Shotguns & Shooting  |  05/05/2021

Choosing a Shotgun Action: Side-by-Side


The case for a side-by-side as the ideal upland shotgun 

By Chad Love One of the more interesting firearms fads in the past few years is the rise of the — for lack of a better term — “extreme performance” type shotgun. These imposing-looking weapons have serious-sounding names and bristle with the latest accoutrements and performance enhancements.

Admittedly, these flavors of the month do have a very high “cool factor,” and many of them have a correspondingly (and shockingly) high price tag. And if you’re into that sort of thing, that’s perfectly fine.
But for those of us who desire a simple, rugged, reliable do-it-all upland shotgun, preferably one not endorsed by an action figure, is there an alternative?

As it turns out, yes there is. In fact, there are probably any number of good, high-quality specimens of this alternative languishing on your local dealer shelves while (in my humble opinion) cheaper, less efficient and less attractive shotguns fly off the shelves.

I’m talking, of course, about the original upland shotgun, the classic side-by-side (SxS). Why, with so many other newer, more modern choices available to me, do I choose the SxS as my go-to upland game gun?

For one simple reason: they work and they work well. 

These venerable firearms have been reliably serving their owners for, quite literally, centuries, with nary a hollow plastic tactical stock, picatinny rail or cryogenically treated barrel to be found anywhere.
No, they don’t hold 10 rounds, so you are at a distinct disadvantage in a charging gamebird situation. And besides, you’ll rarely miss the dubious advantage of that third shot, but you will usually miss WITH that third shot. 

Also, the general lack of a radiation-and-rust-proof finish means that you will, on occasion, have to actually engage in a minimum level of maintenance.
But if you can get past these glaring deficiencies, you may find that your grandfather may have been on to something.  You would be hard-pressed to find a gun more likely to go “bang” when you squeeze the trigger than a double gun. They are simple, reliable, and extremely easy for even the non-gun nuts among us to understand and operate. 

Better still, there are many options available out there, at all price points, in both the new and used market. If you’re wanting to dip your toes into the SxS waters, there are makers like CZ-USA offering high-quality, affordable modern SxS models that are both functional and beautiful, and there is a large and thriving classic SXS market as well, from simple, unadorned vintage American and Continental game guns to exquisitely made higher-end models.

For the ultimate in simple ruggedness, a double-trigger, boxlock gun with extractors is hard to beat, but any of the various incarnations (boxlock, sidelock, single or double trigger, straight stock or gripped, etc.) make good choices depending on personal preference.
Shoulder some guns. Lots of them. You’ll know when you hold your baby.
Obviously, when you’re talking about buying a used gun, especially a used SxS, getting it checked out by a good gunsmith is a good idea. Even something as simple and rugged as an old SxS can have issues. 

There’s a reason these guns have been around for so long, and there’s a reason modern gunmakers are still offering them (and upland hunters still buy them) even in the face of so many more “modern” shotgun choices:

Because SxSs just work, and they look good doing it. If you want a light, efficient, reliable, affordable, attractive, and just plain cool upland gun, give the side-by-side more than a sidelong glance. 

It may just make you forget all about those modern clunkety-clunk wonder guns.

Chad Love is editor at Quail Forever.

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