November 18, 2013
There was a time when no self-respecting upland bird hunter would be caught dead with a pump shotgun. Side-by-sides ruled the golden era of bird hunting. Gentlemen hunters and even hardscrabble farm boys proudly trailed their setters, shotgun in hand, as they plucked singles and doubles from each covey rise. Sadly, those days are gone. Quail are hanging on by a thread throughout much of their range and doubles, as purists like to call them, have been replaced by single-barrel pumps and auto-loaders — guns that just don't have the grace and charm of a classic double.
Side-by-sides are a more rare sight in the field anymore. Many of the major firearms manufacturers don't even offer a factory-produced side-by-side. That's a shame. Doubles aren't just handsome, they are straight-shooting guns that perform admirably in the uplands. Pick one up and you'll instantly feel a connection to the golden age of bird hunting. Check out our roundup of the best side-by-sides of all time.
A relative newcomer to the double scene, the Browning
BSS is nonetheless as reliable as it is handsome. However, like most of the side-by-sides manufactured during the boom years of upland bird hunting, the BSS could not keep pace with the more popular pumps, autos and over-unders. Browning, which started making side-by-sides in 1971, ceased production in 1987. They remain popular with double fans, and plenty are available on the used gun market at reasonable prices.
resurrected the Fox name around 1939 when it introduced the Fox Model B. It was a Fox in name only, and had few of the elaborate features of the original AH Fox doubles. In short, it was much more a production gun than most of the doubles from the original Fox era. It proved to be popular, though, and various models of Savage/Fox guns remained in production until 1988. Many are still in use today and remain a solid, functional gun that is at home in the grouse woods as well as the duck marsh.
No other name is more synonymous with double shotguns — and the rich history that goes with them — than Parker. Founded after the Civil War, the company built double-barreled shotguns in Meriden, Conn., until 1937, when competition from pump-actions and less-expensive doubles cut into the company's profits.
During its heyday, Parker made numerous grades, including the lavishly engraved A-1 Special, one of the most coveted guns among collectors. One A-1 Parker that belonged to the Czar of Russia sold at auction for $287,000 in 2007.
The Parker name was resurrected when Remington purchased the company, but World War II spelled the ultimate end of the name, at least for that era. Remington resumed limited productions of Parkers in 2006. Although the older models were made with Damascus twist barrels, many of the newer models are still knocking down birds today.
Daniel Lefever had a lengthy career as a gun maker throughout the last half of the 19th century, and was considered by many to be the originator of the hammerless shotgun. Lefever shotguns did not produce nearly as many doubles as LC Smith and Parker, but they were known for quality and innovation, nonetheless.
Lefever, known as Uncle Dan, founded his own company in 1879 after splitting with partner John Nichols. He did not remain with his namesake company long, and it was ultimately sold to Ithaca in 1916, which continued to produce shotguns under the Lefever name until 1948.
Founded in the late 1800s by New Yorker Lyman Cornelius Smith, who then sold the company to the Hunter Arms Company, LC Smith shotguns are also a standard-bearer of history and quality from a bygone era. Smiths were also available in a number of different grades.
The highest, the A-3, included automatic ejectors, ornate engraving and gold inlays. The lowest was a no-frills gun that sold for about $30 during the early 1900s. Marlin purchased the company in 1949 but closed the factory a year later after a large portion of the factory floor collapsed.
Marlin resumed production of Smiths in 1969, but ended the run just two years later after producing fewer than 2,600 guns. As with many historic doubles, LC Smiths are coveted collector's items that can fetch thousands of dollars at auction and on web sites.
Arguably, no double gun is more famous than the one owned by legendary scribe Nash Buckingham, who named his Fox HE Grade Super 12-gauge 'Bo Whoop. ' The gun recently sold at auction for a Bo Whopping price of $201,250.
Theodore Roosevelt also owned a Fox and took it on safari in 1909, proclaiming, 'no better gun was ever made. ' It sold at auction in 2010 for a record $862,500.
The shotgun originally made by Ansley H. Fox was first produced in 1898 and continued through 1929, when the company was sold to Savage. The original Fox shotguns came in a variety of grades, including everything from the semi-affordable, no-frills AE grade, to the lavishly engraved XE grade. Original Foxes are widely sought by collectors.
Winchester Model 21
Just 30,000 Model 21s were produced, making them one of the rarest of the classic doubles (that doesn't count the various high-end Foxes, Smiths and Parkers, of course). They were made between 1931 and 1960 before they met the same fate as so many other popular brands and models. The high cost of production, along with the growing popularity of pumps and auto-loaders, spelled the end of the Model 21. Winchester
did continue the 21, but only in its custom shop until all production ceased in 1991.