Both of these 12 gauges had shortcomings, but the inexpensive Russian-made TOZ-34P was acceptable for hunting.
At one time or another, everyone has run up against the age-old problem of having big desires and a small budget. Nowhere is this problem more common in the hunting sports than in the case of the over/under shotgun. We all want something that looks, handles and works great, but taking on a second mortgage to pay for a shotgun isn’t a very good idea.
So, we decided to round up a couple of shotguns that retail for around $400. Over/unders in this price range aren’t going to be as refined as the Remington Peerless or the Weatherby Orion. With inexpensive over/unders, you probably aren’t going to find features like automatic ejectors and screw-in choke tubes. The finish may also be less than ideal.
In this evaluation, we tested a Tula TOZ-34P and a Century Arms Centurion. Both of these 12-gauge over/unders are imported by Century International Arms Inc. , Dept. FT, P.O. Box 714, St. Albans, VT 05478, telephone (802) 527-1252. These hunting shotguns have 28-inch barrels with 23/4-inch chambers and fixed chokes. Neither is intended to be used with steel shot. Here are the results of our examinations:
Tula TOZ-34P: Mediocre
The TOZ-34P is a 12-gauge over/under shotgun with double triggers made by Tula of Russia. This scattergun utilizes a unique, curved lug-and-slot pivoting system and a non-detachable forend. Other features include cocking indicators, chrome-lined bores and 3/4-inch sling swivels. An extra set of mainsprings are provided with the gun. Although the version we bought had an extractor, this model is also available with ejectors.
Our test gun’s workmanship was inconsistent. Its barrels had such an unevenly polished and lackluster blued finish that the gun looked used. The receiver’s glossy blue finish was better, but the elements of the engraved game scenes on its sides weren’t what we would call clearly defined. The action was stiff at first, and some minor rub marks developed on both sides of the barrel block after about 100 rounds. Nevertheless, metal components were closely fitted.
We found the two-piece walnut stock to be cleanly shaped. However, both sections had a slightly rough, dry-looking oil finish and raggedly cut checkering. Installation of the rubber recoil pad and sling swivels was faultless. The non-detachable forend was squarely fastened to the barrel unit with four screws, and the buttstock mated with the receiver satisfactorily.
In handling, the evenly balanced TOZ-34P shouldered easily. Swinging was responsive, making target acquisition and follow through natural. We considered the comb to be a bit thin, but it positioned the shooter’s eye for a proper view of the sighting plane. The comfortably-shaped 1.4-inch-wide pistol grip was offset to the right (cast-off), which made it unsuitable for left-handed shooters. Thanks to its large finger groove, the 1.81-inch-wide forend was easy to grasp and control. Felt recoil was lessened by the rubber recoil pad.
When pushed to the right, the tang-mounted top lever readily unlocked the action. But, initially, the action’s locking mechanism was so tight that the top lever didn’t snap back to the fully locked position when the action was closed. Since the owner’s manual stated that this might happen, it apparently should be expected during the break-in period of this shotgun. So, as instructed, we pushed the top lever into the locked position by hand each time the action was closed. After about 100 rounds, the top lever started returning to the locked position on its own.
Two brass studs, one on each side of the top lever, protruded from the tang when either of the action’s hammers were cocked. These indicators allowed the shooter to see and/or feel the firing condition of each barrel, which, in turn, told the shooter which trigger to pull for the next shot. The right stud was the indicator for the bottom barrel, and the left stud was the indicator for the top barrel. This system worked very well.
A lever on the right side of the receiver, which the manufacturer called the thumbpiece, allowed the barrels to be separated from the receiver when it was rotated downward. The manual safety, a two-position slide on the tang, prevented firing by locking the sears when it was moved rearward. Both of these controls worked correctly.
Operationally, our TOZ-34P had one shortcoming. The position in which the barrels came to rest, when the action was opened, didn’t give the shooter clear access to the bottom chamber. So, to load and unload this chamber, we had to pull down on the front of the barrels. But, the gun never failed to fire and extract.
The TOZ-34P’s double triggers were satisfactory. The front trigger fired the bottom barrel, while the back trigger fired the top barrel. Neither pull had any take-up, and each let-off at 5 pounds.
