Grulla Armas Shotguns
By Chuck Hawks
Grulla is now the oldest of the Basque "best gun" manufacturers to have remained in continuous operation. The small company that was to become Grulla Armas was formed in 1932 by five gunmakers in Eibar, Spain. These men had previously worked at Victor Sarasqueta and rather than use any one person's name, they took the name of Union Armera (UA) for their Company and a standing crane ("grulla" in Spanish) became their trademark.
In the early years they built everything from parts for other makers to complete shotguns to stay afloat. They somehow survived the Great Depression and the bloody Spanish Civil War. After the end of the Second World War, Spain--ruled by Francisco Franco, the last of the Fascist dictators--was ostracized and subject to international trade restrictions, but the Company survived that, too. They concentrated on the domestic market and also built guns for foreign companies. Among the latter were William Powell (UK), Auguste Francotte (Belgium) and Griffin & Howe (USA).
In the 1980's, Grulla survived the DIARM collective gunmaking fiasco by refusing to participate in the amalgamation of Basque gunmakers; a wise course also followed by Basque specialty gun makers Arrieta, Garbi, Ignacio Ugartechea and Pedro Arrizabalaga. 20 less farsighted Basque gun companies, including the internationally known firm of AyA, joined DIARM and subsequently went bankrupt with its collapse in 1988.
Today Grulla and the other independent firms mentioned in the paragraph above, along with a reconstituted AyA, form the backbone of a revitalized Basque gunmaking industry based on small specialty firms producing best guns in the English tradition.
In 1983 the Company name, Union Armera, was changed to Grulla Armas. The Crane trademark had become better known than the official Union Armera name. All but one of the old shareholders had died, so nine employees, under the leadership of Managing Director Jose Luis Usobiaga, purchased the Company from the heirs of the founders.
From that point on, Grulla Armas revised and upgraded their line and began making only sidelock doubles, the standard of excellence in the Basque country of northern Spain. Over time they have improved their product and refined the guns they produce. They have focused on enhancing Grulla's reputation as a maker of best guns and no longer build lower grade guns or guns for other manufacturers.
If the firm of Pedro Arrizabalaga can be said to be the Purdey of Spain ("only the best"), then Grulla Armas might be considered Spain's Holland & Holland, a goal they have actively pursued. Terry Wieland, author of the excellent book Spanish Best, reported in Shooting Sportsman magazine that Grulla was looking to establish a combined workshop, warehouse and showroom in Eibar on the model exemplified by Holland & Holland's premises in London, something previously unheard of among Basque gunmakers.
Upgrading the line basically involves putting more labor into each gun and has, naturally, resulted in higher prices. At one time, especially back in the 1980's and early 1990's, Grulla guns were the most reasonably priced among the half dozen remaining Basque best gun makers, but that is no longer the case. Today Grulla is recognized both in Spain and internationally for the quality and excellence of their shotguns and rifles and pricing is comparable to equivalent models from Arrizabalaga and the other top Basque gunmakers. Compared to the prices of American, British and Italian best guns, Grulla Armas shotguns (and the other Spanish best guns) are still a bargain, but they are not actually inexpensive.
The 2009 Grulla line includes five basic models of side by side shotguns (Royal, Supreme, Consort, 216RB and 216) and one double rifle (the E-95). All models are handcrafted sidelocks with considerable engraving and stocks of good Spanish or Turkish walnut. All Grulla shotguns are built on Holland & Holland pattern bar action sidelocks, while the E-95 double rifle is built on what I believe is the only back action sidelock made in Spain.
Stock wood is graded to match each model, with Royal wood being the finest and the standard 216 the plainest, but it is still very nice walnut. Royal and Supreme grade guns are stocked in exhibition grade walnut, while Model 216RB (round body) and Consort guns get highly figured walnut that falls short of exhibition grade. The standard 216 gets select grade walnut. Wood upgrades are available for guns of all grades, in which case an "L" letter suffix (representing "luxury" wood) is attached to the model designation. For example our test gun, a Model 216RB, was ordered with Royal grade wood, making it a Model 216RL.
The Royal can be had with a traditional action body or a rounded action body. The 216RB and Supreme are round body guns, while the 216 and Consort come with a traditional action body and drop point stocks.
Selective, automatic ejectors are standard on all Grulla shotguns, as are double triggers with an articulated front blade. Also standard are straight hand butt stocks and splinter forends, but pistol grip butt stocks and semi-beavertail forends can be ordered.
Grulla's top of the line shotgun is the Royal. (It is perhaps no coincidence that the top grade H&H gun is called the "Royal Ejector") The Royal is built on a traditional 7-pin H&H style sidelock with assisted opening and Belotta nickel chromium steel barrels. This action incorporates disc set strikers, gas escape valves, double safety sears and is available with hand detachable locks.
The Royal comes with the customers choice of 100% coverage H&H, Churchill, or Purdey style engraving. Practically any sort of custom engraving, including Bulino, is available. The other models are mainly differentiated by the type and coverage of their standard engraving patterns and the grade of wood with which they are supplied.
The Supreme uses the same 7-pin, round body action and Royal grade stock wood, but its hand engraving is less extensive than the Royal. (Probably about 75% coverage). Nickel chromium steel barrels are standard on the Supreme. It is a very nice gun and won our best SxS shotgun award for 2009.
