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An inertia-operated semiauto, Franchi’s Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite occupies a middle price point between high-end Benellis and affordable Stoegers, and it has become popular among American waterfowlers who evidently believe it hits a sweet spot in price and performance. We took one along on our waterfowl gun test at the Pintail Hunting Club last September, to see if it lived up to its reputation.

Founded in 1868, Italian gunmaker Franchi made its reputation with both civilian and military arms. Hunters in the U.S. knew Franchi for its shotguns—primarily the AL-48, a featherlight version of Browning’s long-recoil Auto 5 that became a favorite among many quail hunters. Franchi was known, too, for the SPAS-12 tactical shotgun, an innovative dual-mode gun that could function as a pump or semiauto.

Franchi’s direction changed in 1994, when arms giant Beretta Holdings, which also owns Stoeger and Benelli, bought the venerable arms-maker. Under the Benelli umbrella, Franchi became the mid-priced brand between Stoeger and Benelli. The Affinity fit right into that brand strategy as a mid-priced inertia gun that offered a more affordable alternative to Benelli’s lineup. Inertia guns have become very popular among waterfowlers, in particular due to their reliability in bad conditions and because they can built very light and very trim. But, with the price of Benellis well over $1,000, there was definitely a need for a lower-priced inertia gun, and the Affinity fit the bill.

The line has grown to comprise 12-gauge guns in 3- and 3 ½-inch models, as well as 3-inch 20 gauges. There is a Catalyst model with a stock designed for women, as well as dedicated turkey guns. As a lightweight semiauto, the Affinity can serve many purposes besides waterfowl hunting. It can be an upland gun, a turkey gun, or a dove gun, too.

A Closer Look at the Franchi Affinity 3

Specs on the Franchi Affinity 3

  • Gauge: 3-inch 12 (tested), 3-inch 20 gauge
  • Action: Inertia semiauto
  • Capacity: 4+1
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Barrel Type: Raised rib
  • Barrel Length: 26 and 28 inches (tested)
  • Chokes: Mid- and Long-Range Extended
  • Front Sight: Red fiber-optic
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.2 inches
  • Trigger Pull: 5.14 pounds
  • Overall Weight: 6.8 pounds

The Affinity 3, like Benelli’s semiautos, works via the inertia principle. The bolt consists of a rotary head and a heavy bolt body with a stout spring inside. When the gun is fired and moves back under recoil, the bolt remains at rest, actually locking more tightly into the breech so the gun fires safely while also compressing the spring. As the rearward movement of the gun slows, the spring opens, throwing the bolt back and ejecting the fired shell. A return spring pushes the bolt forward at the end of its stroke and it picks up a shell from the carrier as it moves forward. Because inertia guns make no use of gas tapped from the barrel, as gas-operated guns do, they remain cleaner, longer and don’t stop working due to powder fouling. They will also keep working in adverse weather conditions that might stop a gas gun. And, because inertia guns have no gas pistons, sleeves or action bars around the magazine tube, they can be lighter and slimmer up front, often giving them a lively feel.

The main internal difference between a Benelli inertia gun and the Affinity is that the Affinity does have a return spring around the magazine tube instead of in a tube inside the stock as is common with semiauto guns. The spring adds very little weight or bulk to the front end, and, while it can get dirtier than a spring in the stock might, it is also easier to inspect and clean. Some hunters prefer this feature.

Franchi guns lack some of the high-tech features of Benelli guns like the ComforTech vibration- and recoil-reducing stock. Instead, it manages recoil with Franchi’s own TSA recoil pad—a soft, uniquely-shaped buttpad.

How We Tested the Franchi Affinity 3

We hunted teal with the Affinity 3 in the mornings and gave it a workout in the afternoons at the Pintail Hunting Club’s clays range. We tested the gun for both point of impact and to see how it patterned with hunting loads at 35 yards. We weighed it, measured and checked the trigger pull. Our test gun shot a terrific pattern, putting 88 percent of its pellets in a 30-inch circle with its Mid-Range extended choke. It also centered the pattern quite close to the point of aim. With the Mid-Range shooting so tightly (we were using Federal Speed-Shok 1 ½-ounce, 1550-fps load of 2 shot), you can be confident in shots out to 40 yards with it. Or, you might want to try smaller pellets if you’ll be shooting exclusively over decoys, as smaller shot usually prints more open patterns. The trigger broke at 5.14 pounds, which is pretty good pull weight for a hunting gun.

shotgun patterning sheet from a Franchi Affinity 3
We patterned the Franchi Affinity 3 at 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

We experienced no malfunctions of any kind over three days of hunting with and shooting the gun. Because it lacks the Easy Locking bolt found on some Benellis, it is possible to bump the bolt on the Affinity 3 out of the battery and cause a misfire, but if you let the bolt slam shut when you load it you shouldn’t have any problems making this gun shoot.

