What are the best over-under shotguns?
Over-under shotguns are a great choice of sporting shotgun. They’re a classic choice for upland bird hunting and shotgun events like sporting clays and trap shooting.
Over-under doubles offer a simpler action, lighter weight, and faster handling than pump-action or semi-auto shotguns, plus more intuitive aiming than side-by-sides given that both barrels are on the same focal plane.
It’s also a bonus that the fit and finish of many doubles can range from spectacular to the sublime…but the best examples of the type will often have a budget-busting price point.
We’ll cover under shotguns that you will never regret buying, why you might consider one, what to look for, and 6 excellent examples to suit almost anyone — ranging from a humble working persons’ double to finery in gunsmithing without equal. Some are budget-friendly, some will take some saving for… and the really, really good ones are not easy to acquire.
1. CZ Drake
CZ’s shotguns are sleepers, and their entry-level model is the CZ Drake. All models come with Turkish walnut furniture, and 28-inch barrels. It’s available in 12-, 20-, 28- and .410-gauge, 3-inch chambers. Left-handed models – the Drake Southpaw – is available in 12- and 20-gauge.
While some of CZ’s shotguns are made in the USA, the Drake is made in Turkey. Some people bridle, but experienced shooters usually find Turkish firearms frequently are of excellent quality for the price paid — and their AR12s are top notch.
The Drake series has a selectable trigger, and all models (save .410) ship with 5 flush-fit chokes, so you can choke the gun as you see fit. It has extractors rather than ejectors and a white bead front sight. Overall it’s about as good an entry-level gun as it gets.
Fit and finish are excellent for the price point. Don’t expect a fine English and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you get for what you part with.
2. Stoeger Condor Supreme
Stoeger, a Turkish shotgun brand in the Benelli/Beretta corporate family, makes excellent shotguns that don’t break the bank. The Condor line is their over/under family of guns, and the Condor Supreme are arguably the ones to acquire.
The Condor Supreme is available in 20- and 12-gauge, with 3-inch chambers. Barrels are 28-inch only, with a ventilated rib and a brass bead sight. The furniture is AA Turkish walnut, with a rubber recoil pad on the stock.
The monobloc sides make the gun slim, and the 12-gauge tips the scales at a respectable 7.4 lbs, so they’re light, handy…and very easy on the eyes.
The gun ships with two flush-fit chokes (Improved Cylinder and Modified) but getting upgrades is easy; Stoeger uses the Benelli Mobil choke thread pattern.
The trigger is a single non-selective trigger (top, then bottom) but spent shells get ejected rather than extracted, which is rare for any double at the Condor Supreme’s price point. Stoeger has some less expensive models but frankly more bang for buck doesn’t exist at a working man’s price point.
3. Stevens 555 E
Stevens is an old brand name, which used to deal in working man’s shotguns at working man’s prices, which has been resurrected by Savage Arms. The 555 E is their O/U to acquire given the features list.
All bores are available – 12-, 16-, 20-, 28-gauge and .410 too – with 3-inch chambers. The gun ships with all five choke tubes. The 28-inch (only) barrels are carbon steel, with an aluminum receiver for a smart two-tone look. Turkish walnut furniture is included, with a rubber recoil pad on the butt.
The trigger is a single selective trigger. The standard 555 is an extractor model, but the 555 E has ejectors. The aluminum receiver cuts weight to less than 7 lbs, so the 555 E is perfect for long days in the field.
4. Franchi Instinct L
Now we begin our ascent into the finer guns, but our first stop is still very attainable. The Franchi Instinct L is a gorgeous Italian over-under that’s very attainable if you pinch some pennies for awhile.
The Instinct L is available in 12- and 20-gauge, with 3-inch chambers and 28-inch barrels, which wear a red fiber optic front sight. The receiver is case hardened, for that gorgeous quasi-Damascus finish and the barrels are blued steel, as God intended.
The stock is A grade figured walnut, with a Prince Of Wales (semi-pistol grip) stock and rubber recoil pad. All five popular chokes ship with the gun, so no worries there. It’s perfect for field use, as even the 12-gauge weighs in at a svelte 7 lbs.
Barrels are selectable, as a selector is located on the tang with the safety, and the barrels have ejectors rather than extractors. The gun also ships with a fitted hard case, unlike the three previous guns which come in a box.
