Kolar has quite the reputation for making target guns, and it is well deserved. Whereas many of today’s target guns started life as field guns, Kolar began with single-purpose target guns. In the early 1990s the company began building the 90-T single-barrel trap gun for Remington, but in 1996 Don Mainland decided to build his own target gun at his plant in Racine, Wisconsin.
I reviewed the Kolar Nickel Standard Sporter in the May/June 2008 issue. It sold for $8,995 with screw chokes. This time our review gun is the Kolar Max Clays sporter, which was introduced last June and retails in its standard version for $12,595. Our sample added $1,000 worth of upgraded wood and $695 for its high-polish blue receiver finish, plus $5,400 for an extra set of carrier barrels and sub-gauge tubes. In total, the test gun retails for just less than $20,000.
The gun is similar in many ways to the Nickel Standard Sporter, but there are some changes that have been made in the past 14 years. Kolars always have had the reputation of being hefty and durable. That hasn’t changed. The entire action is CNC’d from a solid piece of 4140 chrome-moly steel. The outside of the receiver on the Max Clays is now slightly rounded on the bottom instead of squared. It has no engraving other than the name “KOLAR” on each side. As mentioned, the receiver on our gun was bright blued at extra cost, but satin nickel or matte blue are standard.
Mainland is said to have considered the actions of many different shotguns before designing the Kolar. The action is a bit wider than Beretta’s and Browning’s and of normal height. Lockup is by two Beretta-style mid-breech plugs that emerge from the face of the breech and engage halfway up the rear of the monoblock. Also like Berettas there are no added stationary lugs on the bottom, as you see on Brownings. But you can see the Perazzi influence with the recesses on each side of the monoblock that engage lugs on the sides of the receiver. Hinging is on the usual two round hinge stubs engaging semicircular cutouts in the sides of the monoblock. The monoblock cutouts incorporate replaceable disks on each side that can snug up the fit of the lugs if that area ever wears. The action appears to be exceptionally sturdy and is clearly built for many, many rounds, as befits a dedicated target gun. Kolar’s confidence in the gun is reflected in the lifetime warranty it carries.
The trigger hasn’t really changed since ’08. It is detachable via a single Allen screw at the rear using the supplied Allen wrench. It uses this screw so that it can’t come out by accident but is easily accessible. The trigger blade is adjustable fore and aft for about 3⁄8", to suit different hands and finger lengths. The barrel selector is a lateral toggle just behind the trigger.
The trigger mechanism has been awarded a number of patents. The interior of the mechanism appears to be identical to that in the past with small exceptions. On this trigger the crosspins are not tacked in place with a tiny center punch as was done previously, because this was found to be unnecessary. Sears are still heat-treated and titanium-nitrided for long life. Hammers are driven by internally braced horizontal coil springs.
The trigger is mechanical and does not require recoil to set the second sear. This way it operates properly with .410 tubes. Pull weights on the trigger were 3¾ pounds on the bottom barrel and 4 pounds on the top. Pulls were exceptionally crisp, with no slop or overtravel. This is a marvelous trigger.
While the action is important, it’s really the barrels that make any shotgun. The new barrels are a bit lighter than before. Our test gun came with two sets of 32" barrels (30" tubes are available as well). The first set was in 12 gauge and the second was a carrier barrel designed to house sub-gauge tubes.
Kolar lists the Max Clays barrels as coming in at a light 1,550 grams (3 pounds 6.67 ounces) with a flat rib, but it isn’t mentioned whether these are 30" or 32" barrels. Our gun had a raised rib instead of the standard flat rib, and the 32" barrels weighed 3 pounds 8.7 ounces. An adjustable tapered-ramp rib is also available.
The barrels are split, with no side ribs. There is a mid-hanger and an adjustable front hanger. This is most important, as it allows the adjustment of barrel conversion so that both barrels shoot to the same point of impact. You would be amazed how many factory over/under barrels do not shoot close together.
The bores of the barrels are listed as .740", and that’s exactly what they were. This is a slight overbore from the 12-gauge nominal .729" but nothing outlandish. Forcing cones were every bit of 4". This is exceptionally long and is intended to allow a smooth transition from chamber to bore, to preserve shot roundness and produce better patterns. The barrels are also chrome lined for ease of maintenance and durability.
