Prior to working at Orvis, I was familiar with the company’s signature line of Arrieta shotguns. Leigh Perkins settled on Arrieta in 1980, and the Spanish maker produced splendid Orvis models for three decades. These guns were artistic and often flashy as well as functional and durable. By 2015 the hallmarks of the past had been replaced by guns with poorly executed checkering, proud and gapped wood, less-than-buttery triggers, and uneven stock finishing and bluing. My communication with Arrieta became cryptic and then ceased altogether. By November 2016 Arrieta was insolvent. This tale is part of the larger story of a Spanish shotgun industry that seemed perpetually plagued with economic instability. Arrizabalaga, facing financial crisis in the mid-2000s, was sold to Arrieta in 2012 and continued to produce guns. When Arrieta entered receivership, both storied brands faded from production. Then in the March/April 2023 Game & Gun Gazette Doug Tate wrote a pithy piece on the reboot of Arrieta & Arrizabalaga and the nascent renascence of both brands. Suffice to say that both are back, and the resurrection is manifest in this month’s review of the Arrizabalaga SLE Pigeon Gun. I also will state right from the start that this is one compelling shotgun and testament to a modern incarnation of Old World craftsmanship that bodes well for the revival of the Spanish trade.
Dan Moore of William Larkin Moore & Sons graciously sent me the stunning gun. It is a traditional Holland & Holland-style seven-pin bar-action sidelock with intercepting sears, and it possesses all the characteristics of a traditional 12-gauge pigeon gun: long barrels, tight chokes, a self-opening mechanism, a bit more weight than a traditional field gun at 7 pounds 15 ounces, a long and relatively high comb, highly figured wood, sideclips, gas escapes and spectacular engraving. The coin-finish receiver has full-coverage Extra Quality Celtic-weave engraving. The polished interlacing pattern contrasts brilliantly against a darker stippled background. Up close it evinces precise and soulful handwork. From afar it is even more seductively appealing. Properly timed screws, gold-accent cocking indicators, and handsome fences complete the package.
I removed one lockplate to get an inside look. The lock’s bridle was flawless and shared the same Celtic pattern. The robust hammer and internals were cleanly polished and properly aligned. There were a few stray filing marks on the mainspring, and the jeweling not did not evidence a precise pattern—likely never to be seen but worth noting. The stock inletting was oil finished, and the geometry was excellent, albeit a bit roughhewn in spots. The remainder of the action was a masterwork of handcraft. The action face and flats were highly polished, and the case-colored disc-set strikers were a nice aesthetic touch against the polished steel. The knuckle was equally well executed, with the robust ejector cams fitted with no detectable wobble or play. Lock-up was undeniably solid, with the bolt engaging two bites in the barrel lumps. The gold, single, non-selective mechanical trigger broke crisply at 4 pounds for the right barrel and 4½ for the left. The engraved trigger guard had a lovely rolled edge for a right-handed shooter. The manual safety was smooth, and when engaged revealed a gold “S.” It is worth noting that the toplever was a touch sticky to open. Nothing egregious but noticeable.
The 32" barrels were gorgeous. They were well struck, uniformly polished and blemish free. The bluing had a lustrous satiny matte finish. The muzzles were filed to perfection with no gaps. The hand-filed “level flat rib” tapered from 7mm to 4mm and sported a single brass bead at the muzzles. “Pedro Arrizabalaga – Elgoibar” was engraved in gold on the rib in front of a bit of Celtic engraving. The top and bottom ribs’ jointure at the barrels was perfect. The Celtic engraving and gold accent around the barrels at the breech were enticing details. The chopper-lump barrels were well joined, with a barely visible seam. The draw, hook and bites were polished and impeccable. Southgate ejectors were expertly fit to the recesses on the breech and well timed, and they fired hulls a good 10 feet during test-firing.
