By L.D. McCaa
For the most part, bird hunters are a nostalgic lot, and if we didn’t start with one, one way or another, we eventually find ourselves entranced by a vintage double barrel of some sort. Just like wine can elevate a meal, hunting with a classic double gun adds another dimension to your hunting. Nothing against pump guns and semi-autos, what are often referred to as “repeaters,” but there is a certain elegance to bird hunting, and shooting a breech-loading gun with just two shots complements the civility of it.
Whether we fall for one in a gun shop or inherit an old shotgun from a favorite uncle, there are several important questions that need to be answered to know if it is a firearm that is safe to shoot. There are so many pitfalls in buying vintage doubles, and some pretty scary scenarios with shooting them, that it takes more than a casual glance by the local gunsmith or gun shop to tell you if a gun is safe to use, much less what you can shoot in it.
If you are looking for a vintage double to hunt with, buying this kind of gun from a source that regularly deals in vintage shotguns and can provide things like inside barrel measurements and minimum wall thickness is a good place to start. In the absence of that, the buyer or potential shooter should have the gun evaluated by someone with the proper knowledge and tools to determine if a gun is safe to shoot.
Once you have determined the gun is safe to shoot, you will probably have the info you need to pick the right ammo. You need to be sure the ammo is compatible with the gun you have in terms of what the shell length is, what the velocity is, and what the weight of the load is. Modern 12g ammo you can easily buy at the big box store is often for longer chambers than those on vintage guns that remain in original condition. Modern loads also tend to be heavier, and the velocities are faster than what older guns were made for. Even the type of shot you are shooting must be considered. For instance, most so called “non-toxic” shot is often harder than the steel used to make the barrels on a vintage gun and can damage the barrels internally, or even ruin them.
There is appropriate ammo made in the US for these vintage guns, but it takes a bit of effort to find it. I’m willing to bet though, most people reading this blog understand the many reasons why you would want to use something that is not sold at a national chain.
There are, of course, many other things to consider if you plan to shoot a vintage gun and especially when you find yourself in the market for one. Hopefully this will help you be better aware of what to look for when that little 16g side-by-side at that pawn shop catches your eye.
About the Author
Duke “L.D.” McCaa grew up working in his dad’s gun shop and sold his first gun when he was only 11. Thirty-five years later, he manages the U.S. Agency for English gun and rifle maker, Westley Richards & Co.
W.R.&Co. was established in 1812 and is responsible for many of the developments and patents in modern sporting arms. Along with a bolt action magazine rifle, W.R.&Co. still makes the traditional side-by-side shotgun and double rifle patterned on their droplock action the firm perfected in 1908. The annual production for the company is only about 25 firearms a year.
L.D. is Westley’s first point of contact in the United States and the only place you can order a new bespoke Westley Richards gun or rifle outside of Britain. In conjunction with taking orders for new guns, L.D. also manages the Agency’s retail store in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and deals in fine pre-owned and vintage guns and rifles of all makes and models.