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Cosmi Classic Deluxe Steel Shotgun: Full Review

Exclusivity, craftsmanship and uniqueness have their price with Cosmi's luxury shotgun. Here's a full review.

Cosmi Classic Deluxe Steel Shotgun: Full Review

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

On December 23, 1938, a South African fisherman netted a sea creature he’d never seen. A prominent ichthyologist identified it as a “coelacanth,” a species believed to have been extinct for 66 million years. Breathless press dispatches touted it as a “living fossil,” a tangible link to the remotest depths of prehistory.

If you’ve got the patience and the money, you can own a living fossil of the firearms world, a gun whose survival into the 21st century is almost as surprising as the existence of a prehistoric fish.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

I first laid eyes on a Cosmi at the World Shooting Championships in Seoul, South Korea. The year was 1978, and it was being wielded by a member of the Papua-­New Guinea trap team. The shooter was in no danger of a podium finish, but he hosted a parade of elite competitors whom wanted to see and handle his shotgun. He was gracious enough to give me as quick tour of it, and I immediately determined to write it up one day. It’s taken 44 years, but the day arrived when Nighthawk Custom announced it would import the Cosmi. You may reasonably ask, “Why should we be interested?” For the same reason a coelacanth should interest you, even though you’ll never serve one with lemon butter. The Cosmi vividly shows how semiauto shotguns might have evolved.

Rodolfo Cosmi, born in 1873, was a self-­taught mechanic in the Italian town of Montefeltro, a name familiar to Benelli owners. He began tinkering with guns, and eventually started making them for sale. At some point, he clearly encountered a Browning Auto-­5 and thought he could improve on it.

He had a working prototype by 1925 and, after his death in 1936, his sons began to produce guns for sale. The company has turned them out continuously ever since, except during World War II. “Continuous production” is a relative term with only about 8,000 ever having been made. They have been used by luminaries including King Victor Emmanuel III and Leonid Brezhnev, and the Cosmi has earned a permanent place in the sporting man’s imagination just for being so odd.

The Cosmi is a luxurious autoloading shotgun that breaks open like a double-­barrel. It’s an impressive, unique design featuring 100 machined parts, most assembled without screws. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

It’s not even easy to categorize it. I suppose the thumbnail description would be that it’s a semiauto shotgun that breaks open like a double-­barrel. “Why?” Put aside the hindsight you have from shooting Auto-­5s, Remington 1100s and Benellis. Rodolfo Cosmi was a man used to making double-­barreled shotguns. His supply network was oriented toward hand production. He didn’t have access to large metalworking machinery, so modifying designs he already knew how to make made sense for a small businessman.

The feature that originates the Cosmi’s peculiarity is the buttstock-­mounted magazine, which held seven rounds. This was not an original idea; Civil War buffs will immediately point to the Spencer carbine, and rear-­mounted magazines survive in guns such as the Browning SA-22.

Installing the magazine to the rear eliminated the aesthetic problem of the barrel and a forward-­mounted magazine tube differing in diameter. Cosmi may also have thought a butt-­heavy, barrel-­light balance was better for handling.

The two-­part receiver is massive, contributing to the Cosmi’s heft. Balance is achieved when the tubular magazine in the stock is loaded. Some models carry up to seven shells. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

John Browning’s Auto-­5 was, in 1925, the king of the autoloading world, so it was natural that Cosmi would adopt its long-­recoil method of operation for his shotgun. A giveaway of long-­recoil operation is a ventilated rib with a step about 3 inches in front of the receiver. That’s necessary because the barrel recoils into the receiver during firing. You see parodic representation of this when “Elmer Fudd” touches off a round at “Daffy Duck.”

As the gun is fired, the bolt is locked to the barrel extension by a tilting block. The bolt and barrel recoil together for the length of the empty shell. When they reach the fully rearward position in the receiver, a projection at the top rear of the latter presses down on the tilting block, unlocking the barrel, which immediately springs forward to return to battery.

