The Best Double-Barrel Shotguns

What are the best double-barrel shotguns?

Double-barrel shotguns may not be enough on their own to complete the collection of a serious firearms enthusiast, but they are still a great gun to have in your battery (so to speak). 

The double-barrel shotgun is fantastic as a sporting shotgun — whether for sport shooting or hunting. And a double is a better home defense gun than some people give them credit for… with a bit of practice, of course. 

Each of these 6 double-barrel shotguns is more than worth adding to your collection, be you a serious enthusiast or first-time scattergun gun owner.

Quick List: The Best Double-Barrel Shotguns

Stoeger

The entry-level model on this list is the Stoeger Coach Gun. The Coach Gun is cheap, cheerful, and storied: a good model to start with. 

It is what it sounds like: a hammer-fired side-by-side, in 12-, 20- and 410-gauge (so no 28-gauge is available). All models have 20-inch barrels, extractors, 3-inch chambers, a brass bead front sight, tang safety and fixed (Improved Cylinder and Modified) choke barrels. The tang safety has a nice reset feature that requires to user to deactivate the safety every time the action is closed.

Federal Hybrid loads bringing the heat with the Stoeger

You can choose a single progressive trigger or a traditional double trigger. Stocks are walnut, with blue steel, though there are models in black-finished hardwood and nickel. 

In terms of fit, finish, and all the intangibles, there are certainly more polished guns out there. But the Coach Gun merits a look for the cost of entry alone. The same could be said for Stoeger’s Longfowler over/unders.

Mossberg

Yes, Virginia, Mossberg makes more than the pump-action shotguns found in the back of every patrol car… such as the Silver Reserve double-barrel shotgun. The Silver Reserve is a solid over/under for a blue collar budget, and with some great features for the price point. 

The Silver Reserve series features 28-inch barrels in 12-gauge, and 26-inch barrels in .410-, 20-, and 28-gauge. The furniture is walnut, with a nickel receiver and blued barrels (except for the Eventide model, which has black synthetic furniture paired with matte blue). 

The Eventide model also does away with the traditional brass bead and upgrades it to a fiber optic front sight, for those who don’t get squeamish at the idea of optical sights on SxS shotguns.

All models have a 3-inch chamber, with a tang safety and barrel selector running a single trigger. All models ship with 5 field chokes so you can swap install the choke of your choice. 

The fit and finish and checkering are excellent for a gun at this price point, making it a very attractive gun for all earners. True, it may be a 4th runner-up beauty queen alternate, but you do get a lot of gun value for your money.

CZ

For fans of side-by-side shotguns, there seem to be few stops between complete entry level shotguns and top-dollar… but there are some solid middleground options to be found. 

One such is the CZ Sharp Tail. Its intended purpose as a field gun is reflected in its title, fittingly named for grouse. The receiver is CNC-milled, keeping production costs lower than it might otherwise be. 

You have your choice of essentially any gauge — 12-, 16-, 20-, 28-gauge and .410 — all with 3-inch chambers and a bead front sight. Turkish walnut furniture accompanies the blued steel, with a case-hardened receiver.

The tang-mounted safety also includes a barrel selector, with a single trigger and mechanical extractor system. 

All but the .410 model ship with five flush-mounted chokes, with fixed Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes being installed in the .410 model. 

Fit and finish are excellent, so the Sharp Tail is just as nice to look at as it is to handle in the field. While maybe not an inheritance-grade piece, it’s not going to set you back a month’s pay while still offering excellent quality. 

Franchi

The Franchi Instinct L Over and Under is their entry-level model. In the same way that Dan Wesson hand-built 1911s pistols are entry-level, the Instinct L is entry level to premium shotguns.

The Instinct L is offered in 12-gauge and 20-gauge, with 3-inch chambers. Finish is blued steel, with a case-hardened receiver, and satin walnut furniture with a Prince of Wales stock. The barrels are 28-inches only, with vented ribs and a fiber optic front bead sight.

The tang-mounted safety includes a barrel selector, with a single trigger. The Instinct L has ejectors, rather than extractors. The gun ships with three chokes (Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full) and a custom-fitted hard case. 

