BY STEVE COMUS
The closer one looks at the Dickinson Eclipse gas-operated semi-auto 12-gauge shotgun, the more there is to like. It is the kind of gun that has so many nice touches inside that a quick look at the outside really doesn’t do this model justice.
A close look at what makes it tick reveals that someone was thinking when he mapped out the Eclipse. In addition to having the right things in the right places, the Eclipse has those things made out of the right stuff. I guess that’s why Dickinson gave it its name – it does eclipse designs and executions of the past.
For example, the Eclipse digests an extremely wide range of loads, all the way from ¾-ounce to 1¾ ounces. That’s a whole lot of options and not easy for semi-autos. Most can handle the heavy stuff and generally they can operate with one-ounce loads. But to handle the really light loads for one shot and then go to the heaviest on the next shot is something to think about.
There is no particular secret about how it does it. The answer is in the gas piston and the gas metering mechanism under the barrel. Basically, the gun operates at the pressures of the light loads, but bleeds off excess gas from the heavier loads.
Although this is nothing really new, what is interesting is the way the Eclipse does it. Frankly, the piston is the best I have ever seen. It is made of steel with a steel ring and fits snugly in the cylinder beneath the barrel. The design and fit of the piston are crucial in making this gun operate so well.
The Eclipse has an aluminum receiver for weight reduction, so the lock-up of the bolt to the barrel is steel-to-steel by way of a polished rear barrel extension.
Several things stand out here. First, the extension is long enough to align barrel and bolt just right, which not only contributes to smooth functioning, but also extends the operational lifetime of the action.
The extractor is a hardened pin type of protuberance in the rear of the long barrel extension, which means there is nothing to come loose or bend from extensive use. Nice.
A quick look along the magazine tube when the forend is removed tells another exciting story. It starts with an ample bolt-return spring that goes from the action at the rear to the back of the twin operating bar collar. The bolt, then, is returned via pressure from the return spring onto the rear of the collar. One note here: the twin action bars are welded to the collar – very strong.
Older designs had the bolt return spring behind the action, extending into the stock. They work fine, but the stock must be removed to clean them when they get gunky. With the spring up-front and accessible, it is easy to keep gunk from forming in the first place, and it is easy to clean whenever that is necessary.
Twin action bars speak for themselves – they push back uniformly and squarely, again keeping everything aligned during the dynamic impulses from the shots. But there is more. A round, knurled and threaded nut screws into place, holding the gas system housing in-place, once the barrel is attached to the receiver.
This is interesting because it locks the entire working mechanism in-place, meaning that the forward magazine nut only has to hold the forearm in-place, averting impulse pressures from pushing against the magazine nut itself. Translate that to mean the magazine nut will not tend to back off with use.
Trigger pull is delicious. Let-off is consistently right at 5 ¾ pounds. There is but a slight fore-travel and virtually no perceptible after-travel. This means that the trigger will not interfere with the shot and this is important. It is one characteristic that generally separates a good target gun from the rest.
The specific Eclipse in-hand wears a 28-inch barrel and is covered in Shadow Grass camo. The Eclipse is available in 26, 28 and 30-inch barrel lengths and a variety of stock types in both wood and synthetic. Wood models feature a quality checkered Turkish walnut stock and forend, while synthetic models are available in black or a choice of three camouflage patterns.
The contour and surface of the stock and forend make it easy to hold it, even with cold and wet hands. Stippling panels on both buttstock and forend are nice touches.
The ventilated rib on the barrel is made of steel and a single brass bead front sight is located just far enough aft of the muzzle to prevent it from being hammered when the gun is used in places like duck blinds. Sling swivels fore and aft are totally proper for a gun like this that is likely to be used both in waterfowling and wild turkey hunting.
The Eclipse offers a 4+1 magazine capacity (a duck plug can be inserted easily when the forend retaining nut is removed) and depending on configuration, weighs between 6.8 and 7 pounds. This is a fairly light gun, given its full-body size and intended uses.
Each new Eclipse Series model comes with five included mobile choke tubes (full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder and cylinder) to cover the full gamut of sport shooting and hunting applications.
Length of pull is 14 ½ inches to a non-slip rubber buttpad. For me, that is perfect, and the gun comes up, right in the line of sight. The semi-humpback profile of the top of receiver allows a degree of forgiveness that is handy when considering the many different field positions from which a hardcore hunting shotgun is used.
The Eclipse points and swings naturally. This became obvious during repeated trips to the range where all manner of sporting clays presentations were encountered. The gun also worked fine on the skeet field.
What Dickinson has done with the Eclipse is to pack a passel of features into a single gun that is ready to take on about any kind of hunting that a smoothbore shotgun is likely to see. Great value.