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Shotgun styles and vintage pros and cons

Remember these are just my personal views Yawn

Styles & Advantages

Most clay shooters learn to shoot an O/U [over and under] rather than a SxS [side by side] and continue to do so throughout their time in the sport..Most shooters find that the narrow width of the O/U easier to shoot and the extra width of the side by side a often a distraction. Most competitive shooters use the O/U so there seems to be something to it. The O/U is less expensive because they are easier to set up to shoot to the same point, a process called regulation. This requires both barrels to be manually adjusted to hit at the desired range before being permanently soldered together. This takes a master craftsman and is a pain in the posterior even for the best. This makes the S/S more expensive. I love both but actually prefer the aesthetics of the classic English stocked side by side.

Depends entirely what you intend to do with them. If you are going to shoot clays - trap, skeet or sporting clays - then an over/under is preferable since you can get a simple sight picture - the rib and bead aligned above both barrels, with a single trigger. Since most people shoot clays with a 12 gauge, the extra weight (8 pounds) is actually a benefit, since the gun’s inertia attenuates some of the recoil.

On the other hand, if you are going to lug a gun around in the field and take quick shots at upland birds, then a side by side is preferable, since they are lighter (6-7 pounds) and tend to point quicker from “low gun” position. Side by Side - mostly seen in the field at game shoots, They are instinctive to shoot, light, and serve the purpose very well. You will rarely see them shot in a clay competition unless in a SxS class and almost never at skeet or trap. Why you ask? target sports seem to be shot better using the narrower sighting plane of the O/U. And now for some differences:

  • Recoil: O/U - because the recoil is strictly vertical, the second shot is easier to control and get on target. Because the SxS has a left & right barrel, when firing it not only wants to climb, but also move to one side or the other.
  • Sighting Plane :The sighting plane of an O/U is narrower, and seems to be more comfortable for target acquisition. Many people find the two barrels seen in a SxS draw their eye to one of the barrels, causing them to miss left or right. This is an obvious issue, since you aren’t supposed to be looking at the beads, only the target. Yeah - it is a contradiction. What really is happening is you see the barrels subconsciously in your peripheral vision, so it really does throw some shooters off.
  • Mechanical : In spite of the longer vertical lock up an O/U has, they are really stout, and do not have the rotational characteristics a SxS has. When one barrel is fired in a SxS, the explosions wants to twist the barrels one way or the other.

And while the are some amazing and truly stout SxS’s out there, for targets, the O/U has really moved into a premier position for strength and reliability.

For targets, the O/U rules : Heavier (less  perceived recoil), stronger for heavier loads and longer life on targets (300 clay's in a day is common).

Answer (finally) - both are excellent in their application, and neither is better than the other. They both have their place, so I suggest at least one of each. Yawn


Well this is where I expect to get some stick from owners of more modern guns [1990 onwards] and here’s the reasons why:

Briefly then.. I'm an engineer apprenticed in "old school" engineering. I have kept up with the times though and use some of the most modern engineering equipment and principles available every day so I can see the pros and cons of both sides. I think along these lines: A shotgun is often looked at as a fairly simple piece of mechanical engineering. There is only one problem with that – a gun weighs only about 8 pounds and into the middle of this little mechanism we create a three and a half ton explosion; the overload charge. So everything has to be precisely engineered to cope with that recoil and stress for a very long time.

When making shotguns various components tend to be made by different suppliers and then brought together for assembly, filing and fitting. At most high volume gun manufacturers robots and CNC machines that make the parts can sense when their tools dull, and ask other machines to sharpen them. At a pinch, they can actually phone their human supervisors for help! . To complement the machining process tomography inspection devices  and types of X-ray machine that can peer inside metal and stock blanks are used. They might find imperfections in steel, or knots, irregularities, or even pieces of wire, bullets, and shrapnel inside wood, as a lot of history can pile up in the time it takes a tree to grow big enough to make a stock blank.

Prior to the invention of these machine aids gunmakers relied on extremely skilled hand power, supervised  by one or more master gunmakers. There were gun gaffers, barrel filers, barrel blackers, actioners, tube producers, hardeners, finishers and stockers – the latter doing the woodwork. Then there are the engravers, who do the metal embellishment. So there were many specialists involved in making a gun, The actions and barrels are hand fitted by an actioner who paints blue dye or uses traditional smoke lamps on their bearing surfaces, then closes the gun and opens it. Wherever metal bears too much on metal, the dye/smoke rubs off. The actioner files the shiny spot, dabs on more dye/smoke, and opens and shuts the gun until it meets tolerances measured in thousandths of millimetres [microns]. Proper hand fitting gives a gun that solid “bank vault” feeling and sound when it closes that fine-gun fanciers demand. [for me there is NO better sound than a Browning closing]


Most checkering is performed on Turkish or French Walnut stocks. Some checkering is cut on stocks made of other hardwoods and even laminated wood. There are many different patterns that can be put on the wood.

