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Buying your first shotgun –  what you need to consider

Just in case there is some misunderstanding with the title, this is not about the first shotgun you were privileged to own or shoot with, but rather about a selection process for the firsttime buyer and aspirant shotgun shooter.


Shotgun shooting seems to be on the rise, at least judging by the number of shooting clubs active in my area and the turnout at clay target events. It’s also clear that bird shooting is alive and well, and any number of organised activities are on offer through associations and institutions, as well as in the media. Many shooting clubs now also offer three-gun shoots that include shotguns. However, as these shoots are normally undertaken with pump, semi-auto or combat shotguns and, therefore, fall outside the gamut of this article, we’ll confine ourselves to the double-barrelled models.


Let’s for a moment consider the person interested in purchasing their first shotgun. This is someone of any age from teenager through student, someone in any stage of a working career to retired people who, for whatever reason, have been exposed to wingshooting or any of the clay target disciplines and are keen to acquire a shotgun. 


Secondly, one must consider the parameters that would come into play in such a situation, mindful of the plethora of guns available on the market.



These parameters must include application, purchase price, budget, amount of shooting, calibre, and ammunition cost. Furthermore, one must not discount some influence of friends, peers and advisors towards some particular manufacturer, or that a final decision may be based on availability at a given moment.


So, this first gun would be either for a clay target application or wingshooting, or perhaps a bit of both. In the clay target discipline, there are also several disciplines. However, for this rationale, they can conveniently be divided into the skeet, compak and sporting group, and the trap, universal and Olympic trench group of disciplines. The for - mer requires a gun a little more akin to a “field” gun, while the latter tends much more to spe - cialist guns. The age-old ques - tion always arises – over/under or side-by-side? The first is a bit of a misnomer by nomencla - ture, where the word “super - posed” better describes the gun’s barrel orientation, with one on top of the other, and the latter with the barrels side by side in configuration. The over/under dominates the modern shotgun world and far outnumbers side-by-sides on the shelves.


The side-by-side, on the other hand, is generally lighter and hence less predisposed to heavier loads and long sessions on the clay range, and more suited to long days afield, being easier to carry all day long.


Now, and probably more importantly, how does the budget match the purchase price? In our house, there usu - ally is a massive disparity, and such purchases will have to compete with several other priorities (such as school fees), which “dearly beloved” (my better half) seems to consider more important than shotguns. As far as calibre goes, there has always been a devout group of minor-bore aficionados. On the other end of the scale, I’ve never encountered a 10-bore in South Africa.


Can a case be made for a minor bore as a first shotgun? Most certainly, if you are a youngster or a woman, and I know of a few men with physical limitations or injuries where a 20-bore would better suit their requirements. There also seems to be a growing popularity of the 20-bore in South Africa, and I found seven 20-bore options at a well-known local dealership. Generally, though, the 12-bore is where things will end due to availability and ammunition cost.



Let us, on a continuum, try to define the first-time shotgun owner. Starting way out in the left field, we have the minor bores – the .410, 28-, 20- and 16-bores. For all practical purposes, the .410 is out of bounds here, while the 28s and 16s have a mystique and a bit of a snob value to them. With the side-by-sides, we start with the investment guns from famous makers – Boss, Purdey, Holland & Holland and Woodward, the Damascus brigade, and on to the more recent and affordable side-by-sides like the Brno.


Moving along, we get to the first of the over/unders, with a fair plethora of the cheaper clones like ATA, CZ Mallard, Fabarm and Marocchi, and on to the Berettas, Mirokus and Brownings that dominate the world of shotgunning. Next, we come to Winchester, Fausti, Caesar Guerini, Rizzini, Blaser, followed by the Perazzis, Renato Gamba, Belgian-made Browning B25, Famars (Abbiatico & Salvinelli), Perugini & Visini, and, finally, the eyewateringly expensive British over/unders. It is heartening to see that a fair number of these modern over/unders are offered in the local market in 20-bore persuasion as well. It must also be added that at any point along the spectrum, the affordably priced option of a second-hand gun is also available. I may have left out someone’s favourite fowling piece, but you get the idea.



On statistical probability, the first-time buyer is most likely to be an aspirant wingshooter with a clay target problem or an aspirant clay target shooter with a wingshooting problem.


Obviously, the sliding scale envisaged above also has cost implications, with both ends of the scale quite capable of generating prices with five zeros in the second-hand category and potentially six zeros for new guns. In the middle, any of the more affordable options can go for under R20 000 on a good day, with the middle of the ranges in the low R40 000. One can expect to buy second-hand guns in reasonable condition at about two-thirds of the price of a new one, but buyer beware – more about that later!


So, to sum up, we have a person interested in starting out with shotgunning, and by and large, expecting to fork out somewhere between R15 000 to R45 000 for a generalist shotgun that will be at home in the field and on the range. We can further expect this to be of 12-bore persuasion (ammunition availability and cost), and choice will gravitate to over/under more than to side-by-side. Within these parameters, the choices are certainly starting to narrow down, and the time is rapidly approaching for me to commit to what I think one should purchase, with the inevitable side-effect of creating a long queue of dissatisfied readers with different views on favourite shotguns. Remember that I also subscribe to the dictum that if it works for you and you are happy, that’s fine by me!


For my money, Beretta’s 686 Silver Pigeon and Browning’s 525 will take some beating at a smidgen over R40 000. These, of course, have single triggers, selective safety and multichokes, making them very flexible indeed. Having experience with both of these models, there is not much that can go wrong, considering that they dominate the world shotgun market. Both have minor weaknesses and many strengths, but it will take excessive use, if not abuse, before these manifest. If you can stretch the budget, then you may also elevate the stakes to the Browning 725s.


So, what is the difference between the Beretta and the Browning? It comes down to the height of the action or frame, which, in turn, affects how deep the barrels lie within the frame. This affects recoil and handling. The taller the action, the greater the stress on the action, which is obviated by the number of “bites” or contact points between barrels and action. The Browning locking bolt is below the barrels, making for a taller action, while the Beretta has two conical locking pins on either side of the barrel, making the action lower in height.


On the slightly lower end, I would take a long and hard look at the Franchi Sporter, Winchester Select and Weatherby Orion, having now dropped the financial layout to R25 000 or so. In the sideby-side world, I really struggled to find reasonably priced new guns, so I’m afraid I can’t make a fixed recommendation here – this will take some serious shopping and a lot of good advice. 


I took the liberty of browsing the website of a popular trading platform for secondhand guns and found 13 pages of options ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. There was a fair scattering of Berettas and Brownings at reasonable prices, and in the side-by-side category again substantially fewer, with a few Brno 47s and 49s at really good prices, along with a scattering from the British trade, with the majority having to be classified as projects at best. A little earlier in this article, I mentioned buyer beware: If considering a second-hand purchase, one must be patient and would be well advised to consult an expert for evaluation before purchase. This type of expert evaluation is easily the subject of a separate narrative. In South Africa, one has to first spend some time on defining an “expert” – it isn’t necessarily someone you met at a braai. Of course, the older the gun, the greater the scrutiny required.


To sum up: Get yourself an over/under 12-bore from Beretta or Browning or something close, depending on your budget. Buy the best gun that you can afford and, most importantly, enjoy the wonderful world of shotguns!  

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