GR Krieghoff Essencia

krieghoff

GR Krieghoff Essencia

COURTESY OF KRIEGHOFF

Gun Review

BRUCE BUCK

After the second bottle had been

opened, dinner discussion turned

to “best” guns and who makes

them today. We were at the most recent

Vintage Cup and had been wallowing in

the finest doubles extant. Two of our

party suggested that these days the Germans

are making better English guns than

the English. Although the next evening

my dinner table full of English gunmakers

declined to share that opinion, there’s

no doubt that the Germans are producing

some stunning classic game guns.

In the past I’d always felt that German

and Austrian guns were built like bank

vaults—delightfully complex, yet visually

odd. I could never get past the heavy

engraving of open-mouthed ducks or the

rifle-like stock configurations

complete

with sling swivels

and cheekpieces.

I still can’t

fully forgive the

country’s gunmakers

for inflicting

the Schnabel

forend on us.

It was never a question of quality; it

was a question of taste. German makers

built for German customers and gave

them what they wanted. But so many others

worldwide admired the British gamegun

paradigm that it was only a matter of

time until some German craftsmen turned

their substantial abilities to producing

guns for that market too. One only has to

look at the current production of Hartmann

& Weiss or German native Philipp

Krieghoff Essencia

Ollendorff to find British-style sidelock

game guns the equal of any.

And then there is Krieghoff. In America

we think of the German K-80 over/under

as a competition gun. It is the most desired

O/U for American-style skeet and is

extremely popular for ATA trap. It also

picked up speed in sporting clays by winning

the 2006 World FITASC championship

in the able hands of Brit Ben Husthwaite.

Heavy, durable, extremely softshooting

and with the best trigger in the

business, it has come to epitomize what

many Americans want for

domestic

clay

Beautiful lines,

gorgeous coloring,

excellent performance—the Essencia is what a

shotgun is all about.

target games. A chauvinist

might note that this isn’t surprising,

as the K-80 stems from the

Remington Model 32, but that’s

unfair, as today’s K-80 is greatly

improved.

Although Americans think of

Krieghoffs in terms of clay target

guns, it is very different on the

Continent. There, Krieghoff markets

a variety of consummately

Germanic double- and treble-bar-

reled rifle/shotgun combination guns as

well as single-barreled rifles and even

some new Parabellum Luger-style pistols.

In the early ’90s Krieghoff commissioned

a single boxlock from Ivano Tanfoglio

at Ferlib to test the interest in marketing

a side-by-side game gun, but it

went no further for a decade. The introduction

of the Essencia side-by-side sidelock

at the 2003 Vintage Cup caught us

all by surprise. I was stunned when I first

saw it. How could

a company

whose aesthetics

centered about practical

slab-sided clays guns and

complex Drillings come up

with this smooth, seductive

sidelock classic? Shows you

what I know.

Steve Phillips, Krieghoff’s

director of sales,

told me that the Essencia

sidelock and its boxlock

sibling are both made in

Germany through a partnership

with German

master gunsmith Jens

Ziegenhahn. Ziegenhahn

is a fourth-generation gunmaker

and is well known

for his double rifles as

well as his classic custom

shotguns. At its introduction,

the Essencia received the

Shooting SportsmanAward as

an ideal custom-fitted game

gun at the Gold Medal Concours.

I was impressed by the

gun, and when one became

available for testing, I snapped

it up.

But first, to keep my comments

and expectations in

perspective, I should mention

shootingsportsman.com 87


the bottom line. The current list price of

the Essencia sidelock before options is

$24,950. It comes in 12 gauge with 28" or

30" barrels or in 16, 20 or 28 gauge—all

on a 20-gauge receiver—with 26.5", 28"

or 30" barrels. Our test gun was a 28" 20gauge

with double triggers. This price

range puts it significantly above the runof-the-mill

side-by-sides and significantly

below the British “best” and top Italian

efforts. For those who choose to invest

$25K in a field gun, it’s not so much a

question of absolute cost as it is relative

value. If $2,500 will buy a nice 20-gauge

side-by-side, what makes another 20-gauge

side-by-side worth 10 times as much?

Well, let me tell you.

The Essencia action is a seven-pin

back-action sidelock. Back action means

the mainspring faces rearward as opposed

to the forward-facing spring of a bar action.

A back-action design allows the action

bar to be rounded for a slimmer,

smoother look. The Essencia’s interior

design is a little different than what I’m

used to, but it is certainly clean and well

executed. All the springs are leaf. The

locks and bridles are case colored, the

springs are polished and everything else

is gold plated. The firing pins are disk-set

for easy removal from the face of the

standing breech. The disks have the usual

twin holes for removal-tool purchase, but

each one also has a perfectly indexed set

screw as an extra Teutonic touch. The

sidelocks are screwdriver removable, but

the Krieghoff manual warns owners not

to try it themselves. Verboten! They say

that the locks and stock should be removed

only by factory-trained personnel.

