to straightness, concentricity and consistency of wall thickness. I suspect the use of high-tech adhesive reduces heat distortion in manufacture – a perennial problem of double-gun manufacture. The construction methodology also shows that Merkel is happy to combine very modern methods with ancient ones.
The stock wood was well figured. The stock shapes were generally good, save for the distinct fluting at the nose of the comb (which might easily be removed). There was a slight fall in the hand in the not-quite-straight, straight grip reminiscent of Browning’s “swan-neck” stock (Robert Churchill also advocated increased fall, opining the straight grip had become too straight). This mildly eccentric styling did not improve classical aesthetics but did provide a comfortable and practical grip on a light, double-trigger gun. On balance, I liked it.
The butt was finished off with an orange, Silvers style, recoil “rubber” pad. There is no breech pin visible on the top action tang, the butt is attached to the body of the action by means of a stock bolt (an over-and-under-like modification that came in on this model some years back). The fore-end, which has a Deeley & Edge latch (also a feature of many Prussian guns), was of deep splinter design with a rounded nose. This was not especially elegant in form but practical and, like the grip, offered enhanced control.
The stock was oil finished and hand chequered. I thought the aesthetics might have been improved with drop points and more traditional chequering panels but the gun was comfortable to mount and grip nevertheless. Measurements as tested were 1½in and just under 2in for drop. Ideal, though it may be ordered with whatever you want. Length of pull with the pad was 14¾in. This was fine for me, although a little longer would have been useful as a standard “shelf” measurement on a double-trigger gun with pad fitted.
Unlike most modern sidelock side-by-sides, which have bar actions, this is a back-action design, more usually employed in double rifles for its greater strength and over-and-under sidelocks. There is a lot to be said for the scheme as less metal is cut from the bar; some Hollands still use back actions, as do Krieghoff. The Merkel’s traditional V springs point rearwards and steeply upwards when you get the lockplates off. The locks themselves are well presented with traditional safety sears. One gunmaker said the lockwork reminded him of an SO Beretta, though the springs are positioned differently. In its locking, the Merkel adopts a Greener crossbolt. I have always liked top-bolted shotguns. Extensions can interfere with loading but they have potential benefits. They reduce wear on the hinge and barrel flip. All other things being equal, I believe a top-bolted gun shoots higher – or less low – than a conventionally bolted one because there is little flex in the action table on firing. I prefer top-bolted side-by-sides for this reason. Percy Stanbury’s famous, all-conquering Webley & Scott had an extra bolt.
This was a most enjoyable gun to use. The idiosyncratic stock shapes were ergonomically efficient. The slightly raised top rib was good (although my preference would have been for a narrower, more tapered pigeon-style rib). Handling qualities could not have been easily improved. The 30in barrels suit the 20, providing control without any significant loss of manoeuvrability. Felt recoil using Lyalvale Express cartridges in a variety of payloads was much lower than expected. I had the chance to compare the gun to a Holland copy Spanish gun and the Merkel was far softer with less flip apparent. Its trigger pulls were excellent. Vorsprung durch Technik? I would certainly put a lot down to German precision engineering. The Model 60e is well made, well priced and shoots in a most satisfactory manner.
MERKEL MODEL 60E 20-BORE
♦ RRP: from £9,723 (game scene)
♦ Supplied by W Horton & Sons (importer Viking Arms)
♦ 0121 369 1855