Guns For Bird Hunters
September 23, 2010
A look at the side-by-sides and over-unders now available
Browning Cynergy with an Illinois pheasant
The popularity of double-barrel shotguns is growing by leaps and bounds and many companies, both old and new, are responding to the demand by offering a mind-boggling variety of over-unders and side-by-sides. In fact, the various brands and models of doubles now far outnumber the pumps and autoloaders available.
Doubles range from utility-grade knockabouts that sell for less than $500 to more expensive but still affordable guns in the sub-$2,000 price range to as much and possibly even more than your line of credit at the bank will allow. Examples of such wide variations in prices range from the Model SPR220 Spartan side-by-side now imported and sold by Remington for $320 to the Weatherby Orion Upland at $1,300 to the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon at $2,700 to the Rizzini sidelock at $60,000. If you've got the money, someone, somewhere has just the double you are looking for.
AGUIRRE y ARANZABAL (AyA)
There was a time when American hunters had very little respect for Spanish-built doubles but we are now buying them faster than they can be imported.
The No. 1 grade AyA I have owned for several years is an excellent example of a great gun at a reasonable price. Weighing a mere 5 1/2 pounds, it handles like greased lightning and its quality is good enough to turn my quail-hunting buddies green with envy. Its barrels are choked .006 and .015 inch, about Improved Skeet and Modified for the 28 gauge. I have used that gun to hunt ruffed grouse in Michigan, quail in South Carolina, doves in Texas, sharptail grouse and Huns in Montana, chukar in Idaho, pheasant in South Dakota, and many more birds in many more places and it has always pulled its end of the saw when I pulled mine. On top of that, it is one of the two most handsome shotguns I own.
Like my No. 1 grade, the No. 2 grade AyA is also a sidelock gun and it is more popular because it is a bit less expensive, but in my opinion the best buy among Spanish guns has to be the AyA 453 boxlock. A quail-hunting buddy of mine has one in .410 with 28-inch barrels and it is a wand. (Contact AyA at 888-291-4636)
Not long back I hunted quail in Georgia with a Beretta EELL Diamond Pigeon grade two-barrel set. I shot so well with its 28-gauge barrels I never got around to removing its 20-gauge barrels from the case. What a wonderful gun! And darned handsome too.
Beretta, the world's oldest manufacturer of firearms, offers a top-quality shotgun for just about anything anybody would want to do with a shotgun. I am fond of the Beretta over-under for many reasons, not the least of which is an extremely shallow receiver depth that makes the gun quite comfortable to carry in one hand.
Considering that the Beretta is one of the most durable shotguns in the world, its price is right too. The White Onyx, for example, retails for $1,700 and often can be found for a bit less. Extremely attractive and top-drawer in handling, it is available in 12, 20 and 28 with 26- or 28-inch barrels. The 20-gauge gun weighs around 61?4 pounds. Even lighter is the 12-gauge Ultralight at a mere 53?4 pounds. Beretta is not as big in side-by-sides as in over-unders but the Model 571 Silver Hawk in 12 or 20 gauge is certainly work a serious look. (Contact Beretta at 301-283-2191, www.beretta.com)
The word "synergy" comes from the Greek word synergos, which means, "working together." Those who make such decisions decided that would be a good name for the new Browning over-under since its design represents different technologies working together. But they decided to spell it with a "C" so the name would roll smoothly off the tongues of those who already own a Citori, Browning's other over-under. While I do not care for the racy appearance of the Cynergy I am quick to admit that I absolutely love shooting it. It is, without doubt, one of the quickest-handling, smoothest-swinging, softest shooting over-unders I have ever held in my hands.
And how quick is it? My favorite test of the handling qualities of an upland gun is to shoot skeet from the low-gun start position at station eight with an unusual twist. I break a few birds, move a step closer to the trap house and I continue moving closer and shooting until I start missing birds. Kevin Howard of Winchester Ammunition and I missed very few targets while standing midway between the pad and the trap house and we were wearing all the clothes we owned in freezing temperatures.
