Despite my affection for light, small-gauge upland doubles, TriStar’s 28-gauge Bristol Silver SxS scared me. Too small. Too trim. Too light. And then I shot it. Just right!
Honestly, this doll-size, 5.25-pound side-by-side carries, rises, points and shoots like an extension of my arm, which is just what an upland bird gun is supposed to do. But what a surprise for an entry-level double with a suggested retail of just $1,040.
Well-built, reasonably priced side-by-sides used to be a staple in the USA, but by mid-20th century they’d faded under the onslaught of even less expensive pumps and autoloaders with their high-capacity magazines. By the 1970s, side-by-sides were Great Grandpa’s antiques.
Well, what goes around comes around, and as upland bird hunting became tougher and tougher, participants became devotees, and devotees are always more deeply involved than fair-weather hunters. They make up for a shortage of birds by investing more time and energy in dogs, vests, boots, hats, shells, history and—most of all—shotguns. Life’s too short to hunt with an ugly gun.
But when pretty guns are also pretty expensive, as they usually are, many of us can’t indulge them. This TriStar Bristol Silver solves that. The laser-engraved, nickel-finished steel receiver contrasts with deeply blued, 28-inch barrels and a Grade 2, satin oil-finished Turkish walnut stock with shockingly rich and extensive figure shot with flame reminiscent of tiger stripes. The quality would be surprising on a gun at twice the price. The checkering pattern is rather mundane, but the points are sharp enough for good function and the borders clean with no overruns. Wood to metal fit is impressively tight and slightly proud. A black plastic spacer protects the end grain and a lightly stippled, three-eighth-inch-thick black rubber pad provides minimal recoil absorption, good “stick” to the shoulder, and ground grip when standing the gun.
Mechanically this is a simplified Anson & Deeley-style boxlock with a Deeley-type latch in the fore-end. The gold-plated, single-selective trigger is mechanical, so the second barrel will fire with or without the recoil of the first. Trigger pull was 3 pounds, 12 ounces for each barrel with a fair bit of overtravel. A barrel selector switch slides left-right in the center of the tang safety. Here is the only flaw I discovered in this otherwise proper functioning gun: a catch in the safety. With the barrel selector set for the right barrel, differing thumb pressure on the safety would variably push it off or make it hang up, perhaps on a burr inside the action. With the selector switch set to the left barrel, this rarely happened. My test gun was one of the first off the line, so perhaps this is an early blip, but something to check for when shopping. TriStar has a full five-year warranty on this double-barrel, so any glitches like this would be remedied at no charge.
The Bristol’s monobloc barrels come flared near the muzzle to accommodate screw chokes, five of which ship with the gun: full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder and skeet. Considerable if subtle rippling can be seen in reflections off the barrels and the center rib, which is not raised. None of this hindered our shooting.
A friend and I indulged a round of clays with slight trepidation. Tyrell had never shot a 28-gauge before. Nor a side-by-side. Nevertheless, he dropped but one target. The old veteran, alas, dropped two. But he blames one on the safety catch distracting his concentration.
Auto-ejectors seemed perfectly timed. Each selectively spit empty hulls smartly over our shoulders. After losing a couple in the snow, I began holding my hand over the breech to catch them. The action was tight, befitting a new gun. A locking bar in the bottom rear of the action well slides forward upon barrel closing to fit into a tapered underlug notch, suggesting this action should shoot tight with use.
Seriously, Tyrell and I were both impressed with the handling characteristics and natural pointing of this little gun. Both barrels are chambered for 2¾-inch shells. We were shooting Winchester AA ¾-ounce No. 7.5 loads spreading some 262 projectiles from skeet and IC chokes. The gun balances at the hinge, so the 28-inch barrels came up quickly and smoothly, yet their length seems to aid follow-through. Should be the perfect action in the grouse woods and quail thickets. I wouldn’t be at all afraid to hire it in the open, often-windy pheasant fields of South Dakota, either.
All told, the TriStar Bristol Silver 28-gauge is a splendid option for anyone wanting to get into shooting a classic looking, classic handling, traditionally effective upland shotgun. And if 28-gauge isn’t your favorite size, look for one in 20-gauge, 12-gauge or .410.