When Italian shotgun maker Fausti Armi launched Fausti USA in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2009, American hunters and shooters had their first look at the company’s core product line, which consisted of the Caledon, Class and Class SL over/unders and the Dea and Dea Duetto side-by-sides. The response was immediate. Not only are the Fausti guns beautiful, they are also solidly built. Rather than a collection of stamped and cast parts roughly assembled in an effort to reduce cost, these Italian beauties are milled from solid steel, and the fit and finish is outstanding. The three Fausti sisters, Elena, Barbara and Giovanna, are familiar faces in the pages of American hunting magazines and conventions and gun writers lavish praise on the Fausti line.
Production guns are only one element of the Fausti line, though. In Italy and around the globe the three “Gun Sisters” are perhaps best known for their Boutique line of custom guns that are built to exacting standards and are strikingly beautiful. Unlike the production guns most American shooters are familiar with, the Boutique line allows a shooter to have a gun built for them, with their choice of actions, gauge (including such rarities as the 24- and 32-gauge), engraving patterns and finish.
Fausti’s guns are just the latest in a long tradition of gun making art that centers in the Valtrompia Valley in northern Italy, where shotguns barrels have been forged from iron ore from the surrounding Alps for more than 500 years. Many of Italy’s famous gun makers heralded from this region, including Stefano Fausti. In the years following World War II the young Valtrompian began building shotguns by hand and his work quickly gained favor among shooters in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.
In 1996, Stefano handed over the reins of the company to his three daughters who lacked none of their father’s commitment and vision for building quality guns. Under their care, the company continued to grow. The sisters incorporated the latest in CNC milling technology, improved metallurgy techniques and chemical treatments and set forth a rigid set of quality control standards–looking for ways to build better shotguns rather than trying to cut costs. The Valtrompia Valley is home to perhaps the world’s best gun engravers, and the Faustis began employing them to turn blank steel into art.
The result of this marriage of technological advances and gunmaking art resulted in the modern Boutique line of guns. I had the opportunity to travel to the Valtrompia Valley, the same valley where some of Europe’s best guns have been produced over the course of the past several hundred years, and visit Fausti’s ultra-modern design and production facility. While I was there, I had the chance to see how the Boutique guns are built from initial milling of the receiver to final quality testing and shipment to customers.
My tour began on the second floor showroom, where the clean, white walls are lined with dozens of Boutique guns of every gauge and finish. There are several of the company’s British Dea SLs, each customized with superb oil-finished Turkish walnut stocks and metal covered with engraving that represents hours and hours (sometimes as many as 700) in the shop of a local engraver. There are a couple dozen of over-unders as well, including the Magnificent, Class Round Body and Brixian models–each one as unique and magnificent as the side-by-sides. All of the guns are built on properly-scaled actions, so after spending some time examining the Boutique guns (and believe me when I say that I spent plenty of time looking them over), it’s possible to determine the gauge by simply looking at the action.
Barbara and Giovanna came to collect me after I’d had some time to examine the Boutique guns in the showroom, then led me to the full-length windows inside the office that look down on the factory floor. Below, I could see three white CNC machines–the birthplace of each Boutique gun. Every metal piece that goes into Boutique shotguns is milled from a piece of solid steel within the Fausti factory, and no mechanical parts are sourced from other companies. The parts are then examined to insure quality before the processes of hand assembling begins. Milled actions are prepared to make their trip to the engraver, each accompanied by the paperwork detailing the exact pattern and image to appear in the steel. Some of the actions will receive color treatment and inlays. Other guns will spend months in the hands of the Valtrompian master engravers, requiring hundreds of hours of engraving with a burin, a fine chisel that the best engravers wield with incredible skill. The work requires such attention and focus that even the most famous engravers can’t work more than a couple hours a day on the actions. The resulting engraving, however, is breathtaking, complete with shading and minute details that can only truly be appreciated under a magnifying glass. Though the basic actions are the same across the Boutique line, Fausti allows customers to turn their solid piece of milled steel into virtually anything you can imagine. Most shotguns companies have a line or series of engravings from which clients can choose. Fausti offers a variety of scroll and inlay patterns that are certainly breathtaking, but the company also offers true custom options, so if you want your favorite hunting dogs or a member of the family engraved into the action, then simply include a photo when you send in the deposit for your Boutique gun. The resulting work is breathtaking, with each gun signed by the engraver in the bottom metal beside the trigger guard.
After the metal parts are machined and tested, hand assembly begins with mating the metal parts to the unfinished stock. While still in the white, the guns go through more than 250 quality control tests on everything from top lever function to fit of the metal and wood. No gun leaves the factory without meeting brand standards. In addition, all Fausti guns are tested in the Italian National Proof House, one of the most respected in Europe, where shotguns are subjected to nearly 20,000 PSI (roughly six times the pressure generated by standard shotgun shells), and are inspected for any structural failings before receiving approval papers.
I spent two days at Fausti examining virtually every aspect of production, from reviewing quality control procedures to looking over milled actions and watching hand assembly of completed guns. The whole process is indeed impressive, but the real test came at the range. I met Barbara and Giovanna in Lonato, Italy, at the Fausti range. Though the company is best known for its field guns, Fausti also builds a line of competition shotguns, and I had the chance to shoot the Magnificent and Magnificent SL in 12 gauge. The guns look good to be sure, but they also handle extremely well. Even with 30- and 32-inch barrels, the guns I shot never felt nose-heavy or dull at the range. I’m certainly not the first writer to applaud the balance and handling of Fausti’s guns, but the Magnificent guns I shot were clearly engineered by shooters who know how a gun should swing. Later, I got to shoot the Magnificent Combo with interchangeable 28-gauge/.410 barrels. Handling characteristics were equally good on the sub-gauge guns, and being Boutique guns, they were, of course, beautiful. Whether you shoot a 49 or a 99, it’s safe to bet that if you’re carrying a Magnificent, you’ll at least have the prettiest gun at the range.
At the conclusion of the factory tour, Barbara, Giovanna and I had the chance to shoot another Boutique gun, the Upland SL side-by-side, at an estate in northern Italy. With their petite frames and slim barrels, the trio of Upland SLs we carried weighed less than 15 pounds in total, and they were a thrill to shoot at the range and in the field. Each time the action closed I listened to the smooth, solid lockup and spent as much time looking at the delicate engraving of the side plates of my gun as I did watching the dogs work. European quail are a tough target, falling and twisting like kites in a heavy wind, but the sisters and I managed to shoot a dozen or so by day’s end.
Usually when I test a gun, there are niggling little problems that need to be addressed. On the Boutique guns, however, every gun is thoroughly inspected before it goes to the customer, so the niggling problems are nil. The action is tight and smooth, as is top lever function. The trigger pull is crisp and breaks cleanly, the fit and finish are superb and every detail from the stock to the engraving and bluing are befitting a true custom gun. If you’ve ever dreamed of designing your own bespoke shotgun built to your desires and tastes, it’s well worth stopping by and visiting the Fausti sisters at the next Convention. Who knows what your gun will look like? You are limited only by your imagination.– Brad Fitzpatrick