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Nick Sisley

5 Affordable Over/Under Shotguns Worth A Shot (2023)

Updated 4/14/2023

Over/Under shotguns tend to cost a lot of money. But there are some affordable double-barreled gems available nearly any shooter can work into their budget.

What are some economical over/unders?

There are over/under shotguns out there that cost more than I paid for our three-bedroom brick ranch house in 1961. These would be the likes of Krieghoff, Kolar, Perazzi and others. Similarly, there are used side-by-sides, especially old English types, that in current-day prices can cost as much as a Southern California fixer-upper. This is not about such double guns.

The game plan here is to tell you about several over/unders and a side-by-side that won’t break your bank, melt your plastic or get you in too much Dutch with your spouse. There aren’t too many hunters, upland specialists and waterfowlers who wouldn’t love to see a nice double gun in their gun safe — as well as be proud to carry one come November. So, let’s start with CZ-USA and their flagship hunting over/under shotgun.

CZ Redhead Premier
Profile of CZ's over/under shotgun, the Redhead Premier.

CZ is short for the Czech Republic company that the “C” and the “Z” in the company name are too hard for Americans to pronounce, so this is made simple with CZ — with CZ-USA the American importer of their many products. This company’s most traditional and most long-term products have to be their bolt-action centerfire rifles. But CZ also makes a complete line of rifles, plus Dan Wesson handguns and other firearms-related products. CZ’s many shotgun models are imported from Turkey.

But let’s get back to that CZ flagship over/under — the Redhead Premier. Of special interest, this model is not only available in 12, 20, 28 and .410 — each of these gauge receivers is delivered in their own size frame, which means the 12 gauge is made on one size receiver, the 20 on a smaller receiver and on down the line with the 28 and .410.

The CZ Redhead Premier features a bright satin receiver, a bit of engraving, as well as a classic-style Turkish walnut stock. Both the 12- and 20-gauge guns come in either 26- or 28-inch barrels, and five flush-mounted screw-in chokes are included — all at a suggested retail of about a grand!

I missed the SHOT Show when the Turkish-made double guns were first introduced, then imported by a company called Armsco — the doubles made by Huglu in Turkey — the same maker that CZ now uses for their double-gun imports. But I did make the next SHOT Show, and the Armsco booth was the first I visited because I had been told of these over/unders and side-by-sides. I was so impressed that I eventually bought five of these doubles.

There’s fine laser-cut checkering on today’s CZ Redhead, a solid 8mm mid-rib (so no brush can accumulate while bulling thickets), a top rib, extractors and pistol grip that does not have a lot of re-curve. Thus, Prince of Wales style on that grip. There are 3-inch chambers in the 12, 20 and .410 CZ Redhead Premiers, with 2¾-inchers in the 28 bore. Both the 28 and the .410 come only with 28-inch barrels (probably CZ’s most popular length in all four gauges).

There’s a single extractor instead of ejectors on all gauges — plus the 12, 20 and 28 come with screw chokes, and the .410 with fixed Modified and Full. Those tight chokes, I think, are a mistake. Screw-in chokes or more open ones are required in the .410 for most shooters. Otherwise patterns are too tiny, especially at regular upland distances.

Receiver of CZ over/under shotgun, the Redhead Premier

The length of pull has been updated at 14.5 inches, the drop at comb 1⅜ inches and the drop at heel is 2¼ inches. Triggers are mechanical, and the thumb safety is manual. Weight in the 12 gauge runs an average of 7.7 pounds, depending a bit on density of the walnut. Don’t expect a lot of walnut figure, but do expect wood strength.

What does a $12,000 over/under have over one like the CZ Redhead Premier that costs about $1,000? The Redhead is a hunting gun, though it can be used plenty on any clay target field. Hunting guns are simply not shot all that much when compared to a competition over/under that might be shot 20,000 times per year for decades! I doubt the Redhead will hold up to that type of long-term punishment.

Plus, on a $14,000 shotgun, there tends to be better fit and finish — a higher grade of walnut — as well as many other factors that increase costs. Still, if you're looking for a double gun that you want to hunt with, this CZ Redhead Premier and the others that will follow are definitely worth your consideration.


Draw A Bead On Shotguns:

  • 9 Affordable Double-Barrel Shotgun Options
  • 12 Affordable Pump-Action Shotgun Options
  • Understanding The Semi-Auto Shotgun
  • Lever-Action Shotgun: Past, Present And Future
  • 5 Best Bullpup Shotgun Options For Compact Defense

  • CZ Sharp-Tail Side-By-Side
    Receiver of the CZ Sharp-Tail

     

    While over/unders outsell side-by-sides by a large margin in America, there are those who feel that the side-by-side is the ultimate hunting gun. Many of the old English doubles can sell for over $100,000 — and they’re over 100 years old — so they weren’t made with modern stronger steels. This Sharp-Tail model is made with high-strength steel, and it sells for a pittance in comparison. Regardless, the gun comes with classic lines and classic appeal.

