DeHaan Model U2 16 Gauge Over/Under Shotgun
Illustration courtesy of Dehaan Shotguns, Ltd.
Mark DeHaan hails from Rigby, Idaho. For the last eight years has gained a solid reputation in the industry for the value and quality of the Huglu shotguns he orders to his specifications, and imports directly.
We all like to paint things with a broad paintbrush, it seems. It wasn't all that long ago that many were saying "I'd never buy a foreign car" and conventional wisdom was that the Japanese were incapable of building a proper motor vehicle. Those people seem to be hard to find these days.
Mark goes about his business selling his Over / Under shotguns directly to the consumer. DeHaan ships directly to your FFL, and the prices are no secret: the U1 O/U model starts at $639 as of this writing, the U2 with full coverage hand engraving (as tested) starts at $799. Similarly configured DeHaan SO and S2 side-by-side shotguns are priced roughly forty dollars more.
Mark's guarantee is this: "If for any reason you are not absolutely delighted with your new DeHaan shotgun when you receive it, simply ship it back to us in mint condition and we will promptly refund the price of the gun, less shipping fees." That is as good as it gets in the firearms industry; without solid product Mark would have gone out of business long, long ago. He has done anything but. In this review, I'll do my best to explore what DeHaan shotguns are, what they are not, and what you can expect.
The tested DeHaan is Model U2 16 Gauge, provided with fixed chokes (other gauges have screw chokes) and extractors (other gauges have auto-ejectors available in the U2E series). The 26 inch barreled gun weighs 7 pounds, 15 ounces as supplied.
One of the first things I did was to check the triggers: the lower barrel broke at approximately 5 lbs. 12 oz. after a goodly amount of take-up. The "over" barrel broke at a substantially lighter 5 lbs. 2 oz. The trigger quality is the only area that less than thrilled me about this shotgun, however, it must be said that these triggers break lighter than the norm these days, with many shotguns having triggers with a break weight heavier than the guns themselves. The DeHaan compares well to other shotguns I've recently reviewed. My CZ Ringneck's triggers broke at over 8 pounds, the Browning Gold Superlight Hunter 20 ga. at 6-1/2 pounds, and the Savage Milano O/U at 5-1/4 to 5-1/2 pounds. It is fair to say that the DeHaan supplied rates a clear notch back from Savage Milano triggers, but an even more clear full notch better than the CZ triggers, which are also a Huglu made gun.
There are things that Huglu apparently does superbly, and things they don't seem to care about. The fundamental metallurgy is good. The chrome-moly TS870 specification barrels are proof-tested at 1200 kg/cm2 equates to a 17,063 PSI, more than sufficient for the SAAMI 11,500 PSI working pressures of a 16 gauge. No barrel strength issues here at all. The barrels tend to be a bit on the heavy side.
We shotgunners can be an amusing lot; we always want what we can't have. If a double-gun comes with auto-ejectors, we can't seem to wait to disable them to keep from chasing hulls on the clays fields. If it doesn't come with auto-ejectors, then of course we immediately seem to "need" them. This is mentioned because you have your choice in most DeHaan O/U's, but the 16 gauge is extractor-only. If we want them, someone will have to pony up the tooling costs: it appears no one has their checkbook out on that one. Then, of course, we can disable them.
The wood to metal fit is, in a word, outstanding. The joining of the schabel forearm, the receiver to buttstock, even the buttpad grind was above criticism. Everyone who has seen this gun to date has said, "Wow, does that ever look great!" The hand engraving is beautiful; the result of five or so hours of hand-chiseling for the side-plates alone on each and every DeHaan. The wood has distinct mineral streaks and a satin finish; not super high grade wood but clearly better than the straight-grain canoe paddle stocks that are commonplace these days. The checkering is good-looking, but more ornamental than functional. The wood is darkly stained, and the coin-finished engraving really sets off the whole package.
What Huglu apparently does not do particularly well is pay much attention to small parts quality control. Sometimes, the safeties are thumb-busters, and the triggers can be ten-pounders. That is why DeHaan tears apart every shotgun prior to shipment, to adjust the safeties (Beretta style in this case), the internal wood inletting, triggers, and so forth.
The barrels are black chrome, a striking finish, not done very often in the United States due to EPA considerations. When done correctly, it is dazzling. A few impurities in the process can ruin the whole finish, another thing that DeHaan checks, and has become more proficient with over the years.
What Mark DeHann has done is take a good basic platform, a strong barrel and frame, and improve it where Huglu can fall flat--meaning the small parts tolerances and polish. The cost of labor from Turkey is what gives Mark the ability to offer hand-engraving that, if done in Belgium, would easily add a couple of thousand dollars to the cost of the gun. For the $160 adder, it is a wonderful bargain. Perhaps there are a few of us that would like to grab a chisel and have at it, but I'm certainly not one of them. When the "Mr. Goodwrench" labor rate is $115 per hour, it is hard not to wax enthusiastic over the hand engraving.
In terms of weight and swing, the DeHann is similar to a few older Citori's I've owned, the fairly heavy barrels not a lively as some Italian, Spanish,and British guns. For that reason, you might want to consider the shorter barreled DeHaan's for upland work, though weight seems to equate to smoothness for clays use. Naturally, that's all subjective and personal preference.
The notion of a "value" over and under has long been somewhat of an oxymoron; in some ways it still is. It still bring back memories of a couple of particularly ghastly Franchi's, with some of the Kahn-produced (Mossberg) O/U's that are very generously referred to as being of "uneven" quality. The 'new' L. C. Smith (Marlin) O/U's would fall into the same category of general cobbiness. To find something a notch better than a DeHaan, it is reasonable to say you'll be spending fully twice as much; actually more than twice as much if you appreciate full-coverage hand engraving.
It was four degrees as I headed for the field, enough to make the turtle stick his head back in the shell. Given the gusty, 10 to 20 mph winds, I was reminded that "wind chill" still exists. The shooting was done with 1-1/8 oz. Fiocchi Gold Pheasant No. 5 shot; about as good of a 16 ga. pheasant load as can be had.
The primer strikes were all substantial and crisp; I'll characterize the recoil as moderate, though I was wearing far more than just a Speedo. The Beretta style safety was very easy to get off; the center sliding portion selects the barrel that fires first (to the right fires the lower barrel). The butt stock is finished off with a small rubber butt plate with a hard plastic upper rim to keep it snag-free from hunting coats when the gun is shouldered quickly. It works like a charm.
To sum it up, the metalwork is excellent, the hand engraving a terrific bargain, the triggers are mediocre, and the wood is of far better than average with excellent wood to metal fit. The value is spectacular, to the point where I don't say how Mark DeHaan can afford to spend the individual time with these guns that he does. If more people knew what DeHaan was shipping today, Mark couldn't possibly keep up, and few would settle for a Mossberg or a CZ when they could get so much more for the same, or less, money. To be sure, these aren't Beretta DT-10's, but they don't sell for $6000 or more, either.
DeHaan shotguns can only be ordered directly; see www.dhshotguns.com. Some of you may recall that there actually was a Charles Daly, a man so successful that his name achieved commercial magnetism lasting long past the days when it first appeared on firearms, that being the 1870s. Mark DeHaan may well be the "Charles Daly" of 2007. The value he offers is not currently surpassed. Do yourself a favor and get one of the hand engraved models. The engraving takes what is already a bargain and turns it into a screaming deal.
Copyright 2006, 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.