September 23, 2010
An over-and-under for all seasons.
Its extremely thin and shallow reciever makes the 20 gauge Blaser F3 very comfortable to carry with one hand while afield.
All photos by Layne Simpson.
Seems like somebody somewhere introduces a "new" over-under shotgun each time the sun peeps over the horizon and while there are often nice guns among them, they all too often are very much alike. Then occasionally a truly new and different gun such as the Blaser F3 comes along and it causes great excitement among sportsmen who both enjoy and appreciate the finer things in life.
From a distance the F3 might appear to be just another gun with one barrel resting atop another but closer examination reveals design details that set it apart from the rest, not just for the sake of difference but in a successful attempt at making it better.
Better known for its switch-barrel hunting rifles, Blaser (pronounced Blah-zer) is located in Isny, Germany and is headed by Bernard Knobel. The fact that Bernard was previously employed by Krieghoff for a decade or so explains in part why Blaser is now building its first shotgun.
The 20 gauge F3: what a wonderful quail gun!
Under development for several years, the first F3 guns were unveiled in Europe during 2004 but it was not until 2005 that I got to shoot them on a sporting clays course at Flint Oak in Kansas. Target guns with barrel lengths of 28, 30 and 32 inches were on hand and after trying them all from the low-gun start, I concluded that the longest barrels were for me.
This brings up the first really interesting feature about this gun. At the factory, barrel wall thickness is varied so the barrels weigh the same regardless of length, which means that the 28-inch barrels weigh the same as the 30-inch and 32-inch barrels. This is done to position the balance point of the gun the same regardless of which barrels it might wear, but even so, the guns I shot felt much more responsive in my hands when they wore the longest barrels. I won't attempt to explain why except to say it was probably more mental than physical.
As over-under shotguns go, the F3 receiver is both narrow and shallow enough to make it comfortable to carry with one hand. The 12-gauge receiver is 1.60 inches wide and 2.40 inches deep compared to 1.45 inches wide and 2.35 inches deep for my 20-gauge Browning Superposed. I have not measured the 20-gauge F3 receiver but I have hunted with one of those guns and it felt comparable in size or perhaps a bit smaller than the Superposed.
Interchangable chokes in both extended (shown here) and flush-fit are styles offered from Briley.
A removable plate at the bottom of the receiver allows easy access to internal parts. Unlike the typical over-under with its internal hammers, the F3 has linear strikers and due to captive mainsprings, the gun will fire even if a spring is broken. Should the gun be dropped with enough force to release the strikers, safety catches prevent them from moving forward to strike the firing pins. Locktime is an extremely quick 18 milliseconds.
The single trigger is mechanically reset and an inertia block prevents involuntary second pull, or fan-firing as it is also called. The trigger blade can be moved to adjust length of pull. The ejector springs are cocked only when the gun is fired, preventing spring fatigue when it is in storage, a design referred to by Blaser as the Ejection-Ball-System. The two-position safety slide can be set for manual or automatic operation. Trigger pull weight is specified at just over three pounds and it is without a doubt the smoothest, cleanest-breaking trigger I have ever tried on any shotgun.
From a hunter's point of view, the one fat fly swimming around in this particular bowl of soup is the barrel selector. Located just forward of the trigger, it is great on a clay target gun but there are better designs for hunting guns (the one worn by the Remington 3200 tops them all). To heck with barrel selectors--I'd like to see the F3 offered with two triggers, something rarely seen on over-unders even though they make as much sense there as on a side-by-side gun.
Higher grade guns are embellished with extensive engraving coverage coverage and fancy wood.
As in the Browning Superposed, the monobloc of the Blaser has an underlug that protrudes through the floor of the receiver and is engaged by a locking bolt emerging from the lower end of the standing breech. The face of the lug is easily replaced if years of wear require doing so. The barrels hinge on replaceable pins in the receiver. The hammer-forged barrels have three-inch chambers, are slightly overbored at .735-inch for the 12 gauge, have slightly lengthened forcing cones and wear a flat ventilated rip up top.
With industrial-grade chrome on the inside and plasma nitride on the outside, the barrels are not likely to rust on the worst of rainy-day duck hunts. All screw-in chokes are made for Blaser by Briley and nine different options ranging from Cylinder to Extra-Full are available. Another five chokes intended for use with steel shot range from Skeet to Full. Both flush-mount and extended styles are offered available.
Grades range from the basic gun with a gold-colored "F3" on its receiver to extensively engraved models with fancy wood that would require a visit to the bank for most of us. Guns configured for skeet, trap and sporting clays are available but since I am 99 percent bird hunter and one percent clay target shooter, the F3 Game is the gun I'd rather take home--with one exception. I would have the dealer swap out the schnabel forearm for the standard forearm.
Nominal weight of the field gun is 7.5 pounds in 12 gauge and 7.2 pounds in 20 gauge. Barrel length options are 27, 28 and 29 inches for the 12 and 28 inches only for the 20-gauge gun.
Standard stock dimensions are a pull length of 14.6 inches (with the trigger blade in its mid position) and drops at com
b and heel of 1.6 and 2.2 inches. Those with longer arms can specify a pull length of 15.4 inches at no extra charge and the same goes for drops at comb and heel of 1.5 and 2.0 inches, respectively.
The stock has a bit of cast, 0.12 inch at comb, 0.24 inch at heel and 0.32 inch at toe, or so say the specifications. A left-hand stock with those same dimensions is also available. The good news for southpaw shooters does not end there--the top lever can also be ordered in a left-hand version.
The F3 handled quite nicely in the field.
The Blaser F3 will surely prove to be as popular among those who sell it as those who buy it simply because its modular design along with the ultra-precision machining of parts makes each and every one of its component parts completely interchangeable. Rather than the owner of a gun shop having to stock all the various styles and models of hunting and target guns, he can stock one or two along with various parts that will transform them into whatever the customer might be looking for.
If his customer is a bird hunter, the barrel length and rib height he prefers along with a field stock and forearm are fitted to the receiver of his choice and he walks out the door a happy man. If the next customer who drops in is interested only in a gun to be used for shooting trap, skeet or sporting clays, barrels, stock, forearm and the top rib are switched in order to come up with a gun built just for him with no long wait for a special order from the factory.
The customer also has the option of doing his own parts-switching later on and the trap gun he bought is easily modified to make it better suited for other activities whether it be pheasant hunting or skeet shooting or a dove shoot with good friends. Even the top lever can be switched to left-hand opening, something those who shoot a gun from the other side will never want to be without once they try it.
I examine so many new shotguns each year it takes something really innovative to get my attention and no shotgun has impressed me more lately than the F3 from Blaser. Its quality is beyond superb. More technical information is available at www.blaser.de (click on the American flag icon at the right to switch the homepage to English); or to find the location of the dealer nearest you, contact Blaser USA Inc., 220G Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD 21666 (Tel: 410-604-1495).