As can be imagined, discussions about the merits of side-by-side and over-under doubles are swayed by tradition and prejudice. Fanciers of the over-under, for instance, remind 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 eventually 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 semi-automatic 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 or over-under issue is straightaway-simple: Shoot the one you shoot best.
Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork can be accessed on the BDN internet page at www.bangornews.com. Tom’s e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.