I have a problem that I would like your input on. I believe that somewhere, someday, perhaps…maybe…I will find my perfect grouse gun. Let me explain further- I do not mean perfect so much as I mean magic. Perhaps a double barreled epiphany? I have been hoarding $$ for this purchase. The trouble is I don’t have enough of those $ signs to afford to make a mistake.
There are other complications. I don’t shoot anything very well as I like to buy and trade guns. I suppose that my lack of innate talent has to be factored in as well. That is why I said and mean MAGIC. I already own a gun I really enjoy using in the field- no snickering, please- a 20 gauge Benelli. I don’t know if you have used one but they should not be compared to a 12 gauge Benelli. It is not a fair comparison. The 20 gauge is a delight to carry and shoot at grouse (and I hit more often than I believed previously possible). The trigger pull stinks but the gun fits me, and I know it.
There are still further complications. I believe for some reason that I need double barrels to be complete. What is that all about? Is my double fixation a socially transmitted disease of some form? I already have admitted the truth- I shoot the auto better. Why can’t I just stick with the auto? It is not like I was shamed by some Boss wielding Grouse God who kicked sand in my face at a vulnerable age…
The reason I am picking on you is you have admitted to shooting targets with an auto yet using a suspicious pair of doubles for upland use. I remember some excuse offered that you did not like to unload a pesky auto before leaping over streams like a gazelle and such.
Now, I have some ideas so wheel out the 40MM Flak gun: Perazzi- I read Brister, Zutz, et al, and they tell me to buy one. Are they bricks in 20 gauge? With a straight stock and longish barrels will I find nirvana? Do I go with the MX5 or wait for the MX8? I am deathly afraid of poor gunfit now that I have read your stuff. Do you think the removable stocks make it so even a poor specimen like myself can be fitted? Is the quality of them really all it is touted to be?
Winchester Model 21- These are pretty common in the grouse hunting literature, again in 20 gauge. Worth the $$? Are they bricks? Are these worth fixating on? Add Parkers to this question. The old ones, I suppose.
English SXS’s – Are they all fitted for little Lord Fooseberry who dearly loved his blood pudding and became as rotund as his manor home? I have read about bending and rejointing and restocking… dedenting… lining…etc. It all frightens me. But if this is the scary path I must take… I had a car I “fixed up” once. It (and I) were never quite right afterwards due to the fact that we weren’t quite right when we were new.
I honestly do not care if it is a SXS or an OU, so long as it is magic. And it lasts for 30 years. I don’t care about the gauge, as long as it is humane both to the bird and to my wallet.
Thanks for your patience with my ramblings. I really do admire your work.
Ah, the ultimate ruffed grouse gun! That chimera, that mirage of perfection, that Holy Grail. Of course, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. There isn’t just one answer any more than there is one hunter. I can tell you what works for me and why I chose it, but I can’t tell you what works for you or what will make your hard little heart go bumpety bump.
My overall goal in a grouse gun was to have one that functioned well and yet pleased my senses. That’s very different from a duck gun. There I want a gun that functions well and can take a little abuse. Beating up duck guns is one of the requirements of the sport. Duck hunters sort of take pride in shooting nasty guns. Grouse hunters take pride in shooting nice guns. At least that’s the way I work. I toss my duck gun into the boat under the Lab and decoys. I gently cradle my grouse gun to save it from harm. I have no argument with guys who do it differently. I told you that this was my personal way of operating.
When I began to think about a proper grouse gun, I first had to choose gauge. I like 12. But, I like light weight too. Conundrum. I wanted a light weight 12. I felt that if I could launch about one ounce of shot, it would be about right. I also wanted a gun between 6 and 6-1/2 pounds. Under six is nice to carry, but hard for me to shoot. Over 6-1/2 is getting up there in weight.
6~6-1/2 pounds is 20 gauge territory, not 12. 12 is sort of 6-1/2 to 7, EXCEPT with the light English game guns built for 2-1/2″ shells. Those are 20 gauge weight, so that’s where I started looking. Just about all the light English game guns I have seen have been SxS configuration. That was fine with me. Personally, I feel a little more comfortable with that broad sighting plane when I am shooting quickly in dark woods. I know you aren’t supposed to look at the barrels, but I am aware of them. The broad smudge of the SxS barrels helps me pick the bird out a bit better. I don’t do as well with an SxS at longer distances. I prefer the more precise and narrower pointability of an O/U, auto or pump. But for the close stuff out to about 30 yards, I just seem to be faster with a SxS. You may have an entirely different sense, but that’s how I work.
I’m not too interested in dragging a very expensive English SxS around in the grouse cover. I’d spend too much time trying not to damage it. Fortunately, there are simply tons and tons of very nice English Anson and Deeley design boxlocks out there. I chose a 1926 Webley & Scott 28″ 12 gauge 2-1/2″ chambered Model 500 (lighter than the later Model 700). I paid under $2000 for it some time ago. The gun weighs 6-1/4 lbs with a pad that I had to add to get the necessary length. It was pretty close to 6 with it’s original checkered butt. A previous owner had none too carefully lengthened the chambers to 2-3/4″. Since the gun is proofed for 1-1/8 oz, I use low pressure one ounce loads happily. So far so good.
