FABARM L4S Sporting Shotgun Review
June 10, 2019
The FABARM L4S Sporting shotgun autoloader offers distinctive looks and innovative features.
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
Fabrica Bresciana di Armi is Italian for “Brescia Arms factory.” We know the company by its acronym FABARM. The gun maker was founded as Industria Armi Galesi by the Galesi family in 1914 where after the company became known for its side-by-side shotguns and pistols.
As an aside, the company made pistols until 1970, stopping after the effects of the 1968 Gun Control Act were felt throughout the U.S. market. Fortunately, business was supplemented by the success of its double shotguns featuring the long, recoil-operated Goldenmatic, to which was added the gas-operated Elligi.
Though FABARM is a well-known name in Europe, its U.S. sales have been limited by changing importer relationships. Today, FABARM works with Caesar Guerini, adding a medium-priced autoloader lineup to Guerini’s more expensive over-unders.
The new FABARM L4S is a gas-operated semiautomatic shotgun with a distinctive guppy-like receiver profile. It immediately reminded me of the High Standard Model 60, the first successful gas-operated autoloader and a pillar of Sears, Roebuck and Company at its apogee. Today, the LS4 is more streamlined, but there is still an obvious flare at the joint between receiver and forend.
By the Numbers
Receiver circumference in front of the triggerguard is 7 inches and flares to 7 7/8 inches. The front underside of the aluminum receiver is quite thick, giving the forend abundant support. FABARM engineers were clearly fixated on providing a rigid engagement between the forend and the rest of the gun. J-shaped bulges at the rear of the forend extend into mortises in the receiver, preventing the forend from twisting.
Even more interesting about the L4S is the unusual attachment system. The deeply grooved red cap visible at the front of the forend pulls it against another red cap beneath the wood at the front of the magazine tube. Each of the caps are securely retained by multiple detents with the invisible cap doing the work of holding the barrel in position on the magazine tube. The visible cap holds the forend to the gun and is less likely to come loose since the inner cap takes the beating from the moving action parts. The visible cap is easy to tighten (and perhaps, overtighten) with deep grooves and a transverse hole that allows the use of a punch or Phillips-head screwdriver for extra oomph.
Those whose shooting is limited to half a box at doves or quail will wonder why FABARM went to such lengths to secure the forend, but if you’ve ever spent a long day on the skeet field with a good old Remington 1100, you know that regular twists on the magazine tube cap are an expected part of the fun. FABARM’s system should make that trouble a forgotten memory.
If you’ve come up on an 1100, you’ll feel right at home with the LS4’s forend because it, too, is bulbous. If a Benelli Montefeltro or a Cosmi is your idea of forend design, you’re probably not going to like it. If you like a voluptuous, hand-filling contour, it will be great.
The forend’s shape is driven by what’s under it. First, the recoil spring. In most autoloaders, it’s in the buttstock. Second, the large gas cylinder. The gas cylinder is a full 23⁄8 inches long and is finished in an attention-getting gold PVD titanium nitride. The finish is applied to the stainless-steel piston, too. There’s a rubber O-ring buried in the barrel ring to seal gas from expanding forward on firing.
The piston is the usual Italian spool shape, 2 inches long and weighing 2.88 ounces. A rotating ring at the front seals the piston and scrapes against the interior of the cylinder, much like the piston ring in a combustion engine. The piston bears against a chromed dual-action bar assembly that incorporates the recoil spring. This rides on the aluminum magazine tube, which has a mystery coating that makes it very slick and resistant to gas fouling.
The bolt is perfectly conventional with a pivoting locking block that engages the barrel extension. Like the bore, it’s chrome-plated. Unlike most manufacturers, which are prone to make all guns accept 3-inch shells, the LS4 is chambered for 2¾-inch ammo only. So, it’s not likely you’ll want to take the L4S into the goose pit. Since this is a purpose-built competition gun, it will have some features that would be quite annoying in field use.