    Further, the CZ Sharp-Tail is offered in 12, 20, 28 and .410 — each gauge built on its own size frame. Thus, the 28 gauge weighs only a whisper compared to the 12 gauge. But, even the 12 gauge is no heavyweight at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. All Sharp-Tails come with a 28-inch barrel only and extractors that lift both shells out for easy removal. 

    There’s a classic feel to these guns with splinter fore-end (though CZ calls it a semi-beavertail) and a semi-pistol grip stock of Turkish walnut. Swing one on an upland bird and your mind will maybe take you back into history 100 years. The 20 gauge and 28 gauge weigh 6.3 and 5.9 pounds, respectively. In my view, these are the gauges to select for upland shooting, and the 12 for waterfowl and turkeys. The .410 CZ Sharp-Tail also weighs in at 5.9 pounds. List price is just under $1,000.

    Forend of the CZ Sharp-Tail

    Adding to this model’s appeal is the color case-hardened receiver finish. This is a new receiver compared to CZ side-by-sides of some years back — smaller and lighter, and probably stronger as well — and is forged in one piece. Trigger springs are now coil type. The trigger is a single, selectable one. Fine laser-cut checkering adorns the grip and slender fore-end. Five screw-in chokes are a part of the Sharp-Tail package (though fixed Modified and Full in the .410), and don’t forget the plastic protective case.

    Three-inch chambers reside in the 12, 20 and .410, and a 2¾-inch in the 28 gauge. Barrels of both the CZ Sharp-Tail and CZ Redhead are black chromed on the outside (great for corrosion resistance), and inside there's full-length chrome protection. Stock dimensions are 14.5 x 1.5 x 2.25 inches. There’s a raised rib, and the mechanical trigger has a selector for barrel choice. So, if a side-by-side has long been on your “I wanna” list, maybe you better check out a CZ dealer. 

    Mossberg International Silver Reserve
    Silver Reserve over/under

    While this over/under no longer has a touch of engraving and bright coin-finish receiver, the Mossberg International Silver Reserve is still a blast in the field. Once known as the Silver Reserve II, now the International Silver Reserve is an import from Turkey. Yes, the scrollwork is gone, in it place a matte silver receiver. But at the shoulder it remains equally as pleasant and responsive. In my mind, it brings up dreamy ideas of chasing native chukers somewhere in the Middle East.

    However, this Mossberg over/under will be right at home whether you're chasing ruffed grouse, Hungarian partridge, pheasants, woodcock, quail, doves — even pest pigeons. Gauge choices run the gamut here — though no 16 bores are offered. May I suggest a 20 gauge? All gauges come with five flush-mounted screw-in chokes that are compatible with Benelli and original Beretta Mobilechokes.

    Checkering on the pistol grip and slim fore-end of the over/under is the cut type. The website suggests 7 pounds for the 20 gauge with 26-inch barrels. However, my test 20 hefts 6 pounds, 9 ounces on my digital postal scale. Chambers are 3 inches in the 12, 20 and .410, and 2¾ inches for the 28 gauge. Length of pull is only 14 inches, which is a little short for most of today’s new guns but maybe just right for you. The stock is select Turkish walnut. There’s a vent rib with a front bead. All models models come with extractors, a bit of a regressions in the line, given the Sporting Silver Reserve II 12 gauge came with ejectors.

    Sideview Silver Reserve over/under

    Full retail price starts at $756, but who pays full retail for most anything these days? I’ve already mentioned melted plastic credit cards and empty cookie jars, but neither need take place with this series of Mossberg International Silver Reserve over/unders.

    Lockup is similar to the CZ Redhead Premier — with barrels pivoting on trunnions and a full-width locking bolt that slides forward upon closing to engage lugs milled into the bottom of the monobloc. Further, two recoil lugs milled into the base of the monobloc dovetail into milled-out areas in the bottom of the receiver upon closing, resulting in a very strong lockup. A barrel selector on the safety switch allows choice of the top or bottom barrel. Picture yourself in a field of South Dakota CRP, a Minnesota tangle of wrist-thick aspens, approaching an old apple tree in New England, or watching a pointer quarter back and forth on a Southern plantation of pines with the undergrowth burned over the previous spring — in each scenario you are carrying a Mossberg International Silver Reserve over/under. 

