Between seven-hundred-dollar Turkish over-and-unders you’d cart to a duck blind and Purdey side-by-sides costing as much as a second mortgage, what’s been missing from the modern roster of double-barreled shotguns was a fine fowling piece that didn’t cost a fortune—especially one with Southern roots. That is, until Kevin Kelly stepped up.
Kelly’s sporting company, which began in 1973 as Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear and Apparel in downtown Thomasville, Georgia, has grown to include another brick-and-mortar shop and a successful catalogue business that peddles serious hunting goods and lodge-style home accessories. Now add to the lineup these beauties: the Kevin’s Premier Quail series of upland double guns.
Built by hand by the Fratelli Poli firm in Gardone val Trompia, Italy, the shotguns come in both 20-gauge and 28-gauge models, with boxlock actions and single selective triggers. Kelly spent three years running between Georgia and Italy to put his stamp on what he insists are “true Southern shotguns,” a bit shorter than English counterparts to match the quick shooting demanded for bobwhites, and designed to his own tastes. Just as important: Starting at $6,495 for the over-and-under and $7,495 for the side-by-side, the guns are positioned to compete with continental arms costing twice as much.
The secret: Kelly pulled back a bit on some of the handwork involved in production, while imbuing the pieces with refined details. For the engraving, he researched classic hand-cut patterns from 1920s bespoke shotguns, visited the best laser engraving houses in Italy, and developed his own signature fine English scroll. Kelly also handpicks the walnut stocks, which are hand checkered and rubbed with up to thirty coats of oil. “I literally walk out to the woodpile with the Poli boys and say: That one, that one, and that one over there,” Kelly says. Butt plates are carved wood—“not that plastic crap,” he points out—with engraved screws. Gold script on the London-finish barrels, another upgrade, underscores the Poli-Kevin’s partnership. And the 28-gauge models are true “baby frame” shotguns, scaled down for the diminutive gauge.
Kelly has dabbled in small-batch shotguns since the late 1990s, when Beretta made a line of Kelly’s shotguns under the Pointer name. At the Beretta facility one day, he stumbled across the Poli brothers’ shop and found “a scene out of another century,” he recalls. “Grease everywhere, hammers and lathes, open windows, two brothers working together. And holy schmoley, their guns were unbelievable.” The partnership builds upon a line of more expensive double guns launched six years ago called Kevin’s Plantation shotguns, which sell out as soon as he gets them in, a few dozen at a time. Expect the Premier Quail models—now filling the market gap with style and verve—to go as quickly as bobwhite flushed from heavy cover.