The bores measured .740", so over-bored from the nominal .729". The forcing cones measured 1½". The Modified-choke right barrel measured .021"—a speck over the nominal .020". The Full-choke left barrel measured .039", so marginally more than the nominal .035". A polished-steel Holland & Holland–style coil-spring self-opener sat between the forearm lug and barrel lumps. It was robust and required the slightest bit of muscle to overcome when closing the gun after reloading. I asked Dan Moore if the barrels were steel safe. He replied, “You can shoot steel only if you relieve the chokes or install choke tubes. Most of the self-opening guns have nickel chromium tubes and are therefore not chrome lined.”
The stock was a striking piece of walnut with waves of delicious dark figure. The hand-rubbed low-gloss oil finish fully filled the grain. Measurements were: 151⁄6" length of pull to a checkered butt, 17⁄16" drop at comb, 2⅛" drop at heel, ⅜" cast-off and 4° of pitch. The pistol grip had a nice gentle curve, and the reach and wrist made for ideal hand placement. The right-hand palm swell was a bit aggressive for my taste but hardly uncomfortable. The long trigger tang extended the full length of the grip and terminated at a grip cap. The cap had a glorious engraved border, and there was space for initials, a crest or a portrait of a favorite dog. Overall, the wood-to-metal fit was impressive, with no discernable gaps or proud wood. It was especially well done around the lockplates. There was a slight mismatch at the head of the stock near the bottom of the action that was forgivable.
If I had to quibble, it would be about some shortcomings in the woodwork. The checkering on the stock was crisp, felt pleasant and offered a secure grip, but there were a noticeable number of overruns and rake marks beyond the borders. The borders also had inconsistent depth in places, likely the result of clean-up cuts. More disturbing was the asymmetry of the teardrops, points of the borderline Vs and the pattern on the checkered butt. Asymmetry should not be an issue on a $49,000 gun.
Fortunately, the beavertail forearm was devoid of most of the anomalies of the buttstock. It filled the hand without being cumbersome and had an elegant taper back to the action. The wood and finish were commensurate to the buttstock. The fit of the two escutcheons was meticulous. The polished-steel Anson-style release worked effortlessly with a gentle push yet sacrificed nothing in terms of security. It was an absolute triumph! The iron was precisely inlet internally but showed perceptible gaps externally.
I wanted to shoot birds with this gun. Unfortunately, time constraints limited me to a brief session at the patterning board and several clays stations before I had to return it. I grabbed several boxes of Winchester Super Target 2¾" 1-oz loads of No. 8s at 1,180 fps. Barrel convergence was exemplary, and the gun shot a flat 50/50 pattern. It was spot on. I shot a variety of targets, including crossers, straight-aways, high incomers and a few rabbits. While the gun balanced just in front of the hinge pin, the weight was evenly distributed in the hands. It came to my face almost effortlessly, and its liveliness belied its weight. I was able to point instinctively at high birds and get on straight-aways in an instant. Crossers and rabbits are like Kryptonite to me, but the deliberate swing and momentum of the long barrels had me busting some that I normally miss. When I did my job, I was able to dust targets with both the Modified and Full chokes. I’m also happy to report that recoil was negligible, and the gun was exceptionally comfortable to shoot. I think the same would have been true with stouter loads. A few lucky cohorts tagged along and concurred with my thoughts about this nimble gun.
I returned the Arrizabalaga to William Larkin Moore & Sons in its leather-trimmed Negrini hard case. As I considered my overall impressions of the gun, I was reminded of John Keats, who wrote: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Keats also postulated that “The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate . . . .” While the folks at Arrizabalaga may not have entirely achieved Keats’s ideal, they came damn close. The design and execution of this shotgun are astounding. There is no part out of place, and it is a wand in the hands and a delight to shoot. Certainly a thing of beauty designed to last forever.
Make & Model: Arrizabalaga SLE Pigeon Gun
Action: Holland & Holland seven-pin sidelock, assisted opener
Finish: Coin finish with Extra Quality Celtic-weave engraving with gold
Barrel Length: 32"
Weight: 7 pounds 15 ounces
Chokes: Modified & Full
Stock: 15 1/16" x 1 7/16" x 2 1/8", with 4° pitch and 3/8" cast-off
Accessories: Negrini leather-trimmed hard case
Price as tested: $49,000