We later shot pheasants with the new Winchester Super Pheasant load with 13?8 ounces of No. 5s at 1,300 feet per second (fps) and the InFlex recoil pad dampened recoil to the point where I could have sworn I was shooting a 20-gauge gun. And with its revolutionary new monolock barrel-hinging design, it will surely prove durable enough for your grandson's son to hand down to his grandson's son. (Contact Browning at 801-876-2711, www.browning.com)
The number of options in Charles Daly doubles has increased substantially over the past few months. According to my count, five different grades of side-by-sides and eight different over-unders are now available. My pick of the over-unders is the Field II Hunter in 28 gauge and .410. A basic boxlock gun, it retails for less than $1,000. That same gun is also available in 12, 16 and 20 gauges at the same price. (continued)
Add engraving to the receiver and you have the more expensive Superior II grade at just under $1,500 or you can move on up to the Empire II and spend around $2,000 for the same gun with engraved sideplates and fancy wood. And for those who live where turkeys can be legally taken with shotgun or rifle, the Empire Combo with its top barrel in 12-gauge and its bottom barrel in .22 Hornet or .223 Remington will have all the bases covered. That same gun is also available with its lower barrel in .30-06 or with both barrels in that caliber.
Choosing among the line of Charles Daly side-by-sides is not easy. The Field II Hunter in 12, 20, 28 and .410 has a beavertail forearm, which I prefer, and its price is right at less than $1,000. On the other hand, the more expensive Superior Hunter has automatic ejectors. (Contact Charles Daly at 866-325-9486, www.charlesdaly.com)
DEHAAN SHOTGUNS LTD.
Turkish-built over-under and side-by-side doubles once imported under the Huglu USA banner are now sold by DeHaan Shotguns Ltd. Bores are chrome-lined and have lengthened forcing cones. These guns are available in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauges plus the .410 bore. Frames are scaled to the gauge and workmanship is as good as you are likely to find in their
price ranges. The SO grade side-by-side with its Greener-style crossbolt sells for only $635. The least expensive over-under (called the U0 grade) goes for $455.
Then we have the SGr series of semi-custom guns. You start with the basic model and then choose from a long list of custom options such as automatic ejectors ($165), upgraded wood ($550), skeleton buttplate ($125), beavertail forearm ($20), palm swell at wrist ($20), etc. Pick and choose carefully and you can have one of these guns built to your stock dimensions and enjoy the look of highly figured walnut and hand-engraved steel for just under $3,000. (Contact DeHaan Shotguns Ltd. at 208-538-6744, www.dhshotguns.com)
EUROPEAN AMERICAN ARMORY
Built by the Russian firm of Baikal, doubles imported by EAA are not built to win beauty contests, but to deliver high performance at a low price. They do that quite nicely and all the gauges are there too, including sweet 16. The list of features goes like this: hammer-forged, monobloc-style barrels with chromed bores, machined steel receiver and ventilated rib. For a few dollars more you can also have auto ejectors, engraved and nickel-plated receiver, hand-cut checkering and selective trigger. Clay target guns include one for skeet and sporting clays and a single-barrel version for shooting trap at handicap yardages.
Two side-by-side field guns are also offered, one with a blued receiver, the other nickel-plated. A selective single trigger and auto ejectors are standard. Like the over-unders, they are available in all the gauges plus the .410. Barrel lengths are 24 and 26 inches and all except the .410 come with screw-in chokes. (Contact European American Armory at 321-639-4842, www.eaacorp.com)
The Franchi Veloce I hunted the uplands with at Pintail Point on the eastern shore of Maryland was quick and light and it placed the shot charge dead on my hold point each time I pulled its trigger. A 28-gauge gun, it weighed only 51?2 pounds. The 20-gauge version weighs about a quarter-pound more and is chambered for the three-inch shell. A two-barrel set in those two gauges is also available.
