Hunting ringnecks with a Weatherby side-by-side — the second time around
By Clair Rees
“Get that bird!” someone shouted. I’d been picking my way through knee-high CRP and wasn’t as alert as I should have been. Pivoting right, I spotted the blur of wings as a rooster rocketed toward the far fenceline.
I had plenty of excuses for missing. It had been three years since I’d carried a side-by-side afield. My reflexes had been slow to kick in, and I was still adjusting to the broad sighting plane of the twin 20-gauge barrels.
The hail of 6s passed harmlessly by the bird, tickling his tail feathers. I swung farther ahead and pulled the trigger again — and again — and again as the pheasant dwindled in the distance. Old habits die hard. I’m accustomed to the single-selective triggers of my favorite stackbarrels.
A handful of fellow gun writers and I were gathered at the Highland Hills Ranch in Condon, Ore. Weatherby’s annual writer’s seminar had been held in the same place a year earlier, so we all figured some serious wingshooting was in store. Trophy mule deer could also be hunted on the ranch, but we’d heard rumors of a new shotgun that was to be introduced. Our money was on the birds.
While better known for its excellent Mark V and Vanguard hunting rifles, Weatherby has long offered quality over/under shotguns. The rugged, reliable SAS (Semi-Automatic Shotgun) entered the lineup several years before, followed by the Athena, a Spanish-made side-by-side.
I’d hunted with the Spanish gun at another Weatherby seminar a few years earlier. The 12 gauge looked and felt good, but the barrels would not shoot where they were pointed. After missing two cacklebirds at point-blank range, I fired at an empty water bottle on a hillside 40 yards away. The pattern kicked up dust a yard below the aiming point.
Either the stock was a terrible fit, or the barrels were badly mounted. I mentioned this to Brad Ruddell, Weatherby’s vice president of sales and marketing. He appreciated the input. After all, we were shooting very early prototypes, so perfection wasn’t expected. Brad promised to look into the problem once the guns were back at the Weatherby headquarters.
Taking care to move the muzzle well over the flushing birds, I continued my hunt. Considering the gun’s built-in handicap, I was fortunate to drop the next two pheasants that flew within range. And whenever I missed, I had a handy excuse.
The following day, I shared a sporting clays stand with Wayne Van Zwoll. I grinned when I noticed he was shooting the same 12-gauge Athena I’d used the day before. Wayne is an exceptional wingshot, so I stifled my chuckles as he missed target after target in growing frustration. Finally deciding the joke had gone far enough, I let Wayne in on the secret.
“Hold high,” I advised. “That gun’s shooting about three feet low.”
He gave me a disgusted look, and went right on missing. Who wouldn’t trust a fellow writer with mere egos at stake? When we all stopped for lunch, Wayne continued to shoot, stubbornly focused on curing his mysterious slump. As far as I know, that was the only Athena to misbehave.
Later, Brad assured me whatever had caused the glitch would be promptly identified and corrected. I never did get a replacement to try. Months later, the Spanish Athena was dropped from the line. Weatherby new double is made in Italy.
“Responding to continued demand for a Weatherby-quality side-by-side shotgun, we sought out the best artisans, gunmakers and materials, and eventually found the ideal manufacturing partner in Fausti Stefano Arms of Italy,” Ruddell said.
“We wanted unmatched wood-to-metal fit and every appointment worthy of a classic field double gun,” he added. “We wanted top quality and performance. Ultimately, we wanted a side-by-side that rivals guns costing thousands more. We believe we achieved that with the Athena D’Italia.”
The sample I hunted with was a 12-gauge gun with 28-inch barrels, although 20- and 28-gauge guns were also in the works. Screw-in chokes and a takedown case are included. The barrels are chrome lined, have lengthened forcing cones and are backbored to dampen recoil and throw more even patterns.
The action is a modified version of the well-known Anson and Deeley boxlock, with a Purdey double-locking system for precise barrel-to-action alignment. The false sideplates and the bottom of the receiver are extensively scroll engraved.
While the Weatherby double I’d used years earlier had been a disappointment, the Athena D’Italia performed beautifully. It balanced nicely in my hands and was a joy to carry. It also pointed naturally and shot to the point of aim. Fit and finish were virtually flawless.
I’ve already mentioned the D’Italia’s double triggers. Classic double-gun fanciers prefer twin triggers because they allow you to switch barrels (thus choke constrictions) almost instantly. Mechanical tang-mounted and trigger-mounted selectors are much slower to bring into play.
Following the presentation, I returned to the field to bag a few more birds. This time around, I had less trouble triggering follow-up shots. My shooting gradually improved as the day wore on.
While I thoroughly enjoyed hunting with Weatherby’s 12-gauge Athena D’Italia, I much prefer lighter 20- or 28-gauge doubles for upland game.
As I write this, the bird season is still months down the road. I’ll be well prepared on opening day. Weatherby just sent a 20-gauge Athena D’Italia for me to continue my “testing.” This delightful little gun has 26-inch barrels and tips the scales at a bare 6 3/4 pounds.
The gun apparently fits me well, and I’ve shot a few clay pigeons with it at my desert range. The D’Italia powdered them nicely. I love the way this classy double looks, handles and feels. I can’t wait to give it a serious workout in the field this fall.
Reprinted from the September 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.