By Marshall Williams.
A couple of years ago, I was getting dressed at my fitness center, when I mentioned to one of the joggers that I enjoyed shooting. He replied that he had a .410 bore shotgun. Naturally, I was interested and promptly asked what kind.
Now, I have been through the litany before, and the usual reply is "I don't know." or that "It's an old single barrel." Sometimes it is an old double or .22-.410 over-and-under. These are all good enough guns, but pretty ordinary. About the most exciting reply that I hope to hear that the .410 is a Winchester Model 42. However, and I thank Heaven for it, there was one hot day in South Texas in 1966 when the response was "It's a Winchester Model 21." That the day is stamped indelibly in my fading memory. After the Model 21 response, precious few responses can knock my socks off.
While not in the same class with the Model 21, this one did get my attention; my friend replied "It's an over and under marked Abercrombie & Fitch." I promptly invited him to meet me at my shooting club so that I could see his little gun and shoot it. Frankly, I did not know what to expect, but knowing that Abercrombie & Fitch had put their name and reputation on the gun made me expect something better than, say, a Stevens Model 240. Another good enough gun, mind you, but I didn't think Abercrombie & Fitch ever wanted to put their name on them.
Now, some younger readers may be surprised to discover that a major player in the business of retailing sports clothes to young people ever sold shotguns. After all, they have a chain of over 300 retail stores selling their very nice line of clothes, and I doubt there is a shotgun to be found in any one of them. The answer is that while Abercrombie & Fitch sells sports clothes to the youth market in 2004, the A&F logo goes back a long time, back to a time when the lucrative teen age sports clothing market was undreamt of.
There was a time, when Abercrombie and Fitch's Madison Avenue store was a dreamland for outdoors interests, camping, fishing, and shooting and clothing appropriate to those pursuits. And not just that. Anyone whose pockets were deep enough could walk into A&F, order and outfit a safari to any part of the world, write a check, and walk out confident that he was on the verge of the kind of adventure that inspired Robert Ruark and Ernest Hemingway to write books about safaris. And, although I seem to have done so, one does not need to have grown a long white beard to remember this time.
The history of the company dates back to 1896, but the important part relative to this little gun, is the mid-60s. At that time, A&F's flag ship store was on Madison Avenue. It had a shooting range in the basement, a mezzanine devoted to skiing, archery, skin diving, and lawn games, then came four floors of clothing suitable to every climate on earth, the 6th. Floor contained A&F's picture gallery and book store, and the 8th. Floor was devoted to fishing. In addition to 48,000 flies and 18,000 lures for sale, A&F even had a resident expert who taught fly and lure casting in the roof top pool.
However, it was the 7th. Floor that attracted hunting and shooting sportsmen and women from all walks of life. A&F served presidents, movie stars, and ordinary people who walked through all goggle-eyed. There, A&F displayed more than 700 guns and had as many as 8000 in stock. In addition, it contained one of the world's finest collections of big game trophies. In the mid-60s, A&F employed shooting experts who could select a gun and put their company's name on it with the confidence that it would be what a sportsman needed. And the 7th. Floor of the old Abercrombie & Fitch is where the little gun came from.
However, it is the chokes are what made me believe that a real expert had a hand in this particular gun. The bottom barrel has four stars stamped on the side near the chamber, and the top bottom barrel has three stars. This gun came from the maker choked improved cylinder and modified. The Italian date code on the barrels indicates they were made in 1967. Now that was a sophisticated choice for a .410 double in 1967. In 1967, nearly every other .410 bore gun was choked full. Such chokes made hitting a close range moving target so difficult that gun writers wrote that it was an expert's gun.
The forend is large enough to cover the thin barrels to prevent burning one's fingers in during spurts of fast shooting but is very slender, just one and one-quarter inches thick at the thickest point. In fact, no part of the gun is any thicker than one and one -quarter inches. The well-executed checkering patterns on both forend and half-pistol grip run a rather astonishing 28 lines to the inch. The patterns are large and fully cover the grip and forend.
The wood is satisfactory, but plain and straight grained and appears to have a clear varnish finish. The butt stock has been very professionally shortened to a length of pull, as measured to from center of butt pad to center of front trigger bow, is just thirteen and one-quarter inches. The comb is aggressive, measuring one and three-eighths inches at the nose and not quite two inches at the heel. A very smooth leather-faced pad, almost certainly a Pachmayr product, has been added, probably in connection with shortening the length of pull.
