By Bruce BuckIn spite of the best efforts of our esteemed brethren in the medical community, the cure for gun lust has escaped discovery. The problem is certainly widespread among the shotgun cognoscenti who comprise our gentle readers. Though our preferences vary, beats there a heart so rational as to not crave a little 28-gauge side-by-side—one complete with double triggers, English stock, charming cosmetics and perfect balance at a most attractive price . . . with a lifetime guarantee? Such a gun is the subject of this review. Enter the Dickinson Arms Estate.
It all starts at the AKUS factory, in the town of Huglu, in southwestern Turkey. From previous reviews you may remember that name as the maker of the Smith & Wesson Elite Gold side-by-side, the Kimber Valier side-by-side and the Kimber Marias over/under (reviewed in Sept/Oct ’07, Sept/Oct ’05 and Sept/Oct ’06.) All are now defunct, as their importers saw more profit in the pistol craze. These were excellent guns and certainly showed that AKUS was capable of making good stuff.
Fortunately, it didn’t end there. Dickinson Arms, SKB and others now are importing various models of the AKUS shotgun line into the US. Dickinson brings in side-by-sides, over/unders, autoloaders and pumps. Our review gun is the AKUS-made Dickinson Estate side-by-side triggerplate rounded-action in 28 gauge. The current major retailers for Dickinson’s side-by-sides are Cabela’s and Pacific Sporting Arms. Estates come in 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410, with single or double triggers; English, round-knob or pistol-grip stocks; and in barrel lengths of 24", 26", 28" or 30". Prices run up to $1,700, but I have seen them new for less on GunsInternational.com. Two-barrel 20/28 or 28/.410 sets are about $2,400. The Plantation model is the same gun with engraved sideplates and nicer wood for around $2,100. The Dickinson Estate is very much like the Smith & Wesson Elite Gold except that the S&W listed for $2,350, came only in a fixed-choke 20-gauge and had slightly different engraving.
The Estate has a true rounded triggerplate action, not the typically square Anson & Deeley boxlock. The hammers, sears and leaf springs are fixed on the triggerplate rather than on cross pins as used on the A&D. This results in a wider triggerplate than the A&D but permits a nicely rounded action bottom for a comfortable field carry. The Germans and Austrians would call it a Blitz action. The Scots would find it somewhat similar in design to a MacNaughton, Dickson or McKay Brown. The actions are sized to the gauge, so the 28 actions are petite.
The action is properly case colored using bone and charcoal, not a cyanide dip. There is about 20-percent coverage of scroll engraving, which appears to be mechanically applied. More heavily engraved Estate models in French gray with gold inlays are available at a higher cost. Internal parts are polished steel and very clean. The interior is easily accessible by removing the stock’s drawbolt and the long-tang trigger guard. The safety is manual.
Our two sample 28-gauge guns had double triggers, but a single non-selective trigger is available. On one gun trigger pulls were each 4¼ pounds, while the other’s were initially a good bit heavier at 6½ and 7¼. On both guns the triggers were very crisp, with little to no take-up or creep. When I called Dickinson about the heavier trigger pulls, I was told that since they were functional, they were not eligible for readjustment per the warranty. On the plus side, after a couple of flats of shells they softened up to 5½ and 6¼ pounds. That’s not ideal, but it is usable.
Action lockup is by the usual Purdey double underbolt. The automatic ejectors are of the standard Southgate design with the hammers and springs in the forend. These designs are proven beyond question.
One of our test guns had 30" barrels and the other 28", but they were identical otherwise. The difference in barrel weight was 2.2 oz and was quite noticeable when shooting. The total weight of the 28" gun was almost 5 pounds 8 ounces, while the 30" gun was a hair more than 5 pounds 11 ounces. The shorter gun was much faster handling, verging on being whippy, while the longer gun was more stable.
The barrels had screw chokes, which were short and flush-mounted. Having no wrench notches, they were virtually invisible when mounted. The downside is that they require a tapered Teague-style conical wrench, which is less convenient to use than a notched one.
