Filming a “50 Best Guns Ever Made” segment for “The Gun Nuts” last month I got my hands on one of the guns I yearn after: a Merkel 2001EL. Made in Suhl, once behind the Iron Curtain in the former East Germany, Merkels weren’t exported to the US for years after WWII, making them sort of the Cuban cigars of fine guns.
The Merkel is exactly what you expect a Teutonic shotgun to be. There is, for instance, the engraving, which tends toward very deep relief game scenes, often depicting deer, hares and foxes as well as gamebirds and dogs, since German hunters are mixed-bag generalists.
Some gun fanciers think Merkel engraving smacks too much of cuckoo-clock decoration, but I like it and it is very skillfully done, entirely by hand. At my first SHOT show back in 2000 I was drawn to the Merkel booth both by the shotguns and by a very attractive young woman in a dirndl dress whom I chauvinistically assumed was the Merkel booth babe. She turned out to be one of their artisans, busily engraving a typically elaborate Merkel game scene on a block of steel.
The engraving covers a gun of blocky, angular lines, built double-stout to survive generations of owners. The action locks via a strong crossbolt and a pair of underlugs, and is reinforced with unnecessarily massive sideclips. The Merkel is a gun made to work forever. A new one comes from the factory so tight you think there is something wrong with it. The first consignment Merkel I had was a 1620, a 16 gauge double built on a 20 gauge frame. When I put the forearm on, the lever wouldn’t close to latch it to the barrels. I pushed. I squeezed. I bumped it with the heel of my hand. I tapped it tentatively with a hammer. Nothing. Afraid something was stuck, I called Merkel and they put one of their gunsmiths on the line. “You haff to hit it very hard,” he said. I did, and the gun went right together.
Despite the Merkel’s solidity, it’s a delightful gun to shoot. The one in this picture weighs right about 7 pounds with 28-inch barrels. It’s responsive and it points very well.
However, none of this German craftsmanship comes cheap: the gun sells for $8000. I am sorry to be sending it back but I hope you’ll enjoy seeing it on The Gun Nuts as much as I enjoyed shooting it.