Dickinson Arms currently sells a complete line of side-by-side, over/under, semi-auto and pump shotguns. The guns are made by AKUS, in Turkey. In the March/April 2017 issue we reviewed the excellent Estate 28-gauge side-by-side, and since then this gun has proven extremely popular. In addition to Dickinson, AKUS supplies guns to Webley & Scott and SKB. Kimber and Smith & Wesson also carried AKUS guns in the past. AKUS is in the vanguard of Turkish production and produces excellent guns at a good price.
This time we will be looking at Dickinson’s Royal sidelock O/U 20-gauge with 28" barrels. The Royal comes in 12 or 20 gauge with 24", 26", 28" or 30" barrels. The MSRP for our 20 is $5,465, though a little searching on the Internet will produce lower prices from some vendors.
The first thing I noticed about the Royal was that it seemed similar to the Kimber Marias that I reviewed in September/October 2006. And by similar, I mean very similar. Kimber’s Marias sidelock O/U also was made by AKUS.
When looking at the Royal, you immediately will be drawn to its hand-detachable sidelocks. Sidelocks always have been considered the upper crust of shotguns, and their prices often reflect that. Beretta’s sidelock O/U series runs from $32,500 for the SO5 up to $120,000 for the SO10. Connecticut Shotgun’s marvelous A-10 sidelock O/Us start at about $15,000.
Originally, a sidelock that was hand-detachable had the advantage of easy mainspring replacement. This was important in the days when mainsprings had limited lives. With today’s modern steels, mainsprings last much longer. Another plus to the sidelock is that it provides a larger canvas for the engraver’s art. I also have heard that the sidelock trigger geometry can provide better trigger pulls and lock times, though I can’t verify this.
One disadvantage of the sidelock in an over/under is that the hammers are on the sideplates, so the firing pins must move at angles to strike the cartridges. An angled strike is potentially a weaker one. This is not the case with a sidelock side-by side because of the horizontal barrel placement. That said, with today’s advanced metals, there is little practical difference.
The sidelocks on our Royal were detached easily by turning the exterior thumbscrew by hand. Then the offside lock was pushed out, the screw was reinserted through the action from the open side and the other lock was pushed out. The interior of each lock is simple, consisting of the bridle holding the hammer, the rear-facing mainspring and the sears. The rear-facing mainspring means that the action is technically a back-action sidelock. Having the leaf springs face rearward instead of to the front permits thicker and stronger receiver sidewalls. The inside of the sidelock plate is nicely engine turned, and the five screws holding the bits in place are nitre blued. In all, it is simple, efficient and a credit to CNC machining.
Double triggers are available, but our sample had the optional single trigger. The single trigger was not selective. It operated the bottom barrel first and the top barrel on the second pull. The trigger was mechanical, not inertial, so it did not require recoil from the first shot to switch to the second barrel. Our gun’s trigger pulls were 3½ pounds on the bottom barrel and 5 pounds on the top, and they were nice and crisp with almost no creep. The safety was manual, not automatic.
The action is case colored using the traditional bone-and-charcoal method. There is about 25-percent coverage of light English scroll engraving. I was informed that the engraving is done by hand. That said, the engraving is so shallow that the case coloring hides it unless you look closely. Deeper and more involved hand engraving is available at extra cost.
The barrels are joined at the rear by the usual monoblock. Hinging is based on the common Boss-style, replaceable, side stub hinges on the receiver engaging cutouts in the monoblock. Locking is by a Browning-type, low-mounted, full-width tongue engaging a slot on the bottom of the monoblock. There are also two passive monoblock lugs that engage cutouts going through the bottom of the receiver. This is a common locking system on many current Italian O/Us. The designs of the ejectors and ejector springs built into the monoblock are also pretty standard. The sides of the monoblock are engine-turned for better oil retention.
