August 02, 2023
We are prone to think of France as a fully urbanized, industrialized country, probably because the view we mainly see of it is a furious Paris traffic jam over the shoulder of some TV news talker.
This ignores the fact that the land of 246 cheeses has vast rural stretches, especially in the “empty diagonal” that extends from the department of the Landes in the southwest to the Meuse in the northeast. Population density in the diagonal du vide is similar to Minnesota.
So, as you might imagine, the field sports are popular and honored in rural France. There’s a strong tradition of hunting and of gunmaking to support it.
French sporting arms have hardly been unknown in this country, from relatively conventional guns like Granger and Verney-Carron to shotguns that show off Gallic flair like the ultralight Bretton and the sliding-breech Darne. But they have never been particularly common, thanks to very spotty distribution.
That’s about to change, I suspect, with a new member of Beretta Holding, Chapuis Armes. Chapuis has been around since the beginning of the last century, and I can remember writing about its guns in the 1980s. But it never had the sort of strong marketing and distribution enjoyed by German and Italian competitors, and it flew under the radar in this country.
Visibility should be a lot higher now with U.S. importation being handled by Benelli USA, which has relationships with exactly the dealers and distributors who should be able to get Chapuis shotguns seen and bought.
Chapuis guns come from St.-Bonnet-Le-Château, a small Loire River town about 20 miles west of St. Etienne, the gunmaking capital of France that produced everything from the Charleville musket to the FAMAS rifle. In addition to double-barrel shotguns, Chapuis also produces straight-pull hunting rifles and the Manurhin line of revolvers.
There’s no point whatever in trying to compete with Turkey at the economical end of the shotgun market, or with Italian or British makers like Fabbri or Holland & Holland at the very top. Chapuis guns are positioned in what might be called the “upper middle class” of the shotgun market; they’re not at all cheap, but you don’t have to be a Silicon Valley hotshot or a rapper to afford one.
Broadly, there are two lines: The Chasseur side-by-side and the Faisan over-under. Within these ranges are Classic and Artisan trim levels. The Classic features Grade 3 walnut and a coin-finished, laser-engraved frame.
The Artisan steps up the looks with Grade 5A Circassian walnut and hand engraving, including on the steel pistol grip cap. Both Chasseur and Artisan feature very comfortably rounded frames for easy carrying in the field. This is especially apparent in small-gauge guns such as our 28-gauge Artisan.
The coin-finished frame was extensively decorated with plenty of scroll engraving, including on the upper tang below the thumb lever and on the lever. Potential uses of the gun are represented by partridge on the left side, duck on the bottom and pheasant on the right, all with attractively conceived foregrounds and backgrounds.
Engraving on the triggerguard leaves a blank oval on the bottom for engraving the owner’s initials, or there’s space for that on the grip cap, if you prefer. The triggerguard’s tang is extended to the end of the pistol grip and secured with three screws, providing a canvas for engraving between frame and grip cap.
Engraving continues, extensively, on the forend iron, with the scrolls extending over the latch in perfect alignment with its seat. Even the screws inside the forend that secure the iron are engraved and timed so the slots align.
Locking is by a pair of lugs that extend from the middle of the standing breech to engage cuts in the rear face of the monobloc. The ejectors are cut away to allow passage for these, a design that certainly hasn’t been subjected to a cost-cutting mentality.
The bottom rear of the monobloc forms a locking lump that engages a separate bowed piece screwed into the frame. This presumably can be replaced if it wears during years of shooting.
Dual cocking rods pass down the center of the frame, and serve double duty as ejector trip rods. The ejector parts and the monobloc faces around them are attractively engine-turned and look great when the gun is in its case or when opened to eject empties.
The barrel inside diameter was right on the nominal .550 inch, and the Faisan was provided with Full (.521 inch), Improved Modified (.528 inch), Modified (.535 inch), Improved Cylinder (.539 inch) and Skeet (.545 inch) choke tubes. These were 15⁄8 inches long and had a conical internal profile.
It’s a good thing you probably wouldn’t select this one for waterfowling; it’s not approved for steel shot, and is stamped to that effect on the bottom barrel.
The upper barrel is topped by a 6mm ventilated rib, with a .01-inch metal bead. The side ribs begin at the tip of the forend, saving a little weight.
The non-selective single trigger is mechanical, meaning it doesn’t require the recoil of a first shot to reset it for the second. Trigger pull measured 3 pounds for the bottom and 4 for the top.
The safety is, appropriately for a gun sold primarily for field use, automatic. It’s reset by rotation of the top lever, so converting it to manual operation would probably be easy enough if you have a steady hand and a good set of screwdrivers.
A big part of the Artisan’s five-figure price is really superb wood, and the sample gun did not disappoint. Both buttstock and forend had plenty of very dark figuring, and the wood was well-filled and satin finished.
What appears at first glance to be a checkered butt is actually a well-fitted and finished checkered buttplate, protecting the buttstock from damage and allowing easy installation of a recoil pad later.
Checkering is in a bordered point pattern at 20 lines per inch (lpi), a measure that is just fine for a gun that is unlikely to be used in a snowstorm. Whoever did the checkering did an excellent job of compensating for the comfortable palm swell on the right side of the pistol grip, too. Since these guns are custom ordered, left-handers can specify that feature on the other side.
I pattern-tested the Faisan with results shown in the accompanying table. I fired on clay targets with a selection of field and target loads. The only failure was operator-induced when I failed to let go of the trigger after a shot, pulling the second time before it had a chance to reset.
Otherwise, performance was perfect, and everyone who tried the Faisan found that hits came easy, with the expected soft recoil and rapid follow-up shots.
The natural homes of a shotgun like this are the hunting preserve and the sporting clays course, and the Faisan is perfectly suited to both. The 28-gauge is ideal for those pursuits, with the only believable objection to it being the unconscionably high price of 28-gauge ammo (and .410, for all that).
Those precincts are the natural venue for a certain sort of good-natured competition over who has the best-looking, most exclusive shotgun, and only a very rarified company could look down on you if you show up with this one.
Chapuis Faisan Artisan Shotgun
- Type: Over-under shotgun
- Gauge: 12, 20, 16 or 28 (tested)
- Weight: 6 lbs., 3 oz.
- Overall length: 45½ in.
- Barrel length: 28 in.
- Length of pull: 15 in.
- Drop at heel: 2 in.
- Drop at comb: 1½ in.
- Trigger pull: 3 lbs., bottom barrel; 4 lbs., top barrel
- Accessories: Hard case; Full (.521 in.), Improved Modified (.528 in.), Modified (.535 in.) Improved Cylinder (.539 in.) and Skeet (.545 in.) choke tubes; choke tube case; and spanner
- Price: $12,299
- Manufacturer: Chapuis Armes, St-Bonnet-le-Château, France, chapuis-usa.com
- Importer: Benelli USA, 800-264-4962, benelliusa.com
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