    Savage/Stevens Model 555
    Stevens 555 over/under shotgun ejecting shell

     

    Lightweight is the byword when it comes to the Savage/Stevens model 555 over/under because the receiver is not steel but high-strength aluminum alloy — but with a strength-enhancing steel insert at the breechface. Even the 12 gauge hefts only 6 pounds, the 20, 28 and .410 — 5.5 pounds — and each gauge is made to its own specific receiver size. These are the types of guns grouse and woodcock hunters seem to like because they want to carry their upland ordnance in a ready, somewhat port arms position full time … or at least for hours on end. Most of us can’t do that with a 7.5-pound shotgun. The heft of the smaller gauge 5.5-pound Stevens 555 makes such ready carrying easy.

    Read More: The Stevens 555 Enhanced Over/Under

    The 12 gauge comes with a 28-inch barrel — the other three with a 26-incher. Barrels are rigged for flush-mounted screw chokes, with five of them included. The stock is Turkish walnut in a matte finish and the trigger is mechanical. There are extractors instead of ejectors, and there’s a manual safety — meaning the safety does not engage automatically when you open the gun. Lockup is similar to the previously described over/unders; barrels pivoting on trunnions — plus that full bolt based in the bottom of the receiver, and the strength-enhancing recoil lug. MSRP for the Stevens 555 starts at around $770.

    Side view of Stevens over/under shotgun, the Model 555

    There’s a vent rib with white bead at the muzzle; there are vented side panels, and the barrel wears a matte finish. The receiver and the fore-end iron are deeply blued — almost black. There’s cut checkering on the pistol grip and the fore-end — the latter Schnabel in style.

    See Also: Stevens 555 Compact Over/Under Models

    Mearns quail habitat in southern Arizona is some steep and thick cover. In my experience, they erupt with almost blinding speed — just the situation where a very lightweight shotgun can pay dividends. Why? Because in shooting scenarios like this, the bird’s jump has them already ahead of the barrels. So, the shooter must catch up — thus, the swing-through shooting technique is almost universally required here. The low weight of the Stevens 555 makes catching up easier.

    Experienced swing-through shotgunners have a mantra as they are swinging to catch up: “Bum, Belly, Beak,” and “beak” is when they hit the trigger. 

    Browning Citori
    Browning's classic, yet affordable over/under shotgun, the Citori

     

    Yes, we are moving up in price range with Browning’s Citori, but this over/under is a worthy consideration as the cost is relatively low compared to the quality, and so many of them have been sold that Citoris are readily available on the used market at less than retail prices. Further, these guns have performed on all the clay target stages — many of them for hundreds of thousands of rounds. So, you can rely on a Citori to hold up long term whether it's new or used.

    I’ve visited a number of firearms factories over the years, and most are basically sophisticated machine shops that turn out high-quality firearms. Visiting the Browning factory in Japan, I saw things differently. Sure, there was plenty of “machining” going on there, but what impressed me in that factory was the inordinate amount of handwork that goes into making a Citori.

    The Citori is, in many ways, a knockoff of the Browning Superposed. It was made in Belgium for decades. In the early 1970s Browning brass saw the financial handwriting on the wall. Belgian labor costs were mushrooming, and who knows how much the machinery there was aging and in need of replacement. Thus, the move was made to Japan, and the model name went from Superposed to Citori.

    For decades now the Browning Citori has become available in a near unimaginable series of models — mainly specialized renditions for trap, sporting clays and skeet. These are more expensive than the basic Citori, but the ensuing paragraphs are devoted only to the Citori.

    Read More: Browning 725 Citori Full Review

    Today’s basic model is the Citori Lightning — in style similar to the Superposed Lightning — with Lightning-style rounded fore-end and semi-pistol grip. The Lightning model Citori is offered in 12 gauge — and on a smaller, lighter receiver in 20, 28 and .410 — all three smaller gauges based on the 20-gauge receiver and thus of similar weight.

    The Citori's receiver

    Further, there are Citori models with a steel receiver and those with an aluminum alloy, the latter offering almost a pound in weight reduction — this one dubbed the Citori Superlight. There’s even a White Lightning model with a bright silver nitride receiver. The basic Lightning receiver is richly blued. The current full retail starts at around $2,200. You also get good quality engraving on the receiver and fore-end, engraving that closely resembles the engraving on the old Superposed. 

    The semi-pistol grip (again think Prince of Wales style) seems to offer quicker, surer gun mounting. Tight re-curve pistol grips are more suited to an already-mounted gun — as in clay target busting. The stock is gloss finished, and the checkering is cut very fine at 24 lines-to-the-inch. There is no recoil pad, which is important to a hunting gun, as less weight is involved with the Citori’s black plastic buttplate. Better balance is maintained, with the average balance point right at the hinge.

