VIVE LA CHA­PUIS!

“The iconic French gun­maker has a rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­able and at­trac­tive guns – par­tic­u­larly its dou­ble ri­fles.” From pis­tols and ri­fles to shot­guns of great re­pute, Cha­puis Armes, one of France’s last re­main­ing game gun man­u­fac­tur­ers, con­tin­ues to im­pre

Shooting Gazette - - This month - By Caro­line Rod­dis.

A his­tory of the iconic French gun­maker Cha­puis Armes.

The town of Saint-bon­netLe-château, perched like a stone wed­ding cake on a hill in the Loire, was built on French crafts­man­ship. First came the me­dieval lock­smiths, then the boules mak­ers, and fi­nally the gun­smiths. The lat­ter orig­i­nally de­vel­oped here to feed the de­mand from nearby Saint Éti­enne, the home of French gun­mak­ing (think Birm­ing­ham but with more sun and longer lunch breaks), for sub-con­trac­tors who could sup­ply me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents for their prod­ucts.

De­spite do­ing the tricky bits, how­ever, the sub­con­trac­tors of Saint-bon­net-le-château were poorly re­mu­ner­ated for their work. Rather than go on strike, Jean Louis Cha­puis de­cided to go it alone, start­ing to pro­duce his own high-qual­ity guns for la chasse (or­ange is the new tweed). Although he had founded the com­pany in the 1930s, it was not un­til 1951 that the first ‘Cha­puis’

ri­fle was pro­duced. As time went on and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties fell to first his son and then his grand­sons, Cha­puis gained a rep­u­ta­tion across Europe for its re­li­able, ac­cu­rate and at­trac­tive-look­ing guns, par­tic­u­larly its dou­ble ri­fles.

This be­ing France, where pis­tol shoot­ing is still joy­ously prac­tised, the com­pany also has a pis­tol fac­tory, Ma­nurhin, ac­quired in 1998. These pis­tols are so sought af­ter world­wide that Cha­puis can­not keep up with de­mand. Since Jan­uary 1990 Cha­puis Armes has been based at a 3,000m² fac­tory, de­signed by René Cha­puis around two tun­nel ranges. The com­pany con­tin­ues to in­vest heav­ily in this fa­cil­ity, re­cently in­stalling the lat­est CNC ma­chines and us­ing them to re­fine their de­signs. Now one of the last re­main­ing game gun man­u­fac­tur­ers in France, Cha­puis has es­tab­lished it­self across Europe, Rus­sia and the US, but re­mains some­thing of a hid­den gem here in the UK.

A FRENCH­MAN IN ENG­LAND

De­spite this, you don’t need to ven­ture across la Manche to get one of these guns, as they have a good net­work of deal­ers across the UK. One com­pany who said ‘oui’ to Cha­puis was Stephen & Son, which is not only a dealer but also its main UK re­pair cen­tre. Founded by com­pa­triot Stephane Dupille in 2011, Stephen & Son is a small firm, com­pris­ing Stephane, fel­low French­man Vin­cent, and an ap­pren­tice, which fo­cuses on

gun re­pairs but has also branched out into sales.

For them, Cha­puis was a nat­u­ral fit. Dur­ing his early gun­mak­ing ca­reer in France, be­fore he worked with UK com­pa­nies such as Wat­son Bros and Hol­land & Hol­land amongst oth­ers, Stephane had be­come well ac­quainted with Cha­puis guns.

“I liked the brand and the way it worked,” he ex­plains. “The guns are mod­ern but look tra­di­tional, sleek and well-fin­ished. Not only are they good but you have the choice of hav­ing a be­spoke model made. They are very com­pet­i­tive on price and what you get for your money is quite ex­cep­tional, es­pe­cially the mid-range.”

Pa­tri­o­tism, how­ever, didn’t re­ally come into it. “It’s nice to be sell­ing French guns,” says Stephane, “but it’s re­ally just the fact I like the prod­uct, what Cha­puis does, and its spirit, too. Cha­puis has a big fac­tory, and if it wanted it could in­crease pro­duc­tion and sell its guns cheaper, but Cha­puis is happy to stay like it is, be­cause it wants to make sure it spends the time cre­at­ing a good prod­uct. Cha­puis wants to be cer­tain that its clients are happy with what it does and that ev­ery­one is pleased – me and my cus­tomers in­cluded.”

De­spite this amour, how­ever, Stephane still keeps Cha­puis on its toes. “The spe­cial­ity of our house is stock­mak­ing”, he says. “If it’s a be­spoke gun, I make the cus­tomer choose their wood and I’m very fussy – and Cha­puis knows that I’m very fussy! If I see some­thing I don’t like I send it back, it’s that sim­ple.” Over­all, the re­la­tion­ship has proved to be a very good one par­tic­u­larly as, even in the days of Google trans­late, English cus­tomers find it re­as­sur­ing to order through a bilin­gual dealer and avoid mis­un­der­stand­ings.

“We are sell­ing quite a lot,” says Stephane, who also part­ners with Cha­puis on stands at var­i­ous game fairs. “It’s a lot of time and money in­vested but ev­ery cus­tomer that places an order is very happy. It’s very rare I have to send one back, they are pretty strong. We don’t have much war­ranty work, apart from when they are new and per­haps a lit­tle bit stiff.”

“The guns are mod­ern but look tra­di­tional, sleek and well-fin­ished. What you get for your money is ex­cep­tional.”

