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Hardware: Weatherby Orion I

Hardware: Weatherby Orion I

Although absent from the Weatherby catalog for the past few years, stack-barrel shotguns are nothing new to the California-based gunmaker. As early as 1967, Roy Weatherby had plans for double-barrel shotguns and not long after introduced the Italian-made Regency. From Italy, the company followed the spice route through Asia to Japan. Here, its over/under shotguns—the Orion and Athena—were made by the venerable SKB Arms Co. from 1980 until 2007, at which time production shifted back to Italy under the house of Fausti Stefano. Those D’Italia guns were very short-lived, however, succumbing to the high exchange rate of the Euro that killed off so many European-made firearms in the last decade.

For 2015, Weatherby is testing the waters of the over/under market once again, this time turning to the Turks in an effort to hit that thin line where affordability and quality meet. There are a lot of great gunmakers in Turkey, and Weatherby has obviously found one in ATA Weapons Industries, as the Orion I exhibits the kind of quality rarely found on a double gun with a street price that will likely fall under a thousand dollars.

Weatherby guns—whether of the rifle or smoothbore persuasion—have always been known for their distinctive lines and the new Orion I follows suit. Like the original Orion, the straight buttstock features a rounded Prince of Wales grip, but it’s the fore-end that really sticks out, quite literally. Viewed in profile, it sports what can only be described as a round belly. While this feels fine in the hand, it doesn’t do much for the gun’s overall appearance. The semi-flattop checkering is of an angular design and scribes 22 lines per inch. The wood is A-grade walnut finished in a high gloss. That and the black, forged-steel receiver are both a bit shiny for my taste but admittedly add a richer look to an otherwise straight-forward field gun.

Some of the fore-end’s bulging appearance can be attributed to the trim boxlock and monobloc construction, which creates a shallower, more streamlined receiver. Overall, this also makes for a light, though easy-shooting, 12-gauge that weighs just 7 pounds, 3 ounces on a digital scale. The break action locks up via a pair of conical pins that extend from the breech face into matching cylinders on the barrel—a proven and strong design.

The safety is on the tang and doubles as the barrel selector. While the safety was positive on my test gun, as it should be, the left-to-right movement of the barrel selector felt overly loose, though there was enough of a detent that I don’t think it would slip accidentally. Ejectors and a single trigger round out the package.

The chrome-lined barrels are attached via a solid welded separator running about three-quarters of the way from the muzzle to the breech. Underneath the fore-end, the space between the barrels is open to the monobloc in an effort to shave some weight and, ostensibly, save Weatherby some money in production costs. Checkered to eliminate glare, the full-length ventilated rib is fitted with a single, screw-in brass bead. The screw-in choke tubes sit flush with the muzzle. From the factory, the gun comes with cylinder and modified chokes in place, and a full choke and star wrench are included.

Out of the box, the action was as stiff as you would expect for a new gun, requiring some oomph to open, but within a few boxes of light target loads it loosened up a bit. The Orion I is available with 26- and 28-inch barrels; I opted for the longer version to get a bit more weight up front. The balance point on my test gun was right at the trunnions, and on the trap range the Orion I was fast but not whippy. Once I settled into the fit, which was just a tad short for my long arms and neck, I had no problems dusting doubles. Throughout the test, the gun never failed to fire, and the ejectors threw empties well over my shoulder. After about half a case, the action did get gritty, but that’s to be expected.

Somewhat surprising for a light 12-gauge, the Orion I was fairly easy on the shoulder, at least with 2¾-inch trap loads. I did send a box of 3-inch, 15/8-ounce loads downrange, and while not overly pleasant, the recoil was tolerable. In theory, this can be attributed to the shallower receiver that reduces muzzle jump and transfers the recoil on a straighter axis. However, the Pachmayr Decelerator pad is also doing its job by easing a lot of the kick. The pad is chamfered along the heel to slide easily into the shoulder pocket with less chance of snagging, although I did catch it a couple times when shooting in a loose T-shirt.

The market for inexpensive double guns has flourished in recent years as manufacturers have found ways to break the bottom of the price range with a bunch of sub-$1,000 guns. Weatherby flirts with that price range with the Orion I, a fine and affordable addition to the precursor Italian and Japanese models that Weatherby fans covet. Although no additional models have been announced, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Turkish version of the fancier Athena makes an appearance in the Weatherby catalog in coming years.

Technical Specifications:

• Type:boxlock over/under shotgun
• Gauge/Chamber: 12/3"
• Barrels: 26", 28" (tested); chrome-lined, vent rib, threaded for choke tubes
• Sights: front brass bead
• Safety: tang-mounted manual w/barrel selector
• Trigger: single, mechanical; 6.31-lb. pull weight
• Stock: A-grade walnut, gloss finish; LOP 145/8"; drop at heel 23/8"; drop at comb 15/8"
• Metal Finish: gloss black
• Overall Length: 453/4"
• Weight: 7 lbs., 3 oz.
• Accessories: 3 choke tubes (IC, M, F), choke-tube wrench
• MSRP: $1,099

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