Make & Model: Kolar Max Clays
Gauge: 12 gauge plus a carrier barrel with sub-gauge tubes
Finish: High-gloss blue
Barrel length: 32"
Weight: 8 pounds 13.3 ounces
Chokes: 5 in 12 gauge, 4 per tube set, shooter’s choice
Stock: 14¾" x 1¾" x 2¼", adjustable cheekpiece
Accessories: Case, chokes, wrenches for stock and trigger and chokes, lifetime warranty
Price as tested: $14,290 plus carrier barrel and tubes for $5,400
Up front are titanium extended screw chokes. Titanium is a great choice, because it is lightweight yet very strong. The chokes are a full 3" long, with ½" of that extending from the muzzle. They are notched to receive the adequate metal wrench supplied. Five conical-parallel chokes of your choice are included. Extra chokes are $95 each.
Our test gun came with an optional set of carrier barrels and sub-gauge tubes at an extra cost of $5,400. Each set of different-gauge tubes comes with four chokes of your choice. The carrier barrel is not designed to shoot 12-gauge shells. It is meant to be shot only with tube sets of the different sub-gauges. The chamber rims have been altered so as not to accept 12-gauge shells.
The carrier barrels look exactly the same as the 12-gauge barrels from the outside, so the sight picture is identical between the two. Whereas the 12-gauge barrels weighed 3 pounds 8.7 ounces, the carrier barrels with 20-gauge tubes and extended chokes were 3 pounds 12.1 ounces. This raised the overall gun weight from 8 pounds 13.3 ounces to 9 pounds .7 ounce. That’s an increase of 3.4 ounces, an amount small enough to be hardly noticeable when you swap barrels back and forth. We got only 20-gauge tubes with the gun, so the 28 and .410 tube sets may have slightly different weights.
The wood on our gun was a gorgeous blond with dark stripes. It was a $1,000 upgrade, but $2,000 and $3,000 upgrades are available. The stock had an adjustable cheekpiece, which is standard on this gun, so you can set it to any height you wish. At the lowest setting, stock height was 1¾" at the comb and 2¼" at the heel. Length from the trigger in the rear position to the back of the ¾" rubber buttpad was 14¾". The stock had a good bit of right-hand cast and normal pitch. Left-hand stocks are available. There was a large, vertical pistol grip, quite common on target guns. The forend is 11" long and of medium target thickness. Its front end is smooth, so shooters can place their left hands and fingers anywhere they wish.
Checkering on the grip and forend is quite fine and applied in an attractive curving pattern. The finish was glossy, clear and perfectly applied, with no skips or grain pores showing. It was an absolutely first-rate job. The inside of the forend had a protective coat of finish, but the inside of the head of the stock was bare of finish and thus oil-prone.
I was able to break targets with aplomb.
Our Max Clays package came in an attractive PVC-and-leather Negrini case with two compartments. The top compartment held six sub-gauge tubes. The bottom had the stock, forend and the two sets of barrels plus a stock wrench, trigger wrench and choke boxes with wrenches. As mentioned, the warranty is lifetime.
A gun like this is all about shooting and shooting well. At first I found that the raised rib gave me a 60/40 point of impact, as it was designed to do. However, since I prefer the standard flat rib and a 50/50 impact, once I pushed my head down a bit farther, I was able to break sporting clays targets with aplomb. The adjustable cheekpiece was handy and adjusted to my face and stance easily. There were no malfunctions of any kind. Ejected hulls from both barrels flew in pairs about six feet.
I could tell no real difference when switching from the 12-gauge barrels to the carrier barrels with 20-gauge tubes. Breaks seemed just as good, and the gun’s sight picture and handling were the same. The transition really was seamless. But that’s the whole point of a carrier barrel.
The Kolar Max Clays is a dedicated target gun for those who are serious about shooting well for a long time. Priced along with Perazzi and Krieghoff, this custom-made American shotgun can hold its own with any clays gun.
For more information, contact Kolar.
Bruce Buck’s most recent book, Shotguns on Review, is available for $30 from rowman.com.