Why Not The SxS For Clay Targets?

Dear Technoid,

I am considering buying a side by side (Weatherby Athena) mainly because I love the look of the double gun and have never owned one before. Currently I shoot sporting clays and alternate between my autoloader and an O/U. I have heard from many shooters that sxs’s are not good sporting clay guns because your focus is between the barrels as opposed to over the barrel. But that argument only holds true for an autoloader because with an O/U you’re only really looking directly over the top barrel. I would assume that I could learn to adjust lead for the sxs and eventually score just as well as I currently do. I do however have a couple of concerns about sxs’s:

1) due to there relative light weight they might have too much kick for sporting clays, and 2) because they don’t have the heft of a O/U or auto they may not stand up to the stress of high volume shooting. Why the bias against sxs’s for sporting clays and is it valid?



Dear Brian,

I’m as much of a SxS fan as anyone. But I’m also a realist. If you look at what wins in ANY of the clay target games, it’s either an O/U or an auto. It’s never a SxS. I believe the reason is that the broad sighting plane of the SxS does not permit the precise aiming that the very good shots use on many targets. Few shotgunners admit that they aim, but just about everyone does when the bird is distant. The very top skeet shooters positively, definitely aim as do the best trap shooters. You can be equally sure that the best sporting clays shooters are very precise in their muzzle placement on a 40 yard crosser or teal.

Recoil could be part of the issue, but I don’t think it’s a major one. All SxS aren’t lighter than all O/Us. Look at the heavy Winchester Model 21, for example. If the SxS were suitable for targets, someone like Krieghoff or Kolar would make a heavy target model. I see lots of fairly heavy SxS used in SxS-only clays events, but the owners don’t use them in “any gun” events.

Bottom line: the bias among sporting clays shooters against the SxS is perfectly sensible. It’s just plain not as good a tool for the job. True, a superlative shot with a SxS will still beat a duffer with an O/U, but at the top of the competitive heap, you never, ever see a SxS. The reason is, despite what you and I think, that they aren’t as efficient for that game.

That’s not to say that a weekend warrior won’t shoot a SxS as well or better than an O/U or auto. By definition, the WW doesn’t have cutting edge talent. He’s operating at half throttle, an area where equipment doesn’t matter all that much. The aiming errors tend to be gross, not subtle as they are with a national champion.

Now, for grouse and quail hunting, I’ll put a light SxS up against anything. But not for clays. Some decades ago, I cooked up a handicap system for the Connecticut Travelers, a once a month shooting and chowder society I belonged to. I gave the SxS a +5 bird handicap across the board (also the pump). In spite of that, we almost never have a winner with a SxS or pump.

I’m not saying that the SxS or pump can’t win. There is one very good sporting clays pump gun shooter I know of. I also watched Andy Duffy shoot the SxS at a Vintager’s shoot. I’m sure he could have won most regular regional shoots with that gun. He could probably win some shoots with a squirt gun. But he didn’t use the SxS when he won the Nationals or when he went to Europe all those times. He used either an O/U or gas gun.

The SxS is a great gun and I love shooting mine at clays every now and then. But I don’t kid myself. When I shoot for real, I need all the help I can get. It’s a horses for courses deal. My side by side does well in the field, my O/Us and gas guns do well on clays. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t prove everyone wrong and dominate the clays world with a SxS. I’d be cheering for you.

Best regards,

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

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3 Responses to Why Not The SxS For Clay Targets?

