Shotguns & Shooting  |  05/25/2021

Choosing a Shotgun Action: Over-Under


An upland classic shotgun: the Over-Under 

By Rachel Hoveland

A memory sticks out from my childhood: an invitation to join friends out on a pheasant hunt. At this point in my life, growing up in a family of duck hunters, I had had little exposure to upland hunting. An individual in the group happened to have a beautiful over-under shotgun. Not only was he a particularly lethal shot that day, but between fields he would casually break open his shotgun and rest it on his shoulder. To my young eyes, he and that shotgun were the epitome of awesome. The day left an impression. And it’s no coincidence you’re likely picturing an over-under in your mind’s eye when thinking of an upland gun: a double-barreled break action is traditional commonplace in the upland fields for a couple reasons.


First is simple ease of operation, there are few moving parts and it’s extremely easy to load/unload your firearm quickly when needed, for instances of creek crossing or dog watering. On top of that, you have more control of your empty hulls than with any other action of shotgun. Which is a two-fold plus: you’re not littering, and picking up your shells helps keep your productive spot a secret by removing evidence of success for the next hunter to find.

Second, there is a huge benefit when having two barrels, which can be set up with different choke restrictions, creating a lethal advantage when shooting at targets moving away from you. Additionally, there is no gas power or pump required for your second shot, which causes delay and potential opportunity for action jam; your second shot is as fast as you can pull the trigger.

Lastly, there is the traditional upland look. If you close your eyes and imagine an upland hunting scene, it’s more than likely that you are picturing an over-under. And of course, in the above, I’ve been discussing the advantages of ALL double-barreled break actions. Why the draw specifically to an over-under versus a side-by-side?

Since the infamous Browning Superposed introduced the American working class to the over-under, they have been by-far the more popular option in North America, with similar side-by-side shotguns never having achieved the same popularity found overseas. One can also argue with the barrels stacked vertically rather than horizontally, there is less felt recoil--allowing you to shoot your second shot faster. Additionally, especially for cross-eye dominate folks like myself, the narrower sight-plane of the rib is less distracting and shoots higher on your target, great for wing shots moving up and away.


All shotguns go bang (or at least are supposed to) and most are fully capable of harvesting an upland bird. I guarantee you can have an equally satisfying hunt with a $250 shotgun as you can with a $6,000 one, and I know from much experience in the field that a “nicer” gun does not assume the owner is a more skilled shot.

But one seeks an over-under, for the sake of beauty, tradition and heirloom. You buy an over-under to carry on the tradition of the upland hunt, to appreciate the beauty and work that went into the craftmanship of such a weapon, and the knowledge that that firearm, if well cared for, can be passed on to another after your decades of memories have left their mark on it.


Rachel Hoveland is web developer at Pheasants Forever.

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