It is as ugly as sin, at least to traditionally conditioned eyes. It is also light as a feather, has aluminum alloy action and barrels and rarely shows any looseness. It is the French Baby Bretton over under.
Over the years I have handled many Brettons, both the plain slide open models as well as the slide and break types. I have shot two, both in 12 gauge with a variety of loads. At 2.3 kilograms and with loads over 1 1/8 ounces they kicked. With one ounce they were lively but not painful. But that is not the point. The point here is the design and its paradox, why it rarely shakes loose.
The photos are from an advert on the French auction site Naturabuy where someone is selling a Baby Bretton action for 135 Euros. See the ad here: http://www.naturabuy.fr/CARCASSE-COMPLETE-BABY-BRETTON-VIS-item-3262956.html
A complete action, needing barrels, stock and some internal bits and pieces. What would anyone do with a plain shotgun action?
If it was any other double there is nothing much the buyer could do on his own. The barrels would need to be specially made for the action, fitted and smoked in. The stock would have to be similarly hand crafted. The whole exercise would be horribly costly.
Not the Baby Bretton. The barrels are hand screwed into the short aluminum alloy monobloc. Repeat, hand screwed, and hand tightened. The muzzle bridge that keeps the barrels together is a plastic piece tightened via a screw that has a large slot, large enough for a coin to be used instead of a screw driver. Obviously there are no ribs anywhere on these barrels. Ribs would cancel out the screw in practicality of the barrels. The barrels are held by a short alloy monobloc, it covers about an inch of the barrels, the threaded part over the chambers. The stock is bolted (via a wood screw in the rear action plate) and has no intricate fitting. It is possible drop in the bits that will result in a complete, usable Baby Bretton. The cost of the parts is reasonable, compared to traditional guns it is ridiculously low. New barrels can be had for about 200 Euros each.
The barrel monobloc is held to the breech via two steel rods. The barrels slide on those rods, forward to open, back to bring the barrels onto the breech face. An internal elliptical bolt engages with half round recesses on these rods to lock the action. The arrangement sounds rinky dink, it is not. In the flesh the Baby Bretton feels precise, smooth and positive. I know, I used one.
Understandably the Baby Bretton is rarely discussed by shotgun writers.Understandably because its design, construction and choice of material challenges some long entrenched notions. If all the traditional views are correct then this shotgun should not exist, and if it exists it should not work, and it works it should not last. But it exists, it works and it lasts for many decades.
Tradition wants the barrels to be of high quality steel. The action must also be steel and case hardened. The operation in quality doubles is via the break open system. The barrels rotating on the cross pin to open the gun and give access for loading, unloading and ejecting. The Baby Bretton has alloy barrels and action. It slides open instead of breaking open. It has no under or top bolting.
Experts have repeatedly described the «hammer blow» delivered by the cartridge head to the standing breech, flexing the action back and several have championed the third fastener that holds the barrels to the upper end of the action. There are even descriptions of experiments that show this flexing and the value of the top fastener in preventing it. Flexing naturally assumes that the breech face is in one piece with the action flats, so there are parts that will flex as the backward push to the breech face is transmitted through the steel to the horizontal part, to the action flats that do the flexing. The hammer blow also necessitates case hardening on the action face to withstand the impact.
The Baby Bretton has no action flats. Its alloy breech face takes the «hammer blow» with no signs of deformation despite its being of relatively soft aluminum alloy. There is no cross pin, also called a hinge pin, for the barrels. As for strength, the Baby Bretton is proofed to the highest CIP pressure levels. The combination model has a barrel chambered for the 8mm rifle cartridge, proving that the system is able to handle rifle pressures.
A closer look shows that the barrels of the Baby Bretton are as near to free floating as can be had on the double shotgun. The are free to flex radially on firing and return to their origianl state unhindered by action flats, ribs, jointing to the adjoining barrels or by bolts. This free flotation of the barrels, alhtough apparently flimsy, is arguably one of the reasons of the Bretton’s durablity.
The sliding breech may not have the L shaped lever of the traditional double. On the other hand its independent parts, the monobloc and the breech face are free to act individually under load, thus there is no flexing issue in the Bretton.
Our local Bretton importer, Mr Papadakis, said regarding the durability and strength of the gun: «in the years we have been importing the Baby Bretton we never had problems with action looseness or deformation of any parts, barrels or actions. The one thing that clients often lose the plastic barrel connector and we learned to keep enough of those in stock».
There are negatives in the Bretton, as with any mechanical system. The looks are one such negative. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder and pretty is as pretty does, but no euphemisms can smooth the looks of the Bretton. Once you get past the visual issue, the Bretton actually handles nicely. To the sense of touch its shape feels right. There are no protrusions as the hand runs over its smooth action shape. Controls are simple and positive. Loading and unloading are not as fast as in an ejector gun, but they are as fast as in a break open non ejector.
Once shouldered its lightness and pointability make up for its lack of looks. It is an easy gun to shoot well, with mild loads, and a joy to carry all day.
Beyond the pluses and minuses of the particular shotgun, the action design itself poses some challenges to shotgun orthodoxy. It makes you think, compare and contrast. Arguably it demolishes some sacred shotgunning cows and that is not a bad thing, not bad at all.
A video showing the operation of the Baby Bretton:
Shooting the Baby Bretton with 1 ounce loads, the kick is totally manageable.
Photos from the Naturabuy advert for a used Baby Bretton receiver:
a- the action open, on the left is the monobloc into which the barrels thread.
b- the open action from above, the half round recesses on the rails lock the action.
c- looking into the action from the front, you can see the threads that hold the barrels in the short monobloc.
d- seen from below the action slots that house the triggers are on the right. Note the use of through pins, not screws, for the triggers.
e- the action closed, the rails protrude in the back. The wood screw is the stock retaining screw which holds the back plate onto the stock.