There is one thing that Orvis is really known for. The company offers the good stuff. Orvis has been around since 1856, when it was a single tackle shop, and it is the oldest mail-order retailer in the US. I went to college near the original Orvis store, in Manchester, Vermont, and have been an appreciative customer for many years.
So I was very interested when Orvis sent me its new Heritage Side-by-Side shotgun. It retails for $4,199 and comes in 20 gauge with 28" or 30" barrels. Our test gun had the 28" tubes. When I received the gun, I thought it looked a lot like the new Fabarm Autumn side-by-side, which lists for $4,425, and it is indeed basically the same gun. Orvis doesn’t make guns. The company gets them from manufacturers in the models and with the options it chooses, and then it sells them under its name, guarantee and backing.
The Heritage is a mostly unadorned boxlock. Its beauty comes from its form, not exterior eye candy. The action interior looks a little busier than some, but that’s mostly due to the large flat levers that activate the ejector rods. Other than that, it is the usual hammers pivoting on the triggerplate, sears suspended from the top strap and horizontal coil springs. This is all tried-and-proven boxlock side-by-side stuff. The Heritage does have intercepting sears, which is a real safety plus if the gun is dropped.
The locking system’s active locking bolt is a flat Browning-style 11⁄8"-wide plate located at the bottom of the receiver that engages the monoblock just under the ejectors. Passive lockup is accomplished by four large lugs on the underside of the monoblock that engage cutouts in the bottom of the receiver. This should prove exceptionally durable. Hinging is via semicircular cutouts on the front two passive lugs engaging the hinge pin, which crosses the lower front of the action.
Our test gun had a single trigger, but double triggers are available for an extra $399. I was surprised at this price difference. The single trigger is inertia operated and needs the recoil of the first shot to set the second sear. Trigger-pull weights were both a measured 4¾ pounds with minimal creep or overtravel. The safety goes on automatically when the gun is opened. This way you won’t forget to put it on in the field, but it will drive you loony when you practice on clays before bird season.
The exterior of the receiver is dark blued like the rest of the gun. It is nicely laser engraved in an ornamental floral pattern but, being almost black on black, you have to get close to appreciate it. On each side in small gold letters is “ORVIS,” while on the bottom of the short trigger guard is Fabarm’s symbol of a small gold lion.
The receiver is nicely rounded on the bottom for a comfortable field carry. The rear of the receiver where it joins the stock head is attractively curved rather than being flat. This extra touch gives the gun a nice look. Wood-to-metal fit here was excellent, as it was elsewhere on the gun.
The gun comes with a classy English straight grip, and the wood quality on our test gun was nicely figured Turkish walnut—clearly a step up but not over the top. The finish is said to be oil, and it was light enough to show the grain to full advantage. Like most Italian guns, the finish didn’t have quite enough coats to fully fill the pores in the walnut, but it wasn’t obvious. Checkering is mechanically applied in a high-lines-per-inch conventional pattern. It does the job of providing a decent non-slip grip without detracting from the classic simplicity of the gun. As is so befitting on a field gun, the buttplate is a checkered piece of walnut designed to shoulder easily without snagging. The stock also has a nice long extended trigger tang, so appropriate on a classic side-by-side.
The stock on our gun had a 14¾" length of pull, a 19⁄16" drop at comb and a 211⁄16" drop at heel—a bit different from the dimensions listed in the catalog. There was about 4° of pitch and 1⁄8" right-hand cast. A left-handed stock is available for an extra $160.
The forend configuration is exactly what you want on an upland gun. It is a minimalist splinter that is just big enough to provide a decent grip but not so large as to be clumsy. A proper Anson pushbutton attaches it and permits the front of the forend to be slender. The forend latch, which attaches to the barrel lug, can be replaced and tightened if the forend starts to loosen up.
