July 19, 2016
Turkish auto-loaders sometimes come with a not-so-pleasant stigma attached to them. But Gus Bader, the man in charge of TriStar, has changed all that. He asks one simple thing of the people making his quality guns: that each one off the assembly line be a replica of the one that came before it.
Bader took over TriStar in 2005 with the goal of offering quality and value in a wide variety of firearms, and the Viper G2 Bronze is a functioning auto-loader that has the beauty of any $1,500 gun at half the price.
Prominent among TriStar's shotguns are their semi-autos, and models are offered for just about any shotgun purpose. They are made by Armsan, a respected manufacturer in Turkey. Whether you want a smoothbore for hunting, clay targets or home defense; a youth or left-hand model, wood, camo or synthetic stocks, TriStar has several from which to choose.
The Viper line has three subsets. In ascending levels of ornamentation, they are called Wood, Silver, and Bronze. All are available in 12- or 20-gauge with 3" chambers, and Silver and Bronze are made in 28-gauge with 2¾" chambers.
In the past, the very mention of Turkish guns gave me considerable disquietude, but I am always willing to give new models a try. At a recent seminar, a Viper Bronze 20-gauge languished on the table. It was cool in the shade of the large canopy, so I ambled over and gave the Viper a quick once over.
It was certainly attractive, and the wood bordered on spectacular — dark and well-figured, like the wet fur of a chocolate Lab. We all know instantly whether we will be able to hit with a shotgun when we mount it, so I threw it to my shoulder. The Viper's stock fit me to a "T" so I was instantly smitten.
I grabbed a box of 7/8-ounce target loads and headed to the firing line. Targets flew from every direction: in-bound, out-bound, crossers, rabbits, you name it. Unless I stopped my swing or flinched, the sleek little semi-auto pulverized the clays, and never hiccuped one time. Its mild recoil made it comfortable to shoot. I went back for more shells. I shot it so much I was darned near ashamed of myself.
The test gun I received was even more attractive than the one I had earlier abused. It was handsome, fleet in the hands and well balanced. The balance point was exactly at the barrel-receiver junction, and overall, it handled superbly.
The stock and forend of the Bronze sported high-grade Turkish walnut. It had considerable figure and swirl, and a nice high-gloss finish. There is plenty of checkering on the sides of the forend and pistol grip, too, which offers a good handhold.
Length-of-pull measured just a hair over 14½ inches. The drop at comb and heel are 1½ and 2½ inches. The buttstock has a 7/8-inch ventilated recoil pad that actually works.
The ventilated rib on the Viper's 26-inch barrel has a red fiber-optic front sight. While highly visible, it looks a bit out of place on such an elegant shotgun. A 28-inch barrel is also offered, and each comes with improved cylinder, modified, and full chokes. All of the choke tubes except the full are rated for use with steel shot.
The most distinctive aesthetic feature of the Viper is the "bronze" finish on the aluminum receiver. It is not anodizing, but tough-as-nails Cerakote. The barrel has a very uniform bright blue finish, and the chamber and bore are chrome-plated.
The "TriStar" logo is etched in gold on the lower rear of each side of the receiver. All Viper models have 11mm dovetail grooves on top of the receiver so the owner can easily mount a scope or red-dot sight.
The trigger pull is good, if not excellent, at 7 pounds, 6 ounces, and a cross-bolt manual safety is located at the back of the trigger-guard behind the trigger. The trigger unit itself is easily removed for cleaning by drifting out a single pin. The bolt release button is in the logical place beneath the ejection port on the right side of the receiver, just where you'd expect it to be.
An interesting feature of the Viper G2 is what TriStar calls the "Manual E-Z load Magazine Cut-Off." This allows the shooter to unload the chamber without disturbing the shells in the magazine. There is no lever like on the old Browning A5; all you need is your thumb.
To remove the shell in the chamber, make sure the gun is on safe, then turn the gun over so it's bottom up, depress the "elevator" (shell lifter) and hold it down. Then retract the bolt back until its face is even with the back of the ejection port. (If you pull the bolt back too far, it will trip the shell interceptor latch, and release a round from the magazine.)
Then remove the round by hand, and ease the bolt forward. The ammo in the magazine will stay put. This is detailed in the owner's manual. This takes much more time to describe than do, of course.
The Viper's gas system uses a piston or "flange" that goes in the "gas cylinder" under the barrel. No adjustment is required when switching loads, just load 'em up and shoot. The Viper's owner's manual states that ammunition suitable for the 20-gauge can have shot charges weighing from "15/16 to 1¼ ounces." I didn't have any loads with 15/16th ounce of shot handy, but the Viper gobbled up all the 7/8-ounce loads I fed it.
There is no better test than shooting live birds, so I took the Viper to the Claythorne Lodge Shooting Preserve near Columbus, Kansas. Claythorne features pheasants and chukars and has over 600 acres of diverse cover to hunt.
For this foray, I hunted ring-necked pheasants. I used Federal Premium loads with 1-ounce of copper-plated 6s. Released birds still have to be hunted, and as the dogs scampered all over the fields, they would lock up in solid points every few minutes.
Several times the shifty rascals waited until we'd walked by them, to flush. I'd like to tell you that the Viper and I didn't miss, but that wouldn't be true. These game-farm chickens must not have gotten the email that they're supposed to wait patiently to be punted into the air before being shot. But I got six out of my 8 birds.
Overall, I was pleased and impressed with the performance of the little Viper. It hit where I looked, and its light weight made it a joy to carry. If you are in the market for a quality semi-auto that doesn't break the bank, the TriStar Viper G2 is worth a look.
The lissome little auto-loader is aesthetically pleasing, functionally reliable, modestly priced, and is just the ticket for a fine day afield with your favorite bird dog.