July 31, 2020
The Franchi Instinct L over-under in 20 gauge featured in this report was brand-new when I received it, but the Instinct shotgun and I have been good friends since 2011. That was the year I had the pleasure of participating in a two-week wingshooting safari in Kenya. It was the introductory outing for the Instinct, and after hunting for about a week in the Galana River area, we loaded up the safari vehicles and headed north to Masailand, close to Amboseli National Park. Prior to our arrival, an elaborate tent camp had been set up within sight of Mount Kilamanjaro.
A group of Masai warriors from a nearby village visited daily. They carried razor-sharp lion spears, which were decidedly not for show because the lions we photographed had obviously never seen a zoo. We also spotted Cape buffalo, elephants, and other big game. Carrying a 20-gauge shotgun while not knowing what might be lurking behind the next big thorn thicket made each day of wingshooting yellow necked spurfowl, crested francolin, and high-flying sand grouse as exciting as upland hunting anywhere in the world.
The Instinct was introduced in two variations (L and SL), and both are still in production, plus a third version (LX) is now included. The steel receiver of the L grade featured in this report has a color-casehardened finish with a touch of machine engraving. The aluminum receiver of the more expensive SL grade has a titanium insert in its standing breech. The receiver has a brushed finish and light engraving coverage. The LX is a high-grade version with gold inlay and engraving.
The stocks and forearm of the L are A-grade European walnut, and the MSRP is $1,369 for 12 and 20 gauges and $1,469 for 28 gauge and .410 Bore. The SL and LX grade guns will set you back anywhere from $230 to $360 more depending on the gauge.
The color-casehardened finish on the Instinct L’s receiver contrasts nicely with a blued finish on the barrels, top lever, and safety slide. A gold-colored “F” engraved on the bottom of the trigger guard and “INSTINCT L” on the right-hand side of the receiver add more touches of class.
Wood-to-metal fit is quite good, and while the walnut has very little contrasting figure, the application of its durable satin finish leaves nothing to be desired. A uniformly proud fit leaves just enough wood above the metal for future refinishing or removal of scratches, dents, and other light damage incurred during years of hard use in the field.
The stock has a half-pistol grip (or round knob grip as described in the old days by Browning for its Superposed shotgun). It is a nice compromise between a straight grip and the English Prince of Wales grip. Circumference of the grip is 5 inches, and the forearm measures 6.88 inches around its midpoint. Those dimensions are close to ideal for a 20-gauge bird gun. Pull length from the recoil-absorbing pad to the gold-colored trigger is 14.5 inches. Drops at comb and heel are 1.5 and 2.5 inches. A modified Deeley-style latch makes the forearm easy to remove and to reinstall. Execution of the 16-line, machine-cut checkering is quite satisfactory with not a single flat-topped diamond or border runover revealed by my trusty magnifying glass.
As 20-gauge over-under shotguns go, the Instinct L is both narrow and shallow through the receiver area, and that makes it comfortable in the one-hand field carry. It measures only 6.75 inches in circumference, and when grasped with one hand, the tips of my thumb and middle finger make firm contact. At the midpoint of its receiver, the Instinct L measures 2.303 inches. Like I said, it is a very trim gun.
Weight ratings of the Instinct L are 7 pounds for the 12 gauge, 6.6 pounds for the 20 gauge, and 6 pounds for the 28 gauge and .410 Bore. Actual weight will vary slightly due to varying density in the European walnut stock and forearm. Weighing 6 pounds, 4.5 ounces on a digital postal scale, the 20-gauge gun I am shooting is lighter than specified, and that’s not a bad thing when many miles are to be covered in the field each day. Overall length is 45.5 inches.
The barrels have 3-inch chambers, and like the Perazzi over-under, which is also built in Italy, cutouts on both sides of the monobloc rotate on trunnions machined into the inner sides of the receiver. As the Instinct L is closed, a flat locking bolt emerges from the bottom of the standing breech and engages a deep horizontal groove in the barrel monobloc, just below the lower chamber. A taper on the nose of the bolt compensates for wear and keeps breech lockup tight for many thousands of firings. I doubt if several generations of hunters will wear out the gun. Pushing the top lever to the side withdraws the locking bolt, allowing the barrels to hinge downward for loading and unloading the chambers.
A thorough examination of the barrels with a Lyman Digital Borecam revealed mirror-smooth bores. Forcing cones were of standard length. It’s not unusual for the bores of a double-barrel shotgun to vary a bit in diameter, but the Instinct measured dead-on 0.627 inch at top and bottom. Both barrels were precisely struck with not a single ripple in their exterior surfaces. Side and top ribs are vented with the latter measuring 0.235 inch wide and having a nonglare texture machined into its surface. A red fiber-optic sight at the muzzle measures 0.120 inch in diameter.