Lockup is by the classic Purdey double

underbolt. The standing breech also is recessed

to accept what Krieghoff refers to

as a Purdey third bite for additional lateral

stability. The locking lumps that engage

the bolt do not protrude through the

bottom of the receiver—something that

some feel is the sign of a “better” gun—

but the bottom of the receiver is removable

via a small and a large screw-on

plate. The latter plate holds the triggers.

The hinge pin, with cap-screw access, is

replaceable. Cocking indicators are the

classic gold-washed tumbler pivot stubs

protruding through the sidelocks. Between

the pinheads and numerous screw

heads, the outside of the action is busy but

not visibly so, as many of the heads are

obscured by the case coloring. All screwhead

and plate-alignment seams on our

gun were flawlessly flush.

Our test gun came with gold-plated

double triggers. The front trigger is artic-

88 March/April 2007

ulated to save knuckle dinging. Pulls

were crisp and consistent at 4 3/4 pounds

front and 6 pounds rear. As the Essencia

is a bespoke gun, you can order whatever

pulls you wish. If you prefer a single

(non-selective) trigger, that is available for

an additional $1,295. The trigger guard

has rounded edges on both sides.

As important as the triggers are on any

gun, on a field gun a smoothly operating

safety is just as important. The safety action

on our gun had just the right feel to

it. The Essencia comes with your choice

of an automatic or manual safety. The

safety button has a high, aggressively

checkered bump. Your thumb will positively

not slip, but a lot of use will put a

hole in your glove.

The automatic ejectors appear to be the

tried-and-true Southgate system. Ejector

mating to the face of the breech showed

flawless machining. They functioned flawlessly

too, without needlessly hurling the

empties into the next time zone the way

some guns do.

Our test gun was one of the original prototypes.

It was a 20-gauge with 28" barrels

and 3" chambers. Forcing cones were of

normal length, unlike the lengthened cones

so long a feature on K-80 target guns. At

.624", the bores were slightly over the .615"

standard. The fixed chokes were of the conical

parallel type and were listed as Improved

Cylinder and Modified, but you can

order anything you want, including Briley

screw chokes, for an extra fee. The fixed

chokes were carefully cut, with the tighter

choke showing an increase in length of the

conical and parallel sections compared to

the more-open choke. It is this flexibility of

choke length that gives fixed chokes an advantage

over screw chokes, especially in

tighter constrictions. Many choke designers

feel that tighter chokes require longer cones

and parallels than more-open chokes. Fixed

chokes permit this extra length, whereas the

uniform lengths of screw chokes do not.

The Essencia manual suggests that if you

must use steel shot, use it in steel-approved

screw-choked barrels with Modified

or less. Surely a gun like this deserves a

more-benign nontoxic-shot load.

The barrel rib is flat, concave and slightly

raised. It’s a nice compromise between

the raised rib and the swamped game rib.

There’s a tasteful metal bead up front. The

rib surface is plain, with what seems to be

a slightly duller finish than the flawlessly

rust-blued barrels. It was all beautifully

done, with one exception. Our test gun

clearly showed the solder seam where the

main rib met the 2" stub rib at the breech

end. As our test gun had been shot a good

bit, I wouldn’t mention it except that I saw

the same seam exposed in some product

photos of another Essencia. The rest of the

gun was so exquisite that this flaw really

stood out.

The 20-gauge-frame Essencias can be

had with extra 16- or 28-gauge barrel/

forend sets for $8,950 each. Extra 20gauge

barrels are $6,950, because you

don’t need an extra forend. As an interesting

aside, the chambers for optional 28gauge

Essencia barrels are listed at 3".

The Krieghoff K-80 28-gauge sporter barrels

I once used had 3" chambers too. I am

unfamiliar with a 3" 28-gauge shell. Perhaps

it is something uniquely Teutonic.

What isn’t uniquely Teutonic is an appreciation

of gorgeous walnut. It’s always

difficult to describe the wood on a gun

like this, because you can order pretty

much what you want. The dimensions are

up to you, as they should be. The quality

of walnut on our sample was simply stunning.

I don’t know whether this was the

“Grade II” standard wood or the “Very

Best,” at an optional $1,700. I couldn’t

imagine someone ordering a $25K gun

and not springing for the best wood.

Checkering was a whole lot of LPI—

about as fine as you can get and still provide

a gripping surface. It was perfectly

cut, too, with no errors at the corners or

edges. Ditto on the checkered butt. The

stock was finished in Tru-Oil, as so many

of the best European stockmakers do.

Krieghoff advises that you rub down the

stock with a drop or two of Tru-Oil every

now and then to keep it fresh.

The forend is listed as a semi-beavertail,

but it is so “semi” that it could pass for a

splinter, with just a touch more depth in

front where the Anson pushbutton is. The

interior of the forend is finished to the same

level as the exterior. Even the visible parts

of the ejector mechanism are gold plated.

Which leads us to the gingerbread. The

action of the gun is available in coin silver

nitride or blue if you don’t wish the standard

case coloring. But if you don’t get the

case coloring, even your dog shouldn’t

come when you call. The Essencia’s case

coloring is stunning, exceptional, breathtaking.

The blending of vibrant blues,

straws, purples and other hues are beyond

description. I don’t know where it was

done, but I’ve not seen better from St.

Leger or Turnbull. I was told that Krieghoff

uses a proprietary clear-coating process

that should immeasurably extend the life of

the colors. Our test gun was several years

old and had been through many hands. The

gold wash on the front trigger was just

starting to thin, but even the case coloring


of the much-handled edges of the action

had not thinned.

Unfortunately, there is a pimple on the

nose of perfection. Each side of the action

is inflicted with large gold letters screaming

Krieghoff.” I know that the company

is justly proud of its gun but, in an offering

so otherwise tasteful, this is a bit

much. Something a little subtler might be

in order.

You can have any kind of engraving

your wallet will tolerate, but the standard

pattern is just about perfect. It’s about 10percent

coverage of nicely executed fine

scroll, mostly along the borders and receiver

bottom. It’s a beautiful less-ismore

look that fits the restrained and classic

overall appearance. It doesn’t fight

with the rest of the gun for recognition the

way the engraving does on so many overembellished

sidelocks.

This is important, because it is the shape

of the Essencia action—not any particular

added embellishment—that imparts its

grace. I’ll be frank with you and commit a

little heresy. Although I always have admired

the quality of a classic traditional

sidelock, the juxtaposition of the flat sidelock

plate with the rest of the curved surfaces

of the gun always has seemed to

clash. The Essencia is mechanically a sidelock,

but it has a dainty rounded action. The

sidelocks flow into the stock with just the

slightest curve on the edges. There is no

drop-point transition. There are no abrupt

edges. The underside of the action is substantially

curved to fit the hand for comfortable

field carry. Yes, I know that everyone

is rounding sidelock actions these days, but

not like this. The Essencia’s smooth curves

are echoed by the slightly convex doubleindent

outline at the rear of the diminutive

sidelocks reminiscent of an 1880s British

gun like a Scott, Blanch or H&H Dominion.

It’s gorgeous. It’s sensual. It passes the

“close your eyes and run your hands over

it” test. No rough segments. No awkward

angles. Just smooth-flowing perfection.

The Essencia isn’t all just good looks either.

It’s a shooter. At 6 pounds 6 ounces, it

is about right for a 20-gauge. Balance was

on the pin. I didn’t measure moment of inertia,

but the gun feels as though it carries

just a little bit more of its weight at the extremities

than some more-center-weighted

British 20s I’ve shot. Not too much, but

just enough to impart some stability while

permitting rapid movement. Of course this

is all a matter of personal taste, but I really

think that in spite of its extraordinary

looks, this gun was designed by a shooter

for a shooter. Sometimes you can have

your strudel and eat it too.

Barrel convergence, ejectors, triggers

and safety all worked as they were supposed

to, though, as mentioned, I might

lighten the trigger pulls just a touch. They

were certainly crisp enough and gave instant

response. The barrels and action

were also easy to clean—a sign of

smoothly machined surfaces.

As befits such a gun, the Essencia

comes with a first-class all-leather Emmebi

case with separate canvas cover. It

contains snap-caps, which Krieghoff advises

you use to relax the springs before

storage. There is a one-year warranty. I

should also mention that the Krieghoff

service in the US is among the best you

will ever experience.

I’ve written gun reviews both here and

elsewhere for a number of years. During

that time I’ve shot junk and gems. This little

20 touched me in a way that few others

have. It’s one of those fortuitous combinations

of form and function. It is stunning

to look at, very well made and delightful

to use. The Essencia name was well chosen.

It’s what a shotgun is all about.

Author’s Note: For more information on

Krieghoff guns, contact Krieghoff International

Inc., 610-847-5173; www.krieghoff.com.

shootingsportsman.com 89

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