For a day-in-day-out, hunt-everything, and shoot-every-kind-of-clay-target shotgun, I’m sold on a quality semiauto. They’re just too good these days. They help reduce felt recoil. They are light and easy to carry. It’s easy to find one with slight weight-forward balance to promote follow-through. They make it easy to take a follow-up shot without breaking contact with the gun, added motion, or losing sight picture; and will provide another shot if you need it. And, today, they are made so well, they’ll rival the pump or over/under for reliability.
Yet there’s still a place for the side-by-side.
When the game is close-flushing upland birds or birds shot at range passing overhead, there’s nothing quite like the mount, sight picture, swing or follow-through afforded by an English-stocked side-by-side shotgun. If you’re a devotee of art in firearms, the well built side-by-side is the pinnacle of craftsmanship and good looks.
Sentiment and appreciation of craft aside, the side-by-side shotgun still has a lot to be said for it as an everyman’s (and everywoman’s) upland shotgun. Well-designed and well-built side-by-sides, especially in the middle gauges, are lightweight, easy-carrying guns. That becomes ever more important as the hike required to find a few birds gets longer. Of all the actions, the side-by-side most commonly offers the best balance required for all-around, instinctive style of shooting.
Double guns also have the advantage of offering longer barrels in an overall shorter package. The barrels sit over the action instead of in front of it, as on pumps and semiautos. Many hunters find an advantage of the wider sighting plane especially in thick cover so common in grouse, woodcock, and even quail shooting. You’re still looking down a narrow rib, but it’s in the center of two somewhat bulbous barrels that force your eye online. My personal experience is my dominant eye seems more dominant shooting a side-by-side.
It actually isn’t about sight picture, at least for me. The best, most centered shots are made without seeing the barrels at all. If, after the shot, I’m conscious of the barrel or barrels having been there at all, the bird is most likely flying on untouched. But if my immediate memory of the shot has no recognition of the barrel or rib, chances are strong that bird is on the ground or already in the dog’s mouth.
The top-tang safety is much more common these days on guns of all actions, but back in the day that was a double-gun feature. If the stock is uncast, the double-gun is still a great ambidextrous option.
Some hunters find the option of double triggers, common on side-by-sides, to be a great advantage. In theory, I agree, if you can learn to instantly judge the shot and determine the optimal choke, then remember which barrel that choke is in and which trigger corresponds to that barrel, then move your finger to it and press it! I personally have never gotten to the point with a double-trigger gun at which I can get off an instinctive second shot, much less execute that litany of mental gymnastics. All my side-by-sides have single triggers.
If you elect to shoot double triggers, more power to you, but be sure to get a side-by-side with a straight or English-style stock. This design allows the movement and slight rotation of the trigger hand necessary to smoothly pull the triggers in sequence.
The only big advantage of a side-by-side over an over/under is the radius required to load and eject shells. Because the over/under has to be broken so far for the shell from the bottom barrel to clear the action, it’s a hassle in a tight blind or shooting butt. The side-by-side works out just fine.
No, the side-by-side may not be for everyone. It may not even be for many any more, but if you want an easy-carrying, steady-swinging, quick-pointing shotgun, especially for upland bird hunting, it might be for you!
Want to see what puts the “magic” into a high-grade double gun? Watch this new short film from Beretta. Now that’s a shotgun!
Sadly, hunting seasons are winding down. Won’t be long and all the hunting activity we’ll have at home will be dreaming about turkey season ahead. There’s still a long, cold winter between now and then. Those ThermaCELL heated insoles that kept us so warm while duck and deer hunting will also do a great job for playoff football games, teachers on recess duty, and, yes, ice fishermen! So there’s probably more than one loved one on your gift list who would love a pair for Christmas!
These insights brought to you by Federal Premium Ammunition, ThermaCELL, Camp Chef, and the Quebec Outfitters Federation.