If an average shotgunner were asked to conjure up in his mind’s eye a scene depicting an upland hunter, no doubt that hunter would be armed with either a side-by-side or an over/under shotgun. For the past half-century or so, we have been conditioned to think that an upland gunner should be armed with a two-barreled gun. Repeaters are permissible in the wetlands when shooting waterfowl, but for upland game, double guns are what we believe are best suited. But despite all the articles and advertising about double guns, if an accurate survey were conducted, the results would show that more upland game is shot with repeaters than with doubles.
It used to be that the vast majority of repeaters found in the field were pump guns. However, in the last couple of decades, the autoloader has gained considerably on the pump gun in popularity. Today it is possible to find an autoloader that is priced a few bucks less than some of the pump guns. Although the most popular and best-selling shotgun in North America is still the pump gun, the autoloader is not far behind, certainly ahead of the over-under and the side-by-side.
Interestingly, shortly after the introduction of the first successful autoloading shotguns in America, the Belgian Browning and the similar Remington Model 11, the autoloader outsold all other shotguns six to one in the northeast and about four to one in the rest of the country. However, with the appearance of increasing number of less-expensive pump guns, the pump gained on the autoloader, while the double continued to slide.
There is no denying that a good double gun is truly a delight in the field. In the uplands where hunters log more miles than shots, a light, fast handling shotgun is what is needed. A quality side-by-side or an over/under, especially one that is made in the smaller gauges, tends to be light, fast-handling, and easy to carry. But please note that the key is a quality double, which translates to more money! A cheap, poorly constructed double gun is just that: a cheap, poorly constructed gun. It is far better to get a quality autoloader than to settle for a cheap double. But “just any autoloader” will not necessarily be a better choice. Most autoloaders, especially those made in this country, are better suited for ducks than upland gunning.
A typical 12-gauge 7-1/2-pound muzzle-heavy autoloader does not make for an ideal upland gun. Probably more upland game has been shot in the last 40 years in America with a 12-gauge Remington Model 1100 than with any other autoloader. Prior to that, it was the Browning A-5 and Remington 11 and 11-48. However, they were used in the uplands more often than not, because they were the only shotguns available to the hunter, not because the gun was selected specifically for upland gunning. If any of these guns was selected for upland gunning, it was usually chambered in one of the smaller bore sizes.
Ideally, for upland gunning an autoloader (or any other gun for that matter!) should be fairly light and have a balance that tends to be light up front. The arbitrary weight limit should be no more than 7-1/4 pounds, preferably closer to 7 or under, regardless of gauge. This eliminates some autoloaders, but at the same time, still provides adequate choice to upland hunters. Among modern gas operated autoloaders, the Beretta comes to mind in its various models. Going back to the earlier Models 302 and 303 to current models, Berettas always tend to be light, averaging around 7 pounds with a 26-inch barrel in 12 gauge. They are not exactly barrel light, but they are light overall and handle very well in the uplands. The latest Beretta, A400 XPLOR, is about as light a 12 gauge autoloader you will find today. It is listed at 6.6 pounds!