Review: 2016 FABARM L4S GREY HUNTER 12 Gauge Autoloader

There are eight different configurations of Fabarm USA's L4S series available, starting with the Initial Hunter model, which is also available in a left hand model. Then, the upscale L4S Grey Hunter model reviewed here, and finally, the top-of-the-line Deluxe Hunter which features more elaborate engraving with a dash of gold, and high grade walnut. You have 26 and 28 inch barrels available in all models.

As supplied, the Fabarm L4S Grey Hunter weighs 6 lbs., 13.5 oz., with a trigger with essentially no take-up that breaks at a pleasingly crisp 4-3/4 lbs. repeatably. Four choke tubes are supplied: the conventional IC, MOD, and FULL flush choke array, with the fourth choke an extended Light Modified, also marked as 4/10. It has a gold metal front bead, with (thankfully) no obnoxious center bead. My gun was slightly customized, with the addition of a Pachmayr one inch sporting clay pad that gave me the finished length of pull I prefer for wild pheasant use with heavy clothes on: 14-1/4 inch.

Regardless of the L4S model you are interested in, there is no difference in build quality, machining, or performance. The Grey Hunter and Deluxe Hunter models, aside from the receiver embellishments and upgraded wood (designated as semi-deluxe on the Grey Hunter, deluxe on the Deluxe Hunter), both come in the $110 Integrale hard case. The retail price points on the line are $1250 for the Initial Hunter, $1695 for the Grey Hunter, and $2100 for the Deluxe Hunter. I won't revisit all of the basic specifications here, as they are identical to the L4S Initial Hunter reviewed last year: .

There aren't that many autoloaders out there with real, traditional walnut stocks and the L4S is one of these few. The Fabarm L4S Initial Hunter compares extremely well with the 3 inch chambered Browning Maxus Hunter (MSRP $1549.99) and this Grey Hunter and the Deluxe Hunter both match up quite strongly against the $1939.99 Browning Maxus Ultimate.

I shot my first Browning Maxus, originally code-named “Peggy,” over seven years ago. It suffered from a few niggles, as in broken Active valve piston springs, loose forends, and the original shell elevator that could be a thumb-slasher. All of these issues have been essentially resolved, although the curse of heavy Browning repeating shotgun triggers and the poor quality OEM choke tubes has remained. It is a very competent autoloader, though, and through the seven examples I've tested, none had piston issues or loose forends.

However, the Maxus (and several other models out there) are compromises related to the original design parameters. The Maxus was designed to be a 3-1/2 inch chambered autoloader from the start. Regardless of who goes that route, it means the shell elevator is longer than it would otherwise have to be, the ejection port is larger than it would otherwise have to be: it results in a weaker receiver and a longer receiver than it could otherwise be. The breech-bolt has to lock into battery at a more forward position, changing the balance point of the gun. The magnumitis fascination has been credited with killing off some guns prematurely, as in the Automatic-Five and last of the quality Beretta autoloaders: the A390 and the AL391 Urika 2, although the 391 Urika 2 proved to be an advance to the rear from the A390.

The Fabarm L4S is not saddled with these issues. There are no piston springs to break, for the Pulse Piston has no springs and no complicated valving or gas bleed array. Nor does the L4S have a mainspring or mainspring tube in the stock to neglect, or the familiar tongue at the back of the breechblock to batter it. The forearm of the L4S is not a stressed part, so it is not prone to cracking or loosening, nor will it screw itself on into a state of perpetual immobility like the bizarre forearm nut of the now-discontinued AL391 Urika 2. That's one of the things I appreciate about the Fabarm L4S: all of the problems it cannot have, as the problematic components do not exist.

The Fabarm L4S is vertically integrated with the rest of the Fabarm autoloading line. The Fabarm HRA recoil pads (there are a total of four available) fit all Fabarm USA autoloaders, as do all the Fabarm Exis choke tubes, all of which are steel-shot approved. XLR5 extended chokes, the optional 5.36 oz. kinetic balancer recoil reducer that screws effortlessly into the buttstock, and other accessories like the T & S hull catcher all work with the L4S line.

Many people have their own ideas about cleaning and lubrication and their own rituals.
With any gas autoloader, I clean the barrel with Hoppe's No. 9 and use BreakFree ClP on everything else. It has been that way for many, many years: I've dabbled with the "lube of the month club" from time to time, but have not discovered any reason to change. With the L4S, basic cleaning can be accomplished with disassembly, for by just taking off the forearm you can get to a goodly portion of the goodies: a quick wipe of the front of the gas piston with Breakfree CLP, hitting the magazine tube with CLP, and getting a thin film of CLP on the dual action bars takes less than a minute.

This is the sixth Fabarm autoloader I've worked with and the third three inch chambered true “Pulse Piston” model. My examples have all functioned perfectly with 1180 fps 1 oz. Federal Top Gun and 1180 fps 1 oz. Federal Gold Medal loads on up. While I prefer the handling of the 26 inch barrel model for my primary uses of dove and wild pheasant, if you are going to shoot a bit more clays than hunting you may well prefer the 28 inch barrel. A two inch longer barrel gets you two inches closer to the bird, as they say.

For general use, the L4S is quite comfortable with fast 1 oz. loads like the B&P F2 Mach, my favorite 1 oz. load, though at $93 per case they are a bit salty, 1200 fps 1-1/8 oz. Remington American Clay and Field loads, and similar. If you are feeling a bit unflush, 1200 fps 1-1/8 oz. Top Guns are $5.50 a box in this area, and a great shell for the money. For wild pheasant hunting, the current Winchester Rooster XR 1300 fps 1-1/4 oz. loads are the best lead loads on the market. If you can't use lead, you might want to consider the Kent Bismuth 1-1/4 oz. #4 1350 fps loads for mallards or pheasants. Though gas-operated, the L4S is still a fun to carry 6-3/4 lb. arena shotgun. There is noticeably more muzzle rise with the peppy 1480 fps Kent SilverSteel 1-1/4 oz. #2 loads. They don't bother the gun, but a steady diet of them or the truly crummy 1450 fps 1-3/8 oz. Winchester “Super Pheasant” lead loads tends to wear out Randy.

Of all the twelve gauge hunting autoloaders I've tested over the last few years, the Fabarm L4S is the most satisfying and my personal favorite. It isn't just one factor, it is cumulative. I like the weight, the balance, the overall handling, and the aesthetics. I like the fact that the cross-bolt safety is where it needs to be, at the back of the trigger guard. I appreciate the fact that it comes with factory steel-rated chokes, regardless of constriction, and the Exis choke tubes stay far cleaner on the outside of the tube than most choke tubes: there isn't much blow-by and resultant crud. It is one of the few autoloaders that doesn't need aftermarket choke tubes, a trigger job, or action-polishing, for out of the box it is just completely good to go.

I also like the bolt release on the opposing side of the receiver from the breech-bolt and charging handle, something that makes common sense. I certainly do appreciate the look and warm feel of legitimate oiled walnut, rather than the various plasticy fake wood finishes. The L4S is also particularly satisfying due to what it doesn't have: a barrel that wiggles, a forearm that wiggles as well, an annoying center bead, or that “shooting loose” Pogo stick type of feel. Instead, it is a very solid-feeling, stable platform that has none of these distractions and annoyances.

It is exceedingly rare that I have the opportunity to wax this enthusiastic about a 12 gauge autoloader, but if I was going out for wild pheasants today, everything else would just stay home.

Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



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