The ejector is on the left inside of the barrel extension and strips the empty shell out ­of ­the ­hook extractor to throw it out of the ejection port.

The bolt assembly is returned by the bolt pushrod, which is powered by its own spring in the buttstock. As it moves forward, the cartridge carrier lifts a fresh shell from the floor of the receiver, aligning it with the chamber. The bolt drives it home with the pivoting extractor snapping onto the rim. The next shot is then ready to fire.


Where’s the charging handle? Another clue that operating a Cosmi autoloader is not a familiar experience to most shooters is the lack of a charging handle protruding from the bolt. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

There are several generations of shooters who’ve spent their lives shooting carefree autoloaders that greedily swallow whatever ammo it is fed. The Cosmi is a relic of an earlier time when the shotgun had to be regulated to the ammo.

The recoil spring is in the forend, surrounding the barrel guide bar. At its front is a brass collet tapered to fit into the rear of the barrel hanger. On firing, the collet is compressed as the barrel moves rearward, tightening its grip on the guide bar to increase resistance to recoil.

In the other side of the barrel hanger is a square-­section spring that bears against the barrel nut, keeping it tight and providing some anti-­bounce buffering.

The Cosmi is only available with exceptional Caucasian walnut. Every stock is finished by hand and customized to a customer’s individual characteristics. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The gun is provided with three different weight recoil springs: Red, for target loads of 24-­28 grams (7⁄8-­1 ounce); a black spring for 32-­36 grams (11⁄8-­1¼ ounce); and a blue spring for magnum loads. Changing the springs is not terribly difficult, but it shouldn’t be attempted around kids, dogs or your wife’s fine crystal. The springs are quite stiff and can shoot parts into the next county.

Turn out the forend screw using the tiny sling swivel at the front. Note: There’s no rear sling swivel, so this is its primary purpose. Use the supplied combination tool to turn off the barrel nut. Remove the barrel by pulling it forward; the bolt will come with it.

Using gloves or a rag, grab the middle of the spring and pull down hard. Rotate the collet to align its slot with the stud in the barrel guide bar. (This is a two-­man job with the magnum spring.) Then, allow the spring to expand under control and remove it, along with the collet and barrel buffer. Replace with the desired spring and reverse the process, being sure to replace the parts in the order illustrated on page 13 of the instruction manual. Also note that the barrel nut must be exactly at 90 degress to the barrel or the forend screw won’t engage. (See why Grandpa was excited by the 1100?)

Opening the Cosmi’s action reveals a mass of unfamiliar, highly-­polished shapes. It’s an autoloader, but it’s very different than the ones Americans are familiar with. You’ll need to consult the instruction manual to operate it. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Since we have the barrel in hand, we can observe that it’s provided with a set of thin-­walled Briley tubes in Full (.695 inch), Modified (.715 inch) and Improved Cylinder (.720 inch). These are 2¾ inches long with a conical-­parallel internal profile. The Improved Cylinder and Modified tubes are rated for steel shot. They require very little barrel flare at the muzzle with the outside diameter going only from .830 inch to .865 inch. The bore measured .725 inch inside diameter, which is below the nominal .729 inch, but it is not as tight as some other Italian guns. The barrel is topped by a ventilated rib that tapers from .287 inch to .255 inch with a .135-inch metal bead at the muzzle.

Returning to the receiver, you may toggle magazine capacity between two and four by pressing left or right on the shell stop in the magazine tube just in front of the standing breech. You can reduce it to two with a finger, but restoring full capacity requires the pointed end of the combination tool. (It is interesting that the original seven-­round capacity seems to be a thing of the past.)

The thumb safety is a trigger blocker. Speaking of the trigger, it provided a crisp and consistent 4½-­pound pull.

There is an operating handle, but it is found inside the action, on the bottom surface of the bolt. Fold it down slightly to retract the bolt in preparation for loading the chamber. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The “Classic Deluxe” designation indicates a steel lower receiver with Grade 4 Turkish walnut. Guns & Ammo’s sample was a waterfowl gun, which bore the appropriate duck decoration with modest scroll engraving on the coin-­finished lower receiver.

