By Bruce Buck
Giulio Bernardelli’s family has been in the Italian gunmaking business in the Gardone, Val Trompia, area for 200 years. Other makers under the Bernardelli family name who have exported to the US have included Vincenzo, Pietro and L. Santina.
Photographs Courtesy of Heka by Giulio Bernardelli
Giulio has been making fine guns in his shop since 2010. Like many small makers, he outsources some of his work to local artisans, of which there are many in his area of Italy. His shop, Heka by Giulio Bernardelli (Heka was the ancient Egyptian god of magic), produces 15 to 25 custom-made double-barreled guns each year. The range includes over/unders, express rifles, side-by-sides and hammerguns.
Double Guns of Nashville imports these excellent guns, and co-founder Barry Rich was kind enough to loan us a Giulio Bernardelli 28-gauge hammergun to review. This particular gun retails for $22,900, but since virtually everything about it is custom, the price can vary depending on the preferences of the buyer. This hammergun, like the other guns the shop makes, is available in most gauges. But face it: If you want cute and cool and can start with a handmade side-by-side hammergun, a 28-gauge is about as classy a boutique gun as you can get.
The action starts out as a solid chunk of steel that is then CNC’d to proper dimensions. There are no cast parts. The hardware on the gun comes from the same steel as the receiver. After that it is all skilled handfitting. As a hammergun, it is a true sidelock configuration, and it is a bar action, because the mainsprings are located forward of the locks in the bar of the action. The action itself is tiny and truly sized for the 28 gauge. The exterior hammers catch your eye and give the action more visual width, but there is no question that this is a sub-gauge.
The 28-gauge shell may be small, but the lockup treats it seriously. Our gun had the usual side-by-side Purdey double lumps, with the square-notch underbites engaging the sliding bolt. The double lumps also go through the bottom of the receiver, to provide additional passive lockup. And then, just to make sure, they added a Greener crossbolt and its rib extension. This gun will not be shooting loose anytime soon.
Our gun had conventional double triggers, but a single trigger or “single/double” trigger is available. Giulio describes his single/double trigger as a double trigger where the front trigger fires the right barrel on the first pull and the left barrel on the second pull. The rear trigger fires only the left barrel. Trigger pulls on the test gun were 5 pounds on the right barrel and 4 pounds on the left. Of course, the buyer can stipulate whatever he wants. The pulls were extraordinarily crisp, with absolutely zero creep or take-up.
Since this is a modern hammergun, it comes with a conventional top tang safety. Old hammerguns usually had no safeties. The theory was that you simply cocked the hammers when you were ready to shoot. That’s fine for the controlled environment of driven shooting where you have time to get ready but more difficult when dealing with fast-flushing upland birds for which the 28 gauge is intended. This modern safety makes the little Bernardelli as quick to shoot as any gun made. The safety is manual, not automatic, so it must be intentionally engaged, but it won’t drive you crazy when shooting clay targets either.
A few modern hammerguns are self-cocking on opening, but this one is strictly manual. The gun is fitted with manual extractors as standard, not automatic ejectors. They certainly make the action less complicated. These extractors did lift the hulls well clear of the breech face, so pulling them out was easy. If you prefer automatic ejectors, just order your gun that way. The gun can be safely opened with the hammers in cocked or fired position.
The barrels on our test gun were 30", but you can have what you wish. Personally, I thought this length was ideal for the balance and handling of the gun. Even though the gun weighed only 5 pounds 5.6 ounces, it wasn’t whippy, thanks to the stabilizing weight of the barrels. It did balance on the hinge pin, but the longish barrels gave it the feel of a bit more forward bias when swinging on a target. A classic hand-filed flat rib tops the barrels but does not rise above them.
Handsome is as handsome does certainly applies to this 28.
The barrels are joined by the “demi-bloc” method, which is Euro-speak for chopper-lump. Morris Hallowell’s most excellent firearms dictionary notes that, compared to monoblock or dove-tailing, this jointure is the strongest in relation to its weight and permits the rear of the barrels to be fitted slightly closer together to facilitate proper barrel regulation.
Our gun’s barrels had chromed bores of .553", close to the 28-gauge nominal inside diameter of .550". Both barrels measured the same, which isn’t always the case. The chokes on this gun were fixed. They measured .009" (about Improved Cylinder) on the right barrel and .018" (about Improved Modified) on the left. This is a typically European ¼- and ¾-choke setup and would be very effective at 25 and 35 yards. The chokes were about 2½" long with a 1" parallel, to stabilize the shot. Screw chokes are available.
Our test gun’s stock had a 14¾" length of pull, with 1-3/8" drop at comb and 2½" drop at heel. Of course, you can order what you wish. The gun came with a classic English stock and splinter forearm, as befits a little jewel of this quality. Mr. Bernardelli obviously has access to some killer walnut, as our gun’s stock and forend both were heavily figured in matching grains.
As you would expect on a gun of this quality, the hand checkering and oil finish were flawless. The inside of the forend was finished to the same exceptional level as the outside. The wood-to-metal inletting was correct, being flush where it should be and a little proud where that was required. I particularly liked the checkered butt, so suitable on a little gun. There was also an absolutely gorgeous inletted trigger tang that went halfway down the underside of the stock.
Make & Model: Giulio Bernardelli Hammergun
Action: Sidelock hammergun
Finish: Silver receiver with 50-percent engraving, blued barrels
Barrel length: 30"
Weight: 5 pounds 5 ounces
Chokes: Fixed IC & IM
Stock: English, oil finish, 14¾" LOP, 13/8" DAC, 2½" DAH
Accessories: Takedown leather case, cleaning rod, chamber brush, three screwdrivers, oil bottle, five-year warranty
Price as tested: $22,900
The receiver, top and bottom tangs and hammers were left a muted silver that went perfectly with the slightly matte bluing of the barrels. The engraving of the action was what you might expect on a gun of this price. There was about 50-percent coverage in a perfectly executed rose & scroll pattern signed by engraver L. Bertella. Of course, the engraver and engraving are personal choices.
The gun came packed in one of the nicest gun cases I have seen. The takedown case was made by Emmebi using a premium leather on a hardwood frame, with solid-brass fittings and a dark-blue baize interior. The case contained a stainless-steel oil bottle; stainless snap caps; and a cleaning rod, chamber brush and three fitted screwdrivers all made from rosewood, brass and steel. The case also had a leather-and-canvas protective outer cover.
Handsome is as handsome does certainly applies to this 28. When shooting, it was mechanically correct in all respects. That’s no surprise, because after each gun is made it is disassembled and reassembled twice to check that every detail is finished correctly. This care shows in the gun’s performance. But just to make sure, Double Guns of Nashville warrants the gun for five years.
That said, shooting a gun this light can be challenging until you become accustomed to its facile swing and lack of inertia. The light weight made it a breeze to carry, but that characteristic also requires some attention when shooting. Quick shots at short range were instinctive. Intermediate shots where a continuous swing and follow-through were needed required a bit more concentration, but the long barrels helped. At first I found the hammers in my sight picture disconcerting, but, as I became used to the gun, that cleared up. This is the kind of gun that you quickly will learn to shoot and appreciate.
You certainly can buy a gun as efficient as this for much less money. But that’s not the point. You want this gun not only for what it does, but also for what it is: a truly functional work of art.