The Instinct L has gorgeous fit and finish, especially for the price point — which may require some planning, though maybe not “affordable” for everyone. It’s a rather basic over/under double barrel shotgun all things considered, but you won’t get the finery of fit and finish at this price point from anyone else.

Browning

The first over/under shotgun offer the kinds of reliability and performance we expect from these guns today was the Browning Superposed, and Browning is still one of the best brands for SxSs to this day. The Browning Cynergy is a modern O/U, and hews closely to Brownings mass market affordability.

The Cynergy is offered in a number of models and finishes, depending on your intended purpose. However, all share a number of features. 

The Cynergy is only offered in 12-gauge, except for the Micro Midas model in 20-gauge. Barrel lengths are 30-, 28-, and 26-inch, with ivory bead sights or fiber optics up front depending on model. Select models are also offered with a chrome-lined bore. 

The genius of the Cynergy is Browning’s Mono Lock hinge, which allows the receiver to be lower in overall profile, making all Cynergy models natural pointers when shouldered. The Cynergy ships with three extended chokes, using Browning’s Invicta thread pattern.

The striker ignition system gives the Cynergy shotguns a light, crisp trigger pull. The safety — tang-mounted — also includes a barrel selector for the single trigger. 

Like the Superposed so many years before it, the Cynergy is a forward-thinking double-barrel shotgun, with modern materials and manufacturing techniques that keep the double-barrel current. It’s not going to offer you the accessory options or home defense performance of more tactical shotguns, but for its intended purpose the Cynergy is worth a look.

Savage Arms

The Fox A Grade has the finery of an English double, but is made in America by the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company for Savage Arms. 

CSMC typically makes bespoke guns in the English style, and with a price point to match. When Savage resurrected the Fox brand — formerly a brand of custom American shotguns — they needed the product to merit the name, and the A Grade certainly does. 

Fit and finish are exquisite. While its finish is plain, this is a hand-fit shotgun: every bit the equal of fine English doubles in everything but the price tag. 

Fox A Grade shotguns are Anson Deely-style boxlock shotguns, with Holland & Holland-style ejectors. The case-hardened receiver and barrels are blued carbon steel, with American Black walnut furniture. The safety is tang-mounted, with classic double triggers. Just make sure you have your hounds-tooth overcoat and a decent single-malt on hand, old chum.  

The A Grades are offered in 12- and 20-gauge, with 3-inch chambers and 26- or 28-inch barrels and a bead front sight. Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full chokes are included, as is a custom-fitted polymer case. 

The reason the A Grade doesn’t cost the same as a Purdey or Holland and Holland is that it’s a production model; these aren’t made-to-order. You can customize it by changing out the recoil pad to adjust fit, of course. But that said, make no mistake that this is an investment-grade gun, one that your grandchildren will fight over. So plan accordingly.

A Brief History Of Double Barrel Shotguns

The first double barreled shotguns most likely emerged in the19th century. Prior to widespread adoption of rifled barrels for solid projectiles (i.e., rifled muskets), a long gun could be used for ball or shot, whichever the user wanted. 

Somebody, at some point, had the bright idea that adding a second barrel gave you one more shot. The idea stuck and double-barreled shotguns have long since become the norm for fowling and combat applications. 

Despite widespread adoption of rifled muskets for solid projectiles, smoothbores stayed in use as shotguns. When the first doubles were made, again, is unknown. But by the mid-1800s, it’s established that they were well in production, finding a home in limited military use in the Civil War, usually by light cavalry.

Doubles found a home with light calvalry in the Civil War.

The side-by-side was the dominant form until the over-under was invented, which became the most popular form of double shotgun, as the U/O barrel orientation makes for easier target acquisition. 

Today, double-barrel shotguns are made for almost any price point and purpose, from working man’s double guns to mid-grade guns with a balance between finery and affordability, all the way up to bespoke guns of exquisite beauty and heirloom-grade craftsmanship. 

Still, you might be wondering…

Why A Double Barrel?

double barrel - upland hunting

The double-barrel shotgun is handy and fast… until you’ve emptied both barrels. 

They’re perfect for hunting upland birds, ducks over puddles or turkeys in the forest. Less awkward or heavy than a semi-, and with a faster follow-up shot than a pump for most people. 

