Written by Irwin Greenstein
Some people in our sporting universe create beautiful shotguns. Others, like Paul Mihailides, make highly desirable shotguns while also building an all-encompassing upland nirvana in which to enjoy them.
There’s a difference between the gifted craftsmen who build gorgeous shotguns and the renaissance men like Mr. Mihailides, whose entrepreneurial vision shapes the future of our sport. Mr. Mihailides is the American owner of the Italian fine gun firm, Famars. He’s made a fortune in construction and used those resources to build the 3,500-acre residential sporting community and luxury event venue, The Preserve at Boulder Hills – replete with largest and longest underground automated gun range in America – in his home state of Rhode Island.
He’ll tell you that he’s the purveyor of a sporting lifestyle. After all, Famars fabricates exquisite shotguns and rifles, sells branded clothing, leather accessories and luxury pocket knives that Mr. Mihailides described as “gentlemen’s tools.” And The Preserve at Boulder Hills – with its clays courses, wingshooting, field trials and other sporting amenities – gives the Famars brand a gated community to live and play.
But the lifestyle tag shortchanges Mr. Mihailides. He’s one of the impresarios our industry needs to keep expanding the fine shotgun niche for the next breakthrough, the next generation, the next source of cash flow. He is moving the needle in the right direction.
An icon of the Famars lifestyle is the $38,000 over/under Poseidon .410/30.6 round-body shotgun/rifle combo that we evaluated.
Mr. Mihailides started building things as a state accredited tool maker in Rhode Island at age 14 and finished the program at 18. He became a professional tool maker, but described himself at the time as “an entrepreneurial spirit and an opportunist. I went from metal to wood to carpentry, contractor, builder, investor and real-estate and golf-course developer.”
It was his love of machine tools that turned him into an admirer of Famars. “I’ve been a Famars owner for 20 years. Their guns were so far apart from everyone else,” he said. “They had that detailed, exquisite engraving that made the guns a functional piece of art. I fell in love with their shotguns, the engraving and their metallurgy processes.”
In 2007 Mr. Mihailides invested in Famars with an eye to establish a U.S. presence for sales and support. “I thought I could expand their footprint here,” he explained.
By 2010 he opened the Famars service center in Rhode Island to support American clients. Famars had built a reputation for beautiful shotguns and rifles. Unfortunately, niggling reliability issues hurt sales and Mr. Mihailides believed tackling dependability in the U.S. would help bolster Famars’ reputation.
Famars USA would expand the company’s product portfolio with new precision-machined, beautifully engraved knives, gun equipment, accessories, clothing, and sportsman’s jewelry.
From the beginning Famars was celebrated for stunning firearms. In 1967, in Italy’s shotgun haven of Gardone Val Trompia, second-generation gunsmiths Mario Abbiatico and Remo Salvinelli, inspired by their youth and talent, started Famars (Fabbrica Armi di Mario Abbiatico e Remo Salvinelli) and shortly afterwards focused on sensuous, small-bore bespoke shotguns distinguished by dazzling Bulino engraving. Lay your eyes on a Famars shotgun and it’s love at first sight.
The four-barrel Rombo shotgun showcased the gunmaking genius of Famars founders Mario Abbiatico and Remo Salvinelli when it was introduced as the Quattrocanne in the late 1970s. The Rombo is still being sold by Famars.
Mario Abbiatico died of cancer in 1984. After his passing, daughter Cristina Abbiatico, who started working there at 18 years old, assumed active management of the back office and eventually became president and CEO. She continued working with her brother Paolo while Mr. Salvinelli concentrated on gunmaking.
With Mr. Mihailides in the U.S., Ms. Abbiatico was caught misappropriating funds, including his own loans earmarked for operations. Famars was forced into bankruptcy for two years. Then in June 2014, Mr. Mihailides bought the company out of bankruptcy.
“Famars employed all the wonderful things I love about any industry,” said Mr. Mihailides. “The people who made the guns were passionate, worked hard – there was so much passion in the shop. And then management misguided them.”
Through the turmoil, Famars’ headgunmaker of 25 years, Paolo Peli, joined Mr. Mihailides in reviving the gunmaker. Mr. Mihailides became the sole owner, with Mr. Peli as a minority partner. Mr. Mihailides, meanwhile, retained 100 percent of Famars USA.
At the time of the Famars purchase, Mr. Mihailides had said “I am honored to call Paolo my friend and business partner. Together we purchased the name and trademark of his former employer and created PMP ARMI, the company that in turn has launched the FAMARS USA brand.”
The fresh cash infusion brought in all new equipment. Headcount is now up to 11, including three in-house engravers.
“I think that we have the best hand-made guns price in the marketplace – as good as the British best,” Mr. Mihailides said.
