O/U Or SxS Double Rifles?

There is a twisting motion at recoil with a SxS that is lacking in an O/U, which recoils straight back.

Who says a double rifle for dangerous game has to be a side-by-side?

While meandering the aisles at the recent SCI Convention, I stumbled into the Antonio Zoli exhibit booth where I got to handle a really sweet double rifle chambered in .450/400-3”. It was Zoli’s Express Safari model and it felt amazingly good in my hands — compact, perfectly balanced, and lighter than it really was.

Now, I’m sure that everyone reading this immediately assumes I’m talking about a side-by-side, and that’s what prompted this column. Why is it that when talking about double rifles, particularly the dangerous game variety, one assumes the side-by-side barrel orientation when there are far, far more over/under rifles being made? And yes, that Zoli Express rifle I spoke of was an O/U. In fact, Zoli, as one of Italy’s largest firearms manufacturers, offers a wide assortment of twin-barreled rifles and shotguns…and not one of them is a SxS. As an aside, Zoli also produces drillings and bolt-action rifles.

The gape on this double rifle (above) is less than that of an O/U (below), but only 25% less. Does that really translate into faster reloading?

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more interested I became in the whole O/U vs. SxS thing and decided to get some input from knowledgeable people. I certainly had my own opinions, though, even if I never owned either. For one, I’ve always bought into the idea that aiming over a single barrel, as is the case with an O/U, is more natural for someone like over-under-double-rifle-101912me who is primarily a rifleman. That being the case, I just naturally gravitated to an over/under shotgun for what little bird and waterfowl shooting I do. I found that looking over twin barrels was distracting for me. I’ll grant you that had I used a SxS shotgun more than I had, maybe I wouldn’t feel that way. And I’ll bet that the relatively small number of those who actually hunt with a double rifle here in the States (hereafter assume by “double” I mean a SxS), shoot an O/U shotgun.

I was also familiar with the consensus that says because an O/U has more gape than a SxS, it was less desirable as a dangerous game rifle. In other words, the action of an O/U must break to a more acute angle when opened to clear the bottom barrel for extraction/ejection and reloading. I suppose one could make a case that the extra hundredth of a second it takes to break open an over/under versus a double is worth considering in a dangerous game situation, but you can’t convince me that in the real world — even with a charging buff or jumbo — that it could mean the difference between life and death. Besides, if after expending your two rounds, more are needed, that’s when your PH enters the picture. While he’s getting off additional rounds, there’s plenty of time to reload, even if you have to break that O/U to a greater degree of arc than a SxS.

The Zoli Express Standard (top) chambered in 9.3x74R is a beautifully balanced rifle that is very popular with European hunters who overwhelmingly prefer O/Us for driven hunts. Bottom gun is the .450-400.

Lastly, there’s the argument that there’s something inherent in the mechanics of an O/U that makes perfect, mirror image symmetry of components impossible. I’m talking having two absolutely identical and independent rifles in one in the case of a double, but not so with an over/under. For some reason I always intuitively assumed that that assumption was correct. And if that were not the case, what would be the disadvantage(s), if any?

Thus was my state of mind when I returned home from the convention, having gotten a wealth of perspective and opinion from Zoli himself, as well as Steven Lamboy, the President of Zoli North America, both of whom are extremely knowledgeable about both gun types. For additional input, I contacted two of my good friends and colleagues — guys with whom SCI members are very familiar — Craig Boddington and Terry Wieland, both of whom have forgotten more about this stuff than I’ll ever know. I posed the same questions to both of them, which essentially was: “Why is the side-by-side generally considered to the only ‘proper’ barrel orientation for a dangerous game rifle, and is there any reason or rationale you know of that makes the SxS rifle any better suited as a DGR than an O/U?”

Most shooters find that aiming over a single barrel is more natural than sighting down twin barrels with a rib in between. Some contend that longer shots are more plausible with an O/U than a SxS.

The first issue Terry Wieland addressed was that of gape. “A SxS does not need to open as far in order to eject and reload,” he says. “You need a substantial gape to eject cartridges from an O/U, and to get fresh ones in. This is no small consideration.”

He’s right, of course, but just how much of a difference are we talking? Consider: the average gape of a double rifle is about 32 degrees. The gape on a typical O/U is about 42 degrees; that’s a difference of only 10 degrees, or roughly 25 percent more movement. The underlying idea here is that, theoretically, you should be able to reload a side-by fractionally faster.

As to Boddington’s comments about the shorter opening arc: “That might have made a slight difference when guys were wading into elephant herds and taking as many as possible in one session, but I don’t think it has much validity today.”

As for the notion that sighting down a single barrel is more natural, especially if you’re more of a rifleman than a shotgun guy, there were varying opinions. “Hogwash,” says Wieland. “I don’t buy it on a SxS shotgun, and most certainly not on a rifle. A rifle has sights and you line them up. You don’t pay any attention to the barrels. If the animal is in close and it’s a matter of instinct shooting, you look at the animal and hope the rifle points as naturally as shotgun — which it is more likely to do if it’s a side-by-side.”

