Why Peasants Shoot Doubles

Peasant with Double

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

A few base model pump shotguns can still be found new, out-of-box for under $300 – Stoeger and Remington come to mind.

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.

Stevens 555CZ Drake

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.

Franchi Instinct

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  • I also prefer doubles. For many years my gun was worth more than my truck.
    I still don’t understand why guys will drive a 60000.00 dollar pickup and hunt with a 250.00 dollar gun.

    • I wish I could have the truck and the gun…lol. I am using a 20, single shot, Walmart gun, and drive to the field in a refashioned two wheel drive SUV. I am however carrying 8k in dog with who knows how many dollars in training. That’s what it is about, dog work, points and flushes…I love a bird in the bag, but I would rather hunt that same wizened old grouse every year and miss him, instead of peppering him with more FLAK than Berlin had in WW2

  • I agree 100%…I abhor spent shell. I hunt, unfortunately, primarily over farm birds on a hunting preserve. It is beautiful, except for the thousands of spent shells I pick up every season. The best is when they are hunting bob white with a 12 gauge duck gun and it took every shell in the darn thing. Shells scattered in a circle around the boot imprints….

    • The problem with looking at guns as investments 1) you have to be willing to sell and 2) after decades of hunting the condition is no longer pristine so their value is less than we paid.

  • While in college I purchased a16 ga. Bolt action J. C. Higgins 583 . I used the gun for 10 years and decided to try a side by side 12 Ga. Steven 311. My percentage of hits went down. I sold that and went to a Valmet 412S 12 Ga. O/U. My percentage of hits drastically improved on birds and rabbits, and also the clays. The bolt action and the O/U both were deadly in the field.
    Yes there is snobbery amongst shooter. Others used to comment on my bolt action shotgun as being obsolete, but I was very accurate with it. I just purchased a used Higgins 16 ga, 583 to see if I can still bust 24 out of 25 clays. I know I will enjoy the use of it.

  • I must represent a minority within a minority since I consider a “double shotgun” as only a side-by-side. Over/unders are not double guns–they are 2-barreled shotguns but they are not double guns. And, I might go further to say that a day spent behind a dog, carrying a classic double is a finer experience, with far more value than settling for a Walmart special, pump or auto-loader. Or even most over/unders for that matter.

    Taking pride in your gun choice is not a bad value. Having the finest classic you can afford is a noble opportunity we should embrace and enjoy. The current trend toward low-expectant sameness should not be allowed when talking double shotguns.

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