The Over/Under Shotgun as a Hunting Gun:

Why the side-by-side style game shotgun is a better hunting gun...

By Gary Hubbell

When bird hunters reach a certain level of hunting experience, they like to reward themselves with a new shotgun. It’s time to get rid of that old pump gun and buy a nice hunting gun! Often the best gun, in their opinion, is an over/under shotgun. But is an over-and-under shotgun really the best choice for upland bird hunting? “No,” says Jon Hollinger, owner of Aspen Outfitting Company. Jon has 40 years’ experience guiding hunters on quail, dove, blue grouse, pheasant, chukar and grey partridge, and waterfowl hunts and he doesn’t own an over/under shotgun.

“You see,” explains Hollinger, “most over/under guns were originally designed for the clay target games of trap, skeet, or sporting clays and are what we call ‘club’ guns. That is, they are shot at shooting clubs where the above-mentioned games are the order of the day and where hundreds of thousands of American shooters enjoy using them for the job they were designed to do; breaking hundreds of targets over the course of a few hours at predictable angles. The action starts with the gun at a pre-mounted position on the shooter’s shoulder prior to the shot.”


Our friend Dave Alvarez is a very experienced shotgunner. Here he is at age 58, having climbed up to 13,400 feet to hunt ptarmigan. He wants a lightweight gun! The Ugartechea .410 he's carrying weighs less than 6 pounds.

“These guns are built with heavy actions and large, full-proportioned stocks for several reasons: to reduce perceived recoil from a day spent shooting hundreds of rounds; to balance out 34 inch barrels with heavy raised ribs; and to sustain a swing, once you get the heavy gun moving. The stable dynamics of these club guns produce unbelievable scores at targets of predictable speed, size, trajectory, and range, particularly when all the targets are shot on a range where the shooter walks only a few steps from one station to another.

Indeed, they do the job they were designed to do, but our job is different. We’re tumbling blue grouse over an alpine landscape at 10,000 feet above sea level.” I guide blue grouse hunts, and I’ve seen shooters leave $200 jackets in the high country because they didn’t want to carry the extra weight.

“And there’s also the way it fits your hand when you carry it,” Hollinger notes. “If you let your empty hand hang relaxed at your side, your thumb will almost touch your fingers,” he says. “The sidewall on most over/under

Dave Ptarmigan with a Side-by-Side Shotgun

guns is so tall that when you carry the gun in a natural, one-handed style, your fingers are stretched open. After a day of upland activity with this type of gun, your hands, arms, and shoulders are quite fatigued.”

Quite possibly the least practical feature of over/under shotguns when used for game shooting is the single selective trigger, Hollinger notes. The shooter is supposed to use the same switch to operate the “on/off” safety and the “top/bottom” barrel selector—all in the space of a quarter inch up and down, a quarter inch left and right. “The single selective triggers are a joke for this application,” Hollinger laughs. “I once had a day shooting ruffed grouse with my brother Charlie and a ‘friend’. It was quite possibly the most active day of ruffed grouse hunting I’ve ever had. The dogs pointed 57 birds. The ‘friend’ had a very nice Beretta over/under. That little toggle switch on the tang that combines the barrel selector with the safety was getting the best of him all day. He got the switch stuck between selecting the top and bottom barrel four times on bird flushes. Neither barrel would fire. The guy got so frustrated that he slammed the gun up against a tree, and both barrels fired. My brother just turned and walked away and went back to the house,” Jon remembers. “Luckily no one was hurt, but one of the dogs went back home with Charlie!” Hollinger laughs. “The problem is that no two shotgun companies make them alike,” Hollinger continues. “SKB has a different barrel selector system than Browning, and Browning’s is different from Beretta and Ruger. So once you get used to one brand of gun, it’s totally different from the next one. Besides, I’ve never seen anybody able to think about which barrel they want to shoot and manipulate that little selector while a bird is flushing.”

“Another important factor is the pointing plane,” Hollinger says. “With an over/under shotgun, the shooter is looking over a narrow pointing plane. In American upland bird hunting, most of our targets are rising birds. It’s really easy to ‘slide past’ a bird with an over/under gun, because it’s only the width of the top barrel. The sighting plane of a side-by-side shotgun is twice as wide, and it’s easy to put a bird on top of it and pull the trigger.”

There is a better choice, Hollinger says, for a game gun that is meant to be carried all day and used to bag wild birds: The classic side-by-side shotgun. Not coincidentally, Hollinger has worked extensively with Ignacio Ugartechea of Armas Ugartechea to develop such a gun, the AOC/SG (Aspen Outfitting Company/Small Game).


©2006 Gary Hubbell and Jon Hollinger. This article may not be reproduced in any form without the authors' written consent.