The dramatically grained stock and forend had a smooth semigloss finish, and it was checkered in a bordered-point pattern at 20 lines per inch (lpi). Additional striations at the same measure on the top half of the forend provided a comfortable resting place for thumb and fingers. Twenty lpi is great from the decorative standpoint, but I’d prefer something a bit coarser for cold-­weather hunting. I also found the checkering placement on the pistol grip a bit odd, though it was functional enough. The 12-­gauge Cosmi is a bit thick in the grip, and that’s not a surprise given that the magazine tube and the tube for the bolt spring must pass through it.

The butt is checkered, also at 20 lpi. The effect of that is spoiled by the visible stock screw, which is slightly offset to the left. On the bright side, if you want to remove the buttstock, it comes off by turning that screw out and pulling it off the magazine tube. A checkered butt is elegant but it wouldn’t be my choice for a muddy duck blind. A slip-­on recoil pad might be the first accessory I would purchase.

The shooter must control each round with the left thumb before sliding another cartridge though the carrier. You get used to it, but it’s never going to be as smooth as a conventional auto. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

G&A’s sample Cosmi was a chunk. Adding three rounds of 3-­inch ammo made it a 9-­pound gun. Cosmi has bowed to modern sensibilities with the Titanio and Superleggero models, which use titanium receivers to slice off as much as a pound and a half from the weight.

Cosmi has also taken account of the U.S. market by introducing 28-­gauge and .410 models. American customers are more likely to take a Cosmi on a preserve hunt for pheasant than to drag one into a duck boat.

Shooting the Cosmi

Shooting the non-­binary blend of double-­barrel and autoloader required a bit of technique. 

Allow me to start with describing how to get it out of the case: Be sure both the chamber and lower receiver and unloaded. Turn out the forend screw using the small sling swivel. (Note that the screw has detents to keep it tight, so the first couple turns will feel “bumpy.”) Slide the forend forward and off the barrel guide bar. Slide the hook at the bottom-front of the upper receiver onto the knuckle pin in the lower receiver. (This may take a couple tries.) Be sure the bolt is forward and locked in the upper receiver. Push it home with your thumb, if needed. The Cosmi cannot be closed unless the bolt is forward. Swing the upper receiver/barrel assembly closed to latch. This takes a firm touch. Replace the forend.

This cutaway illustration reveals how the original Cosmi held seven rounds in the buttstock magazine. A full load would have made the shotgun feel more portly and ­carry heavy at the rear. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

To load, apply the thumb safety and use the top lever to open the shotgun. Use the small lever in the bottom of the bolt to retract it and latch it to the rear. Load a shell into the chamber.

To load additional shells, insert them through the carrier and into the magazine. There is no shell stop, so you need to keep rearward pressure on the column of shells. They eventually will come to rest against the front of the lower receiver. Press the bolt forward into battery.

The hammer may be uncocked; if so, press on the serrated surface to return it to the cocked position.

Swing the upper receiver/barrel assembly closed, being sure it latches. Release the safety and fire.

The bolt locks rearward after the last round. You can load one round through the ejection port and chamber it by pressing the button at the bottom-left-center of the receiver.

You can restrict magazine capacity to two by pushing the shell stop to the right. Use the combination tool to press it to the left to restore the shotguns full magazine capacity. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

To make the Cosmi safe for crossing fences, boarding boats, and so on, you can open the gun and pull the trigger while controlling the hammer with the left thumb. Then, close the shotgun with the hammer up. To ready for firing, open the gun and recock the hammer. 

I patterned the Classic Deluxe with results shown in the accompanying table, and I function-­fired it with a variety of ammunition types, mainly 3-­inch magnums. It’s been a while since I’ve fired a long-­recoil autoloader, but the clickety-­clack feeling immediately took me back to the Auto-­5, Franchi AL-48 or Remington Model 11.

