Photos by Mark Fingar
The TV camera pretty much sees what it sees. It’s the video editor that can make you look great or not so good. When we’re filming Guns & Ammo TV, we really do try to shoot our best. Some days are better than others and there are usually too many witnesses.
A few months ago, G&A Editor and co-host Eric Poole and I were working on a spot featuring the new Franchi Affinity semiautomatic shotgun. After we completed our stand-up segment, we went to a skeet range to break some clays.
Honestly, I didn’t beg to do the shooting. Although I’ve shot a lot of them over the years, right-handed semiautomatic shotguns aren’t really my thing. I started with pump guns and did most of my competing with over/unders. (That was a long time ago.) I’ll admit I’m pretty rusty with shotguns, but somehow I wound up as the designated shooter for this particular TV segment.
I didn’t expect much, but the Franchi Affinity is a light and responsive shotgun, and it handles like a dream. In fact, I could hardly miss with it.
I was also surprised and delighted to learn that the initial release of the Franchi Affinity included a left-handed, mirror-image 12 gauge. With that in mind, I begged Poole to let me do a full-blown review of the shotgun.
Franchi has been making shotguns in Brescia, Italy, since 1868. It’s a good name and the Affinity has all the traits to be a great gun.
Unlike other companies’ initial releases that start slow and build up in models and options, the Franchi Affinity has quickly been built into a significant family of shotguns. The basics include the 12-gauge Affinity 3.5, chambered for 2¾-, 3-, and 31/2-inch shells and the Affinity 3 in 12 or 20 gauges, both with 2¾- and 3-inch chambers. Both happily digest a wide range of shotshells from light 2¾-inch loads on up.
The Affinity 3.5, intended primarily for the waterfowl and turkey markets, is available in black synthetic, Realtree Max-5, and Mossy Oak Bottomland with either 26- or 28-inch barrels. Overall weight with a 28-inch barrel is just seven pounds, making it a very light and responsive shotgun with full-up 3½-inch, 12-gauge capability. The Affinity 3 is a larger family. Right-hand, 12-gauge options come with 26- and 28-inch barrels and are available in black synthetic, Realtree Max-5, Mossy Oak Bottomland and A-Grade satin walnut. The 3-inch, 12-gauge guns are only a few ounces lighter than the 3½-inch version, running 6.8 to 6.9 pounds, depending on barrel length. The 20-gauge Affinity 3 is available in the same finishes, with only a 26-inch barrel and is quite a bit lighter at 6 pounds.
The Affinity 3 Compact is a youth model with a 12 3⁄8-inch length of pull, in 12- or 20-gauge, with 24- or 26-inch barrels and with stock options in black synthetic, Realtree Max-5 and Realtree APG. Then there’s the 28-inch barreled, 12-gauge, 3-inch Affinity Catalyst with an A-Grade satin walnut stock crafted for a woman’s build.
Finally, near and dear to my heart, there’s the left-hand, mirror-image version. While it is only offered in a black synthetic stock, chambered for 12-gauge 3-inchers and with just a 28-inch barrel, I’m overjoyed! Right-handers have no idea how rare left-hand semiautos are, so the lack of options doesn’t bother me in the least.
Depending on finish, stock style and gauge, the Affinity family members look quite a bit different, but all are very much the same basic shotgun with significant features in common.
All Affinity shotguns have a raised ventilated rib and come from the box with a slightly higher comb for a 6-o’clock point of aim (POA), which I’ve always preferred. However, a shim kit with four different shims is supplied. (Shims go between the stock and receiver and allow modifying the height of the comb either to suit your build or change to your preferred POA.)
Three interchangeable chokes and a choke wrench are provided. The supplied chokes are intended for both lead and steel, and are clearly marked: Lead Full, Lead Modified/Steel Full or Lead Improved Cylinder/Steel Improved Modified. A full range of extended choke tubes are also available as options.
Also standard is the Franchi TSA recoil pad yielding a 137⁄8-inch length of pull (LOP), which I found perfect for Average Joe (me). Optional TSA pads are available to alter the LOP if needed. The bolt release, bolt handle and loading port are oversized, allowing easier operation with gloves. The safety is the common crossbolt safety found on the triggerguard behind the trigger, right-to-left (safe to fire) on the right-hand models and left-to-right on the left-hand model. The cartridge drop lever is forward of the trigger above the triggerguardbow, and is on the right side on all models.
The magazine tube cap on all Affinity shotguns has a forward sling swivel stud, while only the synthetic-stocked versions have rear sling swivel studs integral with the buttstocks.
Pricewise, the Affinity 3 starts at $10 less than $800, while the Affinity 3.5 starts at $960. There are less expensive semiautos — and some that are more — but this is a very good and very complete shotgun for that price range.
Matters of Inertia
The Franchi Affinity uses an inertia-driven and simple semiautomatic action that requires just three primary parts: bolt body, the inertia spring within the bolt body and the rotating bolt head.
