With a history that dates back more than 150 years, double-barreled shotguns have been popular with sportsmen for a multitude of generations. The reason why they have been augmented, but never replaced, by designs that are more modern, is in their inherent set of advantages that prove to make these guns the primary choice for many today.
The history behind the gun
Back before the Civil War, double barrel shotguns with exposed hammers, typically with the barrels mounted side-by-side (SXS), were among the most popular sporting guns in the country. In fact, many soldiers in that conflict carried these guns into battle as they provided a super-fast second-shot capability at a time when muzzleloaders of the day took nearly a minute to reload. By the 1870s, the British firm of Anson and Deerley patented a hammerless side-by-side and within a couple decades, guns made with better grades of steel and able to fire modern smokeless powder shells were being marketed.
The Remington Model 1894 and later Model 1900 series were among the first hammerless double barrel shotguns made in the U.S. These guns had automatic ejectors, which popped the spent shells out when the hinged action was opened while automatically cocking the internal strikers when the gun’s action closed. Today these classic old guns have been out of production for a century but are still prized by collectors.
The double barrel today
Besides side-by-sides, the most common and loved double gun today is the over-and-under (OAU or O/U) shotgun with its twin barrels superimposed atop each other. Built with those who flush birds and track their hunting dog’s bloodlines back five generations in mind, these fast-handling scatterguns are made for serious end-users. To these men, a good shotgun is not anachronistic; it is a functional work of art not to be sullied by polymers and sloppiness.
Since there is no loading action such as on a pump or semi-automatic to get in the way, these guns can be shorter and lighter than many other sporting shotguns on the market. It’s this ability to be fast to the shoulder and faster on the bead that has allowed double barrels to carve out a niche with clays and upland game shooters who enjoy the feel of finely crafted walnut and steel that is ready at a moment’s notice to go into action. This is particularly true of today’s featherweight 28-gauge guns.
Remington marketed O/Us for generations with the Model 32 and its upgraded modernized Model 320 Peerless variant. Commonly found in dove fields and trap stands nationwide, they were only retired in 2005 when the new Premier edition guns were introduced.
Its not just Remington that has refused to put these guns out to pasture. Ruger put their Red Label out of the catalog only to bring it back with a redesign this year. Winchester still makes limited runs of their Model 21 and does Browning with their Citori while any number of overseas makers produce new designs that look remarkably vintage.
In the end, it seems that the final double barrel is still a long way off from being designed. After all, two centuries of worth of sportsmen testify to their popularity.