The German gunmaker is now making shotguns for the covertside. Jonathan Young goes undercover to investigate just how they do it.
BLASER F3 SHOTGUN
The Blaser F3 shotgun differs from most guns, as explained with admirable clarity by Irwin Greenstein in Shotgun Life: “Shotgun hammers are generally cam-shaped and pivot on an axis to strike the firing pin. In effect, the hammer delivers a looping round-house punch. By comparison, the horizontal hammers in the F3 strike with an efficient short jab for faster lock times and decisive pulls at about 31⁄4lb for the mechanical trigger in an arrangement Blaser calls the Inertia Block System. That’s because the nail-shaped F3 hammers (also called strikers or plungers) are driven horizontally by coil springs embedded in channels machined into the receiver. The linear travel enables both a quicker, center-line strike (ignition) and lower profile compared with more conventional over/under actions.”
This allows the F3 to have a low profile and the faster lock time means there’s less delay between your thinking “pull” and the actual bang. Would you notice the difference in real terms in the field? It’s hard to say but we are probably more attuned to such nuances than might be imagined, which is why we can – or believe we can – tell a “slow” cartridge at 1350ft/sec from a “fast’”one of 1450ft/sec. We tried a selection of F3s – trap, sporting and game, standard finish and bespoke – at the company’s favoured clay ground at Dornsberg, near the Austrian border, and all the test guns had sharp trigger pulls (at just over 3lb), which is especially important if, like me, you have a tendency to “dwell” on the shot. They also had that happy quality of agility, partly through good balance and partly because of the pronounced pistol grip, forcing your hand to stay in the optimum position. This is a characteristic shared by the game model and reflects the Blaser F3’s shotgun original role as a competition gun; it also accounts for the stock’s highish comb, a feature that suits many driven-game shots.
In use, the F3 is, in horse parlance, forward going; it just wants to kick on and shoot things with a little help from its user. This isn’t merely a personal impression: the EJ Churchill Shooting Ground has become a major centre for the guns, with around 40 of them now used as the school’s workhorses. “They’re great guns for the money and an obvious consideration for anyone wanting to spend from £4,000 to £10,000,” says Rob Fenwick, the company’s managing director. “They’re beautifully built, reliable guns that handle excellently and are handsome without being flashy.”
Blaser shotguns can be extensively hand-engraved in a range of lavish options but it’s in its more austere, black finish with good wood that it will appeal to many British game-shots. And choosing a decent piece of walnut should not be a problem as the company holds 35,000 blanks in stock, carefully sorted into 11 grades, with only 0.5% making the highest grade (11).
“We buy thousands of stocks at a time, mainly from Turkey and, increasingly, Azerbaijan,” says Kai Sommer, head of wood purchasing. “We use wood from trees that are 250 to 300 years old and each blank has a chip inserted that records who bought the blank, from whom and its grade,” he continues.
“We buy them with a maximum of 20% moisture, usually keep them at the supplier for a year, then store them for around a year at the Blaser drier, at which time the moisture will be 8% to 9%. We then check that the blank still tallies with its original grading before we start matching the stock blanks with the fore-end wood. And we may try a hundred fore-end pieces until we find the perfect match.”
To ensure the best is made of the walnut figure, each stock is given seven or eight oil finishes and then a “super finish” for durability – as ever with Blaser, practicality is the bedfellow of aesthetics. And no one could be more practical than John Bidwell, winner of numerous world FITASC Sporting championships and designer of the clay layouts at the Game Fair. He helped Blaser create, successfully, a gun that could win at the highest competition level. Could the Blaser shotgun be equally successful in the game field, which in over-and-unders has been so long dominated by Beretta, Browning and, to a lesser extent, Perazzi? The company certainly is dedicated to quality and has proved itself in the popularity of its rifles. Back in 2012, The Field’s rifle reviewer, Dominic Griffith, recorded this quote from Ray Mears: “If I could take only one rifle to any location in the world in the sure knowledge that it would perform in a crisis I would always recommend a Blaser shotgun as long as its user is competent.” Participants in the higher echelons of driven game-shooting increasingly pay less attention to what are perceived as traditional aspects of gunmaking and more to what en-ables them to bag more game, more consistently, in increasingly demanding situations, whether that be Exmoor pheasants or late-season grouse. In that, they are no different to their forebears who abandoned “traditional” guns without a backward glance in the white heat of 19th-century gunmaking innovation.
For these keen and often competitive shots, a gun of innovative design, engineered to perform flawlessly at around £4,000, will be considered carefully.