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A guide to double barrel shotguns. Double barrel shotguns are a way of life in America. Is there a more recognizable weapon in the world than the double barreled shotgun? Our guide gives you the pros and cons of double barrel shotguns.

Double Barrel Shotguns

Recently the United States has seen a resurgence of the double barrel shotgun, in particular the side by side (SxS). Part of this popularity may be due to the idea of the double gun as a status symbol. With its higher average price tag ownership evokes the idea of success for the individual that owns one. In the case of the SxS it is due more to the increased popularity in cowboy action shooting. What ever your interest in owning a double barrel shotgun, it is important to know a few things about these fine guns before buying one. The history of the double barrel shotgun goes back to the days of blackpowder only guns. Often the hunter would flush multiple birds while hunting and be frustrated with being able to shoot only one bird, if even one. This was when most who hunted relied on the game as their next meal. To help increase the odds of success the double barrel shotgun was created. This allowed the hunter multiple shots when more than one bird was flushed. Or it allowed the hunter who was a poor shot a second chance.

Here in the United States we are more familiar with the over and under (o/u) shotgun. Yet, in Europe the SxS still predominately reins supreme. The SxS did have its day in American history. Around the turn of the 20th century the SxS was a common sight here in the U.S. But it soon relinquished its control to the o/u. There are many reasons for this. If you have ever shot an SxS you may have noticed that there is a distinct difference as compared to the o/u. To begin with the felt recoil is different. With an over and under the felt recoil is more or less in a straight line. Whereas an SxS gives the shooter a feeling that the recoil is left than right or vice versa as both barrels are shot. Of course for those shooters who started with an SxS this difference may not be noticeable. Yet, for an o/u shooter this difference gives the feeling of greater felt recoil when shooting the SxS. If you are new to the SxS don't let this difference keep you from enjoying an SxS. Another noticeable difference when shooting the o/u versus the SxS is the shooting plane. On an o/u the sighting plane is similar to a pump or semi-auto; which for most hunters is what they are used to. On SxS the sighting plane is between two barrels, which tricks or confuses the eye into seeing a larger plane. When shooting clay pigeons this difference is quite noticeable. The clay pigeon gets lost amongst all of the metal of an SxS. This may also account for the lack of SxS winners in most major shooting competitions. For those of you that have an SxS and have noticed this problem you may want to try using a green fiber optic sight. The fiber optic sight captures your eye's attention and works as a contrast with an orange clay.

When you head to the field to shoot a pheasant this larger plane comes in handy. I have found that it allows me to find the bird quicker and align my barrels with the bird easier.

Beyond those two differences the two guns have similar features that the shooter may choose from. For example, you can purchase double barrel shotguns with single or double triggers. Choice of triggers is mostly personal, but there are some things to consider. With a single trigger more often than not the shooter will be able to choose which barrel he shoots first. This feature is found on most all over and unders but not necessarily so with an SxS. This may also account for some lost appeal of the SxS. Newer side by sides do have barrel selectors and I would suggest this feature. With double triggers the shooter must be able to adjust his trigger hand quickly and efficiently to make a quick second shot. The problem I see with double triggers is that length of pull is different for each shot. I feel that length of pull is an important aspect to fit of a shotgun, therefore I advise against double triggers. Not to mention for those of you familiar with them, you also know that after a full day of shooting you end up with a bruised finger. Double triggers do have a huge benefit. If one trigger goes bad, at least you can still shoot one barrel, this isn't possible with the single trigger. If the gun you buy is a single trigger model you should know what type of firing pin mechanism your gun possesses. An inertia driven firing system is when the recoil from your first shot sets the second firing pin. A mechanical set firing pin is when as the trigger is pulled it sets the second firing pin, so if you have a misfire your second shot is ready to be taken.

