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Over/under shotguns dominate clay target shooting. They are also the choice for many upland hunters, and you’ll even see some O/Us in dove fields, duck blinds, and the turkey woods. While many purchase an over/under for aesthetic reasons, these guns have some functional advantages over other shotgun types. Its enclosed action makes it very reliable and weather-proof, and unlike semi-autos and even some pumps, O/Us will shoot any shell without complaint. An over/under is usually more compact due to its shorter action and offers two chokes. Plus, many shooters feel that the break action is easier to handle safely in the field, as you can easily open the gun for crossing obstacles or inspect the muzzles for an obstruction. 

Nowadays, you can find O/Us for practically any purpose and at almost any price point, from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand. Picking the best over/under shotguns means finding the gun that suits what you’ll use it for and one that fits your budget. 

The Benelli 828U 20-gauge on a grouse hunt in Maine.
The Benelli 828U 20-gauge on a grouse hunt in Maine. Ryan Chelius

History of the Over/Under Shotgun

Over/unders have become far more popular than the side-by-side doubles that dominated the U.S. market until WW2. The great firearms inventor John Browning believed that Americans would come to prefer O/Us because the view down the top barrel, which he called a “single sighting plane,” would be more familiar to shooters accustomed to pumps and semi-autos. The side-by-side, in contrast, presented a wide view of both barrels. Browning was rarely wrong, and he was proved absolutely right about O/Us. 

In the 1920s, Browning began work on a gun that would change the world’s taste in break-actions. Prior to the introduction of the Browning Superposed in 1931, the only O/Us available were high-end, custom English guns priced far out of reach of the average shooter. Browning designed his gun to be made less expensive so anyone willing to save and stretch their budget could afford one. Browning died in Belgium while at work on his gun, and his talented son, Val, finished the design. Although introduced during the Great Depression when aspirational guns didn’t sell well, the Superposed hung on.  

During the affluent post-war years, though, the Superposed found its following. Other makers, notably Beretta and a number of other Italian manufacturers, introduced O/Us of their own. Guns like the Perazzi, which won a gold medal in trap at the 1964 Olympics with a world-record score, helped make the O/U the glamor gun shooters aspired to, for targets or for hunting. Since then, the O/U has reigned in target shooting and many types of hunting. Even English-driven game shooters, for whom the side-by-side was perfected, have switched to O/Us. 

How We Picked the Best Over/Under Shotguns

For many, an O/U remains an aspirational gun. Buying one is a choice not to be made lightly. If you are planning to invest in a new over/under, consider the following factors:  

  • Reliability: Does the gun shoot twice? 
  • Quality of construction: Is the gun well-built? How is the fit, finish, and, if applicable, the decoration? 
  • Weight and balance:  Over/unders are known for their “between the hands” balance because of their compact actions and steel receivers. Truth be told, some are ungainly, overweight and ill-balanced. There is more to making a well-balanced gun than giving it two barrels. You buy an O/U because it feels lively or sometimes because it has a weight-forward balance that makes shooting targets easier. 
  • Ergonomics: A shotgun has to fit, and it has to feel good in hand. Its controls should be easy to use as well. 
  • Price/Value: Some of the guns here are cheap, some are pricey, but all were scrutinized to make sure you’re getting good return for your dollars, no matter how many or how few you’re spending. 

Best Over/Under Shotguns: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Budget: CZ Drake


  • Gauges: 3-inch 12, 20 and .410, 2 ¾-inch 28-gauge 
  • Weight: 6 to 7 pounds, depending on gauge 
  • Length: 45.75 inches 
  • Barrel: 28-inch, no mid-rib, screw-in chokes, white bead, five chokes (.410 has fixed IC/Modified chokes) 
  • Stock: Satin-finished walnut, pistol grip, LH-stock models available for 12- and 20-gauges 
  • Receiver: Matte black with minimal engraving 


  • Great Value 
  • Comes in four gauges plus left-hand 
  • Reliable 


  • 28-inch barrels are the only choice 
  • Extractors in place of ejectors 

You can pay less for an O/U, but you’ll also get less than you will with CZ’s Drake. Backed by the excellent CZ customer service, the Drake is a bare-bones O/U that will work reliably and give you the advantages of a break-open gun without breaking the bank. 

I have shot the Drake in 20-gauge. It weighed right at 6 ½-pounds, a good weight for a 20 that’s both light enough to carry and heavy enough to swing well. The balance was a bit muzzle-heavy, but that isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, as it helps the gun keep moving and adds some steadiness when you point it. This is by no means a fancy gun. It has very plain wood and just a bit of engraving, but it will give you the advantages of an O/U gun in a very reliable, affordable package. 

Best for Upland Hunting: Beretta Silver Pigeon 


  • Gauges: 3-inch 12, 20, .410 and 2 ¾-inch 20 gauge 
  • Weight: 6 to 7 ¼-pounds depending on gauge 
  • Length: 45.5 with 28-inch barrels 
  • Barrels: 26-, 28-inch, 30-inch barrels available for 12-gauge, 5 choke tubes, brass bead 
  • Wood: Matte walnut 
  • Receiver finish: silver nitride with floral engraving 


  • Low-profile action 
  • Rugged locking system 
  • 28- and .410 built on smallbore frame 


  • Safeties can be sticky 

A few years ago on a ruffed grouse hunt, I noticed that all the guides carried the exact same gun: a 20-gauge Beretta Silver Pigeon. Likewise, if you rent an O/U at a South American dove lodge, it will be a Silver Pigeon. These guns have all the qualities you look for in an upland gun: they are slender, light enough to carry, bullet-proof, and trouble-free. The heart of the 686 is a very low-profile action. In place of locking lugs on the bottom of the barrel of many O/Us that add height to a receiver, the 686 has two conical pins that protrude from the breech face and fit into holes on either side of the monoblock. The pins wear in tighter as the gun ages, resulting in a tough, long-lasting, and low-profile frame, a quality that many believe makes a gun a natural pointer. 

The 686 comes in four gauges and three frames. While some makers simply put 20-, 28-gauge, and .410 barrels on the same frame, the 28-gauge and .410 are built on their own “baby” frame, resulting in a pair of delightfully trim smallbores. The only drawback to the 686 is that many come with sticky safeties, but those are a simple matter for a gunsmith to fix. 

Best for Waterfowl Hunting: Benelli 828 U Steel Field


  • Gauges: 3-inch 12 and 20-gauges 
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 20-gauge, 7 3/4-pounds, 12-gauge 
  • Length: 45.25 with 28-inch barrels 
  • Barrels: 26- and 28-inch, 30-inch, 12 gauge only. No mid-rib, vent rib, fiber-optic bead, 5 flush choke Crio chokes 
  • Wood: AA Matte walnut with stock-mounted Progressive Comfort recoil reducer  
  • Receiver finish: grayed steel 


  • Recoil reduction system works 
  • Steel frame adds weight for shooting heavy loads 
  • Stock can be shimmed to fit 


  • 3-inch, not 3 ½-inch, chambers 

Benelli’s innovative 828U combines the added weight of a steel frame with its effective Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system to turn the 828 U platform into a robust O/U capable of shooting magnum loads with minimal kick. In all other ways, it’s the same gun as the alloy-frame 828U and the only O/U with a square stock head that permits the use of shims to alter fit, which is common on semi-autos. The Progressive Comfort system is a soft cheek pad plus a recoil pad on a shock-absorbing system that gives under recoil and really works.  

It’s a tough gun and good-looking with its AA walnut stock. It comes in 12 and the increasingly popular 20 gauge. Benelli gets extra credit for offering the 12-gauge with the 30-inch barrels some waterfowlers prefer. 

Best Target Gun: Browning 725 Pro Sporting with Pro Fit Adjustable Comb


  • Gauges: 12 and 20-gauge 
  • Barrels: 30- or 32-inch, ported, ventilated mid- and top rib, fiber-optic bead, extended chokes 
  • Stock: Oil-finished grade III/IV walnut, adjustable comb 
  • Length: 48 inches with 30-inch barrels 
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds, 20-gauge, 8 pounds, 12-gauge 
  • Receiver: Silver nitride 


  • Low profile frame 
  • Excellent barrels 
  • Classic, proven John Browning design 


  • No 28 or .410 in this configuration 

You can easily pay two or three times what this gun costs for a high-end target gun, and you won’t get two or three times as much gun. Browning’s 725 Citori represents an evolution of the classic Superposed and Citori. By lightening the barrels and removing steel from the bottom of the frame without compromising strength, Browning lowered the profile of the Citori to make it comparable to the Beretta 686. The result is a gun that points naturally and has a livelier feel than the standard Citori. The Pro Sporting has all the features you want in a target gun: extended chokes, ports, a fiber-optic bead, and it has both an adjustable comb and an adjustable balance system to help you make this gun your own. 

Browning 725s are made in the Miroku factory in Japan, which is renowned for the quality of its barrel-making. On a visit to the plant several years ago, I saw first-hand how Browning barrels are straightened, joined and regulated, and how the actions are fitted, all by highly skilled hand labor. 

Best for Turkey Hunting: Mossberg Silver Reserve Eventide Turkey


  • Gauges: 3-inch 20, 28- and .410 bore 
  • Weight: 6 ½ pounds in all gauges 
  • Length: 37 inches 
  • Barrels: 20 inches, vent rib, two XX-full, one IC choke, fiber-optic bead 
  • Stock: Synthetic, Mossy Oak Greenleaf 
  • Receiver: Steel, Mossy Oak Greenleaf


  • Compact 
  • Cool retro camo 
  • Single selective trigger 
  • 3-inch 28-gauge available 


  • Heavy, squishy trigger 
  • No 12-gauge available 

Over/unders aren’t especially common in the turkey woods, but they do have their advantages. With a shorter action than a pump or semi-auto, an O/U is more compact than a repeater of comparable barrel length by about three inches. An over/under also gives you the choice of barrels. Some turkey hunters like to use an open choke for birds that get in close and a tight choke for long shots.  

Mossberg’s Silver Reserve Eventide gives you those advantages in a package that can only be called “cute” if shotguns can be cute. The three smallbores in the series have stubby 20-inch barrels that are perfect for maneuvering in close quarters. Mossberg provides a pair of turkey chokes and IC if you want to go the open/tight choke route. The gun has only an orange fiber-optic dot, but it shoots to the point of aim. It also has a trigger with a lot of uptake and an 8-pound pull. I could get used to it because I’m a trigger-smashing clod, but it may offend you.  The barrel selector is also the safety button, so you can switch easily from open to tight chokes. It also has sling swivel studs and all in all, it’s a great choice for someone who wants a light, compact, smallbore turkey gun. 

What to Consider When Choosing an Over/Under Shotgun

Properly cared for, an O/U can last two or three generations, so make your choice wisely. I’d argue that the O/U’s longevity means you should save and stretch to buy the best gun you can. You and your heirs will have it long after the money is forgotten. 

Consider fit when you buy. I have been guilty of buying O/Us that didn’t fit because I had talked myself into wanting a particular gun. There is no reason to own guns that you can’t shoot well. In terms of features, look at whether the gun has ejectors, which pop the shells out into your hand, or extractors, which merely lift them for removal. Pay attention to the safety. Most O/Us now incorporate the barrel selector, if it has one, into the safety. Be sure the safety is easy to use. Sticky safeties and flat safeties are pet peeves of mine. 

Think about what you’ll use the gun for. Lighter guns are nice to carry, but harder to shoot and harder-kicking on the clays course or in the dove field. If you’re choosing one gun for both upland hunting and target shooting, decide which you’ll be doing more of and choose accordingly. 

O/Us do require a couple of maintenance steps not needed on pumps and semi-autos. You will want to clean the hinge pin or trunnions on which the barrels pivot and use a bit of grease, not oil, to lubricate them. Also, keep the “knuckle,” or the joint where the forend meets the receiver, clean and lightly greased as well. Do those things along with your regular gun care, and your children and their children will shoot it long after you’re done with it. 


Q: Which barrel of an O/U should I shoot first?

An advantage of O/Us and any two-barreled gun is that you can choose which barrel to shoot first. The top and bottom barrels might have different chokes for longer or shorter range shots or even two different loads. In general, though, you should shoot the bottom barrel first whenever possible. Because it is lower, the bottom barrel recoils more straight back into your shoulder, while the top barrel may rise more. Shooting the bottom barrel first helps you get back on target for follow-up shots faster. 

Q: Are O/Us good for waterfowl hunting?


Over/Unders aren’t seen much in duck and goose blinds. They have distinct advantages and disadvantages as waterfowl guns. The obvious disadvantage is that an O/U holds two shells, not three. They are also slower and more awkward to reload in a duck blind. You do get two chokes, though, so you can have one barrel for the birds as they come into the decoys and a tighter choke for a second shot as they flare out. The biggest advantage of an O/U as a duck gun is reliability. The action is enclosed and protected from the elements, and O/Us will shoot in weather that might cause many repeaters to fail to fire. 

Q: What is the best barrel length for an O/U?


Barrel length has little to do with ballistics and everything to do with how a gun balances. What length you choose is determined by what you will use the gun for. Twenty-eight-inch barrels are very popular on hunting guns these days for good reason. They are not so long as to be cumbersome, but they do offer some weight forward for a smoother swing. And, because an O/U is shorter than a repeater, it can have longer barrels and still be fairly compact. Target guns have longer 30- and 32-inch barrels for smoothness and steady pointing. I have found that small-gauge guns are also easier to shoot if they have longer barrels. 

Best Over/Under Shotguns: Final Thoughts

Choosing the best over/under shotgun is a big decision. It’s a major purchase and one you will have for a long time. Think hard about what you will use the gun for, and choose accordingly. Be sure the gun fits you; if you aren’t sure how to determine gun fit, ask a gunsmith to help you. Although the lightest gun usually feels best at the store, it may not be the best for your needs. Any gun that will be shot more than carried can stand to have a bit of weight to absorb recoil and swing smoothly. 

Finally, try to stretch and buy a good gun. John Browning knew that people would save up for a Superposed when he designed the gun and that a well-made O/U is a purchase that few people regret making. Do your homework. Try to other O/Us to see what you like, and save up to buy the best one for you. 

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