Salvinelli EXL Sporting

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BRUCE BUCK

 

The three Salvinelli brothers have been in the arms business since 1955. Today Armi Salvinelli, located in Marcheno, Italy, makes a number of target and field over/under shotguns in its modern, computerized plant. The target guns have won world-championship medals and a skeet silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Although everyone in the Italian gunmaking community seems to be related, Armi Salvinelli is not related to Abbiatico & Salvinelli, despite the similarity of names.

Salvinelli guns are newly imported into the US by Salvinelli USA, a division of Pacific Sporting Arms. Pacific Sporting Arms is run by John Herkowitz and carries the line of guns in both its California store and new location in Michigan.

Herkowitz was kind enough to send me a Salvinelli EXL Sporting 12-gauge. The sporters range in retail price from the L1, at $4,995, to the Extra Gold, at $42,995, depending on engraving and extras. Our EXL model is in the middle, retailing for $9,495. The mechanics are identical on the guns; it’s just the cosmetics that vary, to give customers a broader choice.

I could tell right away that this gun was made for serious target shooting—and lots of it. The receiver is a solid-steel machined forging. The top and bottom tangs are integral with the main receiver, and the riser at the rear that separates the two is part of the same forging. Often the trigger tang and riser are separate pieces, which sometimes permits unwanted flex.

In typical modern O/U fashion, sears are suspended from the top strap and hammers pivot from the bottom. Substantial horizontal coil springs drive the hammers. Wire ejector cocking rods are connected to the bottom of the hammers. These rods are somewhat thicker and stronger than one often sees.

The work on the interior of the action is very clean. It looks to be straight off of the CNC. Even the inertia block is machined. It’s not the usual cruder casting as on most O/Us.

The locking mechanism has the large mid-breech locks engaging monoblock extensions like on Perazzis, but it uses Browning-style underlugs on the monoblock to engage twin recesses on the bottom rear of the receiver. The recesses go through the bottom of the action but are hidden by the separate action floorplate. This not only looks cleaner but also keeps out errant detritus. Up front the action hinges on replaceable hinge stubs, like just about every modern O/U action except Browning’s, with its full-length hinges. The hammers are cocked on opening via a single large cocking bar in the bottom of the action. In all, the action appears exceptionally robust.

 

The trigger on our gun was fixed in place and not adjustable fore and aft to fit hand size. Of course, that means it won’t come loose at the wrong time either. But if you prefer an adjustable trigger, one is available. The trigger is inertia operated, relying on the recoil of the first shell to set the second sear.

And it’s a heck of a trigger. One of the best I’ve used. Our sample had virtually zero take-up and creep. Pulls were 4-1/2 pounds on each sear, and they were as crisp as you could ever wish. I don’t know if it is design, execution or a combination thereof, but the folks at Salvinelli know what they are doing.

The safety is manually operated, as befits a target gun. The safety slide incorporates a toggle to select the firing barrel. The toggle works with downward pressure, not lateral pressure. I have not seen a gun with this feature before, and it is quite convenient. Because it is easy to switch barrels inadvertently, the barrel selector works only when the lever is moved to the rear on “Safe.”

The automatic ejectors in the monoblock are Perazzi-style. They can be removed easily for cleaning by depressing the ejector, removing the retaining button and removing the ejector. This is a bit more obvious than the “twist to remove” ejectors on Berettas.

The barrels on our test gun were 32”, with fixed chokes and a weight of 1.54 kg (for comparison to other European guns; or, 3.4 pounds.) Sporting clays shooters often like longer barrels, but with many brands the penalty for length is excessive weight. After all, it is cheaper to make barrels thick and heavy, especially when screw chokes are considered. Not so this Salvinelli. I would rank the barrel weight as a little bit lighter than medium—right in there with the more facile Perazzi tubes and those of the surprisingly dynamic Krieghoff Parcours.

Barrel lengths are available in 28-3/8”, 30” and 32”. Our gun had the currently trendy yet retro fixed chokes set to Light Modified (.015”) on the bottom and Improved Modified (.025”) on the top. Of course, you can order what you wish, but LM and IM is a pretty good combination.

One of the advantages of fixed chokes over screw chokes is that there is no transition jump between the bore and the choke skirt to destabilize shot passage. Fixed chokes also can be made longer for a smoother taper and transition. The fixed chokes in our test gun were 4-1/2” long with a 1/2” parallel at the muzzle to ensure a smooth constriction. Screw chokes are available if you wish, but they do jug the muzzles a bit and add a touch of weight up front.

The chambers were 3”, but you can get 2-3/4”. The rear forcing cones were fashionably extended for a smooth transition between chamber and bore. The chrome-lined bores were .736” and measured the same on both barrels—something that’s rarer than you might think. This is a modest overbore compared to the nominal 12-gauge bore of .729”. All sorts of ballistic advantages are claimed for overbores, but some things should be taken with a grain of salt. There was no steel-proof fleur-de-lis stamp on the barrels, so they are for lead or soft nontox only—although they were CIP rated “Superior,” or magnum proof.

On the outside the barrels are joined by vented full-length side ribs and topped by a low flat rib slightly tapering from 13/32” at the breech to 10/32” at the muzzle. This is just enough rib to get the job done correctly without excess. Some makers are experimenting with much more intrusive raised ribs, which draw the eye more to the rib. The top of the Salvinelli rib is nicely hand-scribed to reduce glare. It has a small center bead and a modest white plastic bead up front.

The bluing was high gloss and absolutely free of holidays and skipping in the soldering. Truly first class. The locking lugs on the underside of the monoblock and even the forend latch have a bright finish for an attractive contrast. The name “Armi Salvinelli” was inletted flawlessly in gold on the right side of the barrels. “Made in Italy” was stamped in small letters, but that was it for impressed verbiage on the exposed part of the barrels. That’s in distinct contrast to the extensive legal documentation stamped on top of some cheaper guns’ barrels. Clearly Salvinelli understands subtle cosmetics and keeps its lawyers under control.

The stock on our gun was pretty much what you would expect on a target sporter of this class. It had a large vertical pistol grip with a right-hand palm swell and an adjustable comb. Length of pull was 14-3/4”, comb height was adjustable, pitch was a standard 4° and there was a bit of right-hand cast-off. Not to your preference? No problem. Custom stock measurements are included at no extra cost with the Salvinelli sporter. Get what suits you. The CNC stock machine can handle it with aplomb. That way you will save the almost $300 upcharge (included in the $9,495 cost mentioned in the opening) for the adjustable comb and get a better-fitting stock to boot.

The forend was a Schnabel-type, which has become popular with sporters. Salvinelli can supply a more classic forend if you prefer.

The wood on our gun was figured walnut, clearly a step or two up from standard. It was decently finished even to the extent that the grain was almost completely filled. One more coat would have done it perfectly. The checkering was hand-cut, not lasered, and nicely done in a classic minimalist pattern. Wood-to-metal fit showed no gaps, but the wood was a bit too proud at the rear of the forend. I’m being nit-picky here, as the wood really was perfectly nice.

In addition to the higher grade of wood, the other uptick you get for the extra $5,000 cost of the EXL over the price of the base model is the engraving. Since engraving has no practical value, one buys it strictly for the sake of the art. De gustibus and all that. The engraving on our gun was completely hand cut, not lasered and then lightly hand finished. There was 100-percent coverage in tight scroll, with bird scenes on the sides and bottom. The quality of the work was excellent. Really first class. It easily withstood inspection with a 10X loupe. This EXL model offers four different engraving patterns. Three have bird scenes, and one is pure scroll. If you want more, for $16,995 there is the EXL Sideplate Sporting, with even more extensive and intricate engraving on the sideplates and ultra-deluxe wood. And you can go up from there.

The test gun came in a nice Negrini ABS black case with leather trim. It is definitely a step up. While the case probably would survive the airline gorillas, it would be a shame to subject it to such treatment. I would leave it in the shooting brake.

The gun comes with a stock wrench, which is easily employed by insertion through a small hole in the recoil pad. There is also the usual manual and a five-year warranty. Salvinelli USA performs the warranty work. If the gun is ordered with screw chokes, five are included.

The EXL Sporting was very nice to shoot. It weighed 8-1/4 pounds, which is a fairly typical weight for a target sporter, but the weight was centered, not up front. The medium-weight barrels made the gun responsive, while their 32” length offered precision on longer shots. The gun was noticeably more responsive than a 32” Beretta Silver Pigeon sporter and older Browning Citori sporters. The Salvinelli handled more like a Perazzi than a standard-weight Krieghoff. It definitely had that racy Italian feel. I really enjoyed shooting this gun. It required no technique changes and was equally at home with swing-through or sustained-lead methods.

The gun functioned correctly with all factory target ammo in 1- and 1-1/8-oz weights. The inertia trigger would not reset the second sear when subjected to my grotty 7/8-oz 1,100-fps wimp reloads. This merely shows that the Salvinelli has good taste.

The trigger was marvelously crisp and made the timing of long incoming shots easy. I shoot sporting from a low-gun position, not premounted, and was relieved to see that the solid-rubber recoil pad was smooth and didn’t stick to my vest as new recoil pads often do.

While our highly engraved EXL model costs almost $10,000, it is important to remember that the mechanically identical L1 version with a plain receiver costs about half that. And a custom-dimensioned stock is included in that price. For $5,000 that is quite a sporting clays gun if you don’t mind something less decorated. But if you prefer high-end cosmetics, they certainly can be delivered. The bottom line is that, engraved or plain, this sturdy Salvinelli sporter is a well-balanced shooter. And that’s what really counts.

 

Author’s Note: For more information, contact Salvinelli USA, 626-633-1002; www.salvinelliusa.com.

 

Bruce Buck’s most recent book, Shotguns on Review, is available for $30 (plus shipping) from www.rowman.com.

Ed Carroll

Ed Carroll is Shooting Sportsman's Associate Editor.

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