There are four over/unders including the Leonardo, Poseidon, Excalibur and Sportivo. All of them are offered in different gauges with scaled frames in and popular rifle calibers either through Famars directly or their seven American Ambassador-designated dealers.
Famars’ Leonardo is a sidelock with chopper-lump barrels and Boss-style forend. It can be ordered with detachable sidelocks, double triggers and a titanium frame. The Poseidon is similarly equipped, but a drop-out trigger group is available. The sidelock Excalibur is made with monoblock barrels and a double trigger. And the round-body Sportivo has a boxlock action plus an array of options you’d expect on premium clays shotguns.
Like the over/unders, Famars side by side shotguns can be ordered as rifles. The Avantis and Zeus are their roundbody sidelocks, although the Zeus can be ordered with a classic side-lever that opens the gun. The Venus, meanwhile, is a more traditional sidelock. And the Castore is a beautiful hammer gun. For something extraordinary, Famars will build you the single-trigger, four-barrel Rombo for hunting game with either 28-gauge or .410 shells.
“Every gun we make now is to order, bespoke,” Mr. Mihailides said. “Our guns have about an 18-month turn-around. Prices range from $13,000 to the sky is the limit.”
He went on to explain that every Famars gun is “made by hand. Paulo makes everything by hand now. Every gun, depending on engraving, takes about 1,000 hours to make.”
The steel billets are turned into receivers with a milling machine. Mr. Peli makes one set of barrels at time, personally honing them. The six craftsmen, half of them engravers, are cross-trained to work as stock makers, finishers, actioneers.
“We’re doing quite well,” he said. “We can barely keep up with the orders we have. We want to show how fine gunmaking can continuously evolve.”
As an evolutionary specimen of the craft, the Famars Poseidon we received mated a 30.06 wildebeest warrior with a .410 woodcock slayer on the same receiver, with double triggers. Each barrel had its own forend. Mr. Mihailides described the two-barrel set as a rifle with shotgun barrels – an apt representation as I would discover on the sporting clays course.
The Poseidon had arrived in a hard leather case. Open the lid and it’s like Christmas morning: a beautiful rounded action sporting acanthus scroll and game bird cameos that extended into the top tang with the safety and long bottom tang that flowed into a matching grip cap bearing an engraved waterbuck head. A prize elk was engraved on the bottom of the receiver. Boss style bifurcated lumps provided solid axial lock-up over an extended cross sectional area. And tongue and groove locking mid breach face. With Grade 4 Turkish walnut, wood-to-metal fit was perfect throughout.
The 30-inch .410 barrels came choked improved cylinder/improved modified. Rifle barrels, measuring 23½ inches, were topped with flip-up iron sights of 50 and 100 yards. Get rings if you wanted to mount a scope.
Before the Poseidon had arrived, Mr. Mihailides emailed that the front trigger pull was set at 9 pounds (to be readjusted for the owner’s requirements), the rear at 5½ pounds. The double trigger sequence was opposite of shotguns: start with the rear trigger, followed by the front, to prevent the rifle from doubling.
Talon Range, in Tallahassee, Florida proved ideal for evaluating the gun. It has a 100-yard and 400-yard rifle range and deeper into the property are a 10-station sporting clays course plus trap and skeet.
I started out on the sporting clays course of average difficulty. Have you ever tried to shoot an 8½ pound .410 with 9-pound and 5-pound triggers that worked in reverse order? As clay targets flew from the trap machines, a committed shove would get the gun swinging. The forend jerked down nearly every time I triggered a shot as I struggled with the exceedingly substantial trigger pulls. A 12 gauge, with heavier barrels and wider patterns, would have mitigated the imbalance and even made more sense as a 30.06 companion. It took a box of .410 shells before I could consistently break targets.
Afterwards I took the Poseidon to the 100-yard rifle range shooting Hornady American Whitetail, 150-grams bullets. I’ll confess, I’m not a great rifle shot. Still, I did manage to get several near-bullseyes using a gun rest. As you might imagine, bullets that big sure kick but the Poseidon fit well enough to manage recoil during a few freehand shots.
We would have preferred if Famars had sent us instead one of their beautiful shotguns to evaluate. Because based on past experience, Famars shotguns are lovely to shoot (and see). We found them well-balanced with easy triggers for a joyful performance in the field. Famars shotguns tend to fly under the radar – unless you’re an enthusiast. By our reckoning, though, if you can find a Famars to shoot you’ll probably end up like Mr. Mihailides and fall in love with it.
Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at [email protected]
This story originally appeared in Shotgun Life — the first online magazine dedicated to the best in wing and clays shooting. You can read Shotgun Life at www.shotgunlife.com. Join the Shotgun Life conversation on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/shotgunlife