The barrels are advertised as being “Tribore” with “hyperbolic” chokes. I measured our 20-gauge barrels and found that the chambers were 3", as advertised. The forcing cones in front of the chambers were a standard ½". But after that things got interesting. For the next 14" in front of the forcing cones, the barrel diameters were .636". That’s a whopping overbore compared to the nominal 20-gauge barrel diameter of .615". After that the bores tapered from .636" to .621" at the rear of the chokes.
Fabarm claims that its Tribore barrels result in greater pellet penetration than what’s delivered by overbore barrels, because they produce greater pellet speed. The company also claims better patterns. The open barrel-bore portion is said to deform fewer pellets and thus improve patterns, while the tightening of the forward bore increases velocity because of the Venturi effect. That’s like the increase in water velocity you get when tightening the nozzle of a garden hose.
I would feel very confident with this gun in the uplands.
Five screw chokes come with the gun. They appear to be stainless steel and are a long 3¼". Fabarm says that it is OK to use steel shot in all of them, including the Improved Modified and Full. Most gunmakers restrict steel in their chokes only up to Modified. I mic’d the choke constrictions as follows: Cylinder, -.005"; Improved Cylinder, .005"; Modified, .016"; Improved Modified, .022" and Full, .031". Comparing these to the Briley choke chart shows the IC to be a bit more open and the F a bit tighter, while the M and IM are standard. Of course, it all really depends on how they pattern, not how they measure, and so much of that depends on the particular shells used.
The chokes are said to be “hyperbolic.” While that means “exaggerated” in the literary sense, in the geometric sense, the way Fabarm uses it, it refers to multiple curves in the choke. Whereas most chokes have a straight taper constriction followed by a shot-stabilizing parallel, Fabarm hyperbolic chokes have a tightening and then an opening curve. The claim is that this produces better patterns and permits steel to be used even in the tightest chokes. The barrel bore is chrome lined for extra steel-shot protection.
The chokes are threaded up front and flush mounted. Each choke is notched on the front edge to accept the perfectly functional wrench supplied. The front edges also have small notches to designate the constriction, so that you can easily see which chokes are in place.
The outsides of the barrels were nicely blued, and I found the solder seams to be flawless. The top rib is swamped and lies low between the barrels. It is matted, to reduce glare. Up front there is an appropriate small steel bead, and there is no pointless mid-bead. In all, the barrels look the way they should on a side-by-side game gun. At the back ends, the tubes are fitted into the now-almost-universal monoblock, which contains the four locking lugs.
The Orvis Heritage comes in a Fabarm-labeled, zippered, cloth-covered takedown case with cloth sleeves for the gun, a plastic box for the five chokes and wrench, and a minimalist Fabarm owner’s manual. The Fabarm warranty on the Heritage is five years, but Orvis tops that with: “If you aren’t happy with a product or service, we want to know about it. And we’ll make it right.” Can’t beat that.
The gun functioned flawlessly in all respects. Trigger pulls were consistent, as was ejection. The safety was not overly difficult to disengage. Barrel convergence seemed correct. The gun’s centrally balanced weight of 6 pounds 4 ounces is about perfect for a 20-gauge side-by-side. It handled quickly without being whippy. The rounded receiver made for a comfortable carry. I would feel very confident with this gun in the uplands.
At more than $4,000, the Heritage is more than some Turkish boxlocks but less than the Italian Fausti DEA and about $1,000 less than the boxlock Beretta Parallelo and the Rizzini BR550. The Heritage is a good Italian side-by-side, and you can’t go wrong buying it from Orvis.
Make & Model: Orvis Heritage
Action: Boxlock side-by-side
Finish: High-gloss blue with laser engraving and gold lettering
Barrel length: 28"
Weight: 6 pounds 4 ounces
Chokes: 5 flush-mounted screw chokes
Stock: 14¾" x 19/16" x 211/16", 4° pitch, cast-off
Accessories: Case, chokes, choke wrench, 5-year warranty
Price as tested: $4,199