Side By Side

I can’t afford a new shotgun, or even a decent second-hand one, but I am going to need one for High Bird Shooting (and Missing) later in in the year, so I’ve been looking in more or less a dilettante fashion to see if I can get one that is acceptable but which does not require the sacrifice of a firstborn child. I have a shotgun already, of course, but it’s an old, ugly thing of uncertain provenance and even more uncertain performance — and it’s in the much-derided 16-gauge chambering, which would cause untold me embarrassment if uncased on Lord Whatsit’s estate (for ’tis there where I will be shooting in early November). Hence my problem. Even worse is that, current no-name El Cheapo shotgun aside, I do have some fairly rigorous standards about shotguns I want to shoot, let alone own.

And here are the details of the features I’d like:

1.) Side-by-side barrels, at least 29” long. Longtime Readers will remember that as an old-fashioned man, my motto about shotgun barrels is that they should be placed side by side, like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.

2.) Concealed hammers. I’m not that old-fashioned.

3.) Boxlock action. Okay, I am that old-fashioned. I just like the looks of the boxlock. (Here’s a fine summary of the differences between boxlock and sidelock actions. I should note that with modern steel, a boxlock action is every bit as strong as a sidelock, and the boxlock shotgun weighs considerably less than a sidelock.)

4.) Double triggers. I prefer knowing that when I pull the rear trigger, the left barrel will discharge first. This is especially important if some time has elapsed since firing the first shot, or if one has to replace a dud cartridge.
Here’s a pic of all my desired features so far:

To continue:

5.) Full choke in the left barrel, Improved/Modified in the right. (“Full” and “Three-quarter”, for my Brit readers.)

6.) Chambering: 20ga. I know, I know… it’s not the mighty 12ga, but Mr. Free Market shoots the 20ga (for medical reasons), and I’d far prefer to mooch ammo off him Over There, rather than going through the schlep of carrying 500+ U.S.-bought shells over The Pond into Britishland.

7.) Little or no engraving on the receiver/barrels or checkering on the stock. Actually, I’d prefer no carving at all. I love the feel of smooth steel and smooth wood, and my hands don’t perspire, so there’s no danger of the stock “slipping” in my grasp. And speaking of stocks, I want an English-style “splinter” (small, tapered) fore end.

…and a “straight” stock (no pistol grip), which is also sometimes called an “English”-style stock:

8.) Safety: Not automatic. An “auto safety” on a shotgun typically engages [duh] automatically when you open the action for loading. Thank you, but I’m fully capable of deciding for myself when I want the safety engaged or not. When I load a shotgun, I want to shoot something, and when I close the action, I want to be ready to go.

9.) Ejectors: Adjustable. There are times when you don’t care where the empties go, and you have to reload quickly, and on those occasions a “full-eject” is desirable. Then there are times when you need to remove the fired cartridges manually, and put them away in a bag or something, so you don’t have to go grubbing around in the dirt for the past mile you’ve walked, looking for the spent cases. Also, if you haven’t fired and need to extract the live cartridges, it’s far better not to have them drop into the mud.

Not that I’m picky, or anything.

Sadly, there are few such animals on the market at the moment, so I’m going to be searching for some time — especially considering my parlous financial state, which will require some kind of bargain before I purchase one. Unfortunately, most shotguns of such beauty and features are seldom “on sale” because of their relative scarcity and high demand (see here for one such “bargain”, or here for another ), so it’s going to take me a while, and I may have to sell if not the firstborn, then at least the Forgotten Middle Child Whom Nobody Loves.

This being poor thing really bites.


  1. Your specs for your ideal high bird shotgun are spot on and scream “classic”. I abhor auto safeties as something dreamed up by the Nanny State. The best safety is an open action. I’m perfectly capable of deciding when I need to engage the safety switch. Also, the 20 guage is a fine choice. It throws fewer pellets (duh) so you have to be a better shot which is much more praiseworthy than simply being able to shoulder a harder-kicking gun.

    Anyway, good luck on the search. It may mean that you have to haunt the shops carrying used firearms and we all know what a burden that would be.