    That “hinge” is also different in the Browning Citori compared to most all current-day over/unders. Barrels don’t pivot on trunnions but instead pivot on a full-width hinge pin. There’s also the full-width locking bolt and a recoil lug milled into the base of the monobloc that dovetails into a matching milled-out area in the bottom of the receiver — that recoil lug going all the way through the base of the receiver. Check out this square notch in the accompanying photo. This lockup design is extremely strong.

    The Citori's grip

    The 12 gauge tends to weigh a tad over 8 pounds with 28-inch barrels. Three screw chokes are included. Barrels are overbored to .74 inch. Chambers are 3 inches in the 12, 20 and .410, and 2¾ inches for the 28. The 12-bore Citori is also offered with 26-inch barrels, but the 20-gauge barrel possibilities are most interesting — 26, 28, 30 and 32 inches! With a 28-inch barrel, the 20 gauge goes 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Both the .410-bore and 28-gauge guns come with either 26- or 28-inch barrels. How about the 12-gauge in Mississippi at one of Nash Buckingham’s favorite waterfowl haunts? If the birds aren’t flying, you can always look down and admire the fit and finish of your Citori.

    Want lighter weight? Then go with the Browning Citori Superlight models. These come with the alloy receiver, but the grip is straight and the fore-end features a bit of the Schnabel flare. More money is demanded here, but still a full retail of under $2,400. Other specs include: 26-inch barrels and 6 pounds, 12 ounces for the 12 gauge; and 5 pounds, 11 ounces for the 20 gauge. There are no 28s or .410s in the Superlight renditions. Receivers are bright silver nitride like the White Lightning — so expect even better corrosion resistance than a blued receiver.

    This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2018 available at GunDigestStore.com.

    Editor's Note: Elwood Shelton contributed to this article.

8 Classic Field Shotguns That Won’t Quit

South and Central American wingshooting destinations require shotguns be able to handle abuse and high-volume shooting.

What shotguns can handle high-volume hunting:

No wonder all the shotguns are blazing. You can see thousands of doves in the air. Your shotgun’s muzzles are doing a mini dance back and forth as you decide which winged target to zero in on. You know your gunning partners are experiencing the same excitement. This is only your first afternoon of shooting, but you are already realizing that the billing and extreme shotgunning about this trip have not been exaggerated. In fact, the shooting is already even better than expected.

Shotgun 5

In the few seconds you’ve been thinking this, you realize your gun is empty. As you break that over/under open, the spent shells go flying, but before they hit the ground your shooting assistant (they used to call them bird boys) is already inserting new shells. Time to pick out another dove target!

I was first introduced to this type of shooting in 1972. That’s when I realized I was “born” for such shooting, so I’ve made it a point to return and return, and my next trip will be number 56 — and this does not include many trips to shoot in Mexico. Consequently, I’ve learned a lot about where to go, and, because I almost always take my own guns, I have found out a lot about the ones that “work.” Further, these days most outfitters rent shotguns for this shooting — so what can you expect from those shotguns?


More Shotgun Articles:


I don’t bang away as frequently on these trips as I once did, but I do know it’s common for most shooters to fire 500 to 1,000 shells each half-day of shooting. If you round that off to 750 shells times eight hunts (afternoon hunt on day of arrival, two hunts a day for the next three days and a final hunt the day of departure), that’s 6,000 rounds. Any gun you take must be up to that degree of punishment. Further, on some of these hunts, daytime temps are in the 80s, sometimes higher — such hot weather will also take a toll on the gun(s) you take.

Shotgun 4

In 1972, outfitters had no rental guns. Traveling shooters took their own. These days, probably more than 80 percent of the thousands and thousands who flock to the likes of Nicaragua, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia rent guns from the outfitter. Since you’re reading this, I’m betting you’re a shotgun guy, so you’d like to take your own shotgun(s) on such a trip. I will return to the rental-gun aspects after some suggestions for taking your own.

Guns That Make The Cut

The bottom line on this: Take the best, most reliable shotguns you have — not the least expensive. Feeling edgy about traveling with your best guns internationally? In all my previous 55 trips, I’ve never lost a gun in transit or while away. I did have a fine over/under experience a trigger problem once, but the outfitter jury-rigged it so it worked, and I had it properly repaired when I got back home. I’ve never heard of anyone losing a gun on these trips. One or two shooters, due to negligence of attention, had their guns kept in foreign customs. All were eventually returned.