One suspects the Franchi is a gateway drug to fine doubles. Speaking of which…
5. Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I
The Beretta Silver Pigeon is one of the standards over/under guns are judged by, along with the Browning Citori. Frankly, either gun could be on a list, but this one just happens to have the Beretta. They are almost as good as it gets.
The 12- and 20-gauge guns are on the full frame, but the 28-gauge and .410 guns are on a compact receiver. All have 3-inch chambers, and you have your choice of 26-, 28- and 30-inch barrels, though the .410 is only offered in 26- and 28-inch tubes.
The action includes a single trigger and selectable barrels, with ejectors. The stainless receiver features gorgeous scroll work, and is capped with oil-finished select-grade walnut furniture. The barrels are carbon steel with a gold bead front sight.
The 686 Silver Pigeon I isn’t unobtainable, but doesn’t come cheap either. It’s an heirloom quality gun, and a workhorse at the same time.
6. Aguirre y Aranzabal No 37
Aguirre y Aranzabal is a bespoke gunmaker in Eibar, Spain, in the heart of Basque country. They’ve been making the No. 37, a copy of a Merkel design, for decades.
Gunwriters and hunters Charles Askins and Jack O’Connor both chose them over English doubles, for good reason.
AyA shotguns are handmade, either for select brokers or to-measure for clients. To order one, they recommend you be fitted for the gun to get the correct length of pull and other dimensions. The internals are hand-fitted and polished, just like a Sauer rifle or a Les Baer 1911 pistol.
The No. 37 is a 12-gauge only, with a sidelock action. The stock is select-grade walnut with oil finish, either selected by the factory or the client. Finish is silver or gold wash, with or without scrollwork. Everything else is up to you including barrel length, stock style…whatever you wish.
They are sublime, exquisite. No two are alike because they’re handmade. This is an example of Old World craft; it isn’t a gun, it’s a work of art.
You will pay for the privilege, but Aguirre y Aranzabal literally does the same work Holland & Holland, Purdey or Boss do when they craft a fine double…but at less than one-tenth of the price, because it’s made in Spain, despite the same finery and attention to detail.
If we’re talking about the best over/under shotguns…there are none better. Yes, we could mention the H&H Royal Over/Under or the Purdey Sporter but if there’s any serious difference in craftsmanship, nobody has really found any yet.
A Brief History Of The Over-Under Shotgun
Extending the simplicity of break-action single-barrel shottys with a pair of parallel barrels was a natural evolution of the concept, the execution of which created this proven design.
Often, “double barrel” means the classic side-by-side orientation (SxS), but the over-under (U/O) is both more popular and offers the user the advantage of vertically stacked barrels for a single sighting plane.
Firing U/O guns can either be done with each barrel independently or with successive pulls of a single trigger. In the latter case, the first pull generally fires the lower barrel first.
It’s a little unclear who produced the first over-under shotgun, but double-barreled muskets were available in various countries in the 1800s with some early furtive attempts gaining little traction relative to the SxS configuration of old. What’s uncontroversial is who made the first one that worked and sold well.
The Browning Superposed, much like many other types of firearms, was the brainchild of John Moses Browning.
The Browning Superposed was one of Browning’s last guns, as he was almost finished with it when he passed away in 1926. His son Val put some finishing touches on it, and the gun hit the commercial market in 1931.
The design caught on, becoming particularly popular with bird hunters and sport shooters, and today is the most common break-action shotgun design save the single-shot scattergun.
Over-unders of today range from the budget-friendly all the way to bespoke, handmade firearms of exquisite quality, with a massive variety of products in between.
Why An Over-Under Shotgun?
An over-under shotgun offers the advantages of a side-by-side when compared to pump-action or semi-auto (e.g. sleek lines, faster target acquisition, two barrels allows for two fast choke selections, instant disassembly) but without the drawbacks of the offset barrels.
Sighting & Feel
Classically, sighting a side-by-side can be tricky due to the offset barrels. Over-unders are easier to use because both barrels are in-line, though slight holdover is typically required for the bottom barrel it’s significantly less than with a SxS.
Recoil is inline rather than oblique to the stock, so over-unders can also be a little more comfortable in that regard, another classic drawback to side-by-side doubles.
