If you are unfamiliar with Franchi, the Italian firearms firm, you probably aren't a grouse hunter. In business nearly 150 years, Franchi has a cult-like following among the upland addicted. Known for balance, dainty lines and feathery weight that leaps to the shoulder, Franchi shotguns are a treat to tote through the grouse woods, pheasant fields or the acacia bush of Africa.
In Kenya, the first of the new Franchis I used was a stacked barrel aptly named the Instinct. It's offered in both L and the SL. The L sports a color-casehardened steel frame, while the SL sheds weight from the already-anorexic L frame by utilizing alloy instead of steel. Both lock up vault-tight with the classic bottom-bite Browning design. Homage is paid to understated class with engine turning on the monoblock. The SL features light engraving on the receiver and forend release.
Instead of a hinge pin, both models use replaceable steel trunnions. Both come in 12 and 20 gauge with 26- or 28-inch barrels. The handsome walnut stocks are complemented by hand-cut checkering. The Instinct also features selective ejectors and an automatic H-style safety. Other niceties include well-executed ventilated sideribs and 7mm straight top vent rib.
The second gun I tested was the new autoloading Affinity. At sub-6 pounds, and slim throughout, it was a joy to carry. In reliability it gets five stars; it fired 1,000 straight rounds in the grittiest conditions I've ever seen. That's no surprise as the design centers around the time-proven Inertia Driven system.
Anyone who knows Benellis recognizes the lineage to the Franchi. In fact, barrels are struck in the same Italian plant.
When I took the Affinity apart to clean it, I saw that the bolt assembly is nearly identical to my old M1 Super 90 (which is great as my M1 has logged nearly 10,000 shells over 10 years). The main difference is the recoil spring. Instead of a behind-the-bolt-recoil spring like my M1, the Affinity uses a forward-mounted recoil spring along the magazine. As far as I could tell, reliability was not affected nor was the fantastic fit and feel of the slim forend both the Benelli and Franchi possess.
The Affinity comes in 12 and 20 gauge. The trigger on my 20 gauge broke at a consistent 6 pounds, 5 ounces. Unlike the Instinct, the Affinity is a bit more tailorable in the fit department. Mine was set up for a 14¼-inch length of pull but could be changed by the addition of included spacers. The recoil pad had a gel insert that worked well in absorbing recoil from the light gun.