The Parker Reproduction DHE Shotgun

By Chuck Hawks

Parker Reproduction shotguns were the brainchild of Tom Skeuse, owner of Reagent Chemical Co. and an avid Parker shooter and collector. They were manufactured under contract in Japan by Kodensha, a Winchester/Olin subsidiary. Parker Reproductions boxes were marked "Parker Reproduction by Winchester."

The Reproductions were exact clones of the various grades of original Parker shotguns, with all of the original's good and bad points, but made with modern steels and stocked to modern dimensions. No other improvements were incorporated. Parts were interchangeable with original Parkers. Far fewer Parker Reproductions were manufactured than original Parkers and they are suitable for use with modern shells, so their collector's value is assured.

All Parker Reproduction guns were high grades, the lowest of which was D. Grades offered included DHE, BHE, and A1 Special. The gauges and frame sizes listed in the catalog I have were 12 (1 1/2 frame), 20 (0 frame), 28 (00 frame) and .410 (0000 frame). 28/.410 two gauge sets are offered on 28 gauge (00) frames. I believe that a limited number of 16 gauge guns were also built, possibly as 16/20 two gauge sets on 20 gauge (0) frames. Other variations included a 12 gauge Steel Shot Special and a 12 gauge Sporting Clays Classic. The latter came with interchangable choke tubes. Perhaps there were other specials, I am no expert on the subject.

The typical Parker model designations are as follows. The first letter(s) represents the grade (V, G, D, B, AA or whatever). The letter "H" means hammerless; Parker manufactured hammer doubles for many years and came relatively late to hammerless guns. The last letter, an "E" if present, means that the gun is equipped with automatic ejectors. Thus a gun with only a grade designation such as "D" would be a D grade hammer gun with extractors only. A gun marked "DH" would be a hammerless D grade gun with plain extractors. And a gun marked "DHE" would be a D grade hammerless gun with selective ejectors. Parker Reproductions faithfully followed the Parker model designations.

The Parker Reproduction shotgun was a very nice gun. It hit a responsive chord with American shooters and was commercially successful. In fact, the line was being expanded when the crushing blow fell: the Japanese manufacturer had landed a big auto parts contract and was terminating their gun making operation. They were retooling and would build no more Parker Reproduction shotguns. Overnight the dream ended. All that was left to do was sell off the remaining stock of guns, mostly DHE's and a few A1 Specials, and provide a warrantee/repair service for the existing guns.

I purchased the new DHE grade gun that is the subject of this review at that time. I wanted a 20 gauge gun with a straight hand stock and 28" barrels, but that combination was no longer available. The choices were 28" barrels with a pistol grip stock or 26" barrels with a straight stock. I went for 28" barrels over the straight grip. I am generally not particular about single as opposed to double triggers (either was available on Parker Reproductions). The gun I received came with a single selective trigger, which proved to be a mistake. If you are a shooter, my advice is to accept only double triggers on any Parker gun.

Among the DHE's best features were its comfortable feel in the hand, nice wood, well executed engraving, good balance, and overall fine workmanship. A DHE is a handsome gun, whether made in Japan or the U.S.A.

All Parker guns are balanced before they leave the factory. Any alteration of the length of the barrels or stock, even adding a recoil pad, will alter this balance and degrade the handling of the gun. Perfect balance is just one of the nice touches that make a Parker a Parker.

Unlike many other shotgun manufacturers, Parker Bros. manufactured frames correctly sized to every gauge, from .410 to 10 gauge. A 20 gauge gun, for example, is built on a special 20 gauge frame, not a frame shared with 16 or 28 gauge guns. This is one of the reasons for Parker's reputation as one of America's best guns. And it is one of the features I most appreciate about Parker (and Parker Reproduction) guns.

The Parker action is a complicated one. It is difficult to clean, adjust, or repair and only journeyman gunsmiths intimately familiar with the Parker action should be entrusted with one. Owners absolutely should not attempt to disassemble their guns themselves. I am certain that the legend of "Old Reliable" is based more on the Parker hammerless double's workmanship than on its design. The other classic American hammerless doubles, including the Winchester Model 21, Lefever Arms Hammerless, A.H. Fox, and Ithaca NID had mechanically simpler and more reliable actions. But the Parker action proved to be good enough, and (of necessity) was generally very carefully assembled.

All of the guns mentioned above used case hardened receivers except the Model 21, which was made of chrome-moly steel. Incidentally, this is why the receiver of the Model 21 is blued rather than color case hardened; it is already hard all the way through!

