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Gun Test: FABARM XLR5 Velocity by Johnny Cantu – Shotgun Sports Magazine

The following is an article as featured in the May 2012 issue of Shotgun Sports Magazine by author and editor Johnny Cantu. To view the original article as a PDF, click here.

In my report of the 2012 SHOT Show in the May issue of Shotgun Sports I informed our readers of a new semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun from the famous Italian arms manufacturer, FABARM, (now a part of Caesar Guerini) the XLR5 Velocity. I also mentioned to look forward to a review of the XLR5. Well, after a phone call or two to Mr. Joe Cunniffe, General Manager of FABARM USA in Cambridge, MD, my test sample which was an early prototype model arrived at my office.

The FABARM XLR5 Velocity came housed in a sturdy and rigid black polymer case. The snaps are of the push/pull style and are not key lockable. However, the case does have areas for small padlocks to secure the case. Additionally, the heavy gauge foam material the gun and accessories sit in is tightly cut out to the dimensions of the components so they will not rattle around under the stresses and bounces of travel.

My test XLR5 Velocity came with a 30″ barrel; a 32″ barrel is offered. The 30 incher is my preference for a semi-auto to be used for sporting and trap. Skeet shooters may incur a slight hiccup with such lengths but, at least with the 30″ probably not for long. By the way, although the promotional material printed for the FABARM XLR5 Velocity adds the single word description “sporting” as a suffix, by virtue of it’s range of adjustability, I will refer to it simply as the XLR5 Velocity or, XLR5 in this review. After reading this review, I’m sure you will agree, the XLR5 Velocity is a genuine all-around clay target gun. The 30″ barrel of the XLR5 maintains a 2 3/4″ chamber, a fully chrome lined bore and barrel tang. The bore is designed with an internal geometry FABARM calls “Tribore HP*”. The bore diameter at the front of the chamber is .740 and it gradually tapers to .725 at the base of the screw-in choke. The Tribore HP is intended to reduce recoil and improve pattern performance. Another feature of the XLR5’s barrel that reduces recoil; the bore has no forcing cone. None to speak of, anyway. Recoil is further reduced by the recoil reducer in the stock. Another feature unique to the FABARM XLR5 Velocity’ s barrel is the barrel spine or stiffener. Mounted on the upper center line of the barrel it sits visible below the adjustable rib. The purpose of the spine is to reduce the barrel flex that occurs under stress of recoil which could adversely affect and/or re-direct POI downrange.

The FABARM XLR5 Velocity is the first production semi-automatic shotgun with an adjustable rib. This rib is 11mm wide at the receiver and 9mm wide at the muzzle. It features a style of matting (the filing on the upper surface of the rib done to reduce annoying glare) that I happen to find very attractive and functional. It’s a sort of longitudinal groove that allows the shooter’s eye to better find center behind the barrel. I’ve enjoyed many gun’s that have had such ribs and to me they are a joy. A Bradley style white bead was mounted at the muzzle. The XLR5’s rib is adjustable at the muzzle by means of a knurled finger wheel (a set screw locks it in place when adjustment is found). Lowest setting provides a 90/10 Point of Impact, highest setting gives a 50/50 POI. The 90/10 POI adjustment would certainly accommodate a large majority of trap shooters in the country and the balance of adjustability in combination with the XLR5’s adjustable comb would make it useable for virtually all clay target disciplines. In my range testing the POI adjustments at the rib were done almost on the fly and were easy to accomplish.

The FABARM’s receiver is machined from high strength aluminum (ERGAL 55). Of the two finishes available my test sample was the black matte finish with an attractive leaf and vine scroll engraving. A matte silver (titanium) finish model is available. Joe Cunniffe informed me the engraving pattern of the black matte finished XLR5 will be re-styled in production versions. As of this writing the style has yet to be determined. Atop the receiver of the XLR5 sits a ramp that mates with adjustable rib at the face of the receiver. This gives the eye a smoother transition from the receiver back to the top of and down the rib.