Why such an excellent record of not losing guns? First off, working through your outfitter or their agent, proper gun paperwork must take place well in advance of your trip. When you arrive at your departure airport, you will have copies of that paperwork for the ticketing agent. When you arrive at your country of destination, authorities will be waiting with those paperwork originals.

Shotgun 6

Upon departure from your hunt, you must check those guns out of the country — this is to assure no guns are left behind. Upon arrival in the U.S., you need a signed U.S. Customs form #4457 to get your guns back into our country. The form will have your gun’s make, model and serial number. This form is good for life — so have that form plasticized.

Suggestions For Taking Your Own

Remington 3200

Shotgun 9
Photo: Guns International

One of the first shotguns I took to Colombia was a Remington 3200 over/under with 26-inch barrels. This 12 gauge was relatively heavy — which dampened recoil a bit due to its 9-pound weight. That O/U made many trips to Colombia, and it held up perfectly. The 3200 has not been made for many years, but it’s a good one — and readily available on the used market. The lockup is solid and, despite the weight, the 3200 swings well and is in balance.

Beretta 682 O/U

Shotgun 10
Photo: Guns International

A second gun that made many a trip was a Beretta 682 O/U. These guns are still made — though maybe with a slightly different cosmetic look compared to my original. The 680 series Berettas have an exceptional record of holding up well to thousands of competition rounds, so it’s no wonder that they work so well to, say, 6,000 rounds on a typical hunt to Argentina.

The 680 series is made with no under-locking lugs — thus, a receiver with less depth results. Theoretically, such guns are easier to shoot because the hands are in closer relationship with the barrels. Barrels pivot on trunnions. Two conically shaped bolts move forward from near midway in the receiver — to engage matching milled cutouts adjacent to the top barrel. The 680 series’ final lockup is the “shoulders.” Several different Beretta semi-autos are popular as rental guns in these countries, and I’ll talk more about those in the rental-gun section.

Krieghoff Model 32 Or K-80

Krieghoff K-80
Krieghoff K-80

During my years of competition skeet shooting, my two-man team partner often remarked — if I had a gun problem — “Someday, you’ll get a Krieghoff.” Eventually, I bought five of them, and I still have two.

One of the latter has made many, many trips to South America. This one is not a K-80 — the Krieghoff in production today — but the K80’s predecessor: the model 32. Though not currently made, they are offered regularly on the used market — and at prices that are very low compared to the K-80.

Essentially, the two are the same gun — at least in design and lockup. K-80s have great triggers, but if one ever wants a K-80 trigger, they are made to fit the model 32 as well. Further, the K-80 has a casehardened receiver; the model 32 does not. There are other differences between the two models, but not that many. Both models lock up with the sliding top lock — a system that was originated with the Remington Model 32. There are no under-locking lugs, so this is another receiver with no additional depth, and the barrels pivot on trunnions.

Krieghoffs are well-known for their total reliability no matter how many thousands of rounds are put through them — thus, another perfect choice for high-volume South American shooting. The one I take with me wears 28-inch barrels and a recoil-absorbing JS Air Cushion stock.

Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting

Summit_Sporting

Caesar Guerini hasn’t been in business for decades, but since their introduction in 2003, this company has gobbled up a huge share of the over/under shotgun market. In that first year, I bought the manufacturer’s Summit Sporting model in a 28 gauge with 32-inch barrels. That gun made more than one trip to both Argentina and Uruguay, but I eventually had that gun fit with a set of 20-gauge 32-inch barrels. This 20 bore has made many trips to Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina.

The Summit Sporting is one of Guerini’s least expensive over/unders, but they’re all built with the same locking system; barrels pivot on trunnions, a receiver-wide bolt in the bottom of the receiver moves forward upon closing — where that bolt engages lugs milled into the bottom of the monobloc — plus, there are dual recoil lugs milled into the bottom of the monobloc that nestle into matching recesses in the bottom of the receiver.

Also, the checkering is very well done and at an unprecedented 26-lines to the inch. The 32-inch barrels are not for everybody, but this Guerini weighs 7 pounds, 5 ounces. If it were an 8.5-pound 12 gauge, I don’t think I’d like those long barrels, but I shoot this one well. It’s an elegant-looking gun, too. Further, this Summit Sporting has been shot thousands and thousands of times — with never a hiccup.

Perazzi MX8

Shotgun 2

This brings me to Perazzi, a favorite of many smoothbore aficionados, and a particular favorite of mine. Perazzi makes several models. Mine is the MX8. Lockup is similar to the Boss from England made decades and decades ago. Barrels pivot on trunnions, and two locking bolts move forward upon closing — to engage two milled-out matching recesses in the monobloc. The MX8 and other Perazzi models have an unparalleled reputation for reliability, especially in trap circles. This one carries 28.5-inch barrels.

