SxS Clay Gun Recommendation

Dear Technoid,

I want you to know how much I enjoy the gospel of the technoid, chapter and verse. And I really identify with “Often in error. Never in doubt.” My personal mantra is “Oops, oh well.” It seems to apply to work, play, and life in general. Well, anyway, down to the question.

I’ve been thinking of getting a “side by” to shoot just for fun. I don’t hunt, due to lack of opportunity, but I do shoot a whole lot of clay. I am trying to decide between a used double (Spanish perhaps) and a new one. Do you think I’d have better luck with a used side lock or a new box lock?

For example I’ve thought a used AyA #2 or a new AyA 453? And long term which might retain more value? Or do you think I should just step up to the bar and buy a new AyA, Arrietta, Garbi, Beretta 470 or Merkel. However, any of these are a good bit more than I feel I should spend on a “fun” gun.

Please tell me what you think. I promise not to hold it against you.

Oops, oh well.

Sincerely, Phil

Dear Phil,

Aha! I just love spending someone else’s money. I’m really good at it too. I have the credentials because I have already spent all mine on gun stuff.

A “fun” SxS for clays that doesn’t cost a ton and will retain some value? You will almost certainly want a 30″ gun with a little weight to it. Since most SxS are designed as field guns, you won’t have as much to choose from as you would in the O/Us. As to boxlock vs sidelock, I don’t think that is too relevant. In theory the boxlock is not only stronger, but also less expensive to make. In theory the sidelock can have superior triggers. The market certainly prices sidelocks over boxlocks, though in reality the costs of production at the same quality and engraving level are very close. I tend to pick boxlocks on working guns because they are less expensive and I can often buy a better quality boxlock for the same price. Single trigger/double trigger: That’s up to you again. I have gotten used to double triggers on SxS guns so it’s no big deal either way. Just be aware that the English and Spanish have never quite figured out how to make a reliable single trigger SxS. The Italians and Japanese have. Some American single trigger SxS (like Winchester, but not Parker) are fine.

Used Spanish is probably the most bang for the buck. They don’t hold their value all that well because quality can be spotty in older guns. Some good stuff. Some not so good. The current new guns are pretty good, but the cost is getting up there. AyA’s #2 is probably as good a bet as any, but make sure to pull the gun apart and look inside. I’ve seen some awful soft, gouged metal inside some #2s and 453s. That’s the problem with some of the Spanish guns- you almost have to vet them on a gun by gun basis. You can’t do it by brand and model number alone. I’ve seen AyA#2s that were soft right along the same model and brand that were very nicely done.

In the past few years, just about the whole Spanish gun industry has gone upscale and is producing some very good products. Just about anything that you get from Arrieta or Garbi is decent to very nice. Probably AyA also, but I haven’t had the chance to pull any apart within the past year. Trouble is that the price is getting up there too.

The Winchester Model 21 is always a candidate for a clays SxS, though everyone else knows it too and the 30″ versions (which is the one you want for clays) have mostly been sucked up or are over priced. The 21 has always been right on the edge of being too heavy for certain types of walking hunting, but their extra weight makes them ideal for clays. They are strong like bull too.

Make sure to take a look at the used Merkels, Sauer & Sohn and the Francottes (different country, same feel). These guns tend to be a bit “chunky” in their feel and you may have to fool with the stocks, but the are strong and often reasonably priced.

The Italian SxSs would be a very good way to go. Italians make a lot of SxS pigeon guns and these are ideal for clays. They are relatively heavy and super strong. They are almost always good quality and often come with target style stocks. I’ve never found the Italian SxS of this type to be as good looking as some of the English game guns, but they are almost always more “shootable”. The Italians definitely understand that part of things. An older Bernadelli, Beretta or some of the lesser known brands, especially in their boxlocks, can be a real bargain and a very good gun. I was extremely impressed with the Poli pigeon/clays gun I tested for “The Clay Pigeon” some time ago. The new Beretta SxS looks strong, but feels a little clunky to me. No 30″ bbls either or screw chokes in the 12 either. They aren’t selling all the well, so perhaps you can get a deal. One of my editors at “Shooting Sportsman” magazine <> did a review of the Fabarm SxS a while back. It’s an inexpensive gun and Vic was amazed at its low recoil. Might be worth a look.

Japanese: Though their 12 gauge SxS guns tend to be a bit clunky to my way of thinking, but they do hold up pretty well and are always reasonably priced. Take a look at SKB, Browning and perhaps some of the older Winchester 23s. Most Japanese SxS guns come with single triggers that actually work. If you can get your hands on a Browning BSS Sidelock, you will have a real sweetheart. Unfortunately, everyone else knows that too so they are hard to find. No 30″ tubes in that gun either.

English: The English are to the SxS what the Italians are to the O/U. They wrote the book. As long as you don’t pay like a drunken sailor, you can usually get your money back if you buy a used English gun in decent shape and decide to resell it later. For a life of clays shooting, the gun I would look for in the English line would be a 1-1/4 ton modern proof 2-3/4″ chambered 30″ Birmingham boxlock. You ought to be able to get a good one in fine shape for around $2500. The Webley & Scott 700 is probably the benchmark in this category, but just about all the English boxlocks follow about the same pattern or even have their basic action done by W&S. Sometimes you can get a bargain on a little known name. English sidelocks can get really expensive. The English sidelocks are also more often found in the lighter 2 1/2″ chambered game guns. Great in the field, but not the kind of thing that you want to put 10,000 target rounds through each year.

If you are serious about this gun search, get a subscription to The Gun List, Krause Publications, 700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990, tel: 715-445-2214, <> and check out the SxS section. This will give you a feel for the market really quickly. It also makes sense to root through the web for all the dealers. <> has a lot of stuff.

There you go. That’s all my misinformation and prejudice concerning SxS gun suitable for clays. Good luck on your hunt. The trip is half the fun.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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2 Responses to SxS Clay Gun Recommendation

  1. Ted Cherry says:

    Bruce…. Any particular reason that you did not mention the Winchester Model 24? You did mention the Models 21 and the older 23s, but left out the Model 24? I have one in 12ga that I purchased close to 60 years ago, and it is still going bang and shooting very well. I believe there are still some of them on the used gun market, and at a reasonable price as compared to the Model 21 and a lot of others. It is kind of built like a truck, and is a true hinge gun by definition!
    Just curious, no big thing! Ted C.


    • The Technoid says:

      I’m not as familiar with the Winchester 24 as I am with the other Winchester SxSs. That’s why I left it out. I may not know as much about guns as some others do, but where ignorance is concerned, I have no equal.


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