Small-Bore Heaven

An Elegant Brace Of 28-gauge
Shotguns Handle Like A Dream

By Holt Bodinson

Catching my eye at the 2017 SHOT Show were two new, very attractive 28-gauges—a svelte Model “Iside” SxS double by F.A.I.R. and an upgraded Model 555 O/U by Stevens. Given the recent appearance of some great 28-gauge loads, like Federal’s Gold Medal series, maybe this will be the year of the 28-gauge. I hope so. The gauge generates effective patterns, little recoil and, because of its size, enables gun makers to chamber it in some of the nicest handling, nicely proportioned smoothbores you can carry afield.

Now, I admit I’m an unabashed fan of the 28-gauge. I do more upland bird hunting than any other sport. Because of our years of drought in Arizona resulting in reduced quail populations, we walk and walk and walk for even just a few birds. A heavy gun just ruins your day so more of us are looking for a lighter gun packing adequate ballistics to take upland game from 20 to 45 yards. The 28-gauge is proving almost ideal for the chore.

The 3/4-ounce charge weight-to-bore size of the 28-gauge produces unusually well distributed patterns. Not only do most 28’s pattern well but most people shoot them well. Fast on target and easy on the shoulder, they are so light you can spend all day afield without coming home feeling like a worn-out gun bearer. The two 28’s pictured here are classic examples. The F.A.I.R. weighs a mere 5-1/4 pounds while the Stevens tips the scales at 5-3/4 pounds. Those comfortable weights also recommend the 28-gauge as being a great fit for youths and smaller statured adults. In the role as a beginner’s gun, the 28-gauge simply trounces the .410.

Because they are delightful little wands, they do require a bit of a learning curve for most shooters. They are so light and fast they tend to throw off your timing, particularly if you tend to strong arm a swing and follow through as I do. Outgoing and incoming targets are easy. Crossing and quartering shots can be a challenge. A little time spent shooting skeet and sporting clays to refine your timing with a light 28-gauge is a good investment.

Shooting coach Gil Ash gave me some invaluable advice on crossing and quartering shots with any lightweight double gun. He urged me to track the target with the muzzles on a parallel line just below the target line. As you approach the desired break point, you mount the gun, swing the muzzles up into the target line and shoot. Good advice—it works.

For me, it accomplishes two things. The flight of the target is not obscured by the barrels of the double gun and by having the target in view the whole time, you can adjust your swing to the speed of the target and eliminate any tendency to over-swing.

Both the Iside (above) and the 555 (below) produced well
distributed patterns with high core densities.


The SxS double is the model “Iside” (pronounced EE-Sah-Day according to the importer) made by F.A.I.R. of Marcheno (Brescia), Italy and imported by the Italian Firearms Group of North America located in Amarillo, Texas. The F.A.I.R. acronym stands for Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini. The Rizzini firm is known not only for its game guns but for its competition models and double rifles as well.

Looking at the Iside, it is evident Rizzini is a company blending excellent design with the most modern, numerically controlled manufacturing processes. The end product is a balanced shotgun with great lines, close tolerances and an affordable price.

Maintaining the desirable slim and trim lines of a quality 28-gauge, Rizzini has properly proportioned the frame to the small gauge. The shallow frame of the Iside measures only 1.92 inches from the bottom of the frame to the top of the standing breech. The shallow frame combined with the straight grip and splinter fore-end of the Iside minimize the distance from the bore axis to the palm of the leading hand. This all-important hands-to-barrel relationship is exactly the mark of all fine game guns. It’s called “pointability.” The Iside points.

The Iside model pictured is the “basic” grade. There are several more deluxe grades in the line, but higher elegance does not improve performance. This Iside sports double triggers, not a single selective, and extractors, not ejectors. A large, thumb-friendly safety resets when the action is opened. The frame is nicely color case-hardened. The walnut stocks are straight grained with just a hint of figure and laser checkered with a very appealing and distinctive pattern.

The buttstock has a thick, nicely rounded comb and offers a length-of-pull of approximately 15.25 inches to the front trigger and 14.25 inches to the rear trigger. According to Rizzini, drop at the nose of the comb is 1.42 inches and at the heel 2.25 inches. With a circumference of only 4.25 inches, the straight grip is ideal for small hands. The butt is finished off with a thin, plastic buttplate. A thin rubber plate would be more desirable and more secure. (I’m tired of plasticbutt plates skidding out from under a resting gun.)