Beretta A400

Beretta A400
Photo: Guns America

Bill Straub and Debbie Meade have accompanied me on my last three trips to both Jorge Molina’s lodges in Bolivia. They bought and take along the Beretta A400 semi-auto in 28 gauge. Both these guns also have the Kick-Off recoil reduction system in the stock — for virtually no recoil — especially in their 28 gauges. Most all Beretta semi-auto shotguns are well-known for their reliability, as various Beretta semis are depended upon by some of today’s top sporting clays shooters. These guys and gals shoot 12-gauge Beretta semis in competition — but most all of them opt for the Kick-Off.
Reliable Rental Guns

Beretta 390 and 391

Shotgun 1
Photo: Guns America

What about rental guns in these countries? As you might guess, Berettas are very popular. I don’t see many A400s yet, as that model is relatively new, but I do see plenty of Beretta semi-auto models — 390s and 391s. If you’re accustomed to shooting one of these in the U.S., check with your outfitter before departure to see if you can reserve one for yourself. Gas-operated, these Berettas suck up recoil; plus, they handle extremely well.

Benelli M2 Field

m2-field-shotgun

Two years ago, Bolivian outfitter Jorge Molina purchased 50 Benelli M2 semi-autos. He knew from previous experience that Benellis certainly held up. The idea in buying 50 of all the same model was that it would be easier for his gun staff to work on; plus, they’d be able to buy the same typical spare parts that break and have them on hand. This philosophy has worked well for both his lodges, and most of his clients rent — and they like the M2 despite these guns not being gas-operated.

Ammo-wise, he carries both Rio and RC (made in Italy) shells — the 12 gauges at 7/8 ounce (24 gram) and 1,350 fps, and he also has 20- and 28-gauge shells at the same 24 grams and same high velocity. Maybe the added velocity ensures reliable working of the semi-autos.

Molina still has his Beretta semis from previous years, though not a lot of them. They have been functional for maybe a decade. Do the math. Say these guns are fired 10,000 rounds a week from April through October. That’s seven months at say 28 weeks times 10,000 rounds. That means roughly 280,000 rounds every season. For 10 years! Which would you rather be shooting — one of the rentals or your own?

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Kolar Arms Shotguns: Classy, Competitive Trap Guns

The Kolar Arms Over/Under Shotgun is making waves in trap, sporting clays and skeet.

Kolar Shotgun Models

  • MAX Trap T/S
  • MAX Trap T/A
  • MAX Skeet
  • MAX Lite Sporting
  • MAX AAC All Around Combo
The Kolar Max Skeet over/under is the epitome of classy sporting shotguns today.
The Kolar Max Skeet over/under is the epitome of classy sporting shotguns today.

Kolar is a name in shotgunning that is not well-known to those outside the high stakes world of professional skeet shooting. But to those in the know, it’s the sporting scattergun to have if you want to compete against the best in the business. Kolar guns are entirely made right here in America — in Racine, Wisconsin, to be exact. But how did the Kolar over/under come about?

Don Mainland is the man behind the Kolar concept. In the 1960s, ‘70s and beyond, Mainland was making parts for the auto and aero industries to tolerances of +/- .003-inches — unheard of at the time. Pioneer Products (one of three companies he owns) had more than 50 parts on various space shuttles.

2015 National Sporting Clays Champion Pat Lieske.
2015 National Sporting Clays Champion Pat Lieske.

Mainland was shooting a lot of skeet in the early 1980s with Ed Scherer and Debra Raschella, both Skeet Hall of Famers. For those who don’t know, skeet is a four-gauge game involving the 12-, 20-, 28- and .410-gauge shotgun. Leading up to the 1980s most competitors shot four-barrel sets with one 12-gauge receiver using interchangeable 12, 20, 28 and .410 over/under barrels, thus the term four-barrel set. But coming on strong by the early 1980s were “tube sets.”

These were light aluminum alloy full-length tubes precision fit to individual 12-gauge barrels. The tubes were tapped into place with a tight fit and had stainless-steel chambers (titanium chambers for lighter weight were later used).

It was Ed Scherer who suggested Mainland meet with Larry Kolar. During that time Kolar was making skeet tubes under his own name and was initially reluctant to sell. But after Mainland visited for several days Kolar decided to sell his sub-gauge tubes. Today these are called Kolar Max Lite AAA Sub-Gauge Tubes.

Kolar AAA sub-gauge tubes allow shooters to compete in smaller gauge competitions.
Kolar AAA sub-gauge tubes allow shooters to compete in smaller gauge competitions.

