Gratuitous Gun Pic: Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon (20ga)

As I grow older, I find myself torn between holding onto what has always worked for me, yet often having said experiential wisdom undermined by pesky things such as facts.

Take shotguns.

As Loyal Readers all know, I prefer side-by-side shotguns to over-and-under shotguns, illustrated by my own maxim:  “Shotgun barrels should be side by side like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.”  (Yes, I coined that phrase.)

Actually, it’s bullshit.  While I yield to no man for my love of fine side-by-side shotguns, the plain fact of the matter is that when it comes to sustained usage, the old SxS just doesn’t cut it.  No matter how costly the gun, or how hardy, they all break after thousands of rounds;  the much-maligned over-and-unders, much less so.  (Ask yourself why Olympic shotgunners like Kim Rhode have always used over-and-unders — in fact, nobody in serious shotgunning competition uses a side-by-side, and that’s for good reasons.)

Which brings me to today’s gun under discussion, the shotgun which is pretty much the international gold standard for the ordinary shotgunner:  the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon.


From a pricing perspective, it’s always difficult to pin the 686 down, because the addition of different Roman numerals makes the price shoot up faster than the options list on a Porsche 911.  The one in the picture is the bottom-of-the-range “Silver Pigeon I” in 20ga, and it typically retails for around $2,000.  This, by the way, is common in the shotgun business:  adding a couple inches to the barrel can double the price, as can asking for superior wood for the stock.

The dirty little secret about the 686 is that it probably represents the best value for money of any O/U shotgun.  (Its closest rival, sales-wise, is the excellent Browning 725 Citori, which typically retails for nearly a grand more.)  I use as an example Mr. Free Market, who each year shoots thousands of rounds through his 686 (he actually shot out his earlier 686 to the point where it would have cost more to repair than just buying a new one), and despite my constant needling, he steadfastly refuses to change to another brand.  (This post was in fact triggered by me saying to someone that we should learn from others’ mistakes or equally, by the example of others, and in the matter of O/U shotguns, I therefore bow to his experience.  If you wish to do the same, feel free to browse here.)

Where I will not change, however, is in the matter of barrel length.  I’ve always though that the longer the barrel, the better.  A 29″ or 30″ barrel will add many yards to the effective range of a shotgun over a 26″ barrel, and the increased range (and efficacy) far outweighs the weight and handling disadvantages.  Save short barrels for the self-defense pump-actions;  field guns should have longer barrels.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and buy an over-and-under shotgun, by the way.  I don’t shoot clays often enough to warrant a change over to an O/U, so I’ll stick to my side-by-side companion.  Yes, I’m preaching form over function, which should surprise precisely nobody.

But if I was looking to buy an O/U, the 686 would get a very close look.


  1. Exactly ~ Kim, I always knew you were smart but now I am even more impressed since you have described my main go to shotgun for the last 20 years. I had a 12 ga. 686 sporting clays model during the late 1990’s that I shot so much it started to get a bit loose so I took it to the Beretta store in Dallas and they sent it somewhere and made it tighter, then I gave it to my son because I had picked up my ideal shotgun.

    My go to is the 20 ga. 686 Silver Pigeon sporting clays (a bit wider rib) with a 30 inch barrel that has served me well. Five years ago when I was visiting my son in Colorado he took me over to see some friends of his who restore old shotguns and adjust the stocks on newer ones. They had me do some shooting, did some measurements and then kept my shotgun for a bit and with heat and oil changed the stock so it fits me better.

    I had a chance to visit with Kim Rhode at the Hill Country Shooting complex out of Kerrville last summer and watched her practice. She was using a Beretta, she said the action was off the shelf in a store but the stock was really unusual custom made and she told be to put it to my shoulder and then laughed. She is not very tall but she is kind of busty and the gun fits her perfectly and it was a pleasure to watch her shoot.

  2. Good heavens, Kim! What errant rot!

    While your metaphor of men, their women and their dogs is inspired poetry… your mechanical assessments are utter hogwash! For shame!

    The side by each is almost as mechanically robust as the over/under, in practical applications. Why – we should be so lucky as to have all the time and money to wear out our guns! The side by each is perfectly suitable for the distinguished gentleman’s field gun and you are entirely correct to choose it. I personally feel they carry better, but that is just my opinion. The serious competitors wear out O/U too…

    For the sporting clays, serious competitors prefer the barrels to horizontally aligned for sighting purposes. True competitors are so accurate that they can pick up the offset of the SxS’s barrels on the range and their score cards. Since you can’t regulate the barrels of a SxS the way you can with a double rifle… the O/U is king of the range.

    1. I think you missed this in your excitement:

      “This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and buy an over-and-under shotgun, by the way. I don’t shoot clays often enough to warrant a change over to an O/U, so I’ll stick to my side-by-side companion. ”

      The merits of aiming skills with a SxS are vastly overrated, given that one is shooting a shotgun vs. a rifle (which would make a difference unless one was shooting a double rifle at close range). The half-inch difference in radius between the left barrel and the right one means absolutely nada because you’re essentially spraying shot pellets anyway.

      I have quite equal proficiency whether I’m shooting a SxS or and O/U, so my preference for the old SxS is purely cosmetic, and personal.

      1. Agreed. For guys like us, the difference between the two is purely conversational. For a top rated sporting clays athlete, though? I’m just saying what our local pros up here tell me. They are the kind of shooters that look DOWN their noses at offerings like your Perrazzis. They shoot Krieghoffs that cost as much as a car, and do thousands of clays in a season. If they say there is a difference In sighting, I am inclined to believe them. No offence meant.

        As for me, I am neither a top flight competitor, or a fop nor a snob. I’ll shoot with what I have, and drink whatever is in the jerry can. 😉

  3. I have precious little range and field time with shotguns, so do not consider myself any kind of expert. That said, I was in the gun biddness for almost 20 years. As to the matter of range in shotguns, check out Patternmaster chokes.

  4. Your phrase above brought to memory a story from Beretta’s Southeastern U.S. sales rep. He stated Beretta had factory carvers for some jobs but one could commission their master carvers in Italy to engrave special pieces. I asked what was the most anyone had paid and the story was a South American head of state had a commissioned Silver Eagle engraved with the likeness of his two bird dogs on one side and his wife and mistress on the other side. The final cost was $275,000.00.
    I don’t know if it would have been brought about because I’d spent such a sum on a firearm or if it would have been the audacity of putting the wife and mistress together, however I fear I would have only witnessed the gun fire once but I wouldn’t be the one pulling the trigger.

    BTW. Beretta is one of the oldest continually existing companies in the world they have documents from when Napoleon ordered cannons from them.

  5. In Sporting Clays competition SXS are given a 5 bird handicap in a 100 bird event. This may be a local thing here in the NE US.

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