Shooting TriStar’s Bristol Shotgun: An Affordable & Attractive Double
To many even savvy hunters and clay shooters, putting the term “side-by-side” next to “affordable” is oxymoronic, and they’re generally not wrong. Thus, we were all ears when we heard the self-proclaimed value expert, TriStar Arms, known for their lines of surprisingly budget-friendly and accessible over-unders, semi-autos, and pump-action shotguns, had taken a foray into the double world. Meet the TriStar Bristol.
At first glance, the TriStar Bristol side-by-side shotguns can be described as simultaneously classy, sleek, and practical. The company introduced not just the most common 12-gauge chamberings, but 20, 28, and .410 bores as well. Each can be found in the two main models – the Bristol and Bristol Silver.
The “standard” Bristol is anything but mundane, wearing a classy case-color finish on the metalwork with a gold inlay logo. A straight, English-style stock ensures this beauty is dressed to the nines, which is not what we expected on a so-called value-priced double. The Bristol Silver changes things up with a different finish and stock design. Its receiver uses a nickel-silver finish with 24-karat gold inlay and laser engraving. The furniture design is more of an American-style pistol grip.
Both guns use a single selective trigger paired with a tang safety/selector. There are chrome-lined chambers and barrels as well as a simple brass bead front sight. All models and gauges use 28-inch barrels. The same lovely select Turkish walnut with an oil finish graces both doubles. Each Bristol includes five flush-mounted Beretta Mobil-style choke tubes in skeet, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified, and full.
Both guns are fitted with shell ejectors, a step up from simple extractors. The top tang safety, which is designed to block the trigger, hammer lever, and hammer, doubles as the barrel selector. Tight checkering graces both Bristol models, as does a black rubber recoil pad. An important fact to note about the Bristol doubles is that TriStar builds each on a true steel frame. That means the sub-gauges are true sub-gauges and not just downsized barrels fitted to oversized, heavy receivers.
Weight ranges between 5.08 and 6.74 pounds. Like all the other TriStar’s we’ve owned and shot through the years, the Bristol is built in Turkey, with barrel stampings indicating manufacture at Khan. The guns are backed by TriStar’s 5-year warranty.
We opted for the Bristol model with its delightful case-colored finish and English-style furniture in 28 gauge. While the guns feel very much the same in the hand, we found something special about the looks of the Bristol over the Silver that sets it apart from TriStar’s other shotties.
On paper, this sounded like a desirable upland birding gun as well as a light-recoiling clay shooter. It does not disappoint. We set up the clay thrower and launched target after target. The gun is a natural, even for me with little previous side-by-side shotgunning experience. Several birds came out broken, and we were still able to smash the pieces in flight.
In fact, upon unboxing this at our local FFL dealer, everybody wanted to shoulder the gun and drool over its looks. None recognized it as a TriStar at first glance. If you took the TriStar name off – which has a reputation for offering budget-friendly guns – many folks would mistake the Bristol’s looks for a high-dollar double.
Taking it afield is the real test of any gun, and we did just that. Intending to do some bird hunting this fall, we loaded up some Aguila target loads to get warmed up and some Federal Premium Prairie Storm we intend to harvest roosters with on our next hunt. The Bristol shouldered quickly, balanced well, and more than did its job.
The gun functioned with 100-percent reliability. Ejectors kicked out spent hulls with authority. We ran through nearly 100 rounds of 28-gauge ammunition, and the action remained surprisingly tight even after a good diet of hunting rounds. The choke tubes we tested also patterned as expected. The gun fit like a glove, not only for me but for larger male shooters as well.
It must be noted that the wrist and lines on the 28 gauge are surprisingly slim, a testament to the gun being built on a true downsized frame. Our test double weighed in at only 5.25 pounds and was a gem to carry afield. Recoil, as with almost any sub-gauge, was nearly non-existent, making it a real pleasure for a long day of sporting clays.
The company says these babies are built with “competition grade craftsmanship at Field Grade pricing,” and we’d have to agree. While many frugal shooters will be quick to say a $1,000 retail price tag cannot possibly be deemed “affordable,” the fact is that building a solid side-by-side shotgun is a rather intensive manufacturing process. Find a decent modern double and nine times out of 10 the price will be not just higher, but significantly higher.
TriStar offers a legitimate entry point for hunters and shooters looking to fall in love with double guns. There’s a certain allure to a side-by-side, especially in the upland birding fields, that simply must be experienced. We anticipate many fine days in the field with our 28-gauge TriStar Bristol, and when we trust a gun on a hunt, that’s as good as it gets.