AN IM­PRES­SIVE RANGE

Cus­tomers look­ing for a Cha­puis gun have a va­ri­ety of op­tions to choose from. The com­pany makes a num­ber of side-by-sides, overun­ders and ri­fles, all of which are cat­e­gorised into three ranges: Clas­sic, Ar­ti­san and Grand Luxe. “The mid and top ranges are be­spoke. You choose the wood, the en­grav­ing, and spec the gun ex­actly as you want. My cus­tomers love it,” says Stephane.

All the ranges are steeped in game-shoot­ing tra­di­tion. Light, well-bal­anced and el­e­gant, they are re­spected for their fi­nesse and dura­bil­ity, some­thing borne of many decades’ in­no­va­tion and many of their own patented com­po­nents. Cus­tomers who buy a gun also have the chance to visit the Cha­puis fac­tory in Saint-bon­netLe-château to se­lect their op­tions per­son­ally – handy if they also want to visit the nearby must-see Musée International Pé­tanque et Boules.

The Clas­sic range is the Cha­puis ‘off the peg’ op­tion, fit­ted by the gun dealer. There are still things for cus­tomers to ag­o­nise over, such as grip shape and trig­ger, but over­all these are el­e­gant, well-fin­ished guns with a very friendly price tag.

The next step up, the Ar­ti­san range, de­liv­ers a lot for your money. Guns here are in the £5,000 – £10,000 bracket and come with hand en­grav­ing and AAAAA lux­ury grade wal­nut, while the cus­tomer also has a lot more choice over de­tails such as side­plates and grip.

Stephane uses an Ar­ti­san 12 bore him­self, which he lends to cus­tomers who want to get a feel for the Cha­puis range. “Peo­ple are sur­prised by the weight, the bal­ance, how com­pact it is, the wood they use, and the gen­eral fin­ish. You can tell it’s a prod­uct that’s fin­ished by hand, it’s ob­vi­ous. And that’s where the com­pe­ti­tion strug­gle in this range – the level of fin­ish is not to the same stan­dard.”

At the top end, both in price and qual­ity, are the Cha­puis Grand Luxe guns, fea­tur­ing ex­hi­bi­tion-grade wood and fine en­grav­ing. Whereas a Clas­sic might take two months to make and an Ar­ti­san over four, a Grand Luxe will take at least six months to make.

One of the best-known mod­els, avail­able in each style, is the ro­bust yet very light­weight Su­per Orion shot­gun, now also avail­able in lighter-than-steel al­loy that has shaved al­most half a kilo off the weight. The ri­fles also con­tinue to im­press, par­tic­u­larly the en­tirely new sin­gle-bar­rel Cha­puis ROLS, a straight pull-bolt ac­tion which comes with a new su­per-strong, patented lock­ing sys­tem.

The Rex Ar­ti­san Serie 3 has its ori­gins in the Dou­ble Ex­press Jux­ta­posed Progress, a dou­ble ri­fle first re­leased in the mid 1970s. Fea­tur­ing the new dou­ble-hook lock­ing sys­tem and a low cen­tre fir­ing pin, the ri­fle proved to be solid and re­li­able, not to mention ideal for the shoot­ing of larger quarry per­mit­ted by a con­tem­po­rary change in French leg­is­la­tion.

The Rex Ar­ti­san we see to­day, started in 2010, demon­strates how Cha­puis con­tin­ues to im­prove its al­ready ex­cel­lent de­signs over time. One no­tice­able ad­just­ment is the new round pro­file 28 gauge re­ceiver, which not only gives it a mod­ern ele­gance but also en­sures that it’s light and com­pact enough for fast han­dling – a fleet­ness of foot that is fur­ther aided by the fact it weighs only 3 ki­los. To achieve the new fluid pro­file, the fir­ing pins and bar­rels have been set closer to­gether, while the lat­ter now come with a new battue rib and stream­lined fore­sight.

The rounded ac­tion fur­ther en­hances the looks of the slim, mas­ter­fully fin­ished gun. “It’s a fan­tas­tic, ac­cu­rate ri­fle, and it’s good look­ing, too,” notes Stephane. “It would mea­sure up next to a Purdey or a Hol­land & Hol­land.” The AAAAA lux­ury wal­nut with its deep oil fin­ish is strik­ing, and you’d be for­given for look­ing at the ri­fle and think­ing it costs a lot more than its £9,850 sale price.

Thanks to the way Cha­puis or­gan­ise col­lec­tions it’s ob­vi­ous the Rex Ar­ti­san shares the same de­sign cues and smooth lines as the other Ar­ti­san guns – cat nip to those who like to col­lect match­ing sets.

As you’d ex­pect there are a range of five avail­able cal­i­bres, in­clud­ing 9.3 x 74, 6.5 x 57 and 30-30 Winch­ester. What­ever the use for the gun, the Rex Ar­ti­san comes with the Cha­puis rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing sturdy and re­li­able. “It’s very strong,” says Stephane, “some peo­ple never clean them – their mech­a­nism isn’t del­i­cate.”

Over­all the Rex Ar­ti­san is an­other ex­am­ple of why Cha­puis guns are like truf­fles

– not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous but well worth dig­ging for.

“The Rex Ar­ti­san is good look­ing. It would def­i­nitely mea­sure up next to a Purdey or a Hol­land & Hol­land.”

The rounded ac­tion of the Rex Ar­ti­san Serie 3 fur­ther en­hances the looks of this slim, mas­ter­fully fin­ished gun.

Cus­tomers want­ing the best from their stock will have to be pa­tient and pre­pared to wait.

Precision has been a by-word for Cha­puis Armes guns since the com­pany was founded by Jean Louis Cha­puis in the 1930s.

Cha­puis Armes builds well-fin­ished guns with a friendly price tag.

The gun­maker’s new CNC ma­chine is one of the big­gest in­vest­ments it has made in its fac­tory in re­cent years.

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