Why the O/U and SxS Shotgun Market is a Mess

By Randy Wakeman

Citori Lightning Grade I
The illustrious Browning Citori Grade I shotgun. Photo courtesy of Browning Arms.

For many years, the American O/U shotgun market has been dominated by Browning and Beretta. Certainly, there have been good quality, affordable doubles that have appeared over the years, but most have eventually done belly-up or lost their American distribution.

The older Olin-Winchester 101, offered as a less-costly alternative to the Browning Citori, was popular for a time. Due to mismanagement, the Olin-Kodensha plant was eventually abandoned. The long discontinued Browning BSS side-by-side is still lamented, as is the Winchester Model 23 SxS. Charles Daly O/U shotguns have come and gone. SKB, imported by Ithaca and Weatherby, offered solid SxS and O/U lines for some time, but the SKB firearms plant is no more. A few years ago, Remington marketed a fine Italian made O/U that quickly disappeared from their line.

The F.A.I.R. guns, known as the Verona and then the Savage Milano, failed to last. Recently, the only mainstream American O/U, the Ruger Red Label, was retooled and relaunched. Embarrassingly, that adventure is now over. It is not easy to built good quality O/U models, much less SxS shotguns, cheaply. Ruger just spent a lot of money demonstrating this. It is even less easy to offer excellent customer service and support for them over time.

SigArms tried their O/U line twice and failed. Smith & Wesson attempted their line of Turkish "heirloom quality guns" and promptly failed. Marlin has tried to relaunch the L.C. Smith brand, at least twice, and failed. Benelli, a brand with zero experience with O/U shotguns, has just released and touted their overpriced alloy 828U. It is an extremely poor attempt at an O/U that is riddled with hyperbole about safety and strength, yet actually backed by little more than false claims. Severely overpriced, the 828U exemplifies truly horrible ergonomics and aesthetics.

The double gun market continues to suffer from an onslaught of dubious Turkish imports. Turkey has no proof house, comports to neither C.I.P. or SAAMI standards, and there are reported to be something like sixty shotgun manufacturers in Turkey.

Just about any level of product is possible from a situation like that and that is exactly what has happened. There have been all kinds of Turkish O/U models introduced by American names, such as S&W, Savage and Mossberg; models that have abruptly vanished from the marketplace, or been replaced by new models from different Turkish makers. You can expect this to continue, for on January 29, 2015, the Turkish lira slumped to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar and has also lost ground against the sliding euro.

This has taken potential new buyers out of the double gun marketplace. Once you buy a new shotgun, you probably are not looking to buy another one the following week. As a result, Browning and Beretta have not been able to do nearly the numbers they would like. Nor have they been able to make much money on their current lines. The consumer is not completely dumb, for all anyone has to do is look at the very successful Beretta 680 series, a current model like the 686 Silver Pigeon. It is a simple design, as well-proven as it gets, and you can buy a new one for less than $2000.

To be sure, Beretta makes more upscale models. A current Beretta 692 Sporting runs about $4000. The very nice 486 SxS goes for $5000 or so. You do not have to be a really quick study to ask where the extra $2000 in a 692 is, as compared to a 686?

There is no easy answer, particularly for the casual hunter and shooter who already might be enticed by the low-grade Turkish imports and feels that the $2000 is already a goodly sum. The skimpy one year warranty from Beretta and their notorious reputation for customer disservice does not help matters.

Beretta would surely like to jack the price on their 686 models, but they cannot. In addition, Beretta Group often competes against itself, in the form of a Bettinsoli shotgun packaged and sold as a Franchi and the tragic Benelli 828U (MSRP $2500 - $3000) that apparently is seeking fresh O/U dollars, as well.

Browning is just as powerful a brand as Beretta. Browning/Winchester has three distinct lines of O/U models: the Citori, the Cynergy and the Belgian Winchester 101 that was formerly marketed as the Winchester Select.

On the upscale end, the Beretta DT11 sells for $8600 - $13,000 depending on configuration. Browning offers high grade Citoris and, through their custom shop, the famous Superposed. Merkel offers very good lines of O/U and SxS shotguns. Specialty manufacturers, such as Grulla, offer fine SxS shotguns in the DT11 price class (and higher), some of which have been reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online.

I had a nice visit with Kim Rhode at the range in Las Vegas. she loves her DT11. The gun is factory, the stock is custom. According to Kim, she already has 500,000 rounds through her DT11. If you are shooting 500 to 1000 rounds every day, as Kim is, the price of the gun is without much meaning, compared to ammo, range fees, travel costs and so forth.

For most folks, though, a few thousand dollars does have meaning and that is why the Caesar Guerini Invictus has widespread appeal. I think it also explains why a Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting, at about $3500 with a lifetime warranty, is an easier, more confident purchase than many other vertical doubles with skimpy warranties, skimpy or non-existent customer service, or both.

In the future, we can expect more of the same. Weatherby has introduced the Orion O/U, this time by way of Turkey. Beretta themselves continues to bring over Stoeger models, from the Beretta-owned plant in Turkey and also from Brazil. E.R. Amantino in Brazil makes the Stoeger Condor O/U.

In the increasingly competitive atmosphere, it is not uncommon for a shotgun to be partially or primarily manufactured in Turkey, then run through the Gardone Val Trompia proof house to be sold as an Italian shotgun. For a time, the supposedly made in USA Beretta 3901 autoloader was supplied with Turkish barrels. As the years go by, you learn that things are rarely as they seem.

In the future, Browning seems well-positioned in the mainstream O/U market. Caesar Guerini / Fabarm USA has addressed several important subjects ignored by the larger conglomerates: exemplary customer service, warranty, aesthetic value and fast-growing segments like female shooters. As a result, the CG Syren line has been a success. The more happy female shooters, the better for our sport.

It is a confusing marketplace in 2015, to be sure. On the brighter side, shooting the best shotgun you can afford has never been easier, as long as we do our homework.

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Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.