Merkel Model 47E 20 Gauge Side-by-Side Shotgun
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The House of Merkel has been an autonomous company in Suhl, Germany since 1898, when the company was established by the Merkel brothers to build over/under shotguns. Side-by-side shotguns were added to the product line in 1914 and Merkel shotguns were highly regarded in North America before the Second World War.
For centuries the city of Suhl in Thuringia, Germany has been a gunmaking center. Suhl is to Germany as Eibar is to Spain and Val Trompia is to Italy. After the end of World War II Suhl, unfortunately, was in what became East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. Building fine sporting guns was not a Communist priority and for decades Merkel guns virtually disappeared from Western markets, but the Company persevered.
The fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany brought freedom to the people of East Germany and sparked a modern renaissance in Suhl. Suhl is the location of the Guild of Master Gunsmiths and the gunsmith's technical school, the only German training center for engraving. Today Merkel, the only major gunmaker to have survived in Suhl, is again making fine sporting arms for sale in the U.S. and around the world.
Merkel guns are distributed in the U.S. by our friends at Merkel USA. Merkel USA is also the distributor for fine Anschutz rifles and Grulla bespoke shotguns, so they are well acquainted with top quality firearms.
The Merkel side-by-side shotgun line includes models using both Anson & Deely type boxlock and H&H type sidelock actions. Merkel is the only manufacturer in the world that produces both boxlock and sidelock shotguns completely in-house. Merkel uses three frame sizes for their side-by-side shotguns: 12, 20 (16 gauge guns are built on 20 gauge frames) and 28 (.410 gauge guns are built on 28 gauge frames). Depending on model and customer preference, receiver finish can be either color case hardened or "old coin."
The shotgun that is the subject of this review is the least expensive side-by-side shotgun imported by Merkel USA, the Model 47E. However, with a 2007 MSRP of almost $4,200, it is not an inexpensive gun! Indeed, it is a very good gun and substantially under priced compared to competitive shotguns from Germany, Italy, the US and the UK. Merkels are priced comparably to good Spanish guns (also a fine value). This lower price structure is primarily due to Merkel's position as a formerly East German company fighting to regain recognition in the West after the "dark ages" of Communist domination. You can expect Merkel prices to inexorably rise, but right now they are an excellent investment.
The Model 47E is Merkel's basic boxlock side-by-side shotgun. Its forged steel, scalloped receiver is leather charcoal color-case finished and its hammer forged demibloc (chopper-lump) barrels are polished and rust-blued. There is a raised, matted solid rib. The receiver is laser engraved on all surfaces with about 33% coverage in a handsome "light Arabesque" (scroll) pattern, as is the trigger guard, top and bottom tangs, top lever and forend latch. There is even a small scroll decoration on the breech end of both barrels. Screw heads are engraved and properly indexed. The European walnut stock is cut checkered in a conventional point pattern and wears a hand rubbed oil finish.
Our test gun was ordered with a straight-hand, English style stock and a splinter forend. A pistol grip stock is also available. The stock has a fluted comb. The Merkel version of a splinter forend is a little longer and wider than the typical English or Spanish interpretation of this style (it's more in the American mold) and provides a better hand rest. It is secured to the gun by a Deely type pull-down latch.
The 47E comes standard with cocking indicators and selective ejectors, and we requested the optional selective single trigger. (There is no extra charge for the SST.) The barrel selector is a button at the rear of the trigger blade. This type of selector is simple, fast and reliable.
The automatic safety is the usual tang mounted slider and works in a positive manner. It automatically goes on when the gun is opened. No one on the Guns and Shooting Online staff likes automatic safeties, but we have found that when you own a gun equipped with one you quickly get used to it. Sliding it off to shoot becomes, well, automatic.
Here are some specifications for the Merkel 47E shotgun as tested:
When we received our Merkel 47E and actually had the gun in hand, it was obvious that it is a very high quality shotgun. It was also very stiff, as is usually the case with a hand fitted gun. Typically 100-200 rounds are required before the gun begins to break-in.
Our test gun came stocked in approximately A-Grade (probably Turkish) walnut of a pleasing medium color set off by long dark streaks in the grain. The stock and forend are well matched. The straight-hand stock is slender through the grip area, as is typical of fine guns, providing a delicate "feel" that we all appreciated. This is in stark contrast to the bulky pistol grips found on practically all mass-produced shotguns.
The color-case hardened receiver shows lovely deep blue and golden tints. The barrels are struck full length, elegantly tapered and polished smooth. The metal to metal and wood to metal fit is excellent throughout.
The 47E is held closed by three bolts (two under bolts and one through the top rib extension) plus side clips to prevent lateral barrel movement. It is difficult to get multiple locking systems to fit properly and bear evenly, but judging by our test gun Merkel is up to the task. Unlike many lesser guns with a third fastener, the Merkel's Greener Crossbolt fits perfectly and is flush with the receiver when the gun is closed and the top lever centered. This indicates that the action is very carefully fitted. Certainly these guns are hell for strong! Best of all, despite the superfluity of bolts, the 47E is a light, narrow and lively handling upland game gun.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck, Gordon Landers and Chuck Hawks all assisted in shooting and evaluating the Merkel 47E. We all own and shoot double guns, so we had Charles Daly/Miroku, Fox B-DL, Grulla and Ruger Gold Label side-by-side guns on hand for comparison.
We took the Merkel and one of our portable sporting clays traps into the hills to shoot the Merkel under somewhat realistic conditions. It balances well in the hands, right on the hinge pin, and shoulders quickly and easily. The stock dimensions are fine for most shooters. We are all more or less average size individuals, but with different body conformations, yet all four of us felt that the gun fit well. It points naturally and breaks clay targets with authority.
Bob really took to the Merkel, doing what was probably his best shooting ever. Gordon broke 100% of his targets with the Merkel, which is more than he could say for his Gold Label. Jim and Chuck also shot the gun well. Chuck commented that it shouldered and pointed much like his high grade Grulla 216RL. We all agreed that it is an easy gun to shoot. Despite the hard buttplate, recoil was not a problem.
Both the IC and Modified barrels shoot where they look and pattern approximately as expected. We were shooting 2-3/4" Federal 2-1/2 dram equivalent target loads using 7/8 ounce of #8 shot. These are typical 20 gauge target loads purchased at our local Bi-Mart discount department store.
The single trigger worked flawlessly, although the selector button works "backward" from what we expected. Push the button to the left to select the right barrel, or to the right to select the left barrel. Why Merkel adopted this particular arrangement we cannot imagine, but once the shooter becomes used to it all is well.
The selective ejectors never bobbled. They ejected fired cases well clear of the chamber and raised unfired shells for easy hand removal, just as they were supposed to.
The Merkel 47E is a fine shotgun at an attractive price. So much so that Bob has run off with our test gun and refuses to give it back. He will be purchasing it for his personal battery.
If you would like upgraded luxury wood, hand engraving, a sidelock gun or pretty much anything in the Merkel catalog, the nice folks at Merkel USA will be happy to oblige. They have most Merkel models in stock, including some very fancy guns. If you would prefer a bespoke gun made and finished to your individual specification they can help you order the gun of your dreams and offer delivery times of approximately 6-9 months. For more information visit the Merkel USA web site at: www.gsifirearms.com
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