If there’s bird hunting in heaven –
Grouse, woodcock, quail, pheasant, and Huns –
Son, you can take this as Gospel:
God blesses sixteen gauge double guns.
Don’t offer me an over/under,
Semi-autos and pumps don’t abide,
Keep your twelve and twenty gauges;
I’ll shoot a sixteen bore side-by-side.
– Clement Seagrave
Graceful double guns
No gentleman would hunt upland game birds with anything other than a double gun.
I will reluctantly accept an over-and-under double barrel in the field, but be aware that when I say ‘double gun’ I am referring to a side-by-side double barrel.
If you choose to shoot waterfowl, turkeys, or clay targets with a semi-automatic or a pump shotgun, you won’t get any complaint from me. That is certainly appropriate. For one thing, if a pump gun falls out of the boat and is lost in the muck at the bottom of the marsh or lake it is no great loss. And you will almost certainly record better scores with a semi-auto than a double gun when you shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, five-stand, and other clay target games – which are great fun but have nothing in common with upland bird hunting.
However, do not enter a northern Minnesota aspen and alder forest carrying a semi-auto and tell me it is an upland bird gun. There is a fashion of late to manufacture semi-autos that weigh six and one-half pounds with handsome checkering on the stock and some dubious quality ‘engraving’ on the receiver, and proclaim them bird guns. Wash an ape, comb an ape, still an ape. Paint a machine, polish a machine, still a machine.
A graceful double gun is the creation of an artist and an artisan, a thing of beauty to complement what has become a spiritual time in my life – a day afield with game birds, bird dogs and good friends. Note the word ‘graceful.’ This does not apply to the many blunderbuss double guns produced by American arms manufacturers for a half century.
What is a graceful double gun? Granting some ‘eye of the beholder’ subjectivity and bowing to the reality that stock measurements and other niceties of fit and balance depend on the physique and age and physical condition of the shooter, I will offer my definition. A graceful double gun has these characteristics:
Weight between six and seven pounds
Point of balance midway between the shooter’s lead hand and grip hand
Straight stock (or Prince of Wales grip)
Stock with the least practical drop at comb and at heel
Barrels no shorter than 28 inches and no longer than 32 inches
Nicely grained walnut stock and forearm
Practical but not showy checkering
These are more-or-less in order of priority – or at least my priorities.
Characteristics that are less important include those which can be easily modified (length of pull, choke construction, trigger pull weights, single brass front bead, tasteful recoil pad or butt plate), and those which cannot be changed but are not crucial (gauge, action type – box lock or side lock, extractors vs. ejectors). Features that eliminate a gun from consideration, for me but perhaps not for you, include ventilated rib, beavertail forend, elaborate engraving, and short barrels.
Lest you think that such a gun would be beyond your price range, I have acquired used guns that were ‘close to perfect’ knowing I could alter stocks, chokes, trigger pulls, butt pads, and other features until they met my criteria for graceful double gun – for considerably less than the cost of those semi-automatic machines masquerading as upland bird guns.
Some concessions and confessions are in order. I own and enjoy shooting semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, but not for upland bird hunting. All but one of my double guns lack two or three of the ‘graceful gun’ criteria I have listed. And, alas, I do not shoot that ‘perfect’ gun as well as I shoot its ‘imperfect’ cousin. Both are Spanish made 28 gauges, but the ugly cousin has a single trigger, a Prince of Wales grip, a semi-beavertail forend, and a stock that is too thick at the comb. Nonetheless, it breaks an occasional twenty-five at skeet and hits most shots at woodcock and ruffed grouse, so I have learned to love its imperfections.
If you want to banter about my opinions on upland bird guns, contact me through this blog site, Dispatches from a Northern Town.
If you enjoy reading about the camaraderie, passions, and pratfalls of upland bird hunting and life in a northern town, you may like my novel, Hunting Birds – The Lives and Legends of the Pine County Rod, Gun, Dog and Social Club. It is available through Amazon/Kindle at
Amen, brother. Great writing, gonna buy your book! Thanks.
I stumbled onto your blog the other day and have been working my way through the posts. I also recently picked up an old Lefever Nitro Special 20 and love it, although it could stand to be restocked with a bit less drop. So begins the endless tinkering. Thanks for the good writing. It is becoming a difficult find.