Boddington, on the other hand, disagrees. “For most guys,” he says, I totally agree that sighting down a single plane is more familiar!”

Steven Lamboy also disagrees with Wieland.  “Try shooting a SxS at 200 yards — it’s impossible.  The O/U can be fired accurately at any distance with the lower barrel. Have a wounded buffalo at 200 yards? You’d better have an O/U.”

Zoli Express Safari rifles are regulated with Hornady ammunition.

Regarding the SxS’s total symmetry of components, Wieland says: “Logically, a side-by-side, either sidelock or boxlock, is a simpler configuration. You want double triggers, you have a barrel, a lock, and a trigger on one side, you have another of each on the other. With an O/U you are trying to marry some vertical components to some horizontal, which complicates things.”

Further expanding on the reliability question, Wieland says: “The strikers on an over/under hit the primer at an angle, rather than straight on. This reduced dependability in the early years (emphasis mine). But then he goes on to say that, “It took Boss and Woodward considerable effort to overcome that problem. The Boss O/U was introduced in 1909, and the Woodward in 1913. I have modern over/under shotguns which occasionally misfire for that reason.”

Merkel is another prestigious manufacturer of O/U rifles in a wide assortment of calibers for small to dangerous game.

But Lamboy disagrees, saying “25 million O/U shotguns later this problem is more an issue with SxS guns than O/Us. We have our guns shooting over 100,000 rounds without a failure. Also, our firing pin is in a full-length bushing and it can fire even if broken.” He goes on to say, “…only a relative handful of double rifles are produced each year compared to thousands of O/Us. There’s a reason for this. Most over/under rifles have fewer parts than doubles, or at least no more.”

When it comes to handling properties, both Boddington and Wieland prefer the double, but Boddington qualifies that by stating: “For me, a side-by-side handles better…but I started shooting them (shotguns) when I was 15, so that configuration is very natural and very familiar.”

Wieland was less magnanimous in his evaluation: “A side-by-side in any gauge or caliber is handier than a comparable over/under, which typically feel like a railroad tie.”

Lamboy strongly disagrees. “Handier? Not true. Our O/U double rifle is perfectly balanced at the hinge pin, and has the feel of an 8-pound gun, although it weighs 10. Also, O/U rifles do not suffer from the radical upward twisting recoil that side-bys do. An O/U recoils straight back in comparison, which allows the shooter to get back on target faster for the second shot. If there’s any validity to the gape issue, it’s negated by this fact.”

double-rifle-2-101912For my own two cents, when it comes to balance and handling, I think it depends on the individual gun, for I see nothing inherent that would make one barrel orientation superior to the other with regard to balance.  In other words, a nicely balanced double would feel the same if it were an O/U — assuming all other things equal. In fact, I think the narrower forend of the O/U is more anatomically suited to the human hand and affords better control than the wide and shallow forend of a side-by-side.

I’ve handled and shot more double rifles than I have O/Us, which together does not amount to a lot, but I’ve encountered many muzzle-heavy doubles, but not so over-unders. But again, it’s more a matter of individual guns, and it’s primarily barrel length that determines balance.

I’ll close by quoting Terry Wieland’s summation. “Except for cheap box lock versions in smaller calibers, I can see absolutely no good reason to make an O/U double rifle.”

Your thoughts?—Jon R. Sundra



Bavarian Summerfest

The SCI Bavaria Chapter held its AGM and Summerfest in Burgberg, near the city of Traunreut in Upper Bavaria at the Hunting and Nature Museum of its member Werner Lettl. The nice weather, good atmosphere and better food and drinks were enjoyed by many members.


During the event, Werner Lettl, left, was officially handed the “SCI Crowning of Achievement Award” and the “Third Echelon” of “The Ullmann Award for European Big Game Trophy Animals,” both of which he achieved as the first German member of SCI. Congratulating him is Norbert Ullmann, Sub-Chair Europe of the SCI Record Book Committee.


SCI Badgerland Chapter Supports Second Harvest

The Badgerland check Patty Gruber presented will provide 300 meals for those in need.

As good “Sportspersons Against Hunger,” Badgerland Chapter had a food drive at its June 2012 Sporting Clays shoot and picnic. Several hundred needy families received the donations. Members also donated cash to “Second Harvest,” a food bank.–Alan Heth


Eyes First, Then The Gun

Shooting single targets is relatively simple in that you know where it is coming from and where it is going. It becomes easy to set up to break them consistently.  Another way to say that is that there are very few, if any, variables in single targets unless you are one of the shooters who insists on mounting the gun and chasing lead.  If you are, hopefully one day you will get out of your own way and realize that the targets will slow down if you learn how to merge the muzzles in front of the target and trust your eye/hand coordination to put the lead in the shot.

“Barrel draggers” and “lead chasers” get so hung-up in “what style is it,” or “what method is it,” or “whatever I do I don’t want to spot shoot it.”  We find that way too much attention is given to style and methods and not enough emphasis is given to application.  Our research indicates that while some “styles” or “methods” do increase or decrease risk for some shooters and not for others, it is not the “style” or “method” one uses that creates consistency.  Last time we checked there were no “style” or “method” points on the scorecard, just hits and misses. Turning the misses into hits has little to do with changes in “style” or “method.”  It does, however, have a lot to do with how many times you have done whatever it is that you do successfully and consistently.  We find that in teaching performance in this game and others, that attrition plays a big role in consistently great performances.