Sometime around 1990, Remington Arms had an idea for a single-barrel trap gun that was eventually called the 90-T. Don Mainland made ten of these trap guns under contract with Remington. After extensive testing, Remington gave Mainland a contract to manufacture the 90-T. So, all Remington Model 90-T trap guns were made by Don Mainland’s company, not Remington.

Gun companies were very concerned about barrel blowups, which were often caused by overloads with reloaded shells. Mainland developed the technology to measure wall thickness the full length of the barrel. For the Remington 90-T, Mainland’s company rejected any barrel that was out of tolerance by +/- .003-inch wall thickness down the full length of the barrel. He told me that Remington did extensive testing trying to blow up 90-T barrels, but they couldn’t.

Inside the Elite Shotguns traveling mobile sales van, where many high-end Kolar shotguns are on display and for sale.
Inside the Elite Shotguns traveling mobile sales van, where many high-end Kolar shotguns are on display and for sale.

Remington was going through a sale of the company when it came time to renew the contract for more model 90-T trap guns. Perhaps because of the impending sale Remington did not want to renew the contract for additional 90-T single-barrel shotguns. So, what was Mainland to do with the tooling he had set up to make this Remington trap gun?

He made a few starts trying to make over/under shotguns for at least one other manufacturer, but then he got the backing, in the way of orders, to come up with his own Kolar shotgun — the gun originally named the Kolar Competition — and the first orders came from Hal DuPont and Robert Paxton, both very well-known names in clay target competition. Later in this article Paxton gives more insight into how the Kolar gun got started.


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In coming up with the design of the Kolar, Mainland already had the concept and technology to make barrels of consistent wall thickness, i.e. no thin areas. He also looked at areas that had failed in other competition shotguns, even if those failures took hundreds of thousands of rounds before occurring.

Mainland redesigned these parts, made them stronger, removed sharp corners and more. He also beefed up the sides of his new receiver, adding more strength. As Mainland put it to me, “I overbuild everything.”

The Kolar triggers went through three generations of design. Some of the trigger design changes were to ensure the gun wouldn’t fan fire. The latest triggers were also designed so they could quickly be changed back and forth between pull and release. Release triggers are of great importance to trap shooters.

The look of the standard-grade Kolar receiver with nickel finish.
The look of the standard-grade Kolar receiver with nickel finish.

Mainland also designed the Kolar O/U so it would be easy to work on. No complicated tools were required by a gunsmith other than those virtually all gunsmiths had on hand. This is not true of many other shotgun receivers.

Enter John Ramagli, who came along during the early years of Kolar gun production. Ramagli was particularly interested in .410 patterns. He used Mainland’s indoor range for seemingly endless experiments.

Ramagli described those experiments. “In those years, used .410 Remington semi-auto 1100 barrels could be bought for as little as $50. I’d take them to Kolar’s indoor patterning range and start cutting barrel muzzles back a small amount at a time, thus reducing the choke trying to see if I could improve .410 patterns. I also painstakingly polished chokes, thus polished away some more choke … to see if I could improve those .410 patterns. But my results were sketchy.

“Next, I started overboring those Remington 1100 .410 barrels from .410 to .412 to .415, to even .420. It was overboring that improved my .410 patterns. This was the technology that we began building into our .410 sub-gauge tubes. Eventually, we overbored all our sub-gauge tubes.”

A highly engraved Kolar receiver — beautiful and functional.
A highly engraved Kolar receiver — beautiful and functional.

Back to chokes. Another thing Ramagli discovered with his choke experiments was that a conical shape worked best in sub-gauge tubes. Most of us have always assumed that a parallel/taper was the best way to build a choke. After all, the latter way is more time-consuming and expensive, so it should be better. Not so according to Ramagli’s experiments.

If discovering the benefits of overboring was the first bonus Ramagli brought to Kolar, it wasn’t the last. He invested in the company and is now President of the company. As Don Mainland had been the guiding and shining light behind the Kolar gun concept, Ramagli was getting ready to take the gun to new heights.

“Shooters are going to see more innovation at Kolar in the next 10 years than they have in our previous 10 years,” Ramagli said.

Kolar over/under sales started only with Hal DuPont and “K Guns” and Robert Paxton with Paxton Arms near Dallas, Texas. After a few years, Ramagli spread sales of the Kolar to several other high-end dealers, but his current financial plan has been to reduce the number of gun shops that sell it to a select few.

