Federal statute tortuously defines a shotgun as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder, and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.”
Oh. As with pornography, though, every shooter knows what a shotgun is when he sees it, based on its most distinguishing feature, its large, thin-walled, unrifled barrel.
So which is the shotgun of choice?
If we start with the double gun, we find that the days of the moderately priced, new in the box, American side-by-side (SxS) have long waned. A few years ago, Sturm & Ruger tried to bring out a SxS but ultimately had to abandon the project.
I believe the only easily affordable American-brand SxSs–and probably the only current American SxSs, period–are the Stoeger Uplander, which can be picked up for under $500, and the Mossberg International Silver Reserve II, around $1,000. Beyond that, continental-made SxSs, not to mention English best guns, generally start at mid-four-figure prices, and those for mere boxlocks; move to sidelocks and you will move the decimal point at least one-place to the right.
Wood and engraving certainly contribute to the high cost of good shotguns, but there really isn’t a cheap way of making a truly decent SxS. Besides the expense of building locks and ejectors, one of the major factors that goes into the price of a SxS is regulating the barrels to shoot to the same place.
A quick comparison of the boxlock to the sidelock, by the way, shows that as the names imply, the locks, or firing mechanisms, are on the sides or in the action body itself.
Sidelocks are the Swiss watches of locks, their parts in best guns often hand polished to ridiculous degrees. Boxlocks rarely receive such lavish attention and yet perform admirably, although the sidelock is easier to detach for cleaning and repairing.
Over-and-unders (O/Us) can start at between $600 to a $1,000; and Stoeger and Mossberg are, again, the places to look for American brands in this easily affordable price range. Beyond that, prices for good-quality O/Us rise rather gradually.
Competitive target shooters use O/Us exclusively, except for those who wish to be intentionally eccentric. And unlike SxSs, a pistol grip on an O/U is not, necessarily, an unspeakable practice, as it tends to control the muzzle jump in comparison to the SxS.