First target is broken.

How consistently you apply the fundamentals you believe in and how many times they have been applied successfully will be the determining factor in your consistency and results in your performance.  The thing that puzzles us is the amount of time and effort that is given to what the barrel is doing and how little emphasis is given to what the eyes

Head is raised to find the second target.

are doing.  We see shooters give great attention to what the muzzle is doing and where it is, but very little attention to what the eyes are focused on and how to optimize what vision we aging shooters have left.  We figure that is why 99 percent of the words used to talk about “method” and “style” talk about what the barrel is doing, not what the eyes are

Second target is acquired and focused on.

focused on or what the target is doing.  Until you realize that success in this game has more to do with what the eyes see and how the brain interprets that information, you will be destined to chasing targets that seem faster than they really are and inconsistency will become your best friend.

Sporting clays is a game of pairs

Gun moves to second target and target is broken.

and there are several principles that we think are essential in being consistent in shooting pairs regardless of difficulty, either on the course or in the field.  The first is “eyes first then the gun.”  Any movement given the gun prior to focus on the target is wasted and increases risk by the cube.  When you move the gun without focusing first on the target, you are giving output without input.  Put another way, you are anticipating the target.  How consistent do you think your best fundamental move on your best target would be if you began your move before you saw the target?  A good example of this would be a football receiver about to catch a pass and a half-a-split-second before the ball arrives, he takes his eyes off the ball to look where he is going to run after he catches it.  Not only did he not catch the ball, but he got hammered by the defender because he stopped reacting to what he saw and began to think.  If you are thinking, you are behind what is happening.  As our friend Sam Brown says, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.”

When shooting pairs, after you have broken the first bird, you must see and focus on the second bird before you move the gun.  What we see is shooters looking for and chasing the second target with their eyes over the gun.  When your eyes are over the gun and there is nothing to focus on, guess what you will be looking at?  Pretty gun isn’t it?  The muzzle is not your friend.  It is this transition that we see that creates the overwhelming majority of misses on the second bird of a pair.  The shooter has a plan and has picked good break points.  The first target is broken in the first break point but rather than taking the head off the stock and looking back to where the second target actually is, the shooter leaves the head on the stock and looks for the target just to the left or right of the barrel.  When that is done, the target typically streaks in the shooter’s field of view and the shooter misreads the speed of the second target. With the gun in the field of view, by the time the shooter is able to focus on the target, it is already past the barrel and the shooter is already behind when the bird is seen.  This is not good.

When you move the gun without focusing first on the target, you are giving output without input. 

We call this “shorting the focal point.”  To be consistent on pairs, you obviously must hit the first target in the correct break point to hit a pair consistently, but to get the second one consistently, more often than not you must take your head off the stock to find and focus on the second target.  To focus on the target properly, you must get your nose on the target.  That is why we teach shooters always to point their noses in the focal point when calling for the target.  When you cut your eyes to see the bird, you see it but it will not be in focus until it gets over your nose.  Whether it is the first target or the second, in order to focus on it you must have your nose pointing at it.  There is an exception to this rule of lifting your head to see the second target and some would call it an advantage. If the first break point is chosen so that the second target is close enough to the first break point that you will not have to lift your head to focus on the second target, then you have minimized the eye movement to the second target.  When you couple this with minimizing the movement of the gun to break the second target, you have found the nirvana of sporting clays.  That’s right; you’ve done it. Welcome to the other side of the game.  All of a sudden things have gotten a lot slower and simpler and consistent for that matter.  You have actually made a plan and what’s more important, you have stuck to it!

You can hopefully see how important the visual transition to the second target is to create consistent results on all targets, painted or feathered.  How do you practice this, you ask?  Set up an incoming teal target at, say, 25 to 30 yards.  Load two shells and call for the target.  Shoot the target going up on the first shot and find the biggest piece and shoot it on the second shot.  If you have an over/under barrel, shoot skeet on the first shot and full on the second shot.  If you shoot a single barrel gun, IC will do. Just shoot 7 1/2s on the first and 9s on the piece.  You need not make the target hard because you are practicing the visual transition from the first broken target to the largest piece (second target).  Having the largest piece as the second target keeps you from being able to anticipate the second target.  It makes you stop and look at the whole situation, then find the largest piece and shoot it.  Many good things happen to your game when you train this way, not the least of which is that you will always have focus on the second target before you move the gun to it.  The reason pairs are missed is not the difficulty of the trajectory. It is that the visual transition is not trained properly and is not subconscious.  This is why practicing simple pairs, shooting five pairs in a row, over and over and over, is so important.  Like skating to a hockey player and dribbling to a basketball player, the visual transition from the first broken target to the second target must happen consistently and without thought in order for your performances to become better and more consistent.  This can be trained on the clays course and applied the very same way in the field on game birds, so remember: “Eyes first then the gun.”–Gil and Vicki Ash


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