The best shotgunning rumor of the 2006 SHOT Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center is that Federal Cartridge Company is at work on a 4-inch 12 gauge shell. My sources at Federal firmly deny the rumor.

What is tangible fact, not hearsay, is that there are a lot of new guns at the show, and I’ve been wandering the aisles getting my hands on as many of them as possible. Here are some impressions of the Class of 06:

The 105 CTi autoloader may be the hit of the show, but Remington has many more new guns and variations to tempt us with in the coming year. For target shooters there’s a new Model 1100 Competition model with extra polished, nickel-teflon plated parts for improved function and easier cleaning. It’s overbored, too, to .735, for better patterns and features an adjustable stock. In hand, it feels exactly like any other 1100, which is a very good thing, as the 1100 has been winning clay target competitions since its introduction in 1963.

The big news for over-under shooters is the Premier line. The Italians have over-under making pretty well nailed down, and Remington has decided if they can’t beat the Italians, they can engrave an “R” on their guns and import them. The Premier line of Sabatti O/Us starts around $1800 for field guns and runs up to $2200 for the competition gun. They are nicely finished, well balanced, handsomely decorated guns that seem like a good value for the money.

Remington has also added more thumbhole stocks to its 11-87 and 870 deer and turkey gun line up. The Special Purpose 870 fully rifled, cantilever-mount deer gun has a handsome laminated gray stock. The thumbhole gives a you a solid grip and great control over the gun; this is one of those guns that makes me regret being left-handed, as the Monte Carlo comb would lay my cheek open if I tried to shoot it. For you in the right-handed majority, it should be a great slug shooter.

Browning’s Cynergy has a very low profile, which makes it a natural pointer. Its concept car looks, unfortunately, have not helped the Cynergy dance its way into the hearts of American shooters. The new Classic Field Cynergy has a traditional stock design and game scenes on the receiver in place of the more abstract engraving on the originals. It’s a definite step in the right direction that may encourage more hunters to try the Cynergy and appreciate its low profile design.

The Browning Silver is a semi-humpback autoloader that will be a lower-priced version of the company’s flagship auto, the Gold. Besides its distinctive receiver shape, the Silver does without the speed loading and magazine cut-off feature of the Gold. Hunters like me who grew up shooting A-5s will like the gun’s pofile, and everyone can appreciate the soft-shooting and reliable gas system that the Silver shares with the Gold.

Browning has added to its Gold line with a new Superlite version. An alloy magazine tube makes this gun weigh about half a pound less than the standard Gold. You can feel the difference immediately when you pick it up ¿¿¿ the Superlite has a great, lively feel.

Winchester’s new X3 autoloader makes use of the same light alloy magazine tube as the Superlite Gold with similar results ¿¿¿ this is a gun that begs to be shot when you pick it up. The X3 comes in wood, black synthetic and camo. You may not like the lines of the new streamlined stock (I don’t) but you’ll love the way its non-slick DuraTouch finish feels in your hands.

Weatherby Athena d’Italia
Last year Weatherby introduced a classic side by side imported from Italy. This year they have added to the Athena d’Italia line with a pistol gripped, beaver tail forearm version tailored to American tastes. There’s also a Deluxe model featuring upgraded wood and game scenes on the sideeplates. Both have single triggers — which I count as a plus but purists will dislike. All of the Athena d’Italia line feels exactly right when you swing the muzzles at an imaginary bird winging its way across the convention center ceiling.