Singular Simplicity: the H&R Pardner Shotgun

By Mark Wynn

H&R Pardner Shotgun
Illustration of Pardner shotgun courtesy of H&R 1871, Inc.

Respect must be paid to singular simplicity, even when it is fundamentally a long piece of pipe and a trigger mechanism on two pieces of wood. In every era, frugal or frivolous, what firearm is more cost-effective than the cheap, no frills, single shot shotgun?

Take, for example, the 12-gauge break-open Harrington & Richardson aptly named Pardner. Only 43 inches long with a 28-inch barrel, the Pardner is the same length as some 20-gauge pump and semi-auto upland guns with barrels six inches shorter. At a mere 5 pounds 11 ounces, the Pardner weighs more than a pound less. I found mine on a gun store clearance rack for $124.

In April 2008, Remington, which now owns H&R, NEF and several other gun companies, announced plans to close the H&R manufacturing plant in Gardner, Mass. by the end of 2008 and consolidate production elsewhere. The announcement said, “This integration will be seamless and will not affect our customers or our product offerings.” The Pardner SB1-010 remains in the H&R 2009 on-line catalog, as usual without MSRP.

The plain, blued barrel is basic round without a rib. The lightweight stock and forend (walnut finished hardwood) evoke memories of orange crate, but feel hard enough. Length of pull is 14 inches, but count on adding a supplemental recoil pad, such as a slip-on Limbsaver. Trigger pull is about 5 pounds 5 ounces.

The three chokes that come with most shotguns cost almost as much as the entire Pardner 12-gauge with its fixed choke (Full or Modified are the choices) barrel. The full choke muzzle measures about .696". Sure, you can get single-shot shotguns in other gauges, but with a 12-gauge this light and responsive, why would you?

The nimble fore-end rides like a little canoe on your palm. No double barrel or bulky tubed autoloading or pump mechanism tilts you forward. Your arm thanks you for giving it nothing to do but balance the gun, instead of lifting it like a barbell. The Pardner snuggles to your shoulder like a perfect date: Call Me meets Top Gun. The tool naturally follows your manly squint. Happily anticipate the next shot instead of second-guessing the choke constriction.

However, you cannot look down the barrel until cocking the external hammer, as it sticks up like a warning finger. With no half-cock notch, you might think it is a hammer of Thor with no safety. However, the Pardner needs no half cock, because it has a built-in transfer bar mechanism. As the concise manual clearly explains:

"When the hammer is in the fully forward (un-cocked) position and the trigger is fully forward, there is no contact between the hammer and the firing pin. This is the normal carrying position.

When the hammer is manually pulled back fully into the cocked position, the transfer bar moves upward to form a bridge between the hammer and the firing pin. When the trigger is pulled the hammer falls, striking the transfer bar, transferring the hammer blow to the firing pin. As soon as the trigger is released, the transfer bar is pulled down, creating a void between the hammer and the firing pin.”

Later, the manual warns, “This firearm should never be dry fired, as damage could occur to the barrel and/or the firing pin.” This is a good reminder to always double check the manual on every gun you own because dry firing rules can vary widely. Especially with the transfer bar safety, you will be hard pressed to name one gun anywhere more intuitive. Load it, cock it, and pull the trigger. Your Granny can operate it and maybe has.

Loading is basic instinct break-open. Press the lever on the right by the hammer and the barrel opens. Slip-in a 12-gauge shell, 3 inches or shorter, any type you want. Gently close the barrel. Gently is key, break-opens are most easily damaged by slamming the barrel closed. Fired or unfired shells are automatically ejected when the action is opened.

Having only one shot is a real attention getter. Although you might be able to reload faster than most people expect, many shooting ranges will not allow anything that remotely resembles fancy handling. Fortunately, with a well-placed shot, there is no need to rush reloading. For typical wing or clay shooting, send an ounce of No. 8 birdshot from the muzzle at 1200 feet per second. For home defense, switch to No. 1 buckshot. If you can't hit something with these kinds of loads, it is not likely you would score with anything else.

Fewer features are offset by fewer concerns. No need to fret about what choke tube to use. No need to ponder whether the safety is tang or trigger, forward or back, this side or that side. No need to worry how the shell is loaded or if it will boink the guy at the next station.

Single shot break-opens in lighter gauges than 12 can fool you. Usually preferring lighter guns, I liked my H&R 12 so much I bought an H&R Pardner 20 gauge. Big disappointment. The fixed Modified choke on the 20 gauge 26-inch barrel was not as impressive as the fixed Full choke on the 12 gauge 28-inch barrel, and the 20 gauge weighed a full pound more than the 12 gauge! That can make you appreciate variations in wood density as well as metal specifications in different production runs.

The immortal break-open, single barrel shotgun knocks down targets like kin costing ten to a hundred times more money. Lean your Pardner in a corner, hang it over the door, follow it in a field, romp with it on a Trap range, this is the cheap date who is always there for you, the Beverly Hillbilly who owns the country club.

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Copyright 2009, 2016 by Mark Wynn and/or All rights reserved.