I was on my way to a hunt for Cape buffalo in Rhodesia in 1977 when I learned that the hunting of big game in Kenya had been banned by presidential decree. I had stopped over in Nairobi for a couple of days of sightseeing and found the bad news spread all over the front page of the newspaper.
Like many others who hoped to hunt Kenya someday, I was crushed by the thought of never having the opportunity. But wait long enough and good things sometimes happen. Little did I realize then that 34 years later I would actually enjoy a wonderful hunt in Kenya. But it would be a wingshooting safari rather than for the buffalo, elephant and lion I had long ago pined for.
Our adventure began at the old but still-magnificent Galana River Lodge, located on the north bank of the Galana River near Tsavo East National Park. If the name strikes a familiar chord with long-time readers of Guns & Ammo, itâ€™s because Galana is the same lodge Elmer Keith hunted out of back in 1968. Keith, Robert Petersen and Tom Siatos started their safari in Tanzania with professional hunters John Northcote and Nicky Blunt, and, after hunting there for a week, Elmer left the group and proceeded on to Kenya, where he hooked up with PH Mike Hissey.
The vulturine guinea fowl we started out on is neither for the slow of foot, nor the faint of heart. You donâ€™t casually move in to the point of a dog like a gentleman. Instead, you ride around in a Toyota Land Cruiser until a flock is spotted, leap from the car and load the gun.
Then you do your best to stay within sight of a tracker who flows effortlessly through dense thickets of wait-a-bit thornâ€”seemingly untouchedâ€”while your clothing is ripped to shreds. And since there is a darned good possibility of bumping into lion, buffalo or even elephant behind the next bush, a touch of insanity also helps.
Guinea fowl would rather run than fly, but if you push them hard enough and far enough, theyâ€™ll eventually take wing, at which point you will have only a few seconds to get off a few shots as you try to catch your breath. A light, quick-handling gunâ€”with firepowerâ€”is needed. And thatâ€™s what I had in Franchiâ€™s new Affinity autoloader.
Mine was in 20 gauge (itâ€™s also available as a 12), and in addition to holding more shells than I had time to shoot each time we managed to catch up to a flock of guineas, it worked to perfection, even when subjected to some of the dustiest conditions Iâ€™ve ever experienced.
Weighing a mere 5Â˝ pounds, it carried light, and the tough camo skin on its synthetic stock did a much better job of shrugging off scratches than did my own hide. The Twin Shock Absorber recoil pad with its cushiony gel insert is quite efficient at soaking up recoil from the heaviest 2Âľ- and 3-inch loads. Length options for the vent-ribbed barrels are 26 and 28 inches (12 gauge) and 26 inches in 20 gauge, all with a fiber-optic front sight.
I have not had an opportunity to measure bore diameter of the 12-gauge barrel, but the 20 gauge checked out at .620 inch, which is lightly overbored. Flush-fit chokes included with the gun measured .008 inch of constriction for the IC tube, .014 inch for the Modified and .020 inch for the Full.
The Inertia operating system of the new Franchi is almost a dead-ringer for the one made famous by various Benelli models. This comes as no surprise since the two are built at the same factory in Italy. Thereâ€™s only one difference, and thatâ€™s in the location of the Affinityâ€™s recoil springâ€”itâ€™s wrapped around the magazine tube instead of in the buttstock like the Benelliâ€™s.
A great feature shared by both brands is a shell-latch button at the bottom of the receiver; it allows the chamber to be quickly unloaded when crossing a fence and then just as easily reloaded.
A shim kit included with the Affinity allows its owner to adjust drop and pitch in the stock. Length of pull is 14Â˝ inches, but TSA recoil pads are available at extra cost for changing it to 14â…ś or 15 inches.
The Instinct Stackbarrel
After a week of hunting out of the lodge, we loaded up and headed to a wonderful safari-style tent camp set up in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is the land of the Masai, a proud people who still carry their traditional lion spears and continue to live much the same as they always have. They are some of the friendliest and most likeable people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Africa. We shot guinea fowl there as well, but they were the helmeted variety. We also added ring-necked doves, black-faced sand grouse and yellow-necked spurfowl to our bags. All offered quite a challenge for me and the other Franchiâ€”an over-underâ€”Iâ€™d switched to.
The Franchi Instinct comes in standard â€śLâ€ť grade with case-colored receiver and the fancier â€śLSâ€ť with its chromed receiver, light touches of engraving and prettier European walnut. It is an extremely handsome shotgun that borrows time-proven design details from other guns. The automatic H-pattern safety/barrel selector slide on its top tang is pure Browning Superposed.
Same goes for a locking bolt that emerges from the bottom of the standing breech to engage a recess machined into the barrel monobloc. Unlike the Superposed with its full-length hinge pin, the barrels of the Instinct hinge on replaceable trunnions located in the inner walls of the receiver. The use of trunnions usually results in a reduction of receiver depth, but the 20-gauge Instinct is actually about .100 inch taller than my Superposed of the same gauge. Even so, it is still trim enough to be a joy to carry in the field.
Bore diameters of the 20-gauge gun I shot measure .622 inch. Barrel length options are 26 and 28 inches in 12 gauge and 28 inches only in 20 gauge (the 20-gauge gun I shot actually measured 27Â˝ inches). Chambers are three-inch. The ventilated side ribs are as nicely done as the one sitting atop the barrel. The gun comes with IC, Mod and Full chokes, flush-fit on the L grade and extended on the SL. Actual constrictions are the same as I mentioned for the Affinity.
The blued finish is excellent, and the barrels were carefully struck at the factory with no dips or waves in their exterior surfaces. Fit between the buttstock with its Prince of Wales-style grip and the receiver leaves nothing to be desired. The cut checkering on the stock and forearm was well executed with not a single diamond left screaming to be pointed up. The forearm is attached to the barrels by a Deeley-style latch. The actionâ€™s lockup was bank-vault tight. The mechanical triggerâ€”which was quite crispâ€”consistently broke at six pounds on the lower barrel and 5Âľ pounds up top. The automatic ejectors sent fired cases flying without a single hitch, even when the chambers became quite dirty from a lot of shooting. The balance point of the gun with 28-inch barrels is 1ÂĽ inches forward of the hinge point.
The Instinct is light in weight as well. Even with its steel receiver, my scale says six pounds for the 20 gauge. What we have here are the makings of a fantastic ruffed grouse gun! I liked the new Franchi autoloader, but if I had to choose between the two, I would have to go with the Instinct simply because it fit me like a glove. Sometimes it takes me a while to adapt to a new gun, but I bagged the first five sand grouse I shot at with six shells, and we had no easy shots on those birds. That lucky streak ended as quickly as it started, but Iâ€™m proud to say I continued to shoot the Instinct darned well for the remainder of the hunt.