SxS Renaissance, by Dave McCracken
Looking over some online gun forums, I note that there's interest in the old side by sides. In my opinion, not a bad thing.
Many SxS shotguns feel alive in the hands, responsive as a finger pointed at a bird. The design lends itself to hunting, a decent SxS can gyre and gymbal like a cutting horse, reading the line of a dove's flight as if telepathic. Partly, this is due to the fact that with no long receiver like a repeater,a break action shotgun is several inches shorter, barrel length equal. More weight between the hands.
And few firearms have the esthetics of a SxS. A British style game gun with a straight grip has the fine lines of Shaker furniture.
Some of us, as we age, find two shots for upland stuff enough, and a SxS can bring back some memories of hunting with folks who used them to good effect.
A cousin has my Grandfather's LC Smith, and would sooner give up his firstborn.
The market is responding. Conneticut Shotgun Manufacturing makes new copies of the old AH Fox, Winchester's famous Model 21, a new Round Body SxS similar to the Dickson from England, and is now producing a very limited number of Parker 28 gauge AAHE grade shotguns for Remington, the owner of the Parker marque.
Those last have a MSRP of $49K. Maybe next year.....
While the new shotguns get drooled on, many of us in the real world will have to make do with the older shotguns.
Here's a rough guide....
First, the better American SxS's include Remington, Winchester, Ithaca, Fox, Parker,Lefever, Baker and LC Smith. Bringing up the rear are Stevens, Savage and Iver Johnson.
Other makers, like Crescent, Folsom, and a host of others, made shotguns of questionable materials and design that sold for a few dollars new and wore out quickly. For even less money new were Belgian made shotguns often marked with ripoff monikers like Barker, Purdy, ad nauseam. Now, these may be best regarded as shotgun shaped decorations.
Prices on the old masterpieces, even the utility grade Parker Trojans, Fox Sterlingworths and Ithaca LeFevers are going high as heck. Still, there's a few bargains still out there, oft found in 16 gauge.
A few things to look for, and look out for....
Know the model. Knowing that a model that came only with a case hardened receiver can help when confronted with a "bargain" example with a blued receiver. Knowing also what shell the thing was made for can save mucho dinero. Some older guns have chambers for 2 1/2, 2 5/8, or 2 9/16" shells. Along with this came tight chokes, often too tight for modern ammo. Easily rectified.
Avoid Twist and Damascus barrels.
On most models the opening lever moves clockwise as it wears. One still a little right of 6 o'clock shows less wear than one straight and parallel to the stock. This is fixable but not cheaply.
Bring a tape measure along. Barrels are often cropped, wiich removes choke and reduces collector value. An odd length is cause for suspicion. Also note muzzle condition. Check for saw marks, cuts off 90 degrees, and dings.
American barrels are usually measured in inches, Continental Shotguns in Metrics, English in either.
Next look over the barrels for dings, BULGES, and general condition. Remove the barrels and perform a Ring Test.
Separate the barrel from the receiver and forearm, hang them off a finger by the lug. Tap with your finger or a pencil.The sound should be clear and bright.
Thuds, a dead sound or a buzz mean "Pass this one up". Barrels can be resoldered but it's quite expensive.
Check the condition of the bores. MOST old makers took a lot of pains to polish their bores mirror bright. Watch for concentric rings as you look down the bore.
A Caveat. Some unscrupled $%^&*s will clean up a nasty bore by using a brake cylinder hone on an electric drill to remove pits and rust. They pay no attention to things like acceptable barrel thickness. A perfect, shiny bore may be a victim of one of these scum.
Check the triggers. Use dummy rounds, or snap caps to check sear engagement. The letoff should be around 4 lbs.
With the safety on, pull both triggers. Let off the triggers and see if the sears let go when the safety is taken off. Also thump the butt and see if that does it.
Put the barrels on the action without the forend. Try twisting the barrels and see if they move in the frame. Replace the forend,place one layer of clear tape on the breech face. Close the shotgun up and see if there's space enough for the action to still lock up. Hold the closed shotgun up to the light so you can see if light leaks through.
Look for oil stains on the head of the stock and through the wrist. See if the wood's surface is above that of the metal or below. Often, below indicates a refinish.
Check the stock dimensions. Old shooting styles often needed more drop than we do now.
Check the butt. Oft abuse or neglect shows up here, as in cracked or missing butt plates, dings, etc.
Check the checkering. Worn checkering can be freshened, but like all of this, it costs.
When buying it's best to agree on an inspection period. Use this to get your prize to a competent smith for a going over.
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.