Although members of the Merkel family have been making shotguns in and around Suhl as far back as the 16th Century, as Editor at Large Clair Kofoed said in his two-part article “The Merkel Story” (Nov/Dec ’04 & Jan/Feb ’05), the current company traces its roots to the late 19th Century. For those who know the history of Merkel, the name evokes a stout, Teutonic legacy: fine guns robustly built and a multi-generational industrial shop that adapted and thrived through the most dynamic period of double-gun evolution. Merkel survived Germany’s losses in two world wars and the interminable years of the Cold War in Soviet-dominated East Germany, reemerging as a private enterprise in 1989.
Clair described his visit to the factory and the “mechanical marvel” of the house-size barrel-forging machine that produces all of the barrels for Merkel shotguns and rifles, converting a 24-inch billet of steel alloy into a chambered and choked shotgun tube in six minutes. That cold-hammer-forging process is still in place today, and Merkel makes all of its own barrels in-house.
Gun Review Editor Bruce Buck reiterated the point when reviewing a Merkel over/under in March/April 2005: “. . . I’ll simply start with the barrels, because they’re the most important part of any shotgun, and Merkel’s are exceptional.”
Ten years later the barrels are still most important, but in a competitive world that since has been swept by economic rises and falls, it now has become important to hitch those barrels to an entry-level side-by-side at a lower price. Accordingly, Merkel has introduced the side-by-side Model 40E in 12 and 20 gauge, with a limited quantity of 28-gauge guns also available, for an introductory price of $3,999.
The 40E is a clone—in its barrels and action—of other Merkel boxlocks that can cost nearly twice as much. It is every bit the gun but in plainer dress. Merkel ranks the 40E’s straight-grained wood a Class 2 on a scale that goes to 5; it has a utilitarian flat-oil finish and is capped with a plastic buttplate. The receiver has the same mustachioed profile of Germanic side bolsters flaring beneath the water table and behind the breech, but it is finished in a flat silver-nitrate gray. Partial coverage of the receiver in an unobtrusive Arabesque scroll is engraved by programmed lasers, whereas all of Merkel’s other models are at least partially carved by graver and by hand all the way up to the gorgeous, deeply carved game scenes that are archetypes of German shotgun aesthetics.
In the US, Steyr Arms has been Merkel’s sole importer since its acquisition of Merkel USA in 2010. Steyr’s headquarters, in Bessemer, Alabama, includes a 3,000-square-foot showroom with examples of most Merkel models and more than 50 double-barreled shotguns and a shop that is the warranty center and offers factory-authorized repair services.
“We wanted to come up with a gun with a good aesthetic at a good price point, and a gun that you could use and not worry about,” said Steyr Arms CEO Scott O’Brien. “So it’s a field-grade, good gun, but other than aesthetics, all of the internal mechanisms . . . everything is the same.”
At the heart of the 40E lie rust-blued, fixed-choke barrels formed on that cold-hammer forge and joined by monoblock construction with no visible seams. Current inventory includes the choke pairing of Improved Cylinder and Modified (½); ¼ and Improved Modified (¾); and Mod. and Full are also offered. Barrel lengths are metric equivalents of approximately 28” and 26-3/4”.
The 40E features an Anson & Deeley boxlock action with a Greener crossbolt as a third fastener. In 12 and 20 gauge it is available with a single selective trigger or double triggers and with a straight wrist or full pistol grip. Each has 3” chambers. So an upland purist can have a 20-gauge set up with double triggers and a straight grip, while a waterfowler or clays shooter can have the 12-gauge with a single-trigger/pistol-grip combo. Each 40E has an automatic safety and a splinter forend with a Deeley latch tucked underneath. The limited number of 28-gauge guns will be built on 20-gauge frames with 2-3/4” chambers and a choice of double triggers or non-selective single triggers.
The 40E is Merkel’s first new shotgun model in a decade and was designed to reduce craftsmen’s time for cost-competitiveness. “The 40E is meant to be our entry-level gun, but not [as a result of] cheapening it,” O’Brien said. “We wanted to have the same quality that you can get in an $8,000 gun but not at that price point.” The few visible screws are neatly timed and aligned, for example, and the trigger guard transitions into a full lower tang beneath the grip, a nice aesthetic touch for an entry-level gun.
As the importer, Steyr Arms is the sole source for warranty matters, service, repairs and accessories. Only the Merkel USA website (below) will show the guns as they are configured for sale here; the gunmaker’s German website includes guns configured for other markets.) For more information or to arrange a visit to the Alabama facility and showroom, contact Merkel USA, 205-417-8644; .
— Ed Carroll