Franchi’s Affinity family of inertia-operated autoloading shotguns is a comprehensive one. It has models in 12-gauge, chambered for 3-inch and 3.5-inch cartridges, stocked in wood or in synthetic with black or camo finishes – 20-gauge and left-hand versions are available. For 2020, this extensive model range has been further enlarged to include an upgraded version designed specifically for waterfowlers: the Affinity Elite.
Like all the current Franchi autoloaders, the Affinity Elite is operated by the Benelli inertia-driven system which has achieved extraordinary popularity for its reliability, simplicity, and ease of maintenance. However, the Franchi differs from most of the Benelli models (with the exception of the Benelli Vinci) in that its main spring is located around the magazine tube rather than in the butt stock – a significant improvement, in my opinion.
This new model has a different presentation to others in the Affinity range. Its synthetic stock and slender fore-end are finished in a new digital camouflage pattern, Optifade Waterfowl Timber, which will blend in with most New Zealand waterfowling environments.
The receiver, barrel, and magazine cap have been given an attractive, cobalt-coloured, Cerakote finish which is non-glare and water-resistant. Cerakote is a proprietary process which incorporates ceramic dust in a polymer binder to provide a durable, rust- and abrasion-resistant protective covering appropriate for the kind of conditions hard-out hunters will subject their shotguns to.
The ventilated rib has a new and very striking sighting bead. If you like high-visibility front beads, this Truglo dual-colour, fibre-optic bar will have real appeal.
For ease of use with gloved fingers, some of the operating features have been enlarged. The bolt handle and bolt release button are now bigger and textured to provide a sure grip, while the bottom loading port has also been enlarged.
Benelli and Franchi have resisted following the current fashion for over-boring the barrels of their autoloaders. The Franchi has a bore diameter of 0.726″, but the forcing cone in the Elite version has been extended to enhance patterning and to help ease the felt effects of recoil. This model also comes with a set of three extended waterfowling choke tubes designated as close-, mid-, and long-range. Unfortunately, these weren’t available at the time for the testfire gun which came with a modified internal Mobilchoke fitted, so I was unable to pattern the extended chokes which have been designed for waterfowling with non-toxic shot.
For the rest, the Elite shares the same features as the standard Affinity models. It comes with a shim kit to modify cast and drop in the buttstock. Recoil reduction is achieved through a thoughtfully designed recoil pad. This TSA pad has a smooth plastic frame which encloses a soft, shock-absorbing material. The hard frame facilitates a snag-free mount; the soft material combats recoil. The chrome-lined barrel is topped with a 7mm stepped and ventilated rib, and the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept auxiliary sighting devices.
The Affinity comes with a magazine limiter fitted so that it’s a three-shot autoloader – two shells in the magazine, one in the chamber. Remove the limiter, and it becomes a five-shot (4+1).
The operating procedures, which will be familiar to anyone who has handled Benelli autoloaders, are simple and well explained in the comprehensive handbook.
Testfire: Function Testing on the Range
The Elite proved capable of cycling a wide variety of 28-gram target loads, including a range of low-recoil shells. That’s an impressive performance from an inertia-operated shotgun and reassuring if you intend to use the gun at a pre-season clay target shoot. Of course, it had no trouble handling the field loads for which it’s designed. With a payload of 34 grams and velocity of 1510fps, RC’s Technosteel waterfowling load generates a smart recoil. But even though the Elite is a reasonably lightweight field gun, weighing 3.1kg (just under 7lbs), felt recoil was not excessive. The TSA recoil pad proved its worth. A round of 5-stand clay targets confirmed that the Affinity is a well-balanced and fast-handling shotgun. Its stock dimensions, comfortable pistol grip and slim fore-end combine to make it a natural pointer.
Testfire in the Field
November isn’t a great month for wing shooting opportunities around Wellington, so I was very grateful when an expert pigeon hunter from Hawkes Bay invited me up for an early-season shoot. “No guarantees for a 200-bird day at this time of the year, though,” he warned me. In the event, we had an entertaining morning shooting from his custom-built pigeon-hide trailer from which we bagged a good number of birds before the wind dropped and the flight stopped. Shooting with this autoloader proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Pigeon shooting is a great test of a shotgun’s handling qualities and the Elite proved to be ideally suited to cope with the erratic and jinking flight of this exciting game bird. While the flight lasted, I managed to shoot through three boxes of an RC 32-gram lead game load with no discomfort. This is a very capable gun for high-volume, fast shooting. Its oversize controls proved very convenient for quick reloading but I did think that if I’d been shooting with winter gloves on, two of the controls – the safety button mounted at the rear of the trigger guard and the small cartridge drop lever – would also have benefitted by being enlarged.
The Beretta Holding Group offers three different brands of inertia-operated autoloaders, each of them based firmly on the Benelli design, but each placed on a different pricing level. The various Benelli models form the top tier. Franchi, now a division of Benelli, comes next, followed by the Stoeger models which are manufactured in Turkey.
But despite the difference in pricing, I think it would be a mistake to regard the Affinity as a second-grade shotgun. Manufactured in Italy to Benelli’s high standards, it offers the reliability and ease of maintenance of inertia-operated shotguns together with some intelligent design features, all at a very attractive price and with the comfort of a 7-year warranty.
I note that in their annual listing of the top-selling firearms in the USA for 2019, the website GunBroker.com compiled by NRA American Hunter staff, had the Affinity coming in at #2 for autoloading shotguns (ahead of Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 at #4). This high ranking reflects the Franchi’s attractive combination of high quality and fine performance at a very attractive price point. With an RRP of $1999.00, the Elite is more expensive than the standard Affinity models but remains in a price bracket that will give it real appeal.