The 216RB and 216 come with hand-cut Purdey style English rose and scroll engraving, with nearly 100% coverage. The Consort model, which is not a stock item at Merkel USA, but can be special ordered, is hand engraved with reduced coverage (about 50%). These guns are built on Grulla's improved 5-pin action, which also incorporates disc set strikers, gas escape valves and double safety sears. Barrels are best grade Bellota nickel steel
Grulla shotguns are typically made to order for individual customers or are produced in small lots for distributors in various countries including Spain, Germany, the USA, the UK and France. About half of all Grulla guns are reportedly sold in Spain.
Spain's constitutional monarch King Juan Carlos I, for example, ordered a matched pair of Grulla Royal guns in 1996. (They were delivered in 1997, years earlier than Purdy, Boss, or Holland & Holland could have delivered similar guns.) He heads a considerable list of European wing shooting nobility that has chosen Grulla Armas guns. On the inside back cover of the Grulla catalog is reproduced a nice letter from His Grace, Ralph George Algernon Percy, the Duke of Northumberland (UK), extolling the virtues of his pair of bespoke Grulla doubles.
In the USA, distribution of Grulla guns has been transformed from a rather chaotic situation involving several small distributors, none of which could afford to stock a substantial number of guns, and placed in the hands of Merkel USA (www.merkel-usa.com) as sole American importer and distributor. Merkel USA is also the US distributor for Merkel guns (from Germany) and Anschutz rifles (also made in Germany), so they are familiar with top quality firearms.
Merkel USA has about 75 Grulla guns in their warehouse available for sale as I write these words. That is a substantial number considering that Grulla's annual production probably amounts to about 300 guns built by something like 19 craftsmen. Grulla Armas is not a European industrial giant like Beretta or FN!
The 2008 Merkel USA Retail Price List shows Grulla shotguns in the following grades and gauges:
Here is a breakdown of the letter codes used by Grulla and Merkel USA. H = "Holland"; S = "side lock," which is redundant since all Grulla guns are built on side lock actions; R or RB = a "round body" action; L = Merkel USA code for "luxury" wood, as most guns imported by Merkel USA feature upgraded wood.
Most of these models are offered in the U.S. with an "old silver" (coin finish) or case colored action finish, the exception being the 216SL, which is only imported with the old silver finish. Barrels are chopper lump type with swamped English ribs and all regularly stocked guns are supplied with double triggers. Chokes and barrel lengths are optional, but Merkel USA mostly stocks guns with barrels around 28"-29" long and IC/Mod chokes; .410 guns come choked Mod/Full.
Merkel USA orders guns with butt stocks in the English straight hand pattern, but carries guns with forends of either the splinter or the semi-beavertail type. Stocks are built to standard dimensions of about 14-3/4" LOP, 1-1/2" drop at comb and 1-9/16" drop at heel with a little cast off for right hand shooters. Butts are checkered in the traditional English fashion without plates or pads. The standard stock finish is highly polished, hand rubbed oil.
All Grulla guns are built on dropforged nickel steel action frames of appropriate size for the intended gauge. Customers can special order guns on different frame sizes, for instance a 16 gauge upland gun on a 20 gauge frame. Multi-gauge barrel sets are also possible, say 16, 20, and 28 gauge barrels on a 20 gauge frame.
Barrels for the 216RB, 216 and Consort are made of best grade Bellota nickel steel. This is tough, strong steel. Royal and Supreme barrels are made of lightweight chrome-nickel steel, which is slightly lighter for a given strength. Barrels of chrome-nickel steel can be special ordered for other grades if the customer wants an extremely lightweight gun. Author Terry Wieland, for example, ordered a 12 gauge Grulla Windsor (a discontinued model similar to the Consort) built on a 20 gauge frame with barrels of chrome-nickel steel. However, all Grulla shotgun barrels, whether of chrome-nickel or standard nickel steel, must pass exactly the same Spanish proof tests in the Eibar Proof House (12,090 psi final proof).
Grulla can build whatever the customer wants in terms of custom features, engraving, checkering and/or stock carving, dimensions, barrel material, type of rib (concave, flat, Churchill) and extras. They build many bespoke guns, some in multi-barrel sets or matched pairs or trios. Upgraded wood, special stock dimensions, barrel lengths, chokes, skeleton butt plates and recoil pads are probably the most common options. Prices vary accordingly. Grulla shotguns are individual works of art.
Customers ordering Grulla guns from Merkel USA are treated with extraordinary consideration. Merkel USA's Marketing Director, Einar Hoff, and his staff will work with customers to see that they get exactly what they expect when purchasing a Grulla gun. Einar and his people will make every effort to answer a customer's questions and if they are unsure about some point they will call the Grulla shop in Eibar to get an authoritative answer. They will even e-mail the customer digital photos of a gun before it is shipped to insure that it meets with his or her approval. "Just part of the service that we are happy to provide to our customers," says Einar. Bespoke guns ordered through Merkel USA can be delivered in months, rather than years.
Personal service typifies the attitude of both Grulla Armas and Merkel USA. They are well aware that they are building and selling special guns to special customers and they make every effort to provide a commensurate level of customer service.
Copyright 2007, 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.