Italian gun makers have often been resistant to back boring or over-boring shotgun barrels, even though many shooters and manufacturers such as Browning have embraced it enthusiastically. The objection from the land of Puccini, a big duck hunter himself, is that a bigger-bore diameter means reduced velocity. That’s no great loss in target shooting, but it results in less hitting power in the field.
FABARM has come up with a compromise system called the Tribore HP. Starting at the breech, it has a long forcing cone. Younger readers may wonder, “Why were there ever short forcing cones?”
When I was a pup, shotshells used card and fiber wads whose bore-sealing capabilities were limited. An abrupt forcing cone and adherence to the nominal .729-inch bore diameter were needed to give you full power. When the flexible plastic wad became dominant, it was possible to use longer forcing cones and larger bore diameters because the wad was soft enough to expand and seal the bore.
After the forcing cone is an over-bored increment of .736 inch (18.7mm). This is a fairly moderate increase over the nominal .729 inch that we see in lots of .740-inch bores. The bore then tapers down over a span of 8.07 inches (205mm) to .724 inch (18.4mm). FABARM claims this very gradual constriction keeps velocity up, while limiting pellet deformation. The shot charge then feeds into the Exis HP Hyperbolic choke tube, which is a full 37⁄8-inches long. The “Hyperbolic” designation doesn’t refer to the ad copy, but indicates the choke is neither conical nor conical-parallel. Rather, it is a rounded bulge inside the tube bore flaring in either direction.
If you measure the full choke tube, inside diameter is .739 inch at the rear tapering to .689 inch at the narrowest point, and back out to .705 inch at the muzzle. FABARM claims up to 15 percent tighter patterns with this system.
When installed, the tubes protrude from the muzzle by .6 inch and a knurled segment allows easy finger-tightening. There is relatively little visible flare on the barrel; it expands from .807 inch behind the choke tube to .877 inch at the muzzle. You can see it if you look hard, but it’s certainly not obtrusive.
The ventilated rib tapers from .433 inch (11mm) to .314 inch (8mm) at the muzzle. The gaps between its supports are wedge-shaped with the narrow end facing the muzzle. The editors in Guns & Ammo’s offices thought a more aggressive design treatment would have coordinated better with the modern decoration of the L4S. There’s a .126-inch white front bead and a .073-inch steel mid-bead.
The large-scale employment of professional shooters and the NASCAR-style uniforms has led competition guns to be decorated in a style that would have appalled W.W. Greener or Maj. Sir Gerald Burrard. The base L4S Sporting ($1,950) follows this race-gun trend with red accents on the forend cap, operating handle and bolt release. The receiver is marked “L4S SPORTING” with the numeral and the word “sporting” in red. If this is too garish for you, you can select the L4S Grey Sporting ($2,355) or the L4S Deluxe Sporting ($2,765), which have more traditional appearances.
The operating handle is a knurled aluminum cylinder .890-inch long. I would think of this more as an accessory for tactical or fast-action 3-Gun use than for a Sporting Clays course where you might rarely use the handle. The gun should either be empty with the bolt locked back or loaded, ready for the target to be summoned.
Similarly, the bolt release at the bottom-left front of the receiver is quite large with a .590-inch diameter. I suppose that makes it easier to operate with gloved hands, though I can’t recall an occasion when an autoloader was hard to operate wearing thin competition gloves. Regardless, the size and color of the two parts are distinctive and gives a salesman some talking points at the counter.
FABARM takes the opposite tack with the magazine cutoff, which is quite unobtrusive. It’s located at the left front of the triggerguard and is easy to find with the right hand when you need to actuate it. If you want to lock the bolt back on an unfired gun, pull the cutoff to the left and retract the bolt, which will lock to the rear. If you load the magazine with the bolt closed, retracting it will not convey a round into the chamber unless you operate the cutoff first. Doing so ejects a shell onto the lifter. Retracting and releasing the bolt then loads the chamber.
To unload, retract the bolt, ejecting the chambered shell. Unless you operate the cutoff, another won’t be released onto the lifter. Invert the shotgun, press down on the lifter and press out on the chrome-plated shell stop inside the bolt-release button. Shells will emerge from the magazine for removal. This is a safer way to unload than by cycling rounds through the action, which has caused many an accident.
