The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Unmatched Pair & Etcetera Guns

Browning BSS's in 20 & 12 Gauges

A matched pair of "Best Guns" is only really a necessity at formal "Driven "Shoots" (and that could be red grouse in Scotland, pheasant in England or Central Europe or partridges in Spain) and both, Best Guns and Driven Shoots are luxuries that few people can afford (including me, unhappily). However, it is unlikely that a single gun will meet all your shooting (translation from UK English: hunting) needs, and that is where an unmatched pair will shine.

In our rather stupid time, the majority of the hunters prefer the over-under or auto-loading shotguns, while a dwindling number stick to the "All-American" pump-action, but I am part of a certain minority that are passionate about side-by-side shotguns.

Clearly there is an elitist cult around the "Gentlemen's Gun", and many side-by-side shotguns sell not only for thousands of dollars, but for tens of thousands of dollars, but so do many over-under shotguns, and even a few auto-loaders and pumps (Winchester Model 12 Skeet 28 gauge anyone?)

On the other hand, there are very affordable side-by-side guns that are completely functional, even if less than refined, and perform very well afield (although they probably would scourge the elitist or purist side-by-side aficionado). Several times while hunting perdiz (Nothura maculosa) in Uruguay I had great shooting days using nothing more than a Stoeger Uplander, both in 20 and 28 gauges. This gun is made in Brazil by E.R. Amantino (a.k.a. Boito) as the model A-680 and retails in the US for no more than four hundred dollars.

But let's get back to the unmatched pair. Bird hunting or shooting is as diverse as the species we pursue and although we could use your waterfowl gun for upland birds or vice-versa, the result may not be the best. Luiz Alves Flores in his short-stories "Caçadas" ( tells of a gentleman that ordered two Sauer shotguns from Germany, a 20 gauge for upland (or forest) birds and a 12 gauge for waterfowl.

And this is the approach that I took. My first unmatched pair was a set of Spanish made Laurona box lock shotguns. I bought both used at On Target in Kalamazoo and initially they had Prince of Wales grips and cheeckpiece combs. Eventually my friend Bill Berghuis transformed the stocks into nice straight grip or English hand and removed the cheeckpiece that virtually eliminated any cast-off.

But several years ago I acquired a Browning BSS 20 gauge on a trade with another friend, Mitch Garvey, and since then I've had a fixed idea of having another unmatched pair. The BSS may not be the quintessential "game gun" as they have pistol grips, single non-selective triggers, beavertail foreends and are somewhat heavy, but they are among the most robust and durable side-by-side shotguns ever built; maybe a poor man Model 21.

Well, earlier this year during an unplanned and not to be discussed visit to Cabela's Gun Library in Dundee, Michigan, I completed my second unmatched pair, when I acquired a Browning BSS 12 gauge. While I've used the BSS 20 extensively on clay pigeons, perdiz and doves in Uruguay and woodcock and grouse in Michigan and Ontario, so far I shot the BSS 12 very little, a couple rounds on Five-Stand and not many more on Skeet. The one problem I faced was often trying to find a second trigger for the left barrel, especially while shooting Skeet, and I have not faced the same issue with the BSS 20. I definitively have issues on how my brain is wired.

The BSS 12 would make a great watefowl gun, if I ever find time to hunt waterfowl, or for late season pheasants in the Dakotas, and for sure a great target gun for side-by-side shoots. In order to get optimum performance I may have to ask my friend Del Whitman to open up the current chokes (Modified and Full) to something more forgiving like Skeet and Improved Cylinder.

And with the help of the "inserts" shown in the photo above, either gun could also become a nice small game collector and survival piece. On the center is a 22 LR "insert" that can be used in 12, 16 or 20 gauge shotguns (I will talk about it in detail in the future) and just under the decoy is a 12/410 insert.

Well, I need to go now as I am getting ready to travel to South Africa this coming Friday for a week of bow hunting for plains game (what a misnomer) and bird shooting, and provided communications are available I will provide daily updates about this adventure in the Dark Continent.


  1. Incredible survival gear! Prepare today, survive tomorrow

  2. I`m the one in favor of auto-loading shotguns too. Remington Versa Max is my favorite so far. The recoil is so soft which makes it a perfect "shoot a bird gun".

    I don´t see much benefits to side by side shotguns, except the nostalgic feeling and looking like a badass...

  3. Almo,

    I grew up with side-by-side shotguns and I just enjoy bird hunting more when I am using a classic double barreled gun, but I use an over-under as my primary clay target gun, occasionally my 870 pump at Trap and a soft shooting Beretta A-400 when I feel I need almost no recoil. Diversity is one of the joys of life!

  4. Yeah I agree with you on that.

    I`m just probably too fresh of a hunter so I don`t have the urge to try and experiment with different types of guns...yet.

    Anyway, I enjoy your posts so keep them coming!

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