Three screw-in chokes—marked Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full, along with a wrench for them—are included. Respective constrictions are 0.007, 0.012, and 0.018 inch for Improved Skeet, Light Modified, and Improved Modified on the Briley chart. That’s an excellent combination for shooting upland game birds, and you also are nicely outfitted for practice rounds of clay targets during the off-season.
The single trigger resets mechanically, which means that if a round in the first barrel proves to be a dud, a second squeeze of the trigger will fire the other barrel. It’s common for the trigger of an over-under shotgun to pull lighter on the bottom barrel than on the top, and that held true for the Instinct L. As weighed with a Lyman digital scale, average pull weights were 3 pounds, 15 ounces for the bottom barrel and 4 pounds, 10 ounces for the top barrel. Those are plenty light for a shotgun, and few shooters will notice the difference between them. A couple years back, I carried a 20-gauge Instinct L through days of strong winds and deep snow while hunting pheasants on the western plains and found the trigger guard plenty roomy for a glove-clad finger.
As it should be on a shotgun used for hunting, the safety automatically engages when the top lever is pushed to the side for hinging down the barrels. But as I first discovered during the wingshooting safari almost a decade ago, the safety may require a bit of getting used to. Unlike the H-pattern safety slide of the Browning Superposed, the Franchi moves straight forward for “Fire” and straight rearward for “Safe.” There is no left or right movement of the slide for barrel selection. Instead, a square-shaped selector tab contained by the safety is thumbed to the right for firing the under barrel first or to the left to fire the top barrel first.
Customarily, a more open choke will be in the bottom barrel of an over-under while the choke in the upper barrel will be a bit tighter. During that past hunt, in a couple of fields we hunted, the birds were flushing wild, so I wanted the selector tab to stay in its left-side position for firing the top barrel first. But I was wearing light gloves, and each time I thumbed the top lever to the side for breaking down the gun to reload, my thumb would brush the tab to its right-side position.
When I removed the brand-new Instinct L used for this report from its colorful plastic carrying case, the forearm latch was difficult to operate, and its barrels were not easily hinged down. Prior to shooting the gun, I applied light coats of Birchwood Casey Universal Gun Grease to the latch, the front surfaces of the receiver, and the receiver trunnions. That along with shooting sessions on the trap field and at the patterning plate made the gun much easier to open. In fact, when the top lever was thumbed to the side, the barrels by their own weight would hinge open far enough to require only a light nudge to clear the bottom chamber for loading. The auto-selective ejectors worked flawlessly, and empties arched over my shoulder and landed about eight feet behind me.
I can usually predict fairly closely how a new gun will place the center of its patterns in relation to my hold point prior to actually shooting it. I don’t actually notice the rib when shooting, but if a lot of rib comes into view when shouldering the gun, it will likely shoot high. If I see only a bit of rib, chances are good that the pattern centers and my hold point will not be far off. When shouldering the Instinct L, there was plenty of rib in sight, and at 35 yards, it placed approximately 60 percent of its pattern above my hold point. Trap shooters often prefer 60/40 guns because the going-away targets thrown in that game are rising, but that’s a bit much for pass-shooting doves and other game birds.
The culprit is often a high comb on the stock, and the comb of the Instinct L I shot for this report was higher than on the stocks of the two I had previously used on hunts. An easy fix would be to take the gun to a good stockmaker for lowering the comb and refinishing the stock, and that’s what I would do if it were mine. But that’s me. Other shooters might find the gun shooting close enough to their hold points.
Hunting season was closed while I was writing this review, but I squeezed in several rounds of 16-yard trap. While No. 7½ and No. 8 shot are commonly used in that game, the only target load I had on hand was Remington Premier STS with 7/8 ounce of No. 9 shot, which is intended for skeet. Shoot quickly enough and the smaller shot also works for trap, but more pellets have to strike a clay target for a clean break. Chip shots with the choke marked Improved Cylinder were too frequent, but a switch to either Modified or Full choke consistently smoked targets. Regardless, the Instinct L performed admirably, and you could say it is the flagship of Franchi’s over-under shotguns.
For the benefit of those who are curious about the correct pronunciation of the name Franchi, it sounds like “frawn key.” Regardless of how you pronounce it, you’re sure to like the over-under shotguns made by this company.
Franchi Instinct L
- Type: Over-under shotgun
- Gauge: 20, 3-in. chambers
- Cartridge Capacity: 2 rounds
- Barrels: 28 in.
- Overall Length: 45.5 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.3 lbs. (as tested)
- Stock: European walnut
- Length of Pull: 14.5 in.
- Finish: Blued barrels, color-casehardened receiver, satin wood
- Sights: Red fiber-optic front
- Safety: Two position
- Trigger: 4.6-lb. pull upper barrel; 3.9-lb. pull lower barrel (as tested)
- MSRP: $1,369
- Importer: Franchi USA, franchiusa.com