The same idea holds for defensive purposes, which is why they were popular for law enforcement as well as private security. After all, that’s why the “coach gun” is a thing — more than a few would-be Wells Fargo carriage robbers were felled across the West by the humble Coach Gun.

If you get a decent example, the double is also beautiful. This much is personal preference; some people are enamored of the modern black plastic tactical firearm, and the AR12s of the world have their place. But there is something alluring about deeply blued steel and figured walnut. 

At one point, guns were made for craft, rather than scale. Double barrel shotguns are a product of that time… and some still are made the old way, by the worn hands of craftsmen. And, like most things artisan-made in old-world style, they also carry a price-tag to match.

Drawbacks Of Double Barrel Shotguns

There are drawbacks. 

You only get two barrels, and reloading is slow. If your double-barrel shotgun has extractors rather than ejectors, it’s even slower as you need to pull your shells by hand. 

Another drawback to doubles is the hinge pin, which locks the barrels to the receiver. If the hinge pin or the hole it inserts into wears out, replacing it can be costly. In some cases, it’s a better option to just replace the entire firearm as repairs can cost more than the gun is worth. 

Some doubles come with fixed chokes, so you can’t swap them like you would with most shotguns. 

Side-by-sides can be awkward to shoot, as the recoil impulse is to the side of the stock and the bead is sometimes set between the barrels (rather than having one bead centered on each). So aiming can be a little less than precise compared to other shotguns. 

Another drawback is that once you leave more affordable examples behind, the cost of entry starts to climb at a shocking pace. You don’t have to postpone college for your first born to get you hands on an entry-level or even a middle-grade double, but the cost of a handcrafted bit of artesian gunsmithing will probably have you in a bit of a sweat when you write the check. 

Another potential drawback is the trigger system. 

Some guns have double triggers, some have selective triggers (you pick the barrel) and others have progressive triggers — meaning first pull fires one barrel, the second pull the other. It’s a training and familiarity issue to an extent, but these kinds of trigger configurations can be a drawback for some people. 

Most feature a tang safety, much like a Mossberg 590, but some don’t — a tang safety is definitely preferred. A select few won’t offer a recoil pad, meaning length of pull cannot be adjusted… which can be a serious drawback with shotguns.

Then there’s the fact that you only get two shots. And, in reality, more hunts you embark upon with a double-barrel shotgun can also be done with a pump-action or a semi-auto. These newerfangled shottys, however, aren’t welcome in some shooting sports, leaving doubles as the only choice. 

So, if you’re in the market for a purpose-driven shotgun –  i.e. hunting, other shooting sports, home defense  — you want to seriously consider if a double barrel is going to be right for you. And if so, plan to put in the time at the range to build familiarity with it.

Parting Shots

Maybe it’s true that the double-barrel shotgun is out-of-date in some ways. But then again, so are a lot of classic guns still in production. That doesn’t mean they should be dismissed out-of-hand. 

Not every gun has to be The Ultimate Tactical Whatever. They’re great to simply own and appreciate. And some classic designs are absolutely gorgeous guns that offer a pride of ownership other firearms can’t.

Doubles are fast on target in the field, and speed matters when you flush a pheasant, grouse or bobwhite. Most users find them far more intuitive to use than pump-action or semi-autos, and doubles are also the only kind of gun allowed in some shooting sports. 

If any of those reasons for owning a double-barrel shotgun sound right to you, don’t let any of the perceived limitations keep a double barrel out of your safe. They’re practical, easy to use, and a lot of fun.

Sources:

  1. American Rifleman, John M. Taylor, Looking Back at Shotgun History, May 23, 2016
  2. Popular Mechanics, Revival Of The Coach Gun, December 7, 2004  
  3. Shotgun World, Jon Farrar, The History and Art of Shotshells, March 06, 2006
  4. Stoeger, Coach Guns Single and Double Trigger Shotguns 
  5. Mossberg, Mossberg International Silver Reserve
  6. Franchi, Instinct L Over and Under Shotgun
  7. CZ-USA, CZ Sharp-Tail 
  8. Browning, Current Production — Cynergy Shotguns 
  9. Savage Arms

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