What’s the one shotgun in the world that, if you could have it, would cure you of wanting more? And how much would you spend on it?
My shotgun dream is that I raise five or six thousand dollars and find a used English double-barrel or a high-grade Spanish copy of one, like an Arrieta. Or I buy American and get an old Winchester Model 21.
I’ve always wondered how much other people would spend on their dream guns, so last fall I took a poll to find out. I listed six cost categories, from “Under $1,000” to “The Farm.” More than a thousand shooters responded, and almost half (48 percent) fell into one of two brackets: $1,500–$2,000 and $2,000–$3,000.
Here are the shotguns I would dream of in these ranges, three for each: a top choice, a runner-up, and a used gun.
Made by Akus, one of Turkey’s top gunmakers, the Plantation Grade is a beautifully finished smallbore side-by-side, decorated with bone-charcoal case-colored side plates. It has a nicely figured Turkish walnut stock with an oil finish, and generally looks as if it costs much more than it does. Akus guns have a good reputation, especially if you forgo the single trigger in favor of the traditional double triggers. The Plantation Grade goes for $1,999, but if you’d rather spend less and can live without the side plates, you can get the Estate grade for $1,699. Both are rated for steel shot.
An excellent, no-frills Italian over/under from B. Rizzini—one of the many inter-related Rizzinis in Italy’s gun trade—this gun bears a strong family resemblance to other Rizzinis and to Caesar Guerini shotguns, all of which are based on eerily similar designs. What sets the BR110 apart is what it does not have: a lot of fancy engraving, finely figured wood, or a high price tag. At $1,999 in 12, 20, or 28 gauge, it’s a very good-looking shotgun in an unadorned, hard-hunting kind of way.
Used: Browning Superposed
Despite being made in Belgium, the Superposed is an American classic. John Browning was working on its design at the time of his death in 1926, and his son Val finished it. You can nitpick the Superposed—it’s a bit heavy, the fore-end latch is too complicated, the action a little too tall—but it is far greater than the sum of those parts. It’s a beautifully crafted over/under, one of the first to be designed, and in the 1960s it became the aspirational shotgun for U.S. shooters. You can find a near pristine Superposed Lightning for $1,500 to $2,000, with one catch: It has to be a 12-gauge. Prices on smallbores run quite a lot higher.
The Superlight Feather combines classic over/under looks and a straight grip with the solution to the original Citori’s weight problem: The receiver is made of aluminum alloy, making this 12-gauge weigh the same as many 20s. The Citori was born when rising Belgian labor costs prompted Browning to move their over/under production to Japan in the 1970s. The Miroku factory has been turning out about 130 a day ever since. Visiting Miroku and seeing the skill with which these guns are built made me even more of a Citori fan. If you believe, as many do, that the barrels are the heart of a shotgun, then you want a Miroku Browning. This one goes for $2,390 in 12 gauge only, with 26-inch barrels.
Runner-up: Beretta Silver Pigeon I
Berettas are made in a factory with much higher tech than Brownings are, so this over/under touched more by robot hands than human ones. That doesn’t mean it’s any less great of a bird gun. The good-looking Silver Pigeon 1 has a very low-profile action that makes it an intuitive pointer. My regular pheasant gun is a 12-gauge Silver Pigeon III, which is exactly this same gun with game scenes in place of scroll, and it is deadly. The 28 and .410 are built on a smaller frame, making them trim and wandlike. All gauges go for $2,350.
Used: AyA 4/53
You can buy a whole lot of used shotgun for $2,000–$3,000. My pick would be an AyA Model 4/53 from Spain. These side-by-sides are made the old-fashioned way, with chopper lump barrels and disk-set strikers, and patterned after Westley Richards boxlocks based on the 1875 Anson and Deeley action. Shotguns don’t get much more traditional than that. A ton of handcraftsmanship goes into them, even though a few CNC and laser-engraving machines have found their way into Spanish factories. You can find a 4/53 at the high end of this price range. Some of the newer models are rated for steel shot, meaning nontoxic zones can’t keep this dream gun out of any hunt.
How To Close a Double-Barrel Shotgun
If you’re going to get one of these dream guns or another two-barrel shotgun, you should know how to close it. There are two schools of thought: Some people keep things simple and just shut them; others put their thumb on the lever while closing so they can ease the gun shut to save wear on the mechanism. New guns are typically tight and can simply be closed; if anything, they may need an extra push on the lever to fully seat.
If a gun’s lever wants to snap shut while closing—my dad’s Beretta is this way—I’ll ease it shut with my thumb, as do the owners of Foxes and L.C. Smiths, whose guns have rotary bolts that shut like mousetraps.
To be on the safe side when I’m closing someone else’s dream gun, I always ease the lever shut while closing the gun, then snug it closed.