But there's more to the world of shotguns than inexpensive pumps. Thus, here is my list of the 50 greatest shotguns.
What makes them great? Artistry, innovation, reliability, ergonomics, durability. Every gun on this list has at least one of those qualities; most possess several. Some very deserving candidates, such as the Holland & Holland Royal Ejector--one of the world's finest side-by-sides--didn't make the cut. In no imaginable bizarro universe is the Winchester 1200 greater than the Holland, but I didn't want this merely to be a litany of the world's fine guns. I chose the Purdey to represent all London Best doubles, including H&H, just as I picked Arrizabalaga to carry the flag for the whole Basque region. That left room for innovators like the unpretentious 1200.
While most of the guns are long-running bestsellers, some were commercial failures. One or two are personal favorites that elbowed out other, possibly more deserving guns, but this is my list, after all. And I learned long ago that a good day of shooting isn't defined by the name stamped on the barrel. Or engraved on it.
Photos by Spencer Jones " />
The Platonic Ideal
Established in 1814, James Purdey and Sons of London builds one grade of double, "best," which costs as much as a small house. The Purdey doesn't earn the top spot because it's expensive; it's here because it epitomizes the British game gun, which represents the Platonic ideal of a shotgun. Start with wood and steel and cut away everything that's not a gun, and you're left with a game gun. Slim, light, ergonomically perfect and fitted to the owner, it comes as close as any firearm can to becoming part of the shooter. Given $100,000 to spend on a house or a gun, I'll take living indoors every time, but I'm glad that Purdeys exist to show us what a shotgun aspires to be.
Shown: A 1979 Extra Finish 12-gauge, No. 2 of a matched pair