Classic pointed top checkering

Grooves are cut at a 60 to 90 degree angle , creating points at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines. These points appear as a diamond shape. The pointed diamonds can provide an excellent grip. Widely cut checkering is less prone to accumulating dirt and debris so they naturally stay clean. that give a good grip and the grooves are self cleaning due to their open angle of 90 degrees.

French Checkering

This type of checkering is very much like pointed top or "diamond" checkering except lines of often skipped and areas are left uncheckered within the pattern. Some of our finest firearms are still checkered by hand by extremely talented craftsmen and women. Most feature a precision cut checkering using the most advanced CNC type cutters. Often CNC type checkering is "chased" by hand to clean up any rough areas and to enhance the overall look to the level you expect.


The checkering itself is generally accomplished by one of the following methods:

Hand cut Checkering

This checkering method is the traditional way of cutting lines and geometric shapes into the wood. The artist transfers the pattern (at the very least, the outer shape) to the stock and then using hand cutting tools cuts the lines by manually moving the tool up and down on the lines of the pattern. Cuts are marked first with light pressure then additional pressure cuts the groove. Usually the groove is cut in a "V" shape in rows. When the cross cut checking is cut into the wood diamond shapes are formed. In general hand checkering is cost prohibitive except for those seeking a custom gun.

Machine Cut Checkering (CNC style)

A CNC type machine uses a spinning cutter to trace the pattern on the wood. The cutters duplicate the effects of hand checkering for approximately the same look. Precision can be very high with sharp edges and sharp points on the diamonds. Plus borders can be completed with high accuracy with very little overshooting of the tool. This type of checkering can produce patterns that wrap around curved surfaces for a look and feel that most resembles traditional hand checkering but at a price that the average gun buyer can afford.

Machine Cut Checkering (old style)

Older machines used a pattern which mechanically duplicated the cuts on the wood. Results with these "pre-computer" machines were not as precise as the newer CNC type machines, but were often very good.

Laser Checkering

This process uses the "burning' affect of a laser which has been mounted in a device like a CNC machine or like a large printer. The pattern of the checkering in loaded into a computer and programmed to make the desired pattern on the wood.

Pressed or "impressed" Checkering

Generally this is not very "impressive." Pressed checkering uses a process where a metallic surface textured with the reverse image of the checkering pattern is pressed into the wood under significant pressure. The pattern produced can duplicate many different shapes and looks, but the results are often soft with no sharpness or effective gripping surface.

CNC machines that shape the stocks will work to far closer tolerances than hand so the fit will be about as perfect as you can get. These are all just cosmetic enhancements and will not make a gun any better or worse than the next.

Timber finishing

Traditionally it is a beeswax and linseed oil-based finish incorporating terebinth [turpentine]. When the stock has been subjected to abrasive papers and rotten stone (fine powdered porous rock) its then wet it in water and dried it off with a gas flame. This raises the grain in whiskers and then this is cut back off. Then a grain-filler and application red oil [alkanet oil] is used to provide the correct stain. An oil finish cannot be hurried because you have to apply it on a daily basis and then rub it off and so on. The oils have to dry and harden which means it can take two to three weeks to get a satisfactory finish.

In the volume manufacturing end of the business much quicker processing is required and synthetic modern polyurethane varnishes are sprayed on and then hardened off in a kiln. The end product may have the same ‘feel’ as an old gun but the aesthetic appearance of an oil-based satin finish is still preferred by many [me included]in this country.

My Conclusion

So there it is... if you have the choice to own and shoot a 30+ year old gun finished in the traditional way by a bunch of "old" blokes [oh and women] showing their skills off or new gun made on a row of awesome CNC machines [without any soul] what would you prefer? it makes absolutely no difference to a clay pigeon and probably to your shooting either but just like the sort people who like to wear classic watches and people that love drive classic cars its more about the provenance of ownership and enjoying what is actually a work of art. Of course guns misbehave sometimes and need repair and servicing every couple of years but ask most gunsmiths what they best like to work on and the answer is often classic guns as they feel the same way as the guys that made them. My own guns are hand finished and built like the proverbial brick outhouses..loved and cleaned they will out live me and maybe another generation can then enjoy them..hope so.

A vintage Browning B25 B2G

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