How the Affinity 3 Performed

Handling and Ergonomics

A light, slim gun, the Affinity 3 was easy to shoot despite its light weight, which I attribute to its balance, stock dimensions and the thin forend that helps it point naturally. Lightweight guns, especially fixed-breech guns and inertia semiautos, do kick. The TSA pad helps tame that recoil, but I could definitely tell when the Affinity 3 was going off.

It does feature the enlarged controls waterfowlers want nowadays, and it has an extended bolt handle and enlarged bolt release button as well as a beveled loading port to make it easy to load and unload even in cold weather and/or while wearing gloves. An oversize safety button would be a nice addition to the gun, although we had no trouble using the safety on the gun.

Workmanship and Aesthetics

The Affinity 3 looks exactly like what it is—a trim inertia workhorse that’s good looking but without the niceties of a high-end Benelli. But that’s not a fair comparison, as it costs hundreds less than a Benelli. For its price point, the Affinity 3 a good-looking, well fit-and-finished gun. The stock and forend feature pressed patterns along with twin curved accent lines that run from the forend through the receiver and the checkering panel on the stock, giving it a look all its own instead of aping Benelli styling. The furniture is dipped in OptiFade Marsh and the metal has a durable, gray-bronze Cerakote finish. Our gun was well-put together and didn’t rattle or feel cheap at all.

Versatility

The Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite isn’t just for ducks and geese. It is light enough to carry for upland birds, or to take into the turkey woods, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for an optic, too. It has the right feel in hand to make a good dove gun. While we did find it easy to hit clays with—and it does have a recoil-absorbing pad—it’s much too light to make a serious target gun. It would be fine for recreational trap, skeet, or sporting clays, and definitely a good gun for pre-season clay practice before hunting starts.

Reliability

Eighty-some degrees and dry isn’t the toughest weather for a gun test, so we couldn’t torture the Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite as we’d have liked to. It was completely up to the task of hot-barrel teal shoots in the morning, as well as plenty of clay shooting after lunch. We experienced no malfunctions of any kind with hunting or target ammunition. Because the Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite is an inertia gun, it can be made to “click” if you bump the bolt out of battery or don’t let it slam shut when you load it.

Value

Positioned between Benelli’s other brands offering inertia guns—affordable Stoeger, and top-of-the-line Benelli—the Affinity 3 hits the mark. It’s a better fit and finished gun than the Stoeger and, at least in our test, outperformed the Stoeger in terms of handling, aesthetics, workmanship, and reliability. At the same time, there’s not much to choose between the Franchi and the Benelli in terms of operation and handling. You don’t get all of the high-tech engineering features that make Benelli a premium brand, such as the ComforTech stock. If you can live without those features, and maybe without a little bit better aesthetics, the Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite is an excellent gun at a price well below what you’d pay for a Benelli or a Browning A5 inertia gun. The Waterfowl Elite is not as good of a value as the standard Affinity 3, however. The standard model lacks Cerakote, enlarged controls, extended chokes, and a couple of other features but lists for $400 less.

What the Shotgun Does Best

The Franchi Affinity 3 Waterfowl Elite makes a great choice as a dedicated waterfowl gun or as an all-around hunting gun. In either 12 or 20 gauge it can handle almost all wingshooting chores from ducks to doves to upland birds to turkeys. There are 3 ½-inch models available for those who want to shoot the heaviest loads, although I personally wouldn’t want to make a habit of shooting those heavy magnums in a lightweight inertia gun. If you don’t feel the need for a Cerakote finish, extended chokes and enlarged controls you can step down to a standard Affinity 3 and save some money.

What the Affinity 3 Does Worst

There’s not much in the field that an Affinity 3 can’t do, but it would not be the best choice if your main interest is clay target shooting. Although we found it fairly easy to hit clays with, a heavier gas-operated gun with a longer barrel would make a much better semiauto choice for serious clay target shooting. The Affinity 3 is fine for a few rounds of trap, skeet,or sporting clays for fun or pre-season warmup, though. And, despite it’s effective recoil pad, it’s not the best choice for shooting lots of high velocity, heavy shells if you are recoil-sensitive.