Selecting A Gun
In the past couple of years, there has been a large influx of new hunters joining the upland community. One of the questions I often get is what shotgun should I buy? Although there are many choices, the shotguns I most often see in the uplands are double barrel guns…either over/under or side by side. My father had all side x side shotguns. Without even thinking about an over/under, we aways referred to our guns as double barrel shotguns. I didn’t see my first over/under until the 1960s. It belonged to our neighbor who often joined us for a pheasant hunt. With the popularity of the over/under, pump and semiauto growing in the 1960s and 70s, the side by side declined in popularity. In the past 20 years, it’s made a strong comeback. There has been a growing interest in tradition and the beautiful lines of a side x side. So, which should a new hunter choose…a side x side or over/under. Advocates of both have strong reasons for liking their choice of gun. Let’s go over those reasons.
For the side x side advocate, it’s felt that the gun has better balance. It simply feels more natural when bringing it to the shoulder. If brought firmly to the shoulder, it has less tendency to wobble. Over/under advocates feel the sight plane of a side by side is too wide. If you shoot your shotgun like a rifle, sighting straight down the barrel and using the sights on the gun to aim, the over/under advocate wins the argument. However, that’s not the way to shoot a shotgun at a moving target. Your eyes and brain become the sights and that has nothing to do with the shotgun. In fact, many shooting instructors will tell an upland hunter to remove the sights on their shotgun. The wide expanse of the double barrels has no effect on shooting ability.
Another feature that might be favorable for the side x side advocate is the gun opens with a smaller arc than the over/under. This, for me, makes reloading easier and quicker. With the wider arc, the over/under is more difficult to empty and reload in heavy cover.
In my mind, there is one strong advantage for the over/under shotgun. Due to the construction, the side by side has barrel flex when firing the gun. With the over/under, you can swing the gun just under the bird and connect. However, with a side x side barrel flex, you should cover your target.
The over/under is very popular with clay bird shooters. The barrel flex is less and the barrels are often ventilated. The ventilated barrels help keep the gun cooler when shooting multiple rounds and also helps with windy conditions. These are positive features.
No matter which barrel configuration you choose, there are several other options to consider. One is single trigger versus double trigger. If you’re choosing your first shotgun, then it probably doesn’t matter which you choose. I grew up shooting double trigger shotguns. After 40 years shooting double triggers, I visited a gun shop and fell in love with a Merkel 20 gauge with a single trigger. After ten years shooting that single trigger gun, my brain still tells my trigger finger to fall back to the rear trigger…but there is no trigger there. No matter which trigger configuration you choose, stay with it the rest of your hunting career.
Another option you should look for is a barrel selection button. Each barrel, whether side x side or over/under will have different chokes. Your author has the more open choke selected when approaching his dog on point. The theory, of course, is that the initial flush will be a close shot. If that’s not the case, and you’re quick and nimble, you can change chokes in a hurry.
For a stock, I prefer the pistol grip rather than the straight stock. The straight stock is pretty, however, the pistol grip gives you a more stable mount.
For barrel length, I like a 28” barrel. If you’re strictly a ruffed grouse and woodcock hunter, a 26” barrel is fine. However, if you’re going to travel the country to hunt multiple species and types of cover, a 28” barrel is a good choice. Although what gauge could be a whole separate article, I like the 20 gauge for upland shooting.
For the new hunter, welcome to the fraternity.
Copyright 2022 Paul Fuller