Sharptail grouse taken with No. 1 Grade AyA in 28 gauge
The family of Franchi (pronounced "fron-key") over-unders continues to grow with the Alcione titanium with its aluminum receiver one of the latest to arrive. Available only in 12 gauge, it weighs seven pounds with 28-inch barrels. This is about half a pound lighter than the standard Alcione field gun with its steel receiver. Regardless of whether you choose the Alcione Classic with its subdued charm at $1,275 or the Alcoine SP with its fancy wood and engraved sideplates at $2,700, you are getting lots of gun for your money when buying a Franchi. (Contact Franchi at 301-283-6981, www.franchi.com)
The over-unders from Caesar Guerini are some of the best I have seen in the $2,000 to $3,000 price range. Standard features include single selective trigger, automatic ejectors, interchangeable chokes, Boss-style ejectors, Anson-type forearm latch and chrome-lined barrels.
If one of these guns ever shoots loose, its barrel hinge trunnions and locking lugs are easily replaced. The action incorporates dual internal safeties, an interceptor notch on the sear and an independent inertia block, both designed to reduce the risk of accidental discharge. All models are boxlocks although the two Magnus variants with their nicely engraved sideplates are likely to fool everyone at the gun club into thinking you are shooting a sidelock gun. Utilization of a steel-reinforced aluminum frame reduces the heft of the Magnus Light in 12 gauge to around six pounds, compared to almost a pound more for the all-steel Magnus. Chukar hunters take note; the Magnus Light in 28 or 20 gauge weighs a feathery 51?4 pounds. (Contact Caesar Guerini at 410-901-1131, www.guerini.com)
Remember the Hatfield side-by-side double of several years ago? I know the Hatfield brothers and they are now feuding over whether their Spanish-built double of yesteryear was as good as the Turkish-built gun they are selling today. I will say this; the new Hatfield Uplander 28 is lighter than a feather, points as naturally as your finger and its price doesn't require a second mortgage on the homestead. It is available only in 28-gauge, which is okay by me. (Contact Hatfield at 816-233-9106, www.hatfieldshotguns.com) (continued)
Not long ago I hunted sharptailed grouse in Montana with a Kimber Augusta and while I am not big fan of the 12 — gauge shotshell for much of the upland shooting I do, this is one gun I would take a serious look at should I change my evil ways. Made just down the street from the Perazzi factory in Italy, the Kimber looks like a Perazzi, handles like a Perazzi and is probably as durable as a Perazzi but it costs only about half as much. The field and skeet guns weigh about 7 1/4 pounds with their 28-inch barrels while the sporting clays and trap guns weigh a bit more due to their longer barrels. (Contact Kimber at 800-880-2418, www.kimberamerica.com )
A Merkel side-by-side double is the kind of gun you enjoy looking at as much as you enjoy shooting. The quality is there and it shows. Prices range from mildly expensive for the basic Model 47E with its color-cased receiver to outrageously expensive for the Model 360SL with its knockout wood and generous coverage of hand engraving.
Depending on the model, barrel lengths range from 26 to 30 inches and all the common bore sizes are there, 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410. Several models are also available as two-barrel sets in the combinations of 12/16, 16/20, 20/28 and 28/.410. I know a fellow who has a Model 280EL in 28 and .410 and he is very careful about keeping it under lock and key when I am around.
The Merkel over-under with its rather unusual two-piece forearm has been in production for over 100 years and it too is of excellent quality. A number of models ranging from the basic 2000EL to the top-of-line 303EL with its highly engraved Holland & Holland-style sidelocks are offered. (Contact Merkel at 205-655-8299, www.gsifirearms.com)
If you were to win the lottery tomorrow what are the first guns you would buy? As for me, the four-gun set of Perazzi game guns in 12, 20, 28 and .410 I recently spotted with a price tag of $400,125 would be high up on my priority list. Would they have taken an even four hundred grand? I didn't ask but my guess is they would have been tempted.
