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Two Shotguns, Two Centuries April 2023
Gerhard Schroeder  

The temptation was simply too strong. There in the far corner, almost crowded out by pumps and semi-autos, stood a simpler, smaller shotgun, new. For under a hundred bucks out the door, by a penny, it came home with me, all the way from Montana. The state of Arizona allows the state of Montana to sell long firearms to eligible AZ residents. What did I get for that bill? Says on it: RIA Tradition, made in Turkey, 3” chamber. Marketed by Rock Island Arms/Armscor. It’s a break-open single shot with outside hammer.

This concept is obviously nothing new, the name Tradition fitting. Yet is must be appealing enough that such simple guns remain in production, unfortunately no longer from H&R. Since I have an old Davenport that Glenn Samson had given me, a comparison spanning over a hundred years may be fun.

The Tradition shows differences in at least these features: when opened it folds onto itself, would in that way fit in many types of backpacks. It comes with 3 choke tubes in a small plastic case and installation tool, which are labeled and marked by “stars” as Full, Modified, and Cylinder. The stock has a rubber recoil pad and features two removable spacers to alter stock length.

There is also a rear sight, made of red plastic, adjustable for windage, and providing two elevation settings by flipping it forward or backwards a quarter turn. Schpeaking of plastic, even though the “DERYA ARMS - TURKEY” is stated on the right side of the receiver in rather larger letters, the furniture is NOT even their lowest grade walnut. It is, well, brown plastic. Just FYI, on 15 August 2022 Armslist Phoenix showed one H&R 12ga, for $220.

The action on the Tradition opens by pulling/squeezing back on the front of the trigger guard, which frees the 20” barrel. It can fold all the way back until it hits the rear stock. That does not speed up the reloading process. Neither does a simple but sturdy extractor, no ejector, a plus if you want to keep the empty anyway. Good time here to mention that the hammer requires considerable force for cocking. That became a little smoother with use. The stock spacers may invite this to be a youngster’s first scattergun, but he/she will need to practice with that stiff hammer. Also, the low gun weight (recoil) may rob some joy. The trigger sucks. That’s a technical term for requiring over ten pounds, and that with obvious creep.

The greatest contrasts offered by the old Davenport: its hammer cocks smoothly and easily, like it should be, and the trigger released it at under 6 pounds of pull. The oldie has a 30” barrel, with ejector, and stock made from wood, of course. I wish they’d make them new like that. Nobody will, as such quality would simply cost too much these days. Wait, maybe not in Turkey?! Don’t know when the Davenport was manufactured, or if a 12 gauge 3” shell even existed at that time. Firing anything with near maximum pressure is out of the question anyway. Ancient as this one is, and obviously used hard and neglected, I only fire light loads in it, those showing the lowest pressure in the reloading manuals. As such, I have taken quite a few doves with it. This old gun with its long barrel handles so nicely. I suspect Glenn gave it to me only because he was too uncertain to shoot that rusty thing.

The RIA came with the modified choke installed. This being a smallish gun to begin with, and adding its folding feature, it would definitely be in the running for a survival gun, or for going far off pavement, or for leaving in a vehicle at all times. Besides, being a 12 gauge, with the right ammo which include slugs, this gun is capable of killing anything. That might include the person pulling the trigger. Because what I felt when firing this 5.2 pounder with a warm but by no means maximum 2¾” shell was RECOIL. In a survival scenario in grizzly country I would unleash a 3” load only after the bear sits down in order to dine on me.

OK, time to fire the thing. First off were a few quick to the shoulder and fire shots, at a rock. Best I could tell the pattern landed all around that rock, a mild reload with 1 ounce of #7½. Good.

Oh, almost forgot. This shotgun comes with sling studs. But for the Uncle Mike’s swivels to fit, the hole in the studs had to be enlarged just a little with a 9/64 drill bit.

Then doves became the hunted. One early morning during the 2022 September season eventually two doves did fly by. Still in decent range, I swung at the closer bird on the right. But it was the slightly farther left dove that fluttered to the ground. Alright, I’ll take that! Playing dog and searching for that bird took time. Meanwhile a lone dove passed by. That one folded in a small cloud of feathers. Neat, two for two, IF I can find #1. Eventually I did, hit by one pellet in its wing ‘elbow’, still alive. I grabbed it, and we all know the end of that.

Since it was still cool and the sun had not yet crawled over the mountains in the east, I opted for a little stroll. Turns out I can carry this shotgun in my right hand, like a revolver, with thumb on its hammer, 20” barrel, with ventilated rib by the way, straight down, and muzzle still comfortably off the ground. A cottontail bounced away. While the gun came towards my shoulder the thumb did its job, the front bead tracked fur, then recoil and a rolling bunny.

Three for three, enough data already to give this little gun the “passed” verdict in the game getting category. While cleaning the rabbit and getting my hands bloody, four doves flew right over me. Of course! No chance to get the RIA on those.

Soon the sun appeared, birds did not. After loitering around for over an hour I happily headed home.

On a different day, after I had time to prepare accordingly, testing slugs was next. I limited it to shells I reloaded to a little less punch than factory slugs, stuffed with my own cast Lyman 530grainers. That is just shy of 1¼ oz (547gr). In other shotguns, a Windjammer wad worked best. That’s what I used here also. Beginning with 27 grains of SR7625, per DuPont data for 1¼ oz shells, those slugs leave the muzzle at over 1300 fps.

Not only did I try slugs, since punching paper testing an insert barrel became part of that morning. With a decent supply on hand, the target was a 5½” black center, initially at 25 yards. First up the 8” insert barrel in 45 ACP, which Sam had made from a .45 cal barrel blank.

I added masking tape to both ends until there no more ‘play’ in the chamber. Aiming took concentration, the red shallow notch all but a blur. Off the bench that creepy trigger was somewhat controllable. A load firing a 260gr RFN cast bullet grouped 5 into 1.6”. I’ll take that.

Next the 12 gauge slug load. Good Grief, the recoil! Sitting is the worst when guns kick. But its big hole it made right in with the 45s. I hated to, but shot another. That almost hit the same place!

Encouraged, I moved the target to 50 yards. The next two slugs hit way low. Maybe it was me anticipating the intense recoil, even with an extra towel against my shoulder. I stopped, went home. Loaded slugs with 25 grains and returned another day. This time also with a .45-70 insert barrel I’ve had for many years – longer story.

With the target again at 50 yards the .45 ACP barrel printed 5 into 4.5”. Not great but OK. I blame both sights and trigger. For the .45-70 I loaded 405gr lead bullets Mike V had given me. Fueled by 22gr of 2400, they came out at an average 1377fps, according to my CHRONO F-1. Translation: slamming recoil! After that first shot I scrambled for a bigger towel, folded it plenty. My shoulder thanked me. Five shots printed into 6”. Again, trigger and blurry rear sight didn’t help. Then came the dreaded slugs again. To make it short, two of the five didn’t even hit the paper. This gun does not like my home recipe. And I’m not about to find out if factory slugs would do better.

Bottom line is that I do like this scattergun, primarily because it is both short and light. It could be a poor man’s combo when employing insert barrels. Maybe I’ll “add” another rear sight onto its rib, further away from the shooter’s eye, to offer a better sight picture.

By the way, if times should really turn bad, and ammo would become the new currency, having an insert barrel in 9mm and 357 Mag would make much sense. For sure the RIA will on occasion ride in my backpack. Should this become a serious camp gun, adding an insert barrel in 22 LR would nicely cover the “plinker” category also. More difficult to make one of those due to the rimfire ‘thing’. Still, I may gnaw on that. Because I really do like single shots with an outside hammer.

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