My gun has double triggers and is bored cylinder bore and .018″ (about light mod or mod). It was originally cyl and full, but I didn’t think that full had much use in a grouse covert. Over the years I have come to very much like that cylinder bore first barrel. It’s great out to about 20~25 yards. The choke barrel is fine to any practical grouse distance. The gun is very lively and fits me properly after having the stock bent. The safety (more important on a grouse gun than on many other types of guns) is positive and quick. I’m used to the double trigger and can instantly select what I want. Where I hunt, it’s almost always the open barrel first. I fool around with 20s too, but I firmly believe that one ounce from my 12 hits and kills birds better than one ounce from my 20. There are a lot of variables involved here and the comparison isn’t scientific, but that’s how I see it.
The W&S is a pretty typical English boxlock. Many of the other brands copied their action or actually used their actions. They are all pretty much the same. There are literally hundreds of names. The English boxlock is a sturdy affair, so you have a pretty good chance of getting a solid one when you get an old gun. They do break (everything does), but they seem to be less temperamental than the English sidelocks.
If you want a 20 SxS at a modest price, today I’d recommend going Turkish. With modern machinery some of today’s Turkish guns are excellent. At the bottom end are the Huglus marketed by CZ. For under $800 (as of this writing in 2016) the CZ Huglu Bobwhite SxS in 20 gauge would be a great little gun. It’s not fancy, but it’s decently made. The 20 is a decent weight, but the 12 would be too heavy for convenient carry.
If you want to go up a step, then you want the AKUS Turkish guns. They are marketed by SKB, Webley & Scott and Dickinson today. For under $2,000 you can get a excellent surprisingly high quality rounded trigger plate actioned SxS. In 20 gauge they are a touch heavy at 6# 6oz or so, but not bad. The interior of the action is first rate, better than many guns at much higher prices. If you want to go upscale, AKUS also makes some very nice sidelock SxS through Webley & Scott for about $6000. If you think that Turkish guns are junk, get ready to reassess.
There are also lots of Spanish and Italian SxS to choose from. Spanish guns are generally very good copies of the English guns, but their prices have gone up a good bit in the last fifteen years. The Spanish guns remain nicely hand made, but are no longer the bargains that they were.
If you don’t want an off the shelf gun, get ready for a price and waiting time that equates to a minor drug possession sentence. Right now you can get a very nice H&H pattern Spanish sidelock custom made to your requirements for around $8,000 and a ten month wait. It will be next season’s gun. If you get an off the shelf gun, you’ll save the 10 month waiting.
Also, don’t overlook some of the Italian boxlock SxS guns. SIACE has been doing some interesting work, as has Poli and Fausti. The Italian SxS guns have a very different feel from the English guns and their Spanish copies. I was underwhelmed by the Beretta 470 and 471, but the current 486 Parallelo is a bit nicer.
It may be heresy to say this, but I am not a fan of most of the classic American-made doubles. The prices are often unrealistic as you are bidding against collectors in order to buy a shooter. The American 12 gauge doubles that are sanely prices tend to be clunky in comparison to the English 2-1/2″ guns. The Model 21 is a perfect example of this. A 20 gauge Model 21 is no will ‘o the wisp either and they aren’t cheap. If you go with a classic American 20, you will pay a high price starting at $15,000 for a new one from Connecticut Shotgun.
I’m simply not a Parker fan. Just as well as I don’t want to bid against all the people who are. I did have a Parker Repro in 28 gauge (two barrel set), but the gun was a nest of headaches and quality problems. I had one of the last ones made before the factory turned into a golf driving range, probably assembled from parts. It was gorgeous, but not reliable.
Connecticut Shotgun’s RBL SxS is OK in 20 and 28 gauge at just under $5,000 while supply lasts. I didn’t shoot the guns well, but I have friends who do, so it’s a personal thing.
I don’t want to leave out O/Us for grouse guns. In addition to my SxS, I use a 6-1/4 pound 28″ 20 gauge Fabrique Nationale B25 and a 26-1/2″ barreled 6-3/4 pound American market Browning B25 Superlight 12 gauge. They both do the job very nicely, BUT I very much prefer the carry and feel of my SxS. It just feels better to me. The Brownings are probably stronger guns and are definitely easier to repair than my Webley is, but it all comes down to that soul thing.
There is much more variety in new O/Us today than in SxS. You can get just about anything you want in a 20 gauge O/U for prices as low as $1000 for decent quality. The sky’s the limit on the other end. This would certainly be the easiest choice. Just walk into a store, point and buy. No waiting, no uncertainty of buying a used gun, no misery of handmaking a part when something breaks. The Japanese Brownings and Berettas also have nice guns. I particularly like the Beretta in the 20 gauge field model. A new 20 gauge O/U for your grouse gun is probably the smart way to go. But they just don’t feel the same as the SxS.
If you want a really nice high-end O/U 20 that will make the grouse fold out of respect, consider spending $10K on a Connecticut Shotgun A-10 sidelock. These are amazing O/Us at a relatively good price for what they are. That said, they really are too nice to drag around in the woods.
Bottom line: for me personally, the magic is in the SxS. The golden autumn foliage, a stylish setter on point, a smooth classic side by side in your hands. It just doesn’t get better. That’s what it’s all about.
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC