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Side-by-side or over-under? Bird hunters debate merits of double-barreled shotguns

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
Tom Hennessey for outdoors page Oct. 2, 2010
By Tom Hennessey

Among hunters who follow dogs’ bells through thickets of briar and thorn apple, the consensus is that there is no better bird gun than a double barrel. Considering, however, that doubles are built in side-by-side and over-under models, it’s not surprising that opinions differ as to which is best for snapshooting at feathered missiles launched in thick covers. For the uninitiated, the term snapshooting describes snapping the shotgun to the shoulder and firing simultaneously.

Discussions about the merits of side-by-side and over-under doubles are swayed by tradition and prejudice. Fanciers of the over-under point out that their guns aren’t as pricey as side-by-sides, are every bit as functional and have less recoil than their lighter counterparts. Further to the popularity of the over-under is the point that many bird hunters cut their shooting teeth on the barrel of, say, a single-shot .410 or 20-gauge shotgun, thereby growing accustomed to the single-barrel sighting plane. Therefore in upgrading to double-barreled shotguns they choose the over-under because its vertical barrels provide a single-sighting plane. Accordingly, the over-under is appreciated by skeet shooters who sight and swing on fast-moving clay pigeons.

On the other hand, bird hunters addicted to side-by-sides, whether shiny new or showing the patina of growing old gracefully, maintain that their guns are more balanced, faster handling and easier to carry than bulkier over-unders. As for waterfowl hunting, time was when the standard duck gun was a 12-gauge side-by-side with 32-inch barrels bored full and full. Nowadays, the camouflage clan is partial to semiautomatic and pump-action flak guns, many of which are chambered for 3- or 3½-inch magnum loads, but all of which are plugged to hold only three shells.

Personally, I favor the fluid lines and slim profiles of classic side-by-sides with splinter fore-ends and either half-pistol grip or straight-grip stocks. Nevertheless, after hunting with both types of double barrel and seeing no real advantage either way, my advice regarding the side-by-side versus over-under issue is straightaway-simple: Shoot the one you shoot best.

Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork may be seen on the BDN website at Tom’s e-mail address is

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