July 2007

There’s nothing like reaching into your wallet to let folks know how you feel about a product. Harrington & Richardson’s Excell Auto (they were calling it the Auto 5 at the time) beckoned to me from a promo photo last year, and I was privileged to give the new import a try in July. Come September I bought one. Here’s why.

It’s patterned on the classic hump-backed semiautos that Franchi has built since the 1950s. H&R’s new guns are built in a state-of-the-art factory on SAAMI-spec CAD-CAM machines using CNC controls and priced for shooters who have to plan their purchases.

The Excell Auto is leading the charge in changing the way sportsmen react to the words “Turkish shotgun.” Up until now, those words connoted varied fit and finish and casual quality control. Not anymore. When Marlin took over what was left of H&R several years ago, it decided to use the brand to expand into new markets.

The handsome gun arrived with quite a few accessories. Shims for cast on/cast off were included, as were a lock, plug, choke wrench and four chokes. There was a flush-mount full choke in the tube and improved cylinder, improved modified and modified in clear plastic storage bottles.

Fit and finish were excellent. The checkering wasn’t English double grade, but neatly and tastefully rendered. I like the fit and balance of a Franchi (which reminds me of an 1100), and this was spot on. Pull is 14 1/4 inches, drop at the comb 1 1/2 and at the heel 23?8 inches. The alloy receiver saves weight and moves the center of gravity to a third of the way up the fore-end.

The ribbed barrel is topped by a cylindrical threaded brass bead, which I prefer to a white bead sight. Off a rest at 40 yards, 30 percent of the pattern struck above a horizontal line drawn through the center of the aiming circle and 70 percent hit below; from the standing position, it was 80 percent above and 20 percent below. It is surely a field gun, but one I can get used to on the range.

The gas cylinder can be reversed to reduce recoil when shooting magnum hunting loads. This feature also comes in handy when shooting trap and skeet. With the cylinder set for light loads, the hulls were spread in front and to the right at a distance of about six to eight feet. With the cylinder reversed and light loads, the gun either rechambers the hull or partially ejects it. This allows me to merely flip the gun and drop the hull into a waiting box at my feet–quite the labor-saving device when you don’t have a shell catcher. By the way, it takes only about 30 seconds to flip the cylinder, unscrew the mag cap, pull off the O-ring, stock and barrel, and turn over the piston.

During function checking, the Excell Auto was fed an absurd variety of old and new, light and heavy loads. It ate everything from Winchester’s classic AA Light Target through old PMC stuff to Heavy Trap Handicap and back to Federal Premium Sporting Clays, all without a hiccup. It even fired Hornady and Federal defensive buckshot loads as well as Remington high-based 3-inch hunting loads with the cylinder in both positions.

The Excell Auto’s alloy receiver makes for excellent handling, but it’s really nice to have recoil offset by the gas operation, which, with help from the buttpad, soaks up a lot of recoil. In an effort to collect a range of opinions, I offered the gun both to old-timers at the trap range as well as a first-time shooter.

Trap shooter Ron Christie took it to the 21-yard line and busted a 23 with it. “It’s light and has a great balance to it,” he said. “It’s a solid gun,” echoed Todd Olsen, a state-ranked doubles champ. His eyebrows shot up when I told him the price. “That makes it the perfect gun for the son or brother-in-law,” he added.

To get opinions from the opposite end of the experience spectrum, I invited beginner Amber Markovich and her boyfriend, Mike, to join me for casual plinking in the Mojave. Amber worked her way through most of a box of shells before her shoulder cried uncle. The rangy Mike loved it.

Having cast about for a working shotgun for more than two years, I knew I’d found a suitable mate when I first shot the Excell Auto. Next I want to try out the synthetic, waterfowl and turkey models. Other American brands are discovering the newer standards of quality firearms coming out of Asia Minor, but H&R 1871’s Excell Auto is the leader of the quality pack–at a price for the rest of us.

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