Fluid steel barrels for all of the famous American doubles, except the Model 21, were produced and assembled in essentially the same way, regardless of the exotic (and phony) names given to the steel used in various grades. They use a through-lump, to which the barrels are brazed. This results in a weaker and wider breech than the English chopper lump system. The Model 21 uses dovetailed chopper-lump barrels of chrome-moly steel that were far superior in terms of material and construction to any of the other American doubles.

My DHE's worst feature was its extremely complex and difficult to adjust single trigger. As shipped this trigger doubled about once in every ten shots. I found that many wise custom gunsmiths would not touch a Parker single trigger. After the gun was returned for factory adjustment it functioned correctly, but in the process I discovered that the Parker single trigger was not even close in design or reliability to the Browning, SKB and Winchester 21 triggers to which I was accustomed. Also, the selector button used the slot in the trigger plate intended for the second trigger of a double trigger gun. This was a most inconvenient location, and always seemed like a make-shift set-up to me, but that is the way Parker did it.

Another irritation was the slight spring-back after the barrels were opened. The barrels would open fully and eject the fired shells, but would then "spring back" to a slightly less than fully open position, making it hard to insert fresh shells. I can only guess that this had to do with either the ejector design or the unusual cocking system (probably the latter). I was assured by other Parker owners that this was typical and that one got used to it. I did, but I never appreciated this quirk. I would gladly trade the auto ejectors for plain extractors if that would eliminate the spring back.

The original barrels were bored Modified and Full. When patterned, both barrels patterned pretty tight, and the left barrel shot a little low, so I had the chokes opened up to I.C./Mod. at the factory repair center while they were fixing the single trigger. Actually, they couldn't get the gun to pattern correctly after they bored-out the chokes, and wound up replacing the barrels with a new 28" set bored I.C./Mod., which made this particular gun unique. It also made both barrels shoot to point of aim.

Here are some basic specifications for the Parker Reproduction DHE shotgun reviewed in this article:

    Action: Side by Side hammerless boxlock double with a single under bolt and doll's head top fastener.
    Gauge: 20.
    Metal Finish: color case receiver, rust blued barrels.
    Barrels: 28" struck full length, 3" chambers, hard chromed bores choked Improved Cylinder and Modified, solid rib.
    Stock: Hand carved and checkered Claro walnut, pistol grip buttstock, splinter forend, checkered butt with skeleton steel butt plate. Drop at comb1 3/8", drop at heel 2 3/16", length of pull 14 3/8".
    Features: Single selective trigger, selective ejectors, automatic safety, approximately 75% coverage engraving. Fitted leather trunk case with canvas and leather slip cover and engraved snap caps included.
    Weight: 6 1/2 pounds.
    Length: 44 5/8".
    Type: Field gun.

After the gun's teething troubles were cured it was a fun gun to shoot. It was well suited for field use or for a casual round of 5-stand sporting clays. The replacement barrels patterned as they were marked with the 7/8 ounce target loads of #8 shot that I habitually used. I shot my DHE quite a bit, and it often drew envious comments from other shooters.

My experiences with the Parker Reproduction gun, as well as the original DHE Parkers that I have seen, left me convinced that "Old Reliable" was a nice gun in many ways, but over-rated. The Lefever Arms and D.M. Lefever guns were fundamentally better designed guns and every bit as well made as the old Parker guns. The new A.H. Fox guns made by Connecticut Arms are outstanding in every way and compare very favorably to Parker Reproductions of similar grade. The Winchester Model 21 is fundamentally a higher quality and better designed double than any Parker.

The Parker gun has become an American icon, the most widely collected of all American doubles, and no one seems to be willing to mention its drawbacks. This may be because collectors have written most of the books about Parker guns and they are primarily interested in the craftsmanship, grade, finish, and decoration of guns rather than their design and function. In fact, they never shoot and seldom even open their valuable guns. To quote from Larry Baer in his book The Parker Gun, "the serious Parker collector now realizes that the choice Parker is to be treasured, not fired."

All guns have drawbacks, there is no perfect gun The fact that I have had the temerity to address some of the Parker gun's foibles in this article should not detract from the fact that the Parker Reproduction was a fine gun. I sold mine to cover the cost of a Charles Boswell "London Best" shotgun that I had acquired, which is by almost any standard a superior gun, so I do not regret my decision. But I did not sell my DHE because I didn't like it. Indeed, my biggest regret is that I did not buy an A1 Special at closeout prices when I had the chance!

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Copyright 2004, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.