Five chokes come with each gun. They are labeled Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full. Don’t believe everything you read. On the 30" barrels with their .545" bores (.550" is nominal for 28 gauge, but .545" is close enough), the chokes measured considerably more open than the labels indicated. The Modified was like Skeet, the Improved Modified like Improved Cylinder and the Full like Modified. The screw chokes did vary from gun to gun, as the 28" barrels’ Improved Cylinder and Modified were a little tighter but still too open. Clearly there is a consistency issue here. On the plus side fixed chokes can be specially ordered.
The barrels’ top ribs are the prominent tapered and slightly raised flat ribs popular on earlier American and today’s Italian side-by-side guns. They are not the elegant swamped ribs used on English guns and their Spanish copies, which disappear between the barrels. The top of the rib is mechanically scribed to reduce glare, and there is a classic brass bead up front. Barrel bluing is high gloss, and the solder seams were flawless. Barrels are chrome lined and safe for steel shot, though No. 2 and larger steel should not be used through anything tighter than Modified choke. They have normal forcing-cone lengths and 2 ¾" chambers.
The wood on our two samples varied between slightly and modestly figured. The 28" gun was a couple of years old and had a high-gloss synthetic finish. The 30" gun was newly purchased and had an attractive oil finish. High-gloss synthetic is great until you get some dings in it. Then it’s hard to repair. Linseed oil is the classic. It looks good and is easily repaired. Unfortunately, AKUS applied only a thin coat, which quickly wore through to expose bare wood. The importers said that they were aware of this problem. I gave the gun a half-dozen coats of Tru-Oil, and all was well.
Both of our guns were English stocked—measured by my Combo Gauge at 14 ¾" length of pull, with 1 3⁄8" drop at comb, 2 1⁄8" drop at heel, a touch of right-hand cast and the usual 4° of pitch. Other Dickinson Estate stocks I’ve tried have been up to 1⁄8" lower, but that is pretty consistent considering how walnut can move as it ages. Checkering is a traditional pattern and appears machine-cut at 24 lines per inch. The stocks have checkered butts for a classic look and a little weight savings. The forends have a slight lip at the front, and they attach with a Deeley latch rather than the usual Anson pushbutton.
Estates come in a faux-suede takedown zippered case suitable for the car. It contains the gun in cloth sleeves, a small plastic box for the chokes and wrench, and a very basic manual that contains an always helpful exploded view. The included warranty states that defects in material or workmanship are covered for two years, but when I called Dickinson Arms, I was told that that was incorrect and that the warranty was for life. Well done!
Shooting the guns was an education. The 28" gun performed correctly in all mechanical respects. The 30" gun’s heavy triggers caused issues at first but lightened up with use. This gun functioned perfectly with shells using Winchester primers, but initially it failed to fire about 10 percent of the time with shells using Cheddite, Fiocchi or Nobel Sport primers. After a couple of flats of ammo the gun improved to only occasionally fail to ignite the imported primers.
Handling of the 28" gun was very quick. It would be nice for close-cover work on grouse or woodcock, but its weight of 5½ pounds made it jumpy for longer work. The 30" gun was easier to handle and shoot in most situations. It was still light, yet the greater forward bias made it swing better. My general rule of thumb is that the lighter the gun, the more of its weight I want up front—and the 30" gun bore this out.
I used the 30” gun on Georgia plantation quail during a Shooting Sportsman Readers & Writers hunt. Twenty-eight is the quail gauge, and the Estate was a delight. The rounded receiver was comfortable to carry. The 30" barrels were no handicap on short shots, because the gun was so light, yet they greatly aided longer shots when trying for the second bird of a double.
In all the Dickinson Estate side-by-sides are very nice guns. They are extremely attractive and look like far more expensive guns. There are enough optional configurations to please just about anyone, and at less than $1,700 the price is certainly right. While there might be occasional flaws, they aren’t major ones. And of course there is that lifetime guarantee.
For more information, contact Dickinson Arms, 805-978-8565