No Perazzi is inexpensive but you can buy one for less than 100K. The standard hunting-grade gun is called MX12 in 12 gauge and MX20 in 20 gauge and either will set you b
ack about $11,000. The price sounds less painful when you amortize it over a lifetime of hunting and come up with about the same cost per year as you would spend on three tanks of gasoline for your Chevy Suburban. (Contact Perazzi at 626-334-1234, www.perazzi.com)
I hunted in Uruguay with a prototype of the Remington Model 332 quite a few months before its manufacture commenced and I liked it so well I later added a production gun to my working battery. For clay target shooting and late-season pheasant hunting I prefer 28-inch barrels on this gun but would probably go with the optional 30-inch barrels for waterfowling. My gun has a satin finish on its wood and metal but due to popular demand, a high-gloss finish will be available beginning this year.
Remington Model 332 with duck.
It is quite common nowadays to see foreign-built guns sold by American gun companies and now Remington is no longer an exception. I got my first look at the new Spartan Gunworks lineup during mid-February while on a quail hunt at Brays Island with Jay Bunting and Art Wheaton of Remington. It took no more than a quick glance to reveal that they were not made by Westley Richards or Holland & Holland, but I'll have to admit I was impressed by their performance on those fast-flying birds. For now at least, Remington plans to import three basic guns from Russia, all in 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410.
Since this report is about doubles only, I won't use up a lot of space on the Model SPR100 break-action single-shot except to say it will retail for less than $100. Two side-by-side models will be available, SPR210 (single trigger) and SPR220 with two triggers.
The two over-under models are SPR310 (single trigger) and believe it or not, a double-trigger gun called the SPR320. Automatic ejectors are standard on the single-trigger guns. Common features among all models are chrome-lined bores, ventilated rib, automatic safety, rubber recoil pad and screw-in chokes capable of handling steel shot. Prices of the new Russian doubles from Remington range from $320 to $490. (Contact Remington at 800-243-9700, www.remington.com)
The Ruger Red Label in 20 and 12 gauges is something of a heavy proposition on 12-mile days in search of sharptailed grouse or leg-melting climbs after chukar. But the 28-gauge version is an entirely different cup of tea. Perfectly scaled to size for the 28-gauge shell, it weighs around six pounds. After shooting all the different combinations, I have decided the one with a curved-grip stock and 28-inch barrels is the Ruger for me. For those who march to a different drummer, it is also available with a straight-grip stock and 26-inch barrels.
An extra-cost option that doubles the fun of this little double is a pair of full-length .410 insert tubes offered by Ruger. Made by Briley, they are also available directly from that company for those who already own a 28-gauge Red Label. Most Ruger over-unders look the way upland guns are supposed to look because they have walnut stocks and blued-steel barrels but even I will have to admit the All Weather version in 12 gauge with its stainless steel barrels and black synthetic stock is the one I'd rather have with me in a duck blind on a rainy day. (Contact Sturm, Ruger at 928-541-8820, www.ruger.com) (continued)
Some call them entry-level guns. Others refer to them as no-nonsense, rough-duty knockabouts. Regardless of how you chose to describe the doubles imported from Turkey by Stoeger, you will have to admit there is a place in the hunting scheme of things for such guns.
The single trigger on the $400 Condor Special is nonselective (bottom barrel always fires first) but for $60 more you can buy the Condor Supreme and decide for yourself which barrel will be first to fire. Both have screw-in chokes and are available in 12 or 20 gauge as well as two-barrel sets in both gauges. As a rule, side-by-sides cost more than over-unders but it's the other way around at Stoeger. The Uplander side-by, as an example, lists for less than $375 compared to about $55 more for the least expensive stack-barrel gun. It is available with 26-inch barrels in 12, 16, 20, 28 or .410 and its chokes are fixed at Improved Cylinder and Modified. A youth version with a 13-inch length of pull is also available. (Contact Stoeger at 301-283-6300, www.stoegerindustries.com)
The Stevens Model 411 side-by-side is back. Well, okay, it is not exactly the same gun you and I bumped off cottontails with when we were kids but considering its low price, it is close enough to suit me.