The bolt system within the XLR5 is the familiar pivoting locking block design used in most Beretta and Remington semi-auto and pump-action models. Competitive shooters using the XLR5 Velocity will enjoy the over-size cocking handle that comes standard. To accent the over-size cocking handle and to make less effort of the job of releasing the bolt, the XLR5 Velocity also features an over-size bolt release button mounted on the left-hand side of the receiver. Both right-hand and left-hand models will be offered. Left-hand models will retain the left-side bolt-release button. The FABARM XLR5 Velocity functions in the manner typical of most Italian semi-automatic shotgun designs; it fires and releases a shell from the magazine tube upon trigger pull. You can remove shell from the chamber by pulling the bolt handle back without releasing a shell from the magazine tube. Shells in mag tube can be emptied by pushing in the carrier and pressing the shell latch against the wall of receiver. Fired shells are ejected out the right side of the gun (left-hand models out to the left) but slightly downward and in front of the shooter. This trajectory of ejected hulls is a pleasant and welcome feature when you’d rather not smack your squad mate (or his gun) with a fast flying empty hull. A recoil buffer mounted within and at the rear of the XLR5’s receiver aids in lessening the thump from a long day’s shooting session. The XLR5’s bolt return system is located under the forearm, not in the buttstock. A strong spring positioned around the magazine tube returns the bolt to battery with more than sufficient power and speed.

When I met with Joe Cunniffe at this year’s SHOT Show he was anxious to show me all the features the XLR5 Velocity had to offer. One of its many features he tutored me on is the Pulse Piston gas system. This system utilizes a piston design that makes use of a polymer sleeve insert. This sleeve insert expands under the pressures of the gas coming from the gas chamber on the barrel. In this manner the piston works like a progressive break in the gas cylinder.  This design eliminates the need for any valves, improves self cleaning and significantly reduces felt recoil. The action rails are dual hard chromed rails that greatly improve smoothness of the action as well as reliability of the mechanism overall. For better functioning and improved reliability certain components such as the piston and the gas cylinder are PVD coated with Zirconium Magazine capacity of the FABARM XLR5 Velocity is 4 in the magazine + 1 in the chamber (unplugged). With the magazine capacity reducer installed (it’s included as standard equipment) capacity is 2 + 1. The tube itself is coated with a hard anodizing to better endure the wear and scuffing from the action rails under fire.

Another of the XLR5’s helpful and unique features is its adjustable trigger blade, the first offered in a production level semi-auto shotgun. Housed in a molded high strength polymer housing the trigger blade is adjustable to a range of .6” within the oversized, stylishly shaped trigger guard. Upon inspection and during field testing the Trigger broke at a consistent 4 lbs. with no take-up and only a bit of creep before let-off. It was a very friendly trigger. I consider it more than satisfactory for an out-of-the-box semi-auto trigger system. The Safety on the XLR5 Velocity is the typical cross-bolt cut-off style seen on many modern semi-auto shotguns and it’s reversible.

The XLR5 Velocity carries a buttstock of hand-oiled European walnut matte finished with stylish laser etched checkering pattern. Though the pattern is not a point style, I had no issues with achieving good grip on the stock. There was no discernible palm-swell on either right or left side. Length of pull measures 14.3” (including 1” medium-soft recoil black rubber recoil pad). The comb is adjustable by means of Micro-Metric® fully adjustable hardware that allows the shooter a ½” range of adjustability vertically and .46“ laterally. The Micro-Metric* hardware system incorporates fine tunable vertical risers that can be locked in place to instantly re-set your personal comb height if the comb is ever removed. During test firing I moved the comb up and over a little and found the adjustable system very easy and simple to use. Allen wrenches to accomplish all adjustments on the XLR5 velocity are included when you purchase the gun. Additionally, the XLR5 uses a stock shim system to provide extra cast and drop adjustment. I did not have the opportunity to investigate the shim system as my test gun was a prototype model; one of only two in the country at the time and did not have the shims as extra components. The sweep of the pistol grip was moderate and felt good in my hands; not too fast and not too long. The recoil reducer within the buttstock being also a prototype version was not removed for photographic purposes. The forend on the XLR5 I found to be a sufficiently hand filling diameter with good grip provided to my front hand by the checkering pattern.

Going hand-in-hand with the forend is the XLR5’s steel forend cap and its extra weights. The forend cap alone weighs 4.6 ounces and each of the additional thread-on weights weighs 1.42 ounces. You can choose to shoot the XLR5 without any extra weights threaded on or use one or two or all three for a noticeable forward weight shift in your hands. I tried one extra weight and found it doable for my mildy arthritic shoulders. But shooting the XLR5 without extra weights suited me just fine. The gun alone (with no extra forend cap weights) weighs a tad more than 8. 5 lbs. Once again, the extra weights come standard with the XLR5 Velocity.

