The Merkel 65E sidelock 20-bore is delightful to shoot. Capable of handling 3in loads, it looks good and is competitively priced.
The Merkel 65E sidelock is a gun in which I must declare an interst. I had some influence on the specification. About a year ago I was invited by Merkel to rejig the design to make it more appealing to British sportsmen and, in the process, perhaps make it more efficient. I looked at aesthetics, barrels and stock, in particular.
Merkel, a long-established company, is known to make good-quality, strong guns but some of its traditional designs appear a bit Teutonic to British eyes. Our taste veers towards the less fussy. When I first saw the 65E, I did not much like the cheekpiece and tight, pistol grip; they were inelegant and functionally redundant. The stock was short and steeply angled with about 21⁄2in of drop at heel (as seems to be the norm on the Continent where the driven bird-shooting experience is not as deeply ingrained as here). Barrels in most of the guns I saw were relatively short as well.
So, the first part of this exercise was to provide new stock dimensions, propose a functionally efficient stock style (English straight-hand with deepened splinter) and specify longer barrels with a flat, narrowish rib (the firm already had a pattern).
The action design was certainly strong – capable of withstanding 3in loads – and there was vast choice with regard to decoration. Merkel has an outstanding in-house engraving department and has not gone over to machine engraving to the extent that many others have. All Merkel’s higher-grade guns are engraved the old-fashioned way with hammer and chisel. I looked at the design books and a variety of guns and decided that for this gun, medium scroll would suit.
I also suggested some game scenes for other models. Merkel calls the engraving “English Arabesque”. It does not appear to me to be especially English but it is attractive, practical (never forget that the purpose of engraving is to disguise wear) and expertly executed.
When the gun first appeared for the IWA (International Weapons Exhibition) show in Nuremberg, I was delighted by its looks – save for some details of stock finish, now in the process of rectification – and by its handling qualities with the lively fixed choked barrels and good weight amidships. (Overall the gun weighs just under 61⁄2lb with a hinge-pin balance.) It would be fair to say it attracted much attention and positive comment but it was not until later in the year that the opportunity to test fire it properly became available.
There are small points where refinement is still needed – the form of the top lever and the safety thumbpiece on the action, for example.
On the stock, the chequering, which had been somewhat rushed in time for the trade show, and nose and fluting of the stock comb might be bettered.
Overall, however, the gun ticked nearly all the boxes and was truly delightful to bring up to the shoulder (and, as it would transpire, to shoot). The price of £14,995 for a predominantly handmade, hand-engraved sidelock is extremely competitive.
MERKEL 65E SIDELOCK 20-BORE TECHNICAL DATA
The little Merkel has hand-detachable sidelocks, intercepting safety sear, a top extension and Greener cross-bolt and a replaceable cross-pin.
The locks are powered by V-springs in the classic manner. The safety is automatic and the ejectors – on the well-proven Southgate plan – are also powered by V-springs. Beneath the barrels are classic Purdey-style double lumps, although the rest of the mechanics are more obviously inspired by Holland & Holland with some simplification in the internal lock design. The barrels – perfectly true and made in-house – are neither chopper lump nor monobloc: two tubes sit on a table that has two corresponding recesses topside and lumps machined into it on the bottom. Thus there are three main parts braised together. Although technically this is not quite as strong as chopper lump, I think I would prefer it to monobloc as the chambers are attached and there need be no joining line.
MERKEL 65E SIDELOCK 20-BORE SHOOTING IMPRESSIONS
This pretty, 28in-barrelled gun, shot at the Dornsberg shooting ground in Bavaria, surprised me with its pointability and low felt recoil. I had specified its dimensions, as noted: 11⁄2in and 2in of drop with a 15in length of pull, including an orange Pachmayr decelerator recoil pad. This partly accounted for the low felt recoil – the stock was less steeply angled and longer than previously. I put the rest down to good mechanical design and good chambering and boring (15.9mm). Trigger pulls and flat, pigeon-style rib were also excellent. I used the gun while making a film and put hundreds of shells through it, so the test was intensive. All the ammunition used was steel, and breaks, even to 40yd-plus, were excellent. All else was effortlessly smashed, averaging 90%-plus. The only target where I had any issue was a bouncing bunny; the straight grip did not make it easy to hold the gun down on a low line. It is functionally the best 20-bore side-by-side that I have shot (and might be even better in 30in form with a semi-pistol grip, soon to be available). It is certainly an alternative to some high-end Spanish products and, regardless of cost, you won’t find a 20-bore side-by-side that looks or shoots better.
Merkel 65E sidelock 20-bore price: from £14,995 incl VAT
Where to buy the Merkel 65E sidelock 20-bore: Visit Viking Arms or call 01423 780810