Double the barrels,
double the fun

Facing birds or bad guys, it’s still impressive

Side-by-side, alley sweeper, street artillery, guard gun, coach gun, scattergun or simply “double” are some of the monikers the double barrel shotgun has gone by.

The side-by-side has been romanticized in countless western movies and TV shows. In the movie Tombstone the double was featured in several scenes including the shootout between the Earp and Clanton factions.

Try to find a scene with a stagecoach where the driver was not accompanied by a man with a shotgun. This is where the nickname coach gun came from. It is also where the terms “riding shotgun” or “I call shotgun” originated.

In coach gun format, the guns usually employ 20″ but are still shorter (and handier) than a shotgun with an 18″ because of the longer receivers on pumps and semi-autos.

Pushing the top lever to the left will allow the gun to break open for loading and unloading.


There are two types: exposed hammers and internal hammers, though they share some similarities. Both are break-open types and are opened by pushing a top lever to the left. The versions with exposed hammers are obviously safe when the hammers are not cocked. The internal hammer models have a manual sliding safety behind the top lever and cock automatically when the action is closed.

With the internal hammer guns, for safety many hunters will break the gun open and carry it in the crook of the support side arm in case the safety is inadvertently pushed off. It is also a comfortable way to carry afield.

Unlike any other type of shotgun double barrels don’t have ejectors, only extractors.

As one would surmise, on doubles with two triggers the left trigger fires the left barrel and the right trigger fires the right. On doubles with a single trigger there is usually a selector for which barrel is fired first.

A simple bead sight between the barrels will suffice for most purposes.

Logically, the left trigger fires the left barrel and the right trigger fires the right barrel.

At Work — Or Play

In Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) action events the internal hammer versions are preferred by competitors because it takes less time off the clock than cocking the hammers manually before firing. It’s simply a matter of sliding the safety forward as the gun is brought to bear on target.

Double barrels — in both shotguns and rifles — are regulated to shoot to the same point of aim out to a certain distance. For shotguns the patterns start to diverge around 40 yards. Since this is beyond the practical range of shot shells — with a few notable exclusions — the subject of regulation is almost irrelevant.

Except for a few very accomplished shooters, a double barrel is faster to fire the first two shots. In a gun with two triggers both barrels can be touched off together.

Legend has it when Wyatt Earp encountered Curly Bill Brocius at Mescal Springs, he fired both barrels from his 10-gauge shotgun, almost cutting Brocius in half.

Relying on a physiological factor to deter an attack is folly, but seen from
the business end of a double barrel, the cavernous twin muzzles does
give reason for pause!


Performing an emergency reload with a slide-action or semi-auto with a single shell is fast — simply drop a shell in the open ejection port and close the action. In the same amount of time the side-by-side can be loaded with two rounds.

For the shooter who knows how to run a double barrel, maintaining a continuity of fire may not be as hard as it seems at first blush.

One technique for unloading/loading the double is to open the action and then quickly and forcefully jerking the gun to the rear. Holding the forearm with the support hand, obtain two shells, insert them in the chamber, close the action and find work.

If I were to compete in a CAS match, I would choose a double with internal hammers for the reasons described above. My personal taste, possibly only for nostalgic reasons, is for a double barrel with exposed hammers.

The gun shown was imported by Intrac Arms and belongs to my son Flint. It has seen hard use and taken countless dove and quail, and served to protect hearth and home. I appreciate the fact it came with sling swivels installed as I subscribe to the line of thought — a sling to a long gun is as a holster is to a handgun.

In the defensive role and stoked with standard nine-pellet 00-buckshot loads, both barrels will place the 18 pellets in a 10″ circle from 30 feet. I consider this a realistic distance for self-defense.

No, the double barrel shotgun is far from obsolete. As with any firearm, technique matters more than anything. Get your grandpa’s old double barrel out of the closet and double your fun.

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