Five screw-in chokes are part of the package. Sorry, that’s five Exis HP chokes! The five that came with my test sample prototype were the: Skeet/Cylinder, the #2, #5, #7 and the #9. The internal geometry of these Exis HP chokes was described to me by Joe Cunniffe as hyperbolic; designed to better match the  patterning characteristics of the bore.  The stainless steel Exis HP chokes are 3.62″ long (92mm). They have knurled heads that are notched for the supplied choke wrench. My internal micrometer inspection found the geometry to be rather interesting. A typical internal description: the gas skirt is .735 from there it tapers for 2″, holds the diameter for 7mm, decreases for another 10mm, then increases to .735″‘ and terminating at the muzzle. This to me was an unusual internal make-up but, I was anxious to try them out on targets. My five chokes’ final constriction before the muzzle were: the Skeet/Cylinder – .000, the #2 – .012, #5 – .022, #7 – .031, #9 – .040. I can tell you one thing for sure, the geometry might be a little different in these bad boys but, they will destroy clay targets!

My range testing was conducted at the Auburn Trap Range located a few minutes north of my office. They have a 5 Stand layout as well as 4 trap fields. My intentions were to give the FABARM XLR5 Velocity a wringing out on some 5 Stand and trap targets all the while testing the adjustability features of the gun. Ammunition employed was a mixed bag: Nobel Sport’s 1300 fps Sporting Clays 1 ounce load of 7 1/2s, Remington’s Premier 1 1/8 ounce loads of 8s in both 3 and 2 3/4 dram equivalents, B&Ps Legend loads in 7 1/2s, Federal’s Gold Medal paper 2 3/4 dram 8s, and Estate’s 2 3/4 dram 1 1/8 ounce 7 1/2s.

First, I moved the comb to the right as far as I could to better center my eye behind the rib. Next, I moved the rib up to attempt to give me as close to my preferred 50/50 POI as possible. As prescribed by Joe, I also applied a minor amount of lubrication to the magazine tube to aid in reliability. A dab of some of my favorite gun lube, STOS, on the action rails, assembled the gun and I was ready to do battle with the elusive clay bird.

Testing a gun that does not fit (as is always the case) forces me to be more mindful of the attributes of the gun…score, not so much. My first two rounds were decent however, the XLR5 Velocity was liking the Nobel Sport 1300 fps Sporting Clays loads of 7 1/2s. The targets didn’t like them so much. The choke I chose to test first was the .022, #5. On the majority of the presentations thrown at Auburn’s 5 Stand course a .022 is definitely over-kill. The XLR5 spit out the empties down, in front and a little to the right of the cage. A good group actually. Next, the Remington Premier 3 dram 8s. Result; was a few more X’s on the card but, no change in functioning or swing dynamic. I felt the XLR5 in the configuration I received it it was just about right without any extra weights attached to the forend cap. I did shoot one round with one additional forend cap weight and, for my liking, it was a bit too front heavy.The FABARM XLR5 Velocity is designed specifically as a competition shotgun. It has some mass to it. The mass definitely helps kill recoil.

After the Premiers the Estate loads ejected reliably as did the famous B&P Legend loads. Interestingly enough, the Gold Medal Papers were not fully reliable, at first. After about half a box they all chambered and ejected great. I moved to the trap fields but first took a little break in the club. The usual curious onlookers assembled around the gun and customary, “Whatcha’ shootin’ today, Johnny?” echoed about the crowd. A few members were anxious to try the FABARM XLR5 Velocity on the trap range. Some fired a few shots with factory loads, some used their reloads. All cycled properly through the gun. Being trap shooters one of the first things noticed was where the XLR5 spit the empties. That got a lot of smiles and approving nods.

My trap rounds were shot from the 16 yard line and the 22 yard line. I had adjusted the rib to give a higher POI, perhaps close to an 70/30 and hits were solid on the bouncy cold air trap birds.  The weight of the FABARM XLR5 was slightly toward the front in my hands and that made the more shallow angles on the trap presentations an easy move. The XLR5 Velocity definitely has the makings of a fine sporting and trap gun. I’d love to have a chance to shoot one with the forend cap made of aluminum. I think those few ounces of reduced weight would help me out.

Did I like the FABARM XLR5 Velocity? Yes, indeed! It hits targets with authority. It has all the adjustability and user friendly features any shooter could want. It reduces recoil very well. It has the famous look and style FABARM is known for and it is being distributed by a company that is brutal on customer service. That alone means a lot!

The FABARM XLR5 Velocity semi-auto will be offered in the US in two models: a black matte and a silver matte finished model. Both models will come in right or left hand versions. The left-hand versions will maintain the ejection port and the bolt release on the left side of the receiver. MSRPs for the FABARM XLR5 Velocity models will be near the vicinity of $2500 for the black models and $2900 for the silver versions. Check with your Guerini/FABARM dealer for availability in your area.

There you have it. The FABARM XLR5 Velocity; Great looks, great adjustability, awesome performance and a multi-tasker on clay birds. What else could you ask for?