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RFM Shotguns: Shotguns with a Soul

RFM Shotguns: Shotguns with a Soul

The Story of an Italian Custom Gunmaker and the Rota-Fausti Manufacturing Legacy

I stood at the entrance to the train station in Brescia. For the past day, I traveled by car, plane, and train to arrive in a region of Italy I have come to love.

As I waited, I watched people bustle about their business and an ominous military vehicle with armed soldiers not so subtle in the background—a normal site, nevertheless, in Europe. A face I recognized moved through the crowd, with a gait that gave off an air of confidence unmatched by pedestrians around him. I did my best to match that confidence, despite having never met Maurizio Bertolassi, an important figure in the story of bringing custom Italian guns to America in a unique fashion.

“Mi scusi, sei Maurizio?” I said trying to match his confidence.

He looked at me rather surprised, having no idea who I was.

Summer 2022 Issue of Project Upland Magazine

“Sono, A.J. DeRosa.”

His face went from confusion to instant friend, as if I had known him my whole life. That profound sense of hospitality would emanate from this whole family in the coming week, this whole experience was more personal than any other gun manufacturer I had visited.

Sissi Rota, the second generation of the RFM family and Maurizio’s wife, right behind him, had a huge smile, and in true Italian fired off a barrage of words at a speed my brain could not process, leaving me only knowing a handful of them. It was my turn to be confused.

“Puoi capire l’italiano?”

Their daughter, Alessia, saw my confusion and recognized my subpar Italian. And without hesitation I let my Americaninfluenced Italian come through with the common stateside slang, “Mezza mezza.” My Aunt Vinny would be horrified to have heard my teachings of formal Italian crumble so quickly. Language just isn’t my strong suit, but a person must try!

Alessia’s English was rather good, and she interpreted between the four of us as we waited for Jerry Havel and his family who had organized the trip. Eventually, we were in cars and headed through familiar streets, recognizable gun manufacturing names at every corner. We were in the heart of modern fine-shotgun making.

There are regions of the world that have been building weapons for hundreds of years, even thousands. I have had the pleasure to visit many of those locations, but one that has stood out to Americans— synonymous with fine guns in the modern age—is Brescia, Italy. In fact, in a 2020 survey, 91 percent of upland hunters in the community viewed Italy as being “high quality” to the “highest quality” of shotguns; more than any other country.

It’s home to some of the most iconic and famous brands, people, and modern weapons manufacturing; from military application to the fine doubles of our upland traditions. It is a complex web, worthy of multiple novels, with famous bloodlines, feuds, splits, and, ultimately, continued competition to make the best firearms possible. As Americans, we have reaped the harvest of this culture and its innovation when it comes to double guns. And Italians have enjoyed catering to that market for generations.

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This story is about something a bit different. It’s about reimagining how we buy shotguns as Americans, about bringing custom-gun building to a more affordable level without compromising quality. Envision hopping on a website and choosing everything from wood grade, stock type, barrel length, engravings, and many other factors to imagine your ideal wingshooting shotgun. With tailored stock dimensions, typically at no cost to the customer, before you know it, you are holding your dream gun—and, as you will come to learn, a piece of the RFM family.

This did not just happen overnight, and as I sat at Maria Fausti’s dinner table, day after day, I heard stories of her late husband, Luciano Rota. Maria first met Luciano when she was 15 years old, and they were married by the time she turned 19. Maria’s father was already in the gun business. In fact, her family had been building guns for generations.

“He was passionate about weapons,” Maria said of Luciano. “He went to a professional school that led him to perfect himself in this sector.”

Together, they pursued that passion. They had three daughters and two grandchildren. Their daughters, Sissi and Katia, work in the factory today. In total, Maria and Luciano worked together in the business for more than 50 years, the lines of where family and business are blurred even more by their residency being above the factory.

The Shotguns of RFM

As Americans, many of us have never heard of the name RFM (Rota Fausti Manufacturing), and with good reason. Despite manufacturing guns since 1957, they only just came to the United States with their North American distributor Upland Gun Company. In Europe, they have quite the famous reputation, and, although they will humbly not mention it, they build many custom shotgun stocks for famous world champions and Olympians in the clay shooting space who seek out their expertise.

The Upland Gun Company Zeus – Side-by-side RFM Shotgun

Stateside, RFM offers four base platforms as a starting point for building a custom shotgun through Upland Gun Company. The Zeus, starting at $1,999, is a classic side-by-side boxlock with monoblock barrels available in .410 bore and 28, 20, 16 gauge, and 12 gauges. The base model comes with double triggers, a coin finish, extractors, a flat rib, pistol grip, splinter forend, standard grade wood, and fixed chokes. From there you can go as simple as a $135 upcharge for your initials on the trigger guard, all the way up to grade five wood; maybe even an English stock? You can also upgrade to interchangeable chokes, ejectors, a case hardened finish, and even a single trigger. The options are almost never-ending and, of course, you can get them all for left-handed shooters!

The Upland Gun Company Venus – Side-by-side RFM Shotgun

From there we move to my personal favorite, the Venus. Starting at $2,999, this side-by-side boxlock comes standard with demi-bloc barrels. The process of making demi-bloc barrels has no separation in each singular barrel—it is the traditional way of barrel making— whereas the more modern technique of monoblock has a weld point just above the action on each barrel which allows for greater mass production. The Venus, the smallest frame gun of the group, comes standard with a coin finish, English grip in grade two wood, two triggers, a concave rib, hand engraving, and extractors. Pick this in your ideal gauge (with dedicated small gauge frames) and, in my opinion, you have one hell of a grouse gun. And like the Zeus, you can change just about everything; get two barrel sets if you like!

