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Most upland hunters either own an over/under or aspire to. Beyond the cachet, there’s the reliability of a break action and the advantage of two chokes. While entry-level models from established makers start at around $2,000, some of the newest imports cost less than half of that. Even better, these affordable guns are improving.

The four models I recently tested all functioned as intended out of the box. They had much better triggers than I’ve seen on previous imports, and all four shot to point of aim with the top and bottom barrels. I tested 12s, but each comes in 20 gauge, too.

The Budget Over/Under Shotgun Test

Over the course of a week, at home and at the range, I evaluated all four guns for the following:

  • Barrel Regulation and Point of Impact Shooting each gun from a solid rest at a steel pattern plate 25 yards away, I checked point of impact relative to point of aim, and whether the top and bottom barrels shot to the same spot.

  • Fit and Finish I closely inspected wood-to-metal fit, wood quality and finish, checkering, barrel bluing, and receiver finish.

  • Trigger Pull Using a Lyman digital trigger-pull gauge, I measured the pull for both the first and the second shot. I also evaluated the pull quality.

  • Handling To approximate handling in a field situation, I shot low-gun skeet with each gun.

1. Stevens 555

Stevens 555 Jim Golden

Bargain Rating: Excellent

List Price: $692

Specs: 3″ 12-gauge • 6 lb. • 28″ barrels • 14 1⁄8″ length of pull (LOP) • 1 5⁄8″ drop at comb (DAC) • 2 1⁄4″ drop at heel (DAH)

Fit and Finish: Very good

Point of Impact and ­Regulation: Very good

Trigger Pull: Very good (4 lb. 4 oz. and 4 lb. 6 oz.)

Handling: Very good

Extras: Five chokes, trigger lock, foam earplugs

The 555 is surprisingly lightweight and lithe for a Turkish gun. Like any alloy-framed o/u, this one feels slightly muzzle-heavy, but in a way that makes it easy to swing through targets.

The attractive, straight-grained wood has a tasteful satin finish, and the checkering is neat and sharp. This would make a great grouse gun.

2. CZ Upland Sterling

cz upland sterling over under
CZ Upland Sterling Jim Golden

Bargain Rating: Very good

List Price: $999

Specs: 3″ 12-gauge • 7 1⁄2 lb. • 28″ barrels • 14 1⁄2″ LOP • 1 1⁄2″ DAC • 2 3⁄8″ DAH

Fit and Finish: Very good

Point of Impact and ­Regulation: Very good

Trigger Pull: Very good (5 lb. 1 oz. each)

Handling: Excellent

Extras: Five chokes

My test gun’s walnut stock had better grain than I’ve seen on o/u’s costing twice as much. Although I didn’t care for the laser-cut stippling in place of checkering, it is a distinctive, modern look that matches the two-tone silver receiver.

The Turkish-made Sterling has a slightly weight-forward balance that makes smashing clays a snap. At 7 1⁄2 pounds, it’s a little heavy for an upland shotgun, but that’s the end of its shortcomings.

3. Franchi Instinct L

Franchi Instinct L Jim Golden

Bargain Rating: Good

List Price: $1,149

Specs: 3″ 12-gauge • 7 1⁄4 lb. • 28″ barrels • 14 1⁄2″ LOP • 1 1⁄2″ DAC • 2 3⁄8″ DAH

Fit and Finish: Good

Point of Impact and ­Regulation: Very good

Trigger Pull: Very good (4 lb. 11 oz. and 5 lb. 12 oz.)

Handling: Very good

Extras: Hard case, three choke tubes, fiber-optic bead, lengthened forcing cones

An Italian-made o/u at a Turkish-made price, the Instinct L has a classic look, although the wood is plain.

I didn’t like the small, deeply inletted fore-end latch, either. But the gun is a shooter. It balances over the hinge pin, as many bird hunters prefer. The 12-gauge specs are just right for a pheasant gun, too.