Like all cutoff systems, you can go for years without touching it, since the bolt locks rearward on an empty magazine. I suspect most U.S. shooters will use it that way. On the other hand, cutoff systems have their points when getting in and out of a boat or crossing a fence. Just be sure you understand it. Practicing first with a couple dummy rounds would be helpful.
The L4S magazine holds four rounds, reduced to two by a steel rod with an acorn nut at its tip that protrudes from the front of the tube. It’s supposed to shake out, but I found it wouldn’t and had to eject it by inserting a couple dummy cartridges into the magazine tube and pushing the plug out.
Truth About Wood
The buttstock and forend are enhanced by a process called Triwood, which deposits additional ink on the wood to enhance the grain. FABARM is at pains to state that it’s not a dip process, though sharp-eyed observers will note a seam on the top surface of the buttstock. The wood is then coated with a semi-gloss acrylic finish, providing a matte appearance that coordinates nicely with the matte-finished aluminum receiver.
The gripping surfaces are an interesting combination of 18 line-per-inch (lpi) checkering and stippling. Stippling is a very effective gripping surface for hot days. Combining it with checkering provides the best of both worlds, and the combination looks better than it sounds.
Like most autoloaders of today, the L4S ships with a set of three shims for regulating cast and drop. The shim is trapped between receiver and buttstock, and the one installed on the L4S provides 21⁄16 inches of drop. The other two provide a fifth of an inch (5mm) less or more drop. All are slightly wedge-shaped, letting you select 1⁄8-inch cast-on or cast-off by positioning the thick edge on the left or right.
Installing the shim is easy. Use a long, lubricated Phillips screwdriver to turn out the recoil pad screws and remove the pad. There’s a generous recess under the pad that lets you install an aftermarket recoil reducer, if you’d like. Turn off the through-bolt nut with a 16mm socket and pull the buttstock off. Install the shim and note that they come out of the box flat but are squeezed into a curved shape when installed.
I pattern-tested FABARM’s L4S with Kent Elite low-recoil ammunition and fired at clay targets with Kent, Browning and Remington shells. There were no failures of any kind, which is not always assured with the Kent’s very light loads. Empties made a neat pile.
Very few shooters care to do a lot of detailed analysis of patterns these days since it is a tedious and time-consuming process requiring the attention span found mostly among Social Security-eligible shotgunners. This shotgun was a great example of why it remains worthwhile.
When just eyeballing pattern impact on the sheets, I would have told you with great confidence that G&A’s sample was shooting high and left — a foot in either direction. Counting patterns showed the reality was 6 inches and 5 inches, respectively. Noticeable, yes, but half of what I thought I saw. If you really want to know how a shotgun shoots, there’s no substitute for shooting several patterns. In our opinion, the average of 10 patterns per barrel will really give you an accurate impression.
The first go-round of shooting clays made me, and a fellow shooter wonder if we’d completely lost the ability to shoot a shotgun. In fact, we missed at every possible angle and distance. It was quite demoralizing. I went back to the shop and put in the shim for maximum drop. The result was a 180-degree change in performance as we could hardly miss with the L4S! Confidence grew with every shot and the consensus was that the L4S was a very good shooting shotgun, indeed.
You wouldn’t think that a fifth of an inch more drop would make such a difference, but keep in mind that your eye is the rear sight of a shotgun. Moving the gun relative to the eye is how a shotgun is zeroed. You wouldn’t shoot a rifle without zeroing it, so why would you try to shoot a shotgun with no thought to its point of impact?
Things to Remember
Shooters of the past just had to learn to live with their shotguns or resort to custom stocks. We’re lucky to live in a time when even relatively modest repeating shotguns ship with shim kits. The lesson here is to be sure and use them.
The “L” in “L4S” stands for the word lion that appears in FABARM’s logo, while the “S,” the company claims, stands for “slender.” Slender is in the eye of the beholder. Most of us will find it robustly proportioned and many with large hands will prefer the L4S to skinnier-model shotguns. Free enterprise works to give us what we want — and thank heavens for it.