The Many Reasons to Buy an O/U Shotgun
There are many reasons to avoid over/under shotguns. These were covered in an article of the same name to evoke thought and to generate a little introspective analysis about your actual shotgunning needs. Naturally, perceived needs are as diverse as the individuals involved.
In that vein, there are reasons why an O/U shotgun might be the best choice. Let’s go down the list and examine the over/under's features and benefits.
Though quality guns of many designs and configurations can be as reliable as we need them to be, or perhaps as we allow them to be, there are some issues not present in O/U shotguns. (Or any double gun, for that matter.) Some of potential issues present in single-barreled repeaters do not exist in an O/U shotgun. O/U shotguns cannot be “short-shucked” as can pump-actions. Shucking a pump may or may not be an issue for you, of course, but it cannot be an issue in an O/U, where no manual sliding of the action ever happens.
O/U shotguns are far less ammunition-sensitive than repeaters. Regardless of the quality of the shell, if you can stuff them into the chambers, they tend to go bang. Cheaper shotshells may have no “brass” rims on the ends of their cases, instead using cheaper and harder plated steel. The steel rims of these shells can peen, ding and erode the ejection ports of semi-autos. This is not the case, of course, with O/U guns, which do not have ejection ports.
There are also reliability issues associated with bent or dirty shell carriers in semi-autos. Again, with no shell carrier or magazines present in O/U shotguns, there can be no magazine or shell-carrier associated problems. The same with a fussy magazine shell-stop in a repeater; no such shell-stop exists in an O/U.
Though all shotguns should receive maintenance when required, you do not have gas blowing all over the trigger group and inside the breech bolt in an O/U. What regular cleaning is required is self-explanatory, the barrel, a wipe-off of the external metal parts and a dab of Gunslick or something similar on metal-to-metal contact surfaces (particularly the hinge pin). No “O” rings, no little parts to keep track of, no breechblock disassembly, no triggers covered with crud. No array of gas pistons, piston seals and weirdly engineered forearm nuts. No stock springs to replace, no failure to fire when a breechblock fails to get back into battery (the Benelli "click") and no need to have a surface for the buttstock to push against for the gun to cycle, as in some recoil actions.
As an O/U does not rely on gas or recoil to function, light loads and field trial “poppers” present no issues. You can shoot 7/8 oz. loads out of your 12 gauge O/U, which you might not be able to do reliably with a 12 gauge auto.
TWO DISTINCT PATTERNS
With two barrels, you have the option to throw two different patterns, not just one. Ideal for certain clays events, such as trap and skeet doubles, it also offers some utility in the field on flushing game where the first shot is a larger effective pattern at closer ranges, the second shot tighter choked if needed. For incoming dove, it gives you the reverse option of taking the far, trailing bird first, then whacking the second (closer) bird hitting the jets with a larger effective pattern. Likewise, you can easily load the first barrel with #6 shot, the second shot being a stouter load of #5 or #4 shot, as conditions indicate. There is no right or wrong to any of this, you have these options and choices and choices are a good thing.
Again, a bit of a personal preference, but there are shooters that are annoyed with the sounds of repeater operation. With not much moving around in an O/U except for the trigger, sear and hammer, some shooters who get used to the unobtrusive operation of a break-action gun find repeaters, particularly autoloaders with their spring-propelled breechblocks and propensity to throw fired cases around, very distracting.
LESS GAS IN THE FACE AND NO HULL-THROWING
Some semi-autos are a bit gassy, popping the shooter with a little blast of gas from time to time that is unpleasant. Though positive ejection is a desired feature in side-ejection autoloaders, to the extent that hulls are bouncing off your shooting buddy on the next post, it may be a bit obnoxious. It may not be an issue for the way you shoot, of course, but then again, it may.
OVERCOMING BAD AMMO
Although a rare occurrence, well, it happens. There are blooper promo loads and reloads out there and occasionally even blooper premium loads. The rooster you jumped after five miles of walking might be pleased at your ammo malfunction, but you probably won’t be quite as joyful. A double gun with two triggers or a mechanical single trigger requires only a quick second trigger pull to get a shot off.
I hesitate to mention this as firearms cannot be idiot-proof, only idiot-resistant. The fellow that plugs his muzzle with mud is beyond help, as is the individual that fails to keep his muzzle pointed in a safe direction, does not understand what is around or behind his or her target. No shotgun can help you there, regardless of action type.
Nevertheless, an O/U is more fool-resistant than repeaters. Its biggest advantage is that the gun's state (loaded or unloaded) can be very quickly checked by simply opening the barrels. Shells cannot hide in a nonexistent mechanism or magazine tube. Simply opening the gun renders it totally safe and unable to fire, much easier than unloading a repeater to cross a fence, ditch or some other obstacle in the field and therefore much less likely to be ignored.
Naturally subjective, what is not subjective is that a break-open gun is about 3.5-4 inches shorter in overall length than a repeater with the same length barrel, due to the absence of a receiver. This gives the O/U an immediate handling advantage, because a shorter gun of the same weight swings (traverses) faster than a longer one.
Remember that the majority of the weight of a shotshell, the shot, is forward of the center of the shell; the rear of a shotshell is usually occupied by relatively lightweight powder and wadding. O/U’s are loaded with two shells in the chamber. The mass of the shells is right between the hands, which is also the balance point of the gun, so there is no change in balance. A typical repeater has one shell in the chamber in front of the breechblock and two or more shells in the magazine, positioned well forward of the receiver. You have a pair of shells three and a half inches in front of their placement in an O/U, with additional shells farther away from center mass than that. The array of shells adds weight well forward of the ideal, between the hands, balance point. This changes the overall balance of the gun, shifting it forward and making the gun muzzle heavy, which further slows down the swing.
Though a Browning BPS pump gun has a tang safety (the fastest and most natural type of shotgun safety) and bottom ejection, most repeaters have a crossbolt safety in the trigger guard and side ejection. There may be autos out there with tang safeties, but I am not aware of any. To the extent that a tang-safety is desired and side-ejection is distracting, the O/U is superior.
We really cannot get away from the clean lines of a double-barrel; appearance is the reason we choose many things. With no cocking handle jutting out, no open slots in the receiver, no fore-arm nuts and nice receiver panels for engraving, O/U shotguns offer appearance and stylistic appeal that repeaters simply cannot approach. External loading gates and cocking handles are rarely visually arresting, much less appealing. While clean lines may not always translate to more birds, it can. Most people would rather have a good looking gun than one with slots and other gaps in the receiver, not to mention a repeaters aesthetically lacking buttons and cocking handles. Additionally, of course, the forend of an O/U fits the action and does not rattle like the forend of a pump gun.
There are at least three sides to every coin. It is good to consider all of them when interlacing a shotgun with your personal needs and desires.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.