As I looked at the gun, I vaguely remembered reading an magazine article about it, or more precisely, about the 28 gauge version, probably in 1966. The article appeared under a well-known byline in one of the better gun magazines in the mid-60s but I no longer recall either the name of the author or magazine, only that both were well known at the time. As I recall, the writer reported the 28 gauge version, which I believe had a single trigger, cost $178, and he said it was the best buy in A&F's big house. Looking over the little gun, I tend to agree with him. At least I can think of no .410 available new at the same time that offered as many features for the price.
As noted, although A&F had a wonderful gun room and even arranged for any amount of gunsmithing a customer might require, they had no gun factory. So who made the little gun? Under the chamber of the bottom barrel appears the name "Zoli and Flli Rizzini."
I recognized both names, who wouldn't, but had been unaware that the two once had been linked together. In fact, when I first saw the gun I thought that, except for its size, it looked exactly like those made in the late 60s or early 70s by Antonio Zoli and imported by, among others, J. L. Galef and Son. However I never saw one of those guns in a smaller bore size than a 20 gauge. The F.illi Rizzini (Rizzini Brothers) also split from one another, but the name is too well known to the readers of this magazine to need much introduction.
Except perhaps to observe that this maker of world class guns once was associated with this little gun. One might regret that it is not a modern-day Rizzini, but I could never afford one of those, and I can afford this one.
I measured the barrels with a Baker Barrel Reader and got the following measurements: the Bottom barrel has a bore diameter of .425 and a choke diameter of .416; the top barrel has a bore diameter of .424 and a choke diameter of .411. While the bores are a bit large, the chokes are appropriate for the markings. I tried each barrel on a sheet of paper at a range compatible with .410 shooting and each barrel gave a nice, well distributed open pattern with the modified pattern being slightly smaller than the improved cylinder pattern.
As I looked at the gun, I speculated on who might have used the little gun, as it certainly showed much use. My friend bought the gun used and hadn't a clue. The most likely story is that it was a boy's gun. Whatever the true origin, in the late 1960s, some lucky small-statured person had a perfect little shotgun for quail, rabbits, and doves.
Even though I am six feet tall, I have little trouble with shorter than average stocks, and I shot the little gun rather well, my first round of Skeet was a 23, which is about as well as I expect to do with a .410. Naturally I coveted the little gun, and thereafter, I pestered the owner so much he probably regretted ever mentioning it. Eventually, I annoyed him to the point that he finally, and let me say kindly, gave in and sold it to me.
I was reluctant to alter the short stock. For one thing the old leather-faced pad makes me nostalgic. For another, there are small children in my family who may one day benefit from such a nice little gun. After a good deal of searching I found a small rubber slip-on pad that adds about enough length to bring the gun back to standard dimensions, and the gun has proved a delight to shoot. In addition to the enjoyment of shooting Skeet with the little gun, I took it to a shooting preserve and managed to kill three pheasants, each with just one shot. I wish I had more opportunities to shoot it, but shortly after acquiring it, I moved to a part of the country that has only trap ranges, and trap is just a bit beyond what I regard as good .410 range.
I was never in Abercrombie & Fitch's Madison Avenue store, but one of my long-time shooting friends had business which occasionally took him to New York in the late 60s, and, as he actually had been there in its heyday, I asked him to give me his recollections of the experience.
I would like to wrap up with what he had this to say about the experience:
"My visits to Abercrombie&Fitch were a long time ago!
"I guess the thing remember most about them was the feeling of being in a very high class department store that catered to the " carriage trade" sportsman. One could buy everything from a second hand Purdey to a beautiful game scene oil painting. A very beautiful one done of flushing grouse comes to mind.
"About the only things I ever bought there were some nickel plated snap caps and a book on the paintings of C.M. Russell. Everything was, of course, first quality...no junk there.
"The atmosphere was one of understatement and there was no sales pressure. The sales people were reserved but polite and one was allowed to roam freely about.
"Having been to a Cabela's store, there is no question that there is
a better selection of goods to be found there today, however, in those
bygone years, A&F was a place of quiet solace to the harried urban sportsman
dreaming of far off coverts and great stags."
Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604. www.shotgunsportsmagazine.com