Why do choose to shoot a side by side

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In all sports, times change, and the equipment used gets retired to the history books. Tennis and Golf both moved from wood to metal in the pursuit of more control and better accuracy. This would be the same for shooting if the side by side (S/S) wasn’t so good at doing what it does. While the Over and Under (O/U) will likely replace all S/S at some point it won’t be quite yet.

Westley Richards side by side pair

History

The side by side was the first out of the blocks in therms of consumer shotgun history. Many old shooting scenes depict a man, his loader and his dog in the field. At this point in time, many guns were built to order and went through rigorous handmade processes to fit perfectly. Ordering a gun traditionally would have ensured build quality was more important than keeping costs down. It’s then no surprise that you see many examples of these old English guns come up for auction. Brands like Westley Richards and Purdey These companies have been building quality guns for over a century and they are still used to this day. Consequently, It would have been a disaster for either brand to sell a gun that didn’t live up to a client’s expectations. A 50 yard bird traditionally would have been considered a good bird, now this would be considered at the higher end of average. For a lightly choked S/S this was simple but the order of the day was quantity, not quality. These Guns were built to be the last gun you’d ever need and in many cases outlived their owners.

Double trigger of a side by side

The over and under

Initially, the O/U was considered an ugly behemoth when it possed to replace the S/S action. However, it was cheaper to build which gave more people access to shooting. As clay grounds as we know it began to spring up, the toss up between a side by side and over and under meant that picking the over and under gave you plenty of change for clays and cartridges. I would be surprised to see anyone handed a S/S at their first shooting lesson. The reason being, it’s more natural to point to fingers one above the other than side by side. The heavier the O/U action proved more comfortable than S/S when cartridges got heavier to shoot taller birds. The combination of an accessible gun without any obvious downsides meant new shooters were drawn to the O/U configuration. With the birth of multichoke, O/U’s became a versatile option for the shooters that wanted a do it all gun. While many of us now have different guns this hasn’t always been an option. A gun stong enough to shoot wildfowl and a round of clays in the same day wasn’t quite possible in a S/S.

Beretta 486

Whats special about Side by Sides

As is natural with evolution one supersedes the other and the old ceases to exist. However, this hasn’t managed to retire the side by side just yet. When you first pick up a S/S you instantly recognize the weight and the balance. Most 12 bore S/S are over a pound lighter than an O/U equivalent. This makes the gun seriously pointable and for crossers, it makes getting from the right target to the left far easier. With it being much lighter and the barrels generally shorter you swing through and pull the trigger without concentrating on the lead. While the common double trigger mechanisms may bother some people it becomes second nature very quickly. However, I do prefer this to fiddling with a barrel selector on a safety mechanism. I also found you can load them quicker as the breach needs far less angle to expose the chambers. You can then shut the gun and get back on target far quicker. This speedy process makes shooting from a pigeon hide quite exciting when chasing flighty pigeons.

Black Labrador retrieving partridge

Tradition

Watching someone shoot a side by side is quite a remarkable sight. Each time I see someone with a S/S it looks graceful and composed. They aren’t rushing and they tend to pick the birds they want to shoot. You quite quickly learn that they aren’t there for just the shooting but everything around it. The comradery with the group of Guns and to shoot only the best birds. The enjoyment coming from being out with good people and enjoying themselves while they do it. Shooting a S/S these days isn’t about the volume but good birds with the right cartridge. There would be nothing less pleasurable than shooting a slab of cartridges through a wooden or brass capped stock with heavy cartridges. You’ll also find that in many cases the S/S is something they’ve inherited and grown into. Its a special feeling knowing you’re shooting something than an older relative once used themself. Taking a good bird with one also gives you a smugness that 100 years of development hasn’t killed off the side by side just yet.

Vintage shooting scene

Conclusion

What was once a hallmark of shooting is now edging out of favour. Cheaper Over and Unders and beginner shots learning on that platform are the main attributes of the side by sides decline. The if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mentality means people aren’t likely to transition back to a S/S. However, for those who still shoot them or consider shooting them, they are joining a special group. This group understands the traditional values of shooting being about more than just the birds. They also enjoy the virtues of being the underdog with a more intricate gun and not capable of choking up or adding bigger cartridges. They’ve also and most importantly stood the test of time, many of side by sides for sale are decades old and prove to last decades more.

Purdey side by side

Inspired by this article from Shooting Times

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