While it is sold by Savage like they used to be, this one is made in Russia and it is intended as an economical knockabout. Bluntly stated, it is the kind of gun you won't mind seeing your muddy dog sit on in the bottom of a duck boat.
Available in 12, 20 and .410, today's Model 411 has 26-inch barrels, a single-selective trigger, an automatic safety, and it comes with three screw-in chokes, IC, Mod and Full, all capable of handling steel shot. Nominal weight is said to be 61?2 pounds although the one I put to my shoulder felt about half a pound heavier. A walnut stock with curved grip and a splinter forearm, both cut-checkered, give you something substantial to hang onto. I will have to have one of these to use on those days when the weather won't allow me outdoors with my Purdey. (Contact Stevens/Savage Arms at 413-568-7001, www.savage.com)
The Traditions' line of Italian-built upland over-unders comes in 12 and 20 gauges. All feature three-inch chambers, single-selective mechanical triggers, automatic ejectors and walnut stock and forearm. Blued barrels are matched up with either a blued or chromed receiver.
Some models have fixed chokes while others come with interchangeable screw-in chokes. Barrel lengths of 24 and 26 inches are standard on the field guns while the sporting clays gun is available with 28- or 30-inch barrels. The 12-gauge Waterfowl and turkey versions wear a camouflage finish and are chambered for the 3 1/2-inch shell. The same gun without the camo finish is called Mag Hunter and its satin finish makes it quite acceptable in the turkey woods or in a duck blind. Latest in over-unders is the Real 16 with its receiver scaled to the 16-gauge shotshell.
As side-by-side doubles from Traditions go, my pick of the litter is the Elite Field DT, partially because I like its price of less than $900 but mainly because it has two triggers. Those who'd rather pull the same trigger for both barrels will choose the slightly more expensive Elite Field ST. Both have 26-inch barrels in 12, 20, 28 or .410 and guns chambered for any of the latter three weigh less than six pounds. (Contact Traditions at 860-388-4656, www.traditionsfirearms.com)
Weatherby Athena in .410 with Iceman pointing California quail
One of my proudest possessions is a Weatherby Athena over-under three-barrel set in 20, 28 and .410. Among other things, I have taken the grand slam of quail (six species) with that gun and its .410 bore barrels. Despite the fact that it has also suffered through numerous poundings in sporting clays and low-gun skeet, it keeps on ticking. This is one durable over-under! Due mainly to more engraving on its receiver, the Grade V Athena is a bit more expensive than my Grade III but both are sideplate guns.
Basically the same gun without the sideplates, the Orion is less expensive than those two. The hunting version is available in Upland grade, Grade II Classic Field and Grade III Classic Field, the latter with gold-filled game birds on a nitrated receiver. You can also buy the Orion in SSC (Super Sporting Clays) dressed with target stock, schnabel-style forearm and barrel length options of 28, 30 and 32 inches. Orion and Athena field guns are available in 12, 20, 28 and .410 and some models are available in multiple-barrel sets with either one or two extra barrels. Additional-cost accessories include extra screw-in chokes with various constrictions and custom-fitted hard cases covered with canvas or leather. (Contact Weatherby at 805-466-1767, www.weatherby.com)
Three versions of the standard Winchester Select over-under are now available, all in 12 gauge. The regular field gun is the one I prefer because it has a forearm of more conventional shape. The two higher grades have the slimmer schnabel-style forearm, one with regular cut checkering, the other with its checkering arranged in what I can only describe as an interrupted, multiple-oval pattern.
Two brand-new versions of the same gun are designed for those who keep their wingshooting eye sharp during the off-season on clay targets. While shooting the Energy Sporting I decided it would work equally well at skeet. The same goes for the Energy Trap, especially the one with a height-adjustable comb on its stock. The clay target guns would be equally at home in some hunting fields although I doubt if their ported barrels will become very popular with bird dogs. Barrel lengths are 26 and 28 inches for the field guns and 28 and 30 inches for the clay target guns. (Contact Winchester at 800-333-3288, www.winchester-guns.com)