Doubles also balance a little better. Whereas most pump-action shotguns tend to be slightly front-heavy due to the barrel & fore-end, the mass of the U/O receiver is behind the barrels, acting as a sort of cantilever and moving the center of gravity toward the shooter.
Weight & Ease-of-use
In terms of weight savings, it tends to be negligible. Comparing a wood-and-steel pump-action to a double with the same barrel length and chambering is usually a wash, so it’s more a matter of how it handles than how much it weighs.
Another benefit is that over-unders are more available in a takedown model, making it easier to pack for backcountry hunts.
Some prime turkey ground is accessed only by the two-shoe express, which means obstacles can be a persistent issue. 100 year old fences, crumbling walls, and drainage ditches are easily and safely traversed by popping the gun open and extracting the shells — a nearly instantaneous investment in user longevity. Something to consider.
Over-unders are also the only shotgun allowed in some shooting sports, and waltzing into a gun club with an AR12 can garner some serious side-eye.
Not to mention they’re easy to unload & verify as clear. With the action open all it takes is quick poke with a finger in either chamber to verify the gun is cleared, even in the dark.
Also, and this should be said…they’re easy on the eyes. While an over-under isn’t going to win you many trench battles, some of them are truly works of art — a quality that modern black rifles, black shotguns and black pistols so often lack.
What To Look For In An Over-Under
The heart and soul of the over-under is the hinge pin. Once it’s worn out, the gun is toast without heavy investment in gunsmith work, which is far from a cheap repair. Bear that in mind.
Triggers & gauge
The trigger is a point of contention. A single, selectable trigger (SST) gives the users the option to change the firing sequence. Non-selective, single triggers (NSTs) don’t allow you to change the firing sequence, but are remarkably reliable – worth considering — especially with a budget-focused gun.
If your goal is hunting upland birds only, consider a 20- or 28-gauge shotgun. That will reduce weight and the reality is that you don’t really need a 3-inch 12-gauge for pheasant, grouse, chukar or doves. A 20-gauge magnum is more than enough.
If your goal is to shoot sporting clays, opt for competition models. These will include an adjustable comb, a raised rib and better sights than field models in most cases.
You also want to be able to install a recoil pad and spacers if need be. Industry standard length of pull can generally be improved for most shooters, so these can enhance performance markedly.
Ejectors & choke selection
Opt for ejectors, not extractors, whenever possible. Only the most ardent monocle-wearing traditionalist wouldn’t want a gun that kicked the shells out instead of hand removal.
Look for a gun that accepts choke tubes instead of factory choked barrels. This gives you the ability to change choke tubes to suit your purposes, a key advantage of the dual barrel configuration.
However, if factory-choked barrels are your only option, you want your long-range barrel on the bottom. It should be choked to Modified if not Improved Modified or Full.
Fit and finish
Fit and finish can be a budget eater — and depends on your preference, budget and ultimately what you want in the final piece. A hard workin’ gun will get you a long way in terms of performance but may not look at home above the mantle. Conversely a gun you own to appreciate and occasionally shoot is a different beast altogether.
A lower quality fit or homely looks don’t mean it won’t shoot (just as the Maverick 88), and you’ll also be less displeased if it takes some dings in the field. Then again, there are also people who hunt like crazy with a Purdey and don’t care if it takes a beating because fine doubles are certainly engineered to succeed in the field.
In other words, consider first if fit and finish are a priority, because there are plenty of O/Us that aren’t pretty but will put grouse on the ground.
Also worth noting: if you’re willing to do some research, and a little legwork, you can get yourself into a heck of a vintage O/U for a reasonable price tag.
The U.S. is chock full of old double-guns, with many handed down through time immemorial. While suitability, quality and condition can vary greatly, don’t be afraid of the used market. The beauty of doubles is they can always be restored. With true vintage product just make sure to have a gunsmith look it over prior to touching one off.
Over/under shotguns can certainly be a workhorse gun. They can be brilliantly versatile; shooting sporting clays with ease or taken into the field for literally every bird species you can put on the deck.
Fit and finish range from acceptable to drop-dead gorgeous. Really, the only limit is your imagination…as well as your wallet…as far as which one to get. These 6 are some of the best examples, ranging from cheap and cheerful to the finest possible gun money can buy.
If you want a sporting shotgun with more class — and more grace — than black synthetic pump, an over/under is about the best possible choice.
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