The Wild West(ern Europe): Take in Brescia’s dangerous history with my hunting-, shooting- and firearms-themed tour of Northern Italy.
In This Italy Article You Will Discover:
- Why Brescia, Italy, is Internationally Significant
- The History of Arms Manufacture in Italy
- Why Italians Love to Shoot
- Where To Find the Top Sights in Northern Italy
“It’s fantastic,” Leonardo Pericciuoli exclaims to me in choppy English dripping with a Northern Italian accent. I nod my head in agreement as the two of us — each barely speaking a word of the other’s native tongue — attempt to chat about the amazing shooting, hunting and firearms heritage of the Brescia region of Italy. For this trip, I was uninterested in a conventional visit of Italy — and when I came across a massive firearms trade show in the city of Brescia, I decided a Hunter S. Thompson-esque tour of Italian guns and gun-makers was in order, subito!
I decided a Hunter S. Thompson-esque tour of Italian guns and gun-makers was in order, subito!
I had arrived in Milan that morning — or was it evening? Jet lag had gotten the better of me, and my internal clock was running backwards. A veteran of trade shows in Western Canada, as well as larger events in Las Vegas, I had made the cross-Atlantic journey to Italy and I was about to visit EXA, the world’s third-largest hunting and shooting trade show, held in the city of Brescia, about 130 km east of Milan, as well as see the sights of northern Italy. It was a lot to cram into six days, but since my jet lag was ensuring I would get no sleep, I figured I could do it.
Held at the Brixia Expo and hosted by Fieria di Brescia and its jovial Chief Manager, Marco Citterio, EXA is a testament to how much Italians love to shoot guns. One might wonder how a city roughly the size of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, could be playing such a huge role on the world shooting stage — one might, of course, if one had not spoken at length with the excited and knowledgeable Leonardo.
The Brescia Region, including legendary Gardone Val Trompia, is a hot bed of firearms manufacturing.
For more than 500 years, the region has been anchored by firearm giant Beretta, and since then, about 200 other gun makers have sprung up — from mom and pop shops to other Italian international brands such as Perazzi, Pietta, Franchi and, a little to the south, Benelli.
Beyond the manufacturing in the Brescia region itself, the Beretta Group owns other international brands such as Burris, Sako, Tikka, Stoeger, A. Ubertia, Beretta USA and even the other Italian gun makers previously mentioned. Beretta’s umbrella is so large, they claim a 55 per cent market share in the US alone — 96 per cent of which comes from the sporting sector.
Head spinning from the hundreds of booths at EXA — with firearms ranging from $400,000 (Cdn) set of Perazzi Extra Gold shotguns to familiar brands like Browning — and tens of thousands of happy hunters who descend on this city to gaze and dream, I come to the realization I need to see more of this firearm industry. Thankfully, I’m able to meet with Jarno Antonelli, from Beretta’s marketing department, and arrange a tour of the legendary Beretta plant in nearby Gardone Val Trompia.
The current Beretta Factory, a 300-year-old stone castle tucked in the shadows of the Gardone Valley, is one-part high-tech fabricating plant, one-part traditional craftsman shop and one-part museum. The latter aspect is exemplified in the stunning, priceless collection of firearms, with pieces dating to the 15th century. The first two aspects are brought to light by the computerized manufacturing techniques that are combined with the hand assembling and craftsman quality control of every Beretta firearm. To see these shotguns and handguns assembled is to see an artisan at work.
To see these shotguns and handguns assembled is to see an artisan at work.
Back at EXA, the seemingly endless displays of Italian firearms take on a new significance for me.
The metals used in these guns, mined from the valley of their construction, are the same ores that were used in Roman Gladiator’s swords.
To say there is a history of arms manufacturing in the region is an understatement.
But I had to know — what is an Italian hunt all about? First off, there is very little rifle hunting in the country (no doubt due to the dense population). Second, hunts are done in hours, not days. And third, popular game species are wild boar, birds (pigeons are popular) and larger species like mouflon sheep, red deer, fallow deer and the smaller roe deer. And while much of the hunting is done on reserves, there is still of plenty of sport for cacciatores, whether they are residents or not. Though, it’s not quite like a Canadian hunt. Back home, most do it for meat — not sport.
And as I toured the 2,500-year-old ruins on the shores of nearby Lago d’Garda, with less than 20 hours before my plane departed for home, I sighed, truly relaxing for the first time. A little work, a little play and a lot of reasons to come back.
*This is not a pro-gun article. Gun laws, especially in the US, must change now. #NOTONEMORE