The barrels are 28 inches long which is a good compromise length for a game gun. They’re fast to mount, provide sufficient momentum to your swing and place muzzle blast out there where it should be. The barrels are joined with a solid rib and accept a standard cross-section of thin-walled, screw-in choke tubes. No sign of swollen, threaded muzzles on this Iside and the Iside balances right at the hinge pin where it should.

If you’re a small bore, SxS aficionado, F.A.I.R.’s Iside double is a lot of gun for the money. The Italians know how to build lively shotguns and this is one of them.

F.A.I.R. and Stevens’ new 28-gauges address a real need for light, hard-hitting upland guns.

Stevens Model 555 Enhanced

We reviewed Steven’s standard Model 555 in 20-gauge 2 years ago with a workout in the dove fields of Arizona. It proved to be a sleek, lightweight, upland, O/U delivering excellent patterns and overall excellent field performance, according to the doves. Made by Kofs of Turkey, there are two new 555 models in the Stevens line-up this year in the Model 555 “Compact” with 24-inch barrel and Model 555 “Enhanced” as pictured here.

What we liked when reviewing the standard Model 555 was its lightweight, aluminum receiver fitted with steel trunnions and measuring only 2.3 inches from the bottom of the frame to the top of the standing breech. The new enhanced silver receiver now features full coverage, laser-cut scroll engraving. The engraving pattern itself is very attractive with even the hint of ersatz sideplates.

The walnut used in the enhanced model stocks has been upgraded with a noticeable figure, particularly in the butt while the circumference of the wrist of the pistol grip measures a svelte 4.5 inches. This dimension plus the shallow frame of the 555 and the upswept line of the Schnabel fore-end minimize the distance from the bore axis to the palm of your leading hand. Like Rizzini’s Iside, the Stevens 555 is a natural pointer.

The enhanced 555 features automatic ejectors, and the O/U barrel selector is incorporated in the safety button which, however, does not reset when the action is opened. For safety reasons, it should. Overall, Stevens’ Model 555 Enhanced is an attractive, well performing O/U with a price point just slightly higher than their standard grade.

No hunting seasons were open so I stuck to my favorite HunterJohn clays patterning targets to run the guns through their paces. On hand were Federal’s new 28-gauge Gold Medal 3/4-ounce field and target loads consisting of hard, premium shot in 6, 7.5 and 8.5 sizes. For testing, I selected the 7.5 upland load with a velocity of 1,295 fps, medium choke tubes and HunterJohn patterning targets set out at 30 yards. Being springtime, there was a constant wind blowing from right-to-left. I didn’t try to compensate for it. I just held on the red bead at the center of the target and let fly.

Three targets were shot with each barrel. Any clay bird that received two or more pellets was “X’ed out. The results pictured were typical. The patterns were offset slightly to the left by the wind, but the distribution of shot, and particularly in the core area, was excellent. In fact, the core densities were so tight with the modified tubes I would definitely go to an IC and M combination for hunting.

Either one of these quality 28’s will provide you with exceptional handling and performance afield as well as pride-of-ownership.

It all comes down to whether you’re an SxS or an O/U person. That’s life.

Gold Medal Ammunition Federal Cartridge Co.
Anoka, MN 55303

HunterJohn Targets
P.O. Box 771457
St. Louis, MO 6317
(314) 531-7250

MAKER: Fabbrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini, Marcheno, Italy
IMPORTER: Italian Firearms Group-North America, LLC
1619 South Kentucky, Ste. B-210
Amarillo, TX 79102, (800) 398-0779

GAUGE: 28-gauge
BARREL LENGTH: 28 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 45.5 inches
LENGTH-OF-PULL: 14.5 inches
DROP AT COMB: 1.42 inches
DROP-AT-HEEL: 2.25 inches
WEIGHT: 5.25 pounds
FINISH: Polished blue
STOCK: Walnut
SIGHTS: Brass bead
Price: $1,475

555 Enhanced
MAKER: Kofs, Isparata, Turkey,
IMPORTER: Stevens By Savage,
100 Springdale Rd.,
Westfield, MA 01085,
(413) 642-4262,

GAUGE: 28-gauge
BARREL LENGTH: 26 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 43.5 inches
LENGTH-OF-PULL: 14 inches
DROP-AT-COMB: 1.5 inches
DROP-AT-HEEL: 2.25 inches
WEIGHT: 5.75 pounds
FINISH: Satin blue
STOCK: Walnut
SIGHTS: Brass bead
PRICE: $863

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