4. Stoeger Condor Supreme

Stoeger Condor Supreme Jim Golden

Bargain Rating: Fair

List Price: $599

Specs: 3″ 12-gauge • 8 lb. • 28″ barrels • 14 3⁄8″ LOP • 1 1⁄2″ DAC • 2 1⁄2″ DAH

Fit and Finish: Poor

Point of Impact and ­Regulation: Very good

Trigger Pull: Good (4 lb. 13 oz. and 5 lb. 6 oz.)

Handling: Fair

Extras: Two chokes, middle bead

The lowest-priced model I tried, the Brazilian-made Condor had the worst fit and finish. But you don’t buy a $500 o/u for looks; you buy it as a practical break-action shooter.

The gun functioned well, and at 8 pounds it had a weight-forward balance that would make it a good choice for waterfowl or light clay-target duty. If you want an o/u as your truck gun, the Condor Supreme might be for you.

A selection of Fausti Stefano doubles and o/u’s from Pheasant Fest in Des Moines.
A selection of Fausti Stefano doubles and o/u’s from Pheasant Fest in Des Moines. Phil Bourjaily

Dream Gun: Over/Under or Side-by-Side?

Another Christmas is on its way and my fingers are crossed to find a bar-in-wood MacNaughton under the tree. It’s okay if it’s not there (again), because compared to many in the world, I already have a lot to be thankful for. The MacNaughton, which replaced the Model 21 a while ago as my dream gun, would be icing on the cake. Expensive icing, but just icing.

Both my current and former dream guns are side-by-sides. No sporting arm is as graceful as a double gun, and in my view, the MacNaughton is the most beautiful gun of any type ever made. My dream gun is also a double because when I shoot in my dreams, I don’t miss a whole lot. In the waking world, where missing is a strong possibility I usually reach for an o/u to improve my chances.

I am not alone. The rest of the world has made more or less the same determination: Double guns are pretty, o/u’s are easier to shoot. Even driven-game shooters in England, for whom the classic double gun was invented, are switching to o/u’s, particularly for shooting high driven pheasants, which are the popular thing now. The greater weight, the more ergonomic gripping surfaces, the single trigger, and, most of all, the narrow view down the rib of an o/u simply make it easier for most people to shoot. Add to that the popularity of shooting schools and sporting clays, where the o/u dominates, and if people learn to shoot an o/u, they tend to stick with it. The wide view down the barrels, twin triggers, and overall light weight of a side-by-side game gun make it a less practical choice for modern tastes. In this country, where most of us learn on pumps or semiautos, the view down the barrel of an o/u looks like something we have seen before. And, many of us start out shooting rifles and never quite lose the habit of aiming a shotgun, which is much more easily done looking down a single barrel than it is looking down two at once.

It’s telling, too, that among those who do prefer a side-by-side gun, some choose to have them made as much like an o/u as possible, with pistol grips, wider fore-ends, long barrels, and even raised ribs. (I always thought the old, clunky pistol-gripped BSS 12 gauge with 30-inch barrels would make a great clays gun. It’s the same idea.) On a classic double, you hold a straight grip in one hand, theoretically to make it easier to shift from front to back trigger, and you hold the barrels—the fore-end is there mostly to hold the gun together.

Doubles do have their advantages: Twin triggers are the only truly instant barrel selectors, they point very naturally, and they tend to be lighter than o/u’s, making them more pleasant to carry in the uplands. When I shot a double as my main bird gun, I did pretty well with it once I learned how to hold it by the barrels such that the fingers of my front hand didn’t block my view of the target. There are a lot of people that shoot classic side-by-side doubles extremely well, and some who shoot better with doubles than with o/u’s, but these days they tend to be the exception and not the rule.

But, very little about what we do with shotguns is about need. It’s about what we want to do, and what makes us happy, and if shooting the best-looking gun ever made makes you happy, you should choose a side-by-side and apologize to no one for shooting it.