Flintlock muzzle-loading doubles with Damascus barrels became popular with hunters in the late eighteenth century. However, twenty-first century shotguns and ammunition are far more sophisticated and reliable than those early flintlock doubles. But even after 200 years of firearms innovation the side-by-side shotgun remains a viable option for upland hunters. Top-quality doubles require more hand-fitting and tuning than the average pump, semiauto or over/under, and that means good side-by-sides cost more to build. However, even in the face of less-expensive modern action designs there are still those for whom nothing but a double gun will do.
Every serious wingshooter should, at some point in their hunting career, carry a side-by-side in the field. There’s something about a well-balanced double that connects each of us to our hunting ancestry in a way no other firearm can, and well-built side-by-sides are a work of art.
Today’s double gun market is more limited than it was a few decades ago, but there are still some outstanding side-by-sides available. The guns on this list range in price from an $800 all-weather side-by-side to an elegant German gun with an MSRP of $35,000. No matter which gun you choose you’ll be joining an elite fraternity of upland hunters — the double club.
Fabarm has been building double guns in their factory in Brescia, Italy since 1900, and after 120 years their side-by-sides are finally hitting the American market. The stunning Autumn is a beautiful double gun that features a deluxe grade Turkish walnut stock with oil finish and 22 LPI checkering, a hand-fitted wooden butt plate, and a rounded action with elegant scroll engraving and a color case hardened finish. Four locking lugs provide for exceptionally strong lock-up between the monobloc and the action, and a hardened steel insert in the fore-end connects to the barrel lug which allows Fabarm’s technicians to tighten the action should it ever be required. Other features include a swamp-style rib and Fabarm’s TRIBORE barrels with INNER HP interchangeable chokes. Available in 20 gauge with 28 or 30-inch barrels, the Autumn comes with an English straight stock with splinter fore-end. There will also be a limited number of guns with pistol grip stocks with semi-beavertail fore-end available as well. $3,995; www.fabarmusa.com
How about a beautifully-crafted Italian round body side-by-side shotgun with a starting MSRP of $1,850? If that’s something that catches your interest (as it should be), it’s time to check out F.A.I.R.’s Iside lineup. There are a seven different Iside models that offer a wide range of options like engraving, color case hardening, single or double triggers, inlays, and more but the Basic model at $1,850 is a well-appointed field gun that looks as though it should cost much more. The upgraded Prestige and Tartaruga models are beautiful to behold, but my personal favorite of the Iside guns is the stylish Vintage hammer gun ($3,600). Shooting ducks and grouse with a brand-new Italian side-by-side hammer gun? It simply doesn’t get cooler than that. Iside shotguns are available in 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauge and .410 bore. If you’re in the market for a new double gun don’t overlook the offerings from this classic Italian gunmaker. www.italianfirearmsgroup.com
CZ Bobwhite G2 All-Terrain
CZ’s Turkish-made Bobwhite G2 features a fully CNC-machined receiver and the 12, 20, and 28-gauge versions are all built on scaled frames. These guns feature straight English-style walnut stocks and double triggers, and each comes with five screw-in choke tubes. For 2020, the Bobwhite G2 was added to CZ’s All-Terrain family of shotguns which come with an OD Green Cerakote finish on the metalwork. The Cerakote finish gives Bobwhite G2 All-Terrain a matte, non-glare finish and protects the metal against scratches and dings. If you chase chukars in steep, rocky country or beat your way through grouse coverts every fall, this Cerakote provides an added measure of durability to your working double. The Bobwhite G2 All-Terrain model comes with either 12 or 20 gauge (sorry, 28 gauge fans) and offers the balance and feel of a traditional side-by-side at a price that’s less than half of any other gun on the list. $828; www.cz-usa.com
Fausti has been making fine shotguns in Italy’s Vam Trompia Valley since the mid-twentieth century, and the company’s modern factory is churning out some of the finest double guns in Europe. Their DEA (goddess in Italian) is a svelte side-by-side that combines the latest in CNC machine technology with the type of old-world craftsmanship that has made Italy’s Valley of the Gun famous for centuries. The base DEA starts at $3,718 for 12 and 20 gauge models and $4,390 for the 16, 28, and .410 versions. All DEA guns come with scaled frames. There are several DEA models from which to choose including the standard model, DEA British, DEA SL, DEA Luxury and a new sporting version, but perhaps the most impressive thing about this line of guns is the seemingly endless customization options. The Fausti factory is home to some of Italy’s finest hand engravers who spend up to 700 hours working on a single custom gun. I carried a DEA chukar hunting in Idaho’s Hell’s Canyon and found this elegant side-by-side to be the perfect companion for a tough upland hunt that required lots of rough walking in rough country. www.faustiusa.com
Fox A Grade
Savage has owned the Fox brand since 1929, but Savage hasn’t offered a Fox brand side-by-side for decades prior to the launch of the new A Grade model in 2018. The current Fox shares little besides a name with the original firearm, but it’s nonetheless an extremely well-built double gun and the only side-by-side on this list that is built in America. The modern Fox A Grade comes with an Anson & Deeley boxlock action, Deeley-style forearm release, Purdey lockup system and Holland & Holland-style ejectors. In addition to its many features borrowed from London best guns, The Fox A Grade is a classic example of the understated elegance of a fine side-by-side. The bone and charcoal case color finish compliments the oil-finished American black walnut stock with English straight grip and splinter fore-end. These guns come in 12 and 20 gauge with your choice of 26 or 28-inch barrels. Standard features include five choke tubes and an automatic tang safety. $4,105; www.savagearms.com
The Krieghoff Essencia is a back-action sidelock with a Purdey-style third fastener, a superb oil-finished Turkish walnut stock, and gold accents. The receiver and sideplates feature English-style engraving and elegant color case hardening, and there are so many optional add-ons and upgrades that this may as well be a custom gun. The German craftsmanship is superb and the look and feel of the gun is divine, but this level of quality never comes without a commiserate price tag: the Krieghoff starts at $34,895. The base gun is extremely well-appointed, as you might imagine, but selecting optional upgrades like custom engraving, extra barrels, upgraded finishes and sidelever opening can quickly push the Essencia’s price north of $50,000. That’s out of reach for the average hunter, but considering the Krieghoff’s quality rivals some British best guns that may cost six figures the Essencia is, in the rarified world of premium side-by-sides, something of a bargain. And while most of us can’t afford this gun we can certainly appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that goes into building a double gun like the Essencia. www.krieghoff.com