Recoil was savage with the Winchester Blind Side steel waterfowl loads I used for patterning. Free recoil with those is up in .375 H&H country, and you won’t see many .375s with a checkered butt. (Another reason for the slip-­on pad.) Changing the recoil spring and loading paper target loads in this hefty, straight-­stocked gun made recoil “as soft as a maiden’s kiss,” as Col. Charles Askins used to say. Everyone who tried the Cosmi broke clays immediately and kept doing it.

The hammer straddles the action side of the magazine tube. With the action open, it can be safely uncocked, then closed for safe handling. To cock, reopen the action and press the hammer down. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

I got some fair facility with the loading process, but it never stopped being annoying. I found it best to hold the gun in the left hand and control rounds going into the magazine with that thumb. You can load fairly quickly that way, but don’t plan on shooting a 3-Gun match with a Cosmi.

For informal clay target shooting, we quickly resorted to single-­loading through the ejection port and dropping the bolt with the release button. This technique was very satisfactory, and given the length and weight, combined with a very decent trigger, I suspect you could shoot trap singles successfully.

The fact that the bolt only latches back after a fired shot means you have to break open the gun if you want other shooters to know your gun is safe. There’s no pulling back and locking the bolt.

For whatever reason, it feels stranger to stand on the post with the Cosmi open than taking the same pose with an over-­under. Maybe you get used to it.

A long-­recoil operation inevitably means spring adjustments are necessary to compensate for different ammo types. Here a brass collet grasps the guide bar to increase resistance to recoil. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

An Interesting Luxury

Whenever we cover a gun like this — and I suppose we’ve never covered a gun exactly like this — there are two reactions: “Thanks be to God! Finally a gun with blued steel and fine walnut! I’m so sick of plastic pistols and ARs.” Then there are those who say, “How dare you write up a gun I can’t afford!” I can’t afford “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” by Manet, but I can appreciate it and study it, and anyone who enjoys guns can appreciate and study the Cosmi. 

Is it a realistic alternative to more modern shotguns for today’s hunting? Not in the slightest. It’s heavy, slow to load, needlessly complex, oddly balanced and expensive. But we can appreciate that it is an example of one man’s ingenuity in adapting methods he knew to a new technology. We can marvel at the hundreds of hours of hand-­fitting required to make one. We can admire the stubborn persistence needed to keep making and selling an evolutionary dead end that is nonetheless full of soul and charm.

A hand-checkered butt is elegant, but perhaps more appropriate for upland game and range use than duck hunting. The single slotted screw can be turned out to allow the buttstock to slide off the magazine tube. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

It’s not popular to say it, but the rest of us can appreciate something from the rich. It is they who can keep a firm like Cosmi going for almost a century in defiance of an all-­enveloping culture of standardization and mediocrity. If a world only offered guns everyone can afford, it would be a very boring place. Whatever else you might say about the Cosmi, you can’t say it’s boring.

Cosmi Classic Deluxe Steel Shotgun

  • Type: Semiautomatic, break open
  • Gauge: 12, 3-in. (tested); 16, 20, 28, .410 (optional)
  • Capacity: 4 shells (tested)
  • Weight: 8 lbs., 11 oz.
  • Overall length: 52¾ in.
  • Barrel length: 28 in.
  • Length of pull: 13¾ in.
  • Drop at heel: 2 in.
  • Drop at comb: 1½ in.
  • Trigger pull: 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Accessories: Hard case, two extra recoil springs, Full (.695-in.) Modified (.715-in.) Improved Cylinder (.720-in.) choke tubes with spanner, combination tool.
  • Price: $30,000 (as tested)
  • Manufacturer: Cosmi, S.r.l. Via Flaminia, 307 60126 – Ancona, Italy
  • Importer: Nighthawk Custom, 877-268-4867,
(Guns & Ammo photo)
(Guns & Ammo photo)

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