  1. Russell Arehart says:

    Could the amount of time that people spend shooting a particular gun have anything to do with the equation ? — There are so many more new or newer over and unders on the market than side by sides and so many more people have (in modern times) shot so many more bazillions of rounds with over and unders that it would seem logical that some people have become “expert” with them. However, in contrast, very few people shoot side by sides nowdays, thus the talent pool is very limited.
    Granted, many target over and unders are ergonomically better for target shooting and a lot of thought has gone into this through the decades. I am confident that a side by side can be made
    and setup as well as any over and under. The problem is that almost all side by sides have never been setup this way. There are a few examples out there though — witness Cyrill Adams’ “Super Gun” SxS with 34″ barrels and weight of at least 8 lbs. Connecticut Shotgun also makes or used to make an RBL SxS that was set up for clays with a high rib, 32″ barrels and a weight of over 9 lbs.
    Very, very few side by sides are of this persuasion so the side by side to over and under comparison is not all that valid because we are comparing two different sets of ergonomic parameters. If the ergonomics were equaled out and about a couple of million people were shooting each type, we might get some valid data on the subject.
    Also, one has to remember the axiom of “beware of the man who has only one gun, he might know how to shoot it !” How many people do you know that are pouring a minimum of 10,000 rounds a year through a decent, well fit, not too light side by side ever year ? Just because somebody is a great shooter with one gun doesn’t mean that they can pick up something they are not used too ( the side by side) and after 200 rounds declare it to be “good” or “no good”.
    Through the years, I have found that different guns can require different ways to be shot — many of these are subtle and just take time to learn no matter how “expert” you are. I myself started shooting a SxS a couple of years ago and it has been a revelation ! — It is an inexpensive Turkish (Yildiz Elegant A3) side by side (I bet that statement will raise more than a few eyebrows) and I have absolutely come to love it ! — Here’s the story: At first I definitely could not hit anything with it and the muzzles were distracting as hell, especially with the swamped rib.I thought, “perhaps the experts are right”, however, I don’t give up easily. Many experts talk about watching the bird and not the barrels, well, this gun completely and totally cured me of the bad habit of taking a quick peek at the barrels and my scores went way up ! With an over and under or pump, or semi-auto, I was much more cognizant of barrel location. With the side by side you will either lose this bad habit or forever be condemned to bad scores. Also, when I first started my shooting career, I was left eye dominant and right-handed. I did not switch sides to shoot despite advice to do so. At first it was awful, but after awhile my eye dominance changed to my right eye even though the experts say it can never happen. I later became a fairly competent shot with a Remington 870 express, and then I bought one of those “new-fangled” over and unders (Beretta Onyx 12 gauge) and I was very bad with it for a long time. I know that my left eye would catch a glimpse of the side of the barrels occasionally and this would ruin everything. After about 15 years of the over and under, I got almost as good with it as with the 870, but not quite.
    With the Yildiz SxS, I am now shooting better than I have previously than with any gun before — for me it works better with my eyes than with any other type. Also, on rising or dropping targets I do much better — the gun shoots high for me and I can “float” my birds — my over and under is the same way, however, if I go too far above a bird with the over and under, my left eye takes over and I am not instantly aware that I am too high. Not so with the side by side, when I get over the top of a bird, I no longer see it and my brain screams “stop” — I’m not looking at the barrels but I do get that instant warning when I’m too high which is my nemisis.
    The side by side in my opinion is better for some people, and I think a lot of people are missing out by not indulging their fancy. Besides, If you have a pretty gun, you’ll probably want to shoot it a whole lot more ! Enjoy !
    (P.S., my best score with the side by side is a 22 in trap shooting from the 22 yard line, normally this is nothing to brag about but in this case I am shooting by myself with no puller — I pull my own. Our club has a trap where you can set a delayed release on the button which gives you about 3 seconds to get ready, also I am shooting gun down which makes it even more of a hoot ! On top of all of this, the club I go to operates under the idea that all targets should go very, very fast (our trap targets are much faster than regulation). I am in no way a great shot, but this proved in my mind that the side by side is really more than adequte and I believe that if some really talented people shot one, we might all have a different song to sing.)


  2. gilbert jollimore says:

    Good info, When i have a good day it could be with my sxs or my ou it don’t seem to matter


  3. Frank Dyess says:

    I’m still confused on this one. I mainly shoot an auto, but every now and then, I pull out the SxS and stomp everyone in the ground. I know when I’m having a bad day, I pull out of it better with the auto, but on a good day with the SxS, I seem untouchable.

    Of course, I have to mention I have fixed mod/full choke with the SxS, and I generally only use 7.5 shot, so with the SxS, the only thing I’m focused on is the clay, and not all the other dynamics of the game.


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