Gas guns that is. Sporting clays both here and abroad is a game dominated by the over and under style shotgun. Among many shooters in the Northeast it is usually one of the many Browning Citori or Beretta O/U models. These are good guns and many of the top shooters use them. Why on earth then would anyone want to put up with a semi-automatic that has only one choke, makes funny noises, requires constant cleaning, jams anyway and eats parts by the pound? Because the semi-auto is flat out easier for the average person to shoot well, that’s why.
First of all, be aware that a basic axiom of shotgunning is that the more you shoot, the less the gun matters. Industry shooters can make almost any gun perform. We are more concerned with the weekend warrior here. For him a gun that is easier to shoot translates directly and immediately into higher scores.
Actually, the current O/Us are trying to imitate the automatics. Today’s trend in sporting O/Us is towards longer barrels because the longer sighting plane improves visual reference on long birds. Compared to the O/U, the gas gun comes with the longer sighting plane due to its extra 3″ to 4″ of receiver. A gas gun with a 30″ barrel is equivalent in length to about a 34″ O/U without all the nose heaviness.
In addition to length of the sighting plane, we should also consider the width. A broad (hence imprecise) sighting plane is considered such a disadvantage in sporting clays that side by side shotguns have their own class or are given a handicap. The O/U shotgun is much better, but the off eye still can pick up the broad smudge of the bottom barrel. Only the narrow plane of the single barrel gun gives clean, precise pointing. Note the dominance of the single barrel gun at trap. Sweeping through the close birds is fine, but when the bird is out there you want a gun that points cleanly. Long and narrow is best here.
Proper gun fit is vital when it comes to good shooting. The semi-auto also has the edge in this area. The simple mating between the receiver and the head of the stock makes it easy for the shooter himself to raise, lower or cast the stock by shimming with a few bits of plastic. Beretta and Benelli even include factory shims for that purpose. It can be done in two or three minutes. This means that you can tinker with the fit of your gas gun until you get it perfect. The O/Us require you go through the expensive trial and error of bending and cutting by a stockmaker. Even then it is basically a one shot affair without any fine tuning afterwards.
Repairs to the semi-auto can easily be made by any shooter. You just shake out the old part out and toss in a new one. Parts are a lot cheaper too. O/Us are more reliable (most of them), but require the attention of the gunsmith when they do go down. The auto can be fixed in minutes, the O/U in days.
If cost is a consideration, you can buy three or four complete gas guns for the price of a single modest O/U. There is no comparison. The money you save can pay for a season’s shooting.
Then, of course, there is recoil. O/U owners backbore, lengthen forcing cones, drill holes in the barrels, add spongy recoil pads and leave a lot of precious shot out of their cartridges all in the name of reducing recoil. The gas gun does not need any of this. Low recoil is built in. It is always softer shooting, much softer. Try an O/U and an auto with the same shell. You will see the light, not stars.
Lower recoil means less fatigue, cumulative injury, flinching, bruising and general bodily abuse. It means that you do not have to decide between pain and performance when you buy shells. The gun remains more controllable and is easier to keep on target for a second shot.
The gas gun does have its downside. The semi-auto only has one choke, so you may want to use two different types of shell for some pairs. Some people do not find gas guns to be very pretty or prestigious. A few trips to the winners circle can cure that. If not kept clean, the semi-auto will jam. It may jam anyway. SCA and NSCA both take this into account and allow a couple of malfunctions per shoot.
(*Technoid’s tip: if your gas gun jams in cold damp weather, try applying a healthy amount of Break Free CLP to the moving parts in the gas piston area. Shoot the gun wet, do not wipe it off. Trust me.)
The semi-auto has its place in sporting. It may not be for everyone, but many weekend shooters might be surprised at their scores if they gave one a try.
So remember, when the Technoid recommends that you take gas, he says it with the best intentions.