Zoli is Italy’s best-kept secret – and the Alpen .243 certainly gives Tim Pilbeam something to shout about
Zoli might not be well known within the UK, but in Italy it has a reputation for its quality shotguns. When it comes to rifles, it boasts a beautiful range of doubles, but it is the bolt-action variety that takes my interest. Zoli acquired the Husqvarna 1900 action and since then, this reliable design has been the kingpin of its development for many years.
The AZ 1900 range of bolt-actioned rifles from Zoli is available in several different models, but it is the custom ‘Alpen’ edition that lands on my doorstep from UK distributors Edgar Brothers. As I open the gun case, the quality of the stock and the beautiful embellishments on the action give the impression of a high quality investment. One of the most important considerations when reviewing a rifle is to understand where the model lies within the plethora of rifles that are available to hunters. The price will be the first clue. A quick email informs me the Alpen has a RRP of £2,395, so it is aimed at the mid- to high-end market, competing for shelf space with established European brands such as Sauer, Blaser and Mauser. The clients for these mid to high-end rifles expect high quality as a prerequisite, mixed with some individuality, and the Alpen certainly seems to offer the latter.
As mentioned, the attractive stock appears to be made from a high-quality walnut, with a traditional Mittel European-style Bavarian cheek piece. It shoulders beautifully, aided by carefully cut chequering around the pistol grip and forend. The base of the pistol grip and the very front of the curled forend have a darker wood, exquisitely cut in, enhancing the quality of the build. I have a soft spot for the Bavarian-styled European rifles, as they are designed to be shot standing – whether free hand for running game or off sticks – and this is no exception. The Zoli logo stands proud at the base of the pistol grip, finishing off the furniture nicely.
The AZ 1900 action, of Scandinavian breeding, is made from polished stainless steel but embellished with clear engravings of popular European animals, such as wild boar, mouflon and chamois. The action does resemble a Mauser at a quick glance, and enjoys a very smooth travel, made from one piece of high-quality steel. Removing the stock exposes an integral recoil lug, with no evidence of any form of bedding within the stock. The top of the receiver is drilled to take either Weaver styled bases or the one-piece Zoli bridge mounts, some of which are detachable.
The highly polished, jewelled bolt shaft uses a twin lugged locking system to the front, sharing a similar ejector and extraction system to the Remington. It glides beautifully on the guide rails and locks the round into the breach gracefully. The bolt handle knob is very smooth, although maybe not the easiest to grab hold of, and to the rear the metal shroud shows off the head of a mouflon – a rather classy touch. To remove, slide safety to the rear, squeeze the trigger and out she pops.
I love the barrel. Finished off in a very deep blued finish, it oozes quality. It is profiled in a 23” light sporting profile with a slightly recessed crown, but it is not threaded.
The ‘DSS’ trigger system comes as standard across the range, with an ‘ISS’ set trigger factory set to 4lbs and 0.5 lbs respectively. The standard pull has little, if any creep, and is crisp to pull. I would reduce the pull weight just a little if this was my gun, but it does feel fine. To use the set trigger, push the blade forward after loading, and normal trigger will return if safety is applied. The safety is a two-position design to the right of the action, but to the front of the catch, there is a smaller lever that allows the bolt to be opened with safety applied. The levers do look a little cheap, but they are very quiet and easy to operate, which is much more important. The one-piece trigger guard and base plate is made from an alloy compound with a red deer stag engraved on to the base of the guard. This is both sturdy and well made. It is a drop plate design holding four rounds in .243 and loads efficiently from the top of the action.
Edgar Brothers also supplied a Bushnell Elite 6500 2.5-16x50mm scope, weaver mounts and rings. At the range, the Remington 95g Accutip achieved a fair 1.25” grouping. Out of interest, I dug out a variety of factory ammo from my store. The 100g Lapua grouped 0.6”, 70g Sako at 0.5”, and the 58G Norma at 0.5”. Not too shabby at all. In fact, I think this is very impressive but it does prove the point that all rifles require a little tuning to find the best performer. I found the trigger a little heavy, but I did not feel any creep, so it is just a case of getting used to it. The rifle feels lighter than the stated 3.3kg (7.25lbs) with the recoil being quite noticeable, especially the muzzle lift, when shooting from prone. Off sticks or shooting freehand, the Alpen felt very comfortable and I found the pistol grip and styled forend ergonomically suited my hands very well.
Post-harvest is always a good time to test rifles on foxes, and the Alpen did not disappoint with a kill at 125 yards. Loading, cycling and ejection of the rounds was effortless, proven by me being able to fire four rounds on my running boar target within 50 yards of travel. No problem there. I found the Bushnell Elite very clear in the spot light, and during the zeroing procedure it tracked well with no jumps between adjustments. I was very impressed with its light gathering ability and crisp sight picture.
The Zoli Alpen was a delight to shoot and has the look of a far more expensive rifle. If I was out hunting with colleagues I would be the first to show off the beautiful engraving and the high quality woodwork, but will it take on the other European makers of high-end rifles? Visually: yes. Quality of action and barrel: definitely yes. Accuracy: oh yes, though the trigger needs a little attention. The Bavarian range of rifles has an RRP of £1,500 to £2,395, so our Italian friends are also fighting against the established Sako brand in the UK. Zoli is an established name in Italy, so if you are looking for something a little different, made by a prestigious high-class gun maker, the Alpen could have your name on it.