GUN TEST: Mike puts the Bettinsoli X-Trail through its paces
We aren't all able to spend thousands on a new gun, and this month’s test gun has been selected primarily for its reasonable price tag. Let’s see how it got on…
Being conscious that a lot of readers work to a tight budget, it is good to test guns here that are sensibly priced when we can, as well as the more deluxe models. For the record, I have never found price to be that great a predictor of how a gun will perform. Some of my own favourite sporting weapons are worth no more than a few hundred pounds. I have quite frequently tested guns costing tens of thousands of pounds that were not as good to shoot as others costing less than a thousand. Price isn’t everything. For me, beauty is as beauty does. As an American once wrote, “The only interesting rifles are accurate rifles,” and much the same applies to shotguns; I’m only interested in the ones that work.
With this in mind, I sought out something less expensive this month, something well under the key £1,000 price point. I found it while looking in the well-stocked EJ Churchill gun room – a Bettinsoli X-Trail. It’s a 30", single-selective trigger over-and-under with multi-chokes (five supplied). It weighs in at 7lbs 7oz and has an RRP of £795 (the test gun was, however, on special offer). Although the silver-polished and sparsely machine-engraved action did not float my boat aesthetically, it still looked quite good, though my preference would have been plain black or ersatz colour case hardening (which Bettinsoli do sometimes offer).
This is a plainly finished workhorse. Close scrutiny does not reveal any unpleasant surprises. Indeed, if anything, putting the gun under the magnifier shows it to be better made than similar guns of a generation ago. CNC and lasers have improved the production process considerably. Finish is generally excellent with good bluing and better than expected wood-tometal fit. The wood shows slight figure and is well chequered (by laser). The engineering is sound in all departments. The gun is well jointed and all the metal parts fit tightly. Even looking at the engraving and metalwork closely with enhanced magnification, one notes few flaws.
Bring the X-Trail to shoulder and you will note a slightly muzzle-heavy balance as is typical of a 30" multi-choked gun. The fairly narrow rib with a brass bead at the muzzles suited my eye. The stock shapes do
‘Some of my own favourite sporting weapons are worth no more than a few hundred pounds’
the job and provide adequate purchase. Generally, the gun shows just how much can be achieved at reasonable cost with the new production methods. Overall, it may not be a Beretta or Perazzi, but it feels okay. The basic specification is sound.
The 30" barrels fitted are the only option with this model. Happily, I tend to advise 30" as the best all-round length – useful for both game and clays. As long as barrels are not too heavy, I usually prefer the 30" ones for game shooting rather than the traditional 28 or 32. 28s don’t point as well, while 32" guns can be a bridge too far, especially in cheaper grades where they tend to be too heavy. Movement is one of the keys to good, consistent shooting, so the bottom line is that the gun or barrels must never be so heavy that they impede good movement in the mount and swing of the individual in question.
This Bettinsoli’s barrels are monobloc. They have 76mm (3") chambers and Italian proof marks. Both bores of the test gun have an
internal diameter of 18.3mm, which is quite tight. I harbour a prejudice in favour of slightly wider bores; I would say 18.5mm would be ideal for a game gun where fibre wad cartridges may be employed, and 18.7mm for clays. The bores of the test gun were well presented, however, with neatly machined chambers and forcing cones a little bit longer than average. The flush-fit chokes are well machined, too. One would imagine that few who buy an X-Trail will look for aftermarket chokes (though my normal preference is for extended chokes – or fixed chokes – in working guns as they are easier to clean).
The action of the test gun is common to the Bettinsoli range and well proven. There is a single central cocking bar, similar to a Perazzi. Hinging is accomplished by the usual studs near the knuckle. Semi-circular recesses on the engine-turned monobloc mate with the pins near the action knuckle (as in a Beretta or Perazzi). There is a long slot bite beneath the bottom chamber, which is engaged by a full-width bolt that emerges from the bottom of the action face (as seen in Brownings, Rizzinis and Guerinis, amongst others). This results in a slightly deeper action than one that employs a Woodward- or Boss-style bolting system, but in this case, Bettinsoli have managed to make their action look pretty trim.
The action employs coil springs throughout and incorporates a nicely shaped top lever and a barrel-selector-cum-safety of Browning-style positioned on the top strap. Machining is neat – the product of CNC, as noted. The fit of barrel shoulders to action was impeccable, ditto the fit of the fore-end iron to the action knuckle. I can remember earlier Bettinsolis that were not as good.
What about the woodwork? The stock – attached by the usual stock bolt – is made from reasonable walnut and is well finished. The standard dimensions were pretty good. Length is 14¾" with the standard pad (about 20mm deep). Drop is a standard 11/8" to 21/8". There is a little cast for a righthander. The schnabel fore-end is inoffensive (though I would dispense with the lip). The form and size of the grip was good. There was no palm swell in evidence.
Engraving is simple yet well finished
Trigger pulls lack refinement, but got the job done out on the range
The fit of the barrel shoulders to the action is impeccable
Engineering is sound in all departments