I see a narrative pop up again and again that shooting double-barrel break-action shotguns is elitist. Some believe using doubles perpetuates a stereotype of snobbery deeply rooted in upland hunting that is unhealthy for the longevity of the sport.
I suspect this stems from doubles historically priced higher than their pump and autoloading counterparts. Often they are many times more expensive. From there it is a short leap to conclude only a blue blood would pay more for a tool that performs the exact same function – strike a primer on a shell and propel a string of shot the general direction in which they are pointed.
Why pay $100 for a hammer if I can pay $11 and it will hammer just as well?
When compared to other types of shotgun actions with feed tubes that can hold three or more shells, double gunners are also limited to just two shots per flush. So now doubles are more expensive with less bang for the buck. Why would anyone limit the number of shots when there is more slaying available? That probably comes down to how hunters define success, hopefully beyond the heft of the game bag.
The primary reason bird hunters shoot doubles isn’t because they are pretty, historic or imply some level of prestige with higher price tags. Uplanders choose doubles because they are the best tool for the job.
Two shotgun barrels are better than one. Each barrel can be outfitted with a different choke and shell combination. Hunting ruffed grouse in early season when shooting windows are narrow and foliage still thick? Setup the first barrel with #7½ shoot and skeet choke for close quarters, while the second holds #6 and modified choke to reach out with a bit more energy and denser pattern through leaves and limbs. Late season Sharptail hunting when birds are well-educated and tend to flush long? The first salvo is #6 shot through modified choke and the second is full choke with #5. Two barrels allows nearly infinite customization of shot type and spread to match specific hunting scenarios that a single barrel simply does not have.
Break action guns are inherently safer. When a double is broke open it cannot be fired. It is the easiest of all shotgun formats to visually verify when loaded or unloaded. And when the action is open, it is nearly impossible to accidentally go from safe to live.
Many field doubles automatically reset the safety when the action is opened. On every reload opening the chamber the safety is set. Why is this important? In the commotion of a hunt it can be easy to forget to flip the shotgun safety on after reloading, thereby walking around in cover with a live weapon. In an ideal scenario the gun barrel is always pointed in a safe direction. But a shotgun in thick cover with safety off is much more susceptible to accidental discharge. Surprise firing of a shotgun even when pointed in a safe direction will grab your attention pretty quickly. For those who don’t believe this can happen, I’ve got some thick grouse coverts for you to crawl through where limbs and thorns are prone to grab anything.
There are fewer moving mechanical parts to break or jam in a double. Ever get a shell stuck in a pump or autoloader, one that refuses to eject? You may as well get out the surgical kit and begin the operation. But in the three decades I’ve carried break-action shotguns, I’ve never had an occasion where I couldn’t remove a shell by simply opening the action. I have had times afield where a barrel has refused to fire – inertia-recoil trigger reset troubles. But that still allowed me to continue to hunt utilizing the second barrel, it didn’t send me back in the direction of the truck and end the day’s hunt.
All of the above points are a slightly subjective and fans of autos and pumps will certainly find room to disagree. I can already hear “I don’t don’t need two chokes to kill birds,” and “Carried my 870 for 50 years and it’s never failed me and I can outshoot anyone with two fancy barrels.” And those things just might be true.
But also true with every shot, regardless a pump or an autoloader, spent hulls are ejected all over hell and back. Some hunters attempt to retrieve those spent shells after each salvo. But most continue the hunt unfazed as if spent shells don’t exist. That’s littering and it cuts strongly against my outdoorsman’ grain. I don’t like seeing deflated foil balloons, beer cans, water battles, granola wrappers or spent shotgun hulls in wild places. Plastic shotgun hulls are made of Low Density PolyEthylene (LDPE), the same plastic used in garbage bags and plastic wrap which can take hundreds of years to decompose. I’m one of those guys that picks up litter while I hunt and every piece I see grinds on me.
By contrast, every spent hull from my double is ejected straight to my hand and goes right back in my vest in one unthinking, natural move. I try to leave no trace in the field. By carrying a double I’m never put in a scenario where I need to search for hulls that have been ejected varying distances and directions in all kinds of terrain before continuing the hunt.
This is the one reason that simply can’t be refuted. Until autos and pumps eject spent hulls directly into a pocket, they will always be the inferior tool afield.
Priced Less Than a King’s Ransome
There are functional works of art doubles that can cost many thousands of dollars. But there are also less-refined options which give up a few ounces of weight and balance but are mechanically sound for prices starting around $600. Check out the Stevens 555 line and the CZ Drake, both Turkish made.
But if you’re looking for Italian craftsmanship at a price point a bit higher the Franchi Instinct lineup provides all the bells and whistles with some of the visual flare starting around $1300 new, less used.