Make Mine a Double

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Trail Boss Articles

By Michael Stamm 

I’m inordinately fond of guns, and have been accused of approaching them with much the same attitude as I do puppies- I like almost all of them, and want to bring them all home with me. I can’t afford many, of course, but do occasionally acquire something new. Some are more favored than others, and for general defensive use I find myself returning to a concept that has always served me well. I’m particularly fond of double-barreled shotguns. 

I don’t propose that anyone exclude other shotguns as defensive tools- I used a Remington m870 12-gauge while a police officer (prior to my retirement), and consider it to be a fine firearm. I’ll probably never be without one around my house. It’s just that the double-barreled shotgun seems to have become relegated to the realm of hobby shooting, something to be used by skeet shooters and cowboy action enthusiasts. I believe that a lot of folks are missing out on what the doubles have to offer. 

I’ve owned several versions of the defensive double. A Brazilian-made Rossi was my first, and a Stevens was the next. Both had external hammers, and were good, solid guns. The Stevens was a bit long in the tooth, having been manufactured in the 1930′s, and when I originally got it, it had a dent in one of its long barrels. That wasn’t a problem, as I intended to have it shortened, anyway. Don’t even consider acquiring a “damascus-steel” barreled gun- they’re not safely fired with modern smokeless loads. They’re still often found at pawn shops, antique stores, and yard sales, and are best left above fireplaces as decorations. Any competent gunsmith can identify such a barrel- have it checked if you’re not certain which barrel your shotgun has. 

My current double is an old Stevens model 311. Mine is a 12-gauge, though similar doubles of various brands are available in smaller .410-, 28-, 20-, and 16-gauges, and a few in the larger 10-gauge. Its hammers are internal and concealed, which makes it more difficult to determine whether the gun is cocked, than are guns with exposed hammers. It has a sliding tang safety atop its breech, which is easy to thumb into place. It’s similar to the ones I often see taken afield by local waterfowlers, or propped upright behind the front doors of farmhouses, though mine is a bit shorter. I had the barrels bobbed to a bit over eighteen inches by a gunsmith, who also soldered shut the resulting gap between the shortened barrels and installed a bead sight, which cleaned up its appearance. The new bead I had the ‘smith install was smaller than had been the original- to put a large bead on a shortened tube makes the front sight look as large as a toad, I’ve found. Your eyes might prefer a bead sight of a different size- try various sizes out before having yours permanently attached. 

The overall length of the shotgun is now 35.5 inches, which permits it to be brought onto target much quicker than it did with the barrels in their original configuration. A shorter barrel is easier to maneuver with in tight quarters- whether the conditions are thick brush or a narrow hallway, and a quick shot might be the only type available to you. Full-length barrels aren’t ideal for such shooting and moving, while short barrels are ideal. A double-barrel with the same length barrels as a pump-action shotgun will be several inches shorter overall, as its action is hinged. Most doubles can be disassembled to the three basic components of action/barrels/forearm merely by pulling the tip of the forearm down, and opening the action. The longest piece is the 18.5-inch barrels. I find that to be extremely handy when traveling as the gun will fit into a medium-sized satchel and can be re-assembled within seconds, upon reaching my destination. 

A thick recoil pad came on my m311. I’m not particularly bothered by recoil, so if I changed it, it would be to a smooth metal plate, which would shorten the butt by nearly an inch. A thick recoil pad takes a bit longer to mount on my shoulder, particularly when wearing heavy clothing. I prefer the butt plate be smooth and thin, but haven’t gotten around to changing mine, yet. Each of the advantages I’ve pointed out for the double, thus far, can also be applied to its less-expensive single-barreled counterpart. The singles are not only less expensive and sleeker, they’re much more available than are the double-barreled guns, and are some of my favorite guns for rattling around my farm. Their only disadvantage is that they hold only a single round. They are, with practice, quick to reload, and most single-barreled shotguns forcefully eject their spent shell upon opening the action. But they’re nowhere near as quick as a double barrel for the second shot. 

I once read an account in which the author mentioned having his double’s twin triggers replaced by a single trigger, that he might get off a second shot even faster than usual. I’ll admit that I was mystified by that suggestion, and completely unable to determine how one trigger was faster than were two. My father, wise as to my shortcomings in reasoning, explained it to me with his typical patience and tact. “You damnfool,” he said, “not everybody does your hare-brained stunt of pulling both triggers at once.” Ah- things suddenly made sense. 

I can hear gunsmiths gnashing their teeth from here- it isn’t conducive to long shotgun barrel life to pull both triggers at once, and can, I’m assured, twist the barrels apart. Truth to tell, it’s a bit hard on the shoulder, too. But it can be fired that way, and I’ve fired each of mine that way on many occasions, and my shotguns have suffered no ill effects. The fact of the matter is this- one shot is always faster than two. If you’re prone to such antics as pulling both triggers as once, consider doing so with light loads at the beginning. The index and middle fingers are placed on the two triggers, and can be pulled in rapid succession, if not simultaneously. At likely defensive distances accuracy is just fine, and the target is devastated, thank you very much. I haven’t mounted sling mounts on my double, nor am I likely to do so. I find them to be rather noisy, and don’t like the thought of having the front mount soldered onto the underside of the barrels. Attaching a mount to the forearm is just a fast way to bring about the shotgun’s accidental disassembly. However, if the shotgun had a disassembly/locking latch on the forearm, I’d have no problem with having a mount attached to the forearm. I keep a leather sling designed for shotguns near my double. It’s a strap with a loop on each end, to slip on in the unlikely event I’m going to need the option of slinging the gun over my head or shoulder. A nylon strap might be a better idea, as the front leather loop is thick enough that it prevents me from seeing the front sight. To be perfectly honest, sight picture is not an issue at realistic defensive distances. 

For extra ammunition, I keep a Galco brand leather five-round ammo carrier laced onto the shotgun’s butt right side (away from my face), loaded with three rounds of 00 buck and two rifled slugs. An old canvas M60 ammo pouch with extra rounds of buckshot is kept next to the gun, to be taken if an extended shooting session is anticipated. 

I do not keep my m311 loaded, and suggest that you do likewise. I’m not a gunsmith, nor do I portray one on daytime television, and books have been filled with what I don’t know about guns. But I do know of instances where double-barreled shotguns in general, and at least one in which the Stevens m311 in particular, have discharged when dropped after having been left loaded. I’m not faulting the design or sturdiness of these guns- my issued m870 was carried chamber-empty for the same reason- but it’s a characteristic of which you should be aware. Leave them empty while transporting or storing them- they load real fast, with a bit of practice. Your handgun can be safely carried on your person while fully loaded, and can generally keep you in a sudden fight until you can reach your long gun. If you have the luxury of seeing a threat approach, load your double-barrel and have it in hand. For those readers who are prohibited by draconian local statutes from owning or carrying a handgun or owning semi-automatic rifles, either a shotgun or a good lever-action rifle is a solid, legal choice to keep nearby- but that’s another article in itself. 

The double-barreled shotgun is not for everybody, nor does it do everything. It is, however, a solid and portable shotgun that can put two loads quickly on target. It isn’t just for hobby shooters, it’s an affordable and handy powerhouse that you should consider as a supplement to your defensive armory. The last I knew, the Detroit Police detective bureau still issued the shortened Stevens m311 12-gauge to its street officers, where it has a long history of dealing decisively with those foolish enough to challenge it. Consider getting a shotgun- and making it a double.

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