The barrels have 3" chambers and short forcing cones. Both bores measured .625" from forcing cone to choke, which is about .010" overbore from the nominal 20-gauge .615". The bores are chrome lined and suitable for steel shot from Modified on down. Five flush-mounted 2"-long screw chokes are included. Cylinder had a constriction of -.006", Improved Cylinder .006", Modified .615", Improved Modified .022" and Full .028". According to Briley’s choke chart, these constrictions are a bit open in C and IC and a bit snug in IM and F. That said, patterns depend as much on the shells being used as on the constriction. The interior choke design is a constant taper from an overbore .635" at the rear rim forward to a ½" parallel where the choke is at the front. There are no notches on the rims of the chokes, so a smooth tapered wrench is used. No notches also means that you have to remember which chokes you put where, because you can’t tell by looking at the muzzles.
The barrel exteriors were nicely blued and completely free of cosmetic imperfections. Solder seams were correct and without holidays. Side ribs are solid and full length. The top rib is a low, flat, narrow field rib of .31" untapered width front to rear. It is ventilated and machine etched on the top, to reduce glare. There is a simple brass bead up front and, as befits a field gun, no center bead. The exteriors of the barrels at the muzzles show no visible bulges to accommodate the screw chokes.
The slender Schnabel forend attaches to the barrel via a Deeley pull-down latch. A beavertail forend is available, if you wish. Our stock was a Prince of Wales round knob, though English or pistol-grip stocks are available. I’d rate the walnut figure on our gun as a 3½ out of 5. Stock dimensions were: 14¾" length of pull, 1 7⁄16" drop at comb, 2 3⁄16" drop at heel. There was just a little bit of right-hand cast, about ¼" of toe-out and 2" of pitch. If these dimensions don’t suit you, custom stocks can be ordered.
Checkering on the stock and forend was a fine 24-LPI in a basic borderless pattern. The buttstock was checkered and pad free. The teardrops behind the sidelocks were cleanly cut. In fact, all the wood-to-metal jointure was very well executed, with no spaces, overages or holidays anywhere. The stock finish is said to be oil, and it was nicely applied, bringing out the different hues of the walnut grain. The oil finish completely filled the walnut’s grain for a very smooth finish.
The Dickinson Royal comes in a soft-sided, brown-suede, zippered takedown case. The case is attractive and perfectly suitable for the car, but I would be reluctant to subject it to airport baggage handling. In addition to containing the gun with barrels and stock in cloth sleeves, the case houses a small box for the chokes, the wrench and a very basic manual. On the plus side, the manual does show how to remove and reinstall the sidelocks. The gun comes with a lifetime warranty from Dickinson USA. In my experience, the warranty service is excellent.
As with all guns, shooting brought out pros and cons. The 28" 20-gauge Royal weighed 6 pounds 14 ounces, which is a nice weight for a 12-gauge field gun but obese for a 20. A 20-gauge field gun ought to be around 6¼ pounds. The whole reason to go to a 20-gauge is to carry a lighter gun. The non-selective single trigger prevents quick choke selection, which can be a disadvantage at times in the field.
Make & Model: Dickinson Arms Royal
Action: Sidelock over/under
Finish: Case colored, English scroll, 25-percent coverage
Barrel length: 28"
Weight: 6 pounds 14 ounces
Chokes: Five flush-mount screw-ins
Stock: Prince of Wales grip, checkered butt
Accessories: Case, chokes, wrench, manual, lifetime warranty
Price as tested: $5,465
The configuration of the Schnabel forend could cause problems, as the lip is extremely sharp and thin. Not only is this fragile for a field gun, but it also limits forehand placement for those who extend their index finger on the forearm.
On the plus side, the gun was mechanically correct in all respects and never failed to fire or eject properly, even when inflicted with some of my dubious light reloads. The balance point was an inch in front of the hinge, giving the gun enough weight forward to be steady but not so much as to slow it down or make it hard to shift between targets when shooting a pair.
In all, the Dickinson Royal is a good-looking true sidelock O/U at an attractive price. It worked properly and handled well. And the best feature is that you can easily remove the sidelocks to impress your friends.
For more information, contact Dickinson Arms.
Photograph courtesy of Dickinson Arms