On firing, the shotgun moves rearward but the bolt remains stationary with the bolt head locked into the barrel extension. At the end of the recoil cycle, as chamber pressure drops, the inertia spring thrusts the bolt assembly rearward, unlocking the rotating the bolt head. As the bolt moves rearward, the fired cartridge is extracted and ejected. The cartridge drop lever moves up allowing a cartridge to move from magazine to carrier. The rearward movement of the bolt cocks the internal hammer and compresses the recoil spring surrounding the magazine tube. With rearward movement completed, the recoil spring thrusts the bolt forward. The carrier then lifts the next shell and the bolt pushes it into the chamber.
The Affinity’s inertia-driven system is certainly not the only effective semiauto shotgun action. We can argue endlessly whether a gas-operated system is more reliable, and I suppose you could throw in the Browning long-recoil system, too. However, the Franchi inertia-driven system is simple, fast and clean.
Between the inertia system, which soaks up a bit of recoil, and the excellent TSA recoil pad, Franchi claims a 50 percent recoil reduction. I cannot verify this for full-house, 31/2-inch shells are always a handful and the Affinity is fairly light. However, the Affinity is amazingly manageable with heavy loads and a real pleasure to shoot with target loads.
One of the problems with both 3- and 31/2-inch semiautos isn’t functioning with the heaviest loads but getting them to cycle with the lighter loads we’re more likely to use for practice and upland game.
The Affinity is not perfect. The 3.5 balked with some light target loads, but functioned perfectly with standard 23/4-, 3-, and 31/2-inch loads. My 3-inch, left-hand Affinity was more tolerant. It digested the full range of 23/4-inch loads with no hiccups, and had no issues with the heaviest 3-inch loads.
To check its tolerance level, I chambered some light target handloads with some very questionable crimps. The Franchi shrugged them off with absolutely no problem. However, I also had on hand some lighter English 21/2-inch, 12-gauge shells (rarely seen in this country). These were below the limit. They did not have enough oomph to cycle the action, but I would have been really surprised if they worked.
Operation is simple and straightforward. Single-loading can be accomplished by dropping a shell through the ejection port and onto the carrier, then pressing the bolt release button. Loading for repeat operation is done by pressing shells into the magazine from the loading port. They must be pressed completely in and will lock. The first cartridge can then be single-loaded into the chamber as above, or the cartridge drop lever can be pressed to release the first shell in the magazine.
The technical aspects of shotgunning can get fairly complex. Each and every shotgun is likely to pattern slightly different with various brands of shotshells, size and construction of shot, payloads and wad columns. Turkey hunters can drive themselves insane trying to find the densest swarm of shot that can center a turkey’s head, while serious waterfowlers and clay shooters focus more on the most even patterns. This can be painstaking work. What I cared about with the left-hand Affinity was confirming what appeared to be a six o’clock hold, just kissing the bottom of a target (yes) and ensuring that the choke tubes gave increasing pattern densities from Improved Cylinder to Full (yes, again).
Grace Under Pressure
The technical considerations is one thing, but actually shooting a shotgun is a bit more subjective than shooting rifles or handguns. Given a correct POA and consistent patterns, much of shotgunning depends heavily on shotgun fit and feel.
I recently attended a sporting clays fundraiser at Camp Theodore Naish near Bonner Springs, Kansas, where I used to work when I was a kid. Believe me, I don’t compete with a shotgun anymore. But I couldn’t help myself and I got competitive. I like to shoot as well as I can, so my first thought was to bring a real sporting clays gun. On second thought, the event would be a great way to see the Affinity in action. I could get a better feel for how well it really handles and shoots.
The course was elaborate and diabolic, but only a few targets had any serious distance, so I stayed with the Improved Cylinder choke tube throughout the shoot. I shot two full courses of 100 rounds each, using Federal Premium target loads with 11⁄8 ounces of 7½ shot. I had zero jams or malfunctions — not one — which speaks extremely well of a 3-inch gun shooting target loads.
Handling capability was superb, however, my performance was not. Running rabbit targets always give me fits, and I missed more than I should have. Of the first 100, I broke 85. That’s hardly a great score, but not embarrassing for a rusty old guy with an unfamiliar shotgun.
I have been extremely impressed with the Franchi Affinity. It is light and responsive. The recoil spring is a very tight fit around the magazine tube, which resulted in a trimmer forend than most semiautos and contributed to a really good feel. I enjoyed shooting it, and it did its part when I did mine. You really can’t ask for much more, so I think the Affinity and I have some bird shooting to do in the weeks ahead.
Franchi Affinity (Left Hand)Action:
2.75- and 3-in.Stock:
Synthetic, black (tested)Metal Finish:
Matte blackBarrel Length:
28 in.Overall Length:
6 lbs., 14.4 oz.Length of Pull:
Three choke tubes; shim kitMSRP: