Sporting clays and bird hunting are both fantastic ways to break into the overall sport of hunting. But hunting — just like skiing, golfing and anything that requires high-grade equipment — has a price of entry that can be prohibitive. So, many people begin by renting shotguns, and then once they get the bug, they plunk down some cash for an entry-level version. Once the shooting skill set is established, they upgrade to something more impressive in performance and aesthetics. But across the board — from beginner to competitive shooting — one fantastic choice of firearm is the 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun.
An over-and-under (or O/U) possesses two barrels, one stacked on top of the other. Because of the two barrels, the O/U tends to have more even balance, making it easier to move quickly during shooting. It also benefits from quiet operation, since no gas or recoil is required (as it is on a single-barrel semi-auto or pump action). And because you have two barrels, you have two choices of choke tubes, so you can set your throw patterns to your heart’s desire — one can be a wider pattern for closer shots, while the other can be tighter for longer shots. The O/U also happens to be a safer firearm for one elementary reason: you can check if it’s loaded or unloaded by breaking it open and looking down the back-end of the barrel. Finally, for all of its functional merits, the O/U also keeps a masculine, stately appearance with its thick profile.
Both of the over-and-unders here are fine sporting instruments. One is more ornate, has a richer heritage and boasts the kind of workmanship worthy of its high price point. The other is a bonafide O/U that’s geared more toward the beginner and no-nonsense shooter, and its cost is reflective of that. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll set yourself on a path to an excellent four-seasons sport that will have you striving to improve every time you get out to the range or the field.
Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon V
The 687 Silver Pigeon V ($4,075) carries on the legacy of one of the finest lines of wing and clay shotguns in the world, dating back to the origin of the Silver Pigeon line back in 1950. The V marks the top-ender of the illustrious model made by the Italian gunmaker. The stock is made with rich, oil-finished walnut wood capped off by the well-to-do owner’s family crest (if you don’t have one, you can just opt for your initials). The action shows off a vintage multi-hued textured finish that looks like you’ve been handling this firearm for decades, and Beretta even goes the distance by applying a hand-inlaid gold game scene on the side and a Beretta gold medallion on the underside. Of course, if you’ve got gold ducks or pheasant on the side of your gun, you’d better be a damned fine shot. But more impressive than just the sporting artwork are the construction and materials. You can choose between a classic English straight stock for a more traditional silhouette and lighter weight or a partial pistol grip for enhanced target control. The V also has gorgeous and tough chromoly cold hammer-forged barrels in either 28 or 26 inches, as well as a low-profile receiver with a pair of conical locking lugs that ensure solid lockup when preparing to shoot. At this price, it’s easily not a beginner’s gun — but it certainly qualifies as something to aim for.
So you’re not out to compare engravings or workmanship with the Beretta, Citori or Cesar Guerini owners — you don’t have the coin for those beauties. But you do pride yourself on improving your shooting game, and the Turkish CZ Mallard ($583) was created for guys like you. It’s a no-nonsense and no-brainer 12-gauge O/U. Available in a 28-inch gloss-black chrome barrel with silver satin-finish receiver, the Mallard is a handsome (if not beautiful) gun that you won’t be embarrassed to take to the field or shooting club. It employs a two-trigger system that saves on costs, even if it takes some time getting used to. Consider it a lost art — kind of like driving a manual transmission — and one to master. The grip is a Prince of Wales, a slightly shorter-capped partial pistol grip that’s excellent to hold and maneuver. If you want to get started in wing and clay shooting for well under a grand, the Mallard is an excellent choice. Just lose the Elmer Fudd hat if you want anyone to take you semi-seriously, and please don’t pull a Dick Cheney.