The next feature both guns share is that of extractors vs. auto ejectors. This really comes down to personal choice. I am still undecided on which I prefer. A double barrel with extractors requires the shooter to remove the spent hulls after breaking open the action. On a gun with auto-ejectors the spent hulls are ejected from the gun when the action is opened. If you reload your shells or want to prevent garbage in the field, the extractors help keep you from bending over to get spent hulls. For those who care less and want or need to reload quicker, then auto-ejectors are your choice. Like I said for me the jury is still out. Of course some double barrel shotguns come with a selective system that allows you to have the best of both worlds whether it is extractor or ejector.

I know many shooters have heard of sidelock doubles and boxlock doubles and have no clue what exactly that means. Sidelocks are double barrel shotguns that have side plates that allow access to the action. Sidelocks are usually found on your upper end guns and the side plate allows for more engraving. The action on a sidelock is usually stronger because less metal is needed to make up the action. The boxlock is more commonly found on double barrel shotguns. To get at the action of a boxlock the stock must be removed.

Even though external hammers are part of the past, you can still purchase a double barrel (SxS) with external hammers. I really like the antique look of the external hammers; I think I fell in love with them when I began restoring an old Gold Hibbard with external hammers. Because the safety is incorporated in the hammers I found it easier to remove the action, which had fewer parts. Since most barrel selectors are connected with the safety, if your safety fails or there is a problem with your internal hammers usually your day of shooting is shot.

Now I would like to talk about the barrels themselves. Most over and unders come with a seamed barrel. There is a myth out there that this seam is necessary. Don't get me wrong the barrels need to be connected, but a seam all the way down isn't. Beretta makes an outstanding double in the Whitewing. The barrels lack a seam all the way down the barrels. I know some of you think I am crazy now, but I spoke with a few gunsmiths including two that work for two top manufacturers and they confirmed that this seam is unnecessary. In the past this seam was necessary because barrel construction was basic and the seam helped to keep the barrels aligned. With modern manufacturing standards the seam has become unnecessary. Yet, some myths are hard to kill and therefore the manufacturers continue to make over and unders with a full seam. I like the lack of the full seam for two reasons. The first being, that overall weight is decreased without the full seam. Second, I feel that my swing is faster without the added weight and wind resistance.

Another concern surrounding barrels is the barrel length. People often ask, "should I get a 26" or 28" barrel". The difference between 2 inches is so slight that 99% of shooters couldn't honestly tell the difference. Of course I know some of you are rolling your eyes in disbelief. Consider this though; if you have been shooting for some time you may remember that goose guns use to be 32" or more. Now most goose hunters are happy with a 28" barrel. With the introduction of removable chokes it is safe to say that the argument of barrel length is coming to an end.

Now if you are considering buying a double barrel remember that it is going to be different from a pump or auto, especially if you are considering an SxS. Therefore, it may take some serious practice to become comfortable and a good shot with a double. I have heard too often about how horrible some SxS was. This, usually, being said by a shooter who shot his SxS for only a week. Double barrel shotguns do take some getting used to. Besides some of the obvious reasons for purchasing a double barrel shotgun there is another. On average a double barrel shotgun is shorter in overall length than a semi-auto or pump shotgun.

If you already decided on a double barrel I offer this advice. Use very little oil when cleaning your gun and store it with the barrel pointing down. The reason for this advice is that nothing kills the value of a double barrel shotgun like a stock gone bad by oil-penetration. A double requires little oil because there are fewer intricate parts like on other guns. By storing the shotgun barrel down, you prevent oil from seeping into the stock and causing it to crack prematurely. Finally remember that since most shotguns are made for a right-handed shooter who is 5'9", 165lbs., and has 33" arms you may need a gunsmith to alter your stock slightly to ensure a better fit and a more enjoyable shooting experience.

Article contributed by Jon Brown.

He currently works for Gander Mountain which is a leader in the hunting/fishing retail industry. He has given seminars, guest appeared on radio and TV shows, was a licensed hunting guide, and has shot competitively.

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