The Upland Gun Company Minerva – Side-by-side Hammer RFM Shotgun

If hammers are your thing, don’t worry, Upland Gun Company has you covered with the RFM Minerva. The base model is a little more limiting in some options: starting at $4,999 with only a case hardened finish, concave rib, English stock, double triggers, and in 28- or 20-gauge. But don’t worry. there are still plenty of ways to customize the Minerva; from barrel length, chokes, the forend, engravings, wood grade, and much more.

The Upland Gun Company SK Field – Over and Under RFM Shotgun

And no Italian gun company is complete without an over/under. The RFM SK Field starts at $2,199 and starts with a coin finish, standard grade wood in a pistol grip, Schnabel forend or English (rounded tip), and the standard gauges from .410 to 12. Start plugging away with all sorts of custom upgrades and, eventually, you have a shotgun that is sure to become a family heirloom.

Upland Gun Company Standard Shotgun Dimensions

If you don’t order custom dimensions, RFM shotguns can be made to the listed standard dimensions: length of pull, 15 inches; drop at comb, 1 ½ inches; drop at heel, 2 ¼ inches; cast at heel, ¼ inch OFF; cast at toe, ⅜ inch OFF; and pitch, 2 inches, 4 degrees.

The Customized Shotgun Experience in Italy

The fully-custom experience was not always the way RFM built shotguns, and much of that changed in 2010 when Luciano passed away. Then, one of the hardest realities of the business became a real threat.

“We would not have been able to carry on as women,” Marie said with a notion that this is just the way things are done.

Enter Sissi’s husband, Maurizio; someone also raised in the world of gunmaking.

Maurizio had a key vision for the way RFM built guns as he saw the changing landscape of CNC machinery and mass production slowly killing off the smaller manufacturers. Maria has a lot of pride when she speaks of her son-in-law.

“We finish everything by hand,” she said. “The other companies have machines that then do all the things in series, we do more of this by hand. That’s it. This is our pride, mostly from my son-in-law Maurizio.”

Like her parents, Sissi and Maurizio began to build the next step of the RFM story together, working side by side.

Maurizio believed the best path forward was to lean into what they were: a small, custom manufacturer that works by hand but can meet custom demand. And that gamble paid off. In 2019, Maurizio met the owners of Upland Gun Company, Jerry Havel and Dan Lafond in Nuremberg, Germany, at the IWA Outdoor Classics, an annual event that features the finest gunmakers in Europe. Jerry and Dan aren’t newcomers to the gun business, with a combined experience of over 50 years in the business and both diehard upland hunters and double gun obsessed.

“We watched the RFM booth from a distance,” Jerry said. “It was busier than any other booth around, and Dan and I looked at each other with the same thought: we need to talk to these people. Clearly, there is something about this brand that people love.”

You may wonder why it took so long for RFM to come to the states, and, at the core of this story, there are so many similarities of why they would mesh with the modern age of double guns in America, from the emphasis on family to a belief in quality craftsmanship and the concept of proper fitting shotguns for modern wingshooters. Yet, one hurdle is also at that core, and as I traveled the Brescia countryside with Upland Gun Company’s staff interpreter, well, I learned language was the answer.

It’s been a major barrier to bring RFM stateside, a barrier that owners of Upland Gun Company have accounted for with both staff and regular trips to the manufacturing facility to assure the custom-order guns they bring over meet the specifications requested by their clients. It’s not a simple mass production, as it involves an intimate relationship with every customer and with the family at RFM; one by one, shotgun by shotgun.

As the weekend finally came, we participated in the annual Christmas party for the RFM staff. Though, “Christmas party” is far too formal of a word for dinner at the RFM family’s table, slowroasted Italian barbecue in the factory below, and song breaking out in unison as they celebrated this beautiful relationship of gun building that forms the foundation of a true family. Each employee has a personality, an influence on each gun, and a personal relationship inside this “company.”

As I stood in the gun room admiring the unique run of custom-built shotguns lining the walls that day, never repeating each other, Alessia picked up a shotgun hidden off to the side.

“My Nonno made me this shotgun when I was 10 years old,” she said with a thick accent, “It is a 32-gauge, and, on the bottom, you can see where he engraved ‘Nonno per Alessia.’”

Although Alessia is not involved in the daily operations of RFM, similar to her grandmother Maria’s story, her boyfriend Damiano Cioli works in the factory. A custom stock maker, he takes pride in his work, and it takes little imagination to know someday these two will continue the legacy of her grandparents, Maria and Luciano, and her parents, Sissi and Maurizio, as a family-owned and operated fine Italian gunmaker.

This whole process is rather unconventional to the traditional mass assembly line mentality we hold stateside. The affectionate family meals and the pride in the detail of each part of a gun, it’s fundamentally who the RFM family is. And that intimate process has been harnessed, brought to us in America, and delivered via the experience of Upland Gun Company: family heirlooms and the perfect individual hunting shotgun. As Sissi told of her father’s legacy and the evolution of RFM, “Each shotgun does not have a serial number. It has each of the people who built it by hand inside it, giving each gun its own unique soul.”

View Comment (1)
  • Thanks for the article, good read! On paper that Zeus is a pretty good value for such a shotgun and I am on the fence on snapping one up in my favorite 28 gauge. Would be dedicated, close to medium cover grouse gun where I spend most of my days. The up-sales needed to make it a modern field gun take a little shine of the penny and buyers should be aware. The shotgun actually comes standard with plastic stock and basic wood is another $100, not crazy but kind off odd. Single trigger $275 and $200 for a beaver tail forend (I know, I know but big hands and it truly carries better over deadfall terrain for me). $350 for interchangeable, proprietary chokes (replacments $). $3K shotgun. Might still be competitive but there are some nice options in other guns at that price point. Shopping for shotguns is fun though.

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