  2. That’s a LOT of boxes to check. FWIW, a Stevens 311 will tick most of them, and they are generally working-man cheap.

  3. Sounds like a good plan but I would recommend several cases through a gun like that shooting clays thrown hight out of a tower like the one at the Dallas Gun Club. I have trouble using a side by side and I put thousands of rounds through my Beretta 686 12 ga. before passing it on to my son who shoots well with it. 15 years ago I picked up what seems to work for me. It is a 30″ barrel Beretta 686 20 ga. without auto safety and as far as ejection goes I always pull my shells before they fly out with the auto ejectors and of course only the barrel that was shot sends the shell out. My friend who recently purchased a gun similar to mine had a gunsmith change the auto safety to manual.

    As for chokes, I have had great luck shooting tower pheasants with number six shot through improved cylinder and modified. My experience is that modern shotgun shells hold the pattern so much further out that you gain one/fourth choke tightness vs. the old wonderful cardboard shells with cardboard wads but that’s just me.

    Son likes that traditional stuff too, his 12 ga. Stevens Side by Side was restored by Nicholson Restorations, two brothers in Sedalia Co. they specialize in old shotguns and they worked with me on my 20 ga. o/u bending the stock for a custom fit. By the way, my son used his old 1920’s restored Stevens side by side for the last five doves this past year when he came down from Colorado for our annual Dove Day hunt when we all limited out.

    I envy you for having the experience of a Brit shoot with all of the traditional trappings and look forward to your reporting back to us about the experience. What a bucket list check off.

    1. OT,
      There will be reports of my shooting humiliations Over There. Count on it.

  4. For years I wasn’t worth a hoot with a shotgun. What I had was a old Model 12, 30″ full choke. Well, full choke with paper hulls. With plastic? Think turkey. Not quite the thing for dove and quail.

    I competed in IPSC for three years in the early 1980s. Then went dove hunting. Discovered that “front sight, press” made all the difference in the world for shotgunning. The high point of the season was a triple on doves, overhead passing. The next was in the winter overlap of two weeks for both quail and dove. One day I had an overlap limit of 22 birds in one box of shells–but that was a never-again high point, for all my efforts.

    Appearance is nice, but I watched a guy with a beat-up old gun clean house on the Perazzi crowd at a sporting clays event here in the plantation country of south Georgia.

  5. So what you need is a nice leather covered oak case, escutcheon plate, , brass hinges, etc.
    Then just before the shoot, open it up, take out an black 870, 18″ barrel with a long mag tube and a pistol grip.
    Be sure to have someone filming this for our entertainment.

    Of all the guns at the local shows, old doubles seem to be the best deals.- in the past couple of years I saw both a nice Greener 12 bore and a nice German drilling for less than $1000. For that matter, any nice sporting arm seems to go cheap, at least compared to military pattern semi auto’s. Maybe that will change now with the AR glut.

  6. Just for giggles – see here especially the prices Turks are the low cost leaders nowadays at least in the US and Canada for new shotguns.
    Had not looked up side by side prices for a very long time, they have gone way above reality.
    Here are some you and I might be able to afford – low end of spectrum still seems to be 500 bucks for the plainest of the plain!

  7. Shotguns aside and addressing the suck of being poor..

    You’re a prolific writer, and you churn out good content. Why not monetize the site? Amazon affiliate and such? Captain Capitalism LIVES off his sites’ revenue, and consulting gig. I’d compare his output to yours, he puts work in. Might even be worth contacting him*, even if it costs you 30 bucks at .

    I’d be happy to run some of my Amazon purchases through here, and you’d get 7% of the total. Get enough people trained to click your affiliate link first, and you’re looking at a new side by side in no time flat.

    Not a paid shill in anyway, just a frequent reader.

    1. Heath,
      TS v.2 and I will be doing all sorts of mods to the site in about mid-April. Watch this space.

  8. I hope you find the shotgun that sings to you Kim, but if I’d searched and found one, I believe the last place I’d take it would be Merry Olde, where you’d run the risk of prosecution for Crimes Against Humanity.

  9. The Spaniards make the finest most “affordable” English shotguns currently and the quality is excellent. Aya, Grulla, etc. 3 to 4 grand more or less. weighted correctly, balanced correctly, etc. Will outlast you and I. (which ok, isn’t as big a deal as it was 30 years ago). Oh and don’t walk into MW Reynolds, does bad things to the bank account. BAD things.

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