For sighting, this shotgun had a ventilated 5/16-inch-wide barrel rib with a medium-size brass bead on the front. Shallow serrations on the top of the rib reduced glaring. We felt this arrangement provided a satisfactory sighting reference.
At the patterning board, we considered the performance of this scattergun’s fixed chokes to be very good. The top barrel’s choke was rated as Full, and the bottom barrel’s choke was rated as Improved Modified. Using Winchester No. 71/2 Dove and Quail shotshells and Federal No. 8 Game Loads, both produced centered patterns at 30 yards with uniform pellet distribution. On the range, hitting clay targets wasn’t usually difficult.
Century Arms Centurion: Unacceptable
The Centurion is a 12-gauge over/under shotgun made by Sarsilmaz of Turkey for Century Arms. Unlike the TOZ-34P we just covered, it has a traditional pivoting system and a detachable forend. Other features of this gun are an extractor, swivels that accept a 3/4-inch-wide sling and a single, selective trigger.
Our test gun’s barrels and controls had a glossy blued finish, while the receiver had a silver-white finish that appeared to be sprayed on. Some insignificant tool marks were present on the interior of the receiver and the bottom of the barrel block. The right-front edge of the receiver rubbed on the forend’s metal fixture enough to wear off a large portion of the finish in that area after only 50 rounds. Most metal parts were well fitted, but the trigger mechanism needed work.
Although the back edge of the forend wasn’t evenly shaped, the walnut stock’s smooth, low gloss finish had no imperfections. There were numerous dings and a long scratch on the black plastic buttplate, but it and the sling swivels were neatly installed. Despite a few small gaps at the corners on the bottom and right side of the receiver, stock-to-metal mating was satisfactory.
This gun’s muzzle-heavy balance made it a more sluggish swinger than the other shotgun in this test. Shouldering was also slower and not as instinctive. Furthermore, the plastic buttplate was so slippery that our shooters found it difficult to keep the gun’s butt from sliding around on their shoulder.
Most considered the Centurion’s comb to be comfortably shaped, but we had to press our face down onto it to obtain a proper view of the sighting plane. This gun’s 1.5-inch-wide pistol grip wasn’t offset, making it suitable for right-and left-handed shooters. The 1.8-inch-wide forend’s stamped checkering was too smooth to be functional, though. Due to its unyielding buttplate, this 12-gauge kicked harder than the other over/under included here.
All of this shotgun’s controls were located on the tang. When pushed to the right, the top lever readily unlocked the barrels. The two-position sliding safety, situated just behind the top lever, prevented firing when pushed rearward. The barrel selector was a two-position switch mounted on top of the safety. In the left position, which was labeled with two dots, the top barrel fired first. Moved to the right position, marked with one dot, the bottom barrel fired first.
Our Centurion’s functioning was unacceptable. When the barrel selector was in the left position, pulling the trigger once failed to fire the bottom barrel about 10 percent of the time. When this occurred, pulling the trigger two or three more times did eventually release the hammer, firing the bottom round. Also, after about 100 rounds, the action frequently stuck in the closed position. To get the action open, shooters had to rap the top-back of the barrels with the palm of their hand.
Movement of the single, selective trigger, which reset mechanically, was noticeably inconsistent. The pull for the top barrel let-off at 7.5 pounds, according to our recording trigger gauge, while the pull for the bottom barrel released at 6 pounds.
The Centurion’s sighting system consisted of a ventilated 5/16-inch-wide barrel rib with a large brass bead on the front. Thanks to the rib’s well-serrated top, glaring was eliminated. Most of our shooters felt this set up provided a slightly better sighting reference than that of the TOZ-34P.
In our opinion, the performance of this shotgun’s fixed chokes was only adequate. Using Federal No. 8 Game Loads and Winchester No. 71/2 Dove and Quail shotshells, the top barrel’s Full choke produced well-distributed patterns that were centered about 6 inches to the left of the point of aim at 30 yards. The bottom barrel’s Modified choke produced centered patterns that often had one bird-size hole.
Field Tests Recommends
The Tula TOZ-34P’s finish wasn’t up to American standards, but our right-handed shooters found that it handled and performed well enough for a shotgun in this price range. Of the two guns included here, we would buy this one.
Our Century Arms Centurion’s fragile finish, inconsistent firing mechanism and finicky barrel lock prevents us from recommending it.