Robert Paxton is still on, big time, as is Pat Lieske with the Bald Mountain and Island Lake Shooting Centers in Michigan, the Indiana Gun Club with Phil Baker and their mobile sales units manned by John Harden, and now the joint venture between Dan Lewis on the West Coast, Murry Gerber’s Elite Shotguns in Pennsylvania, and mobile sales units manned by Aaron Willoughby.

The typical high-quality checkering pattern on the Kolar Max.
The typical high-quality checkering pattern on the Kolar Max.

What shot the Kolar over/under through the figurative roof in popularity is not only the company’s financial plan, but also its shooters. And Kolar relies heavily on these shooters (as well as regular Kolar customers) for input on how to make the Kolar O/U better. In the skeet realm it has been mainly Paul Giambrone III. He not only shoots a Kolar and has for years, but also has provided suggestions for the current Kolar Max Lite Skeet model. Guys like Giambrone don’t suggest major changes, but the little tweaks are what make great guns better. For close to 10 years, Giambrone has been just about unbeatable on skeet’s biggest stages.

For trap input, Ramagli relied heavily on All-American Ricky Marshall (now an employee) and other All-American trap shooters. While the Max Trap is still available with an adjustable rib, with Marshall’s input (and other trap shooters) the Kolar has recently reintroduced the fixed rib — both a standard and an elevated one. Other subtle changes have gone into the current Kolar trap model.

Similarly, Kolar has listened to their customers and professional team members to tweak the shotgun for sporting clays. One result: the Max Lite Sporter. This input came from shooters like Doug Fuller, who won the National Sporting Clays Championship in 2000; Pat Lieske, who won the National Sporting Clays Championship in 2015 and the National F.I.T.A.S.C. Championship in 2015; and Derrick Mein, who won the National Sporting Clays Championship in 2017 and the 2016 World F.I.T.A.S.C. Championship in Italy.

Murry Gerber of Elite Shotguns.
Murry Gerber of Elite Shotguns.

Another aspect that keeps the Kolar models ahead of the competition is the wood. “Dollar for dollar we put on the best walnut of any gun in the industry,” Ramagli said. “We know our shooters love a great piece of wood on their gun, and we go overboard to produce for them. Great wood is not easy to find. I’ve spent two decades contacting the best wood producers.”

In addition to superb wood stocks, the company is also putting more and more emphasis on engraved guns. The Standard model is engraved (with either a blued or nickeled receiver), but an increasing number wear significant engraving that pushes price tags to well over $100,000. These high-grade Kolars are selling about as fast as engravers can turn them out, according to Ramagli.

The lockup system of the Kolar is super strong, with two lugs protruding from the sides of the inside of the receiver that fit into two recesses milled into either side of the barrels upon closing the gun. Barrels pivot on trunnions. Receiver wall thickness is wider than most at .329 inch. When Ramagli started with Kolar he wanted a lighter receiver. Mainland was dead set against doing that. These days, Ramagli admits Mainland was right. Other over/under manufacturers have redesigned their receivers similarly.

“The receiver is the key to virtually everything about the Kolar,” Ramagli explains. “Strength is only the beginning. The gun stays in balance whether we hang 30- or 32-inch barrels on that receiver. However, most importantly, it’s how easy the receiver is to take apart, repair and put back together. That’s Don Mainland’s genius. Virtually every gun that comes in for service goes out the same or next day. They are that easy to take apart, that easy to service. And no special tools are needed to undress a Kolar receiver.
“Recently a very low serial number Kolar came in — I think #244. It was bought by a trap shooter in 1996. Reportedly, he had shot over two million rounds through the gun. It had never been to Racine for any service! That says a lot about how well these guns are built,” he said.

“I’m so proud to have been a part of this Kolar story,” he continued. “The success certainly has not been all my doing. The sales team that’s now assembled with Robert Paxton, Pat Lieske, Phil Baker, Murry Gerber and Dan Lewis — we’re going to be around for a long, long time.”

To get more of the Kolar story, I next spoke with Jeff Mainland (Don’s son) and Jeff’s son, Sean.

Another engraving style offered on the Kolar Max series.
Another engraving style offered on the Kolar Max series.

Jeff Mainland, President of US Competition Arms, Inc. (the company is the affiliated entity that produces the Kolar), explained that Kolar barrels have gone through a few changes over the years. Input from shooters advised that original barrels were a bit heavy. Jeff attacked this issue first by overboring the barrels — first to .740 inner diameter, then to .750, then even more — to reduce weight.

Those significant inner bore dimensions were abandoned when it became evident that .740 inch offered the best patterns. Jeff and others worked on the technology to machine metal from the outer diameter of the barrels instead. The result is an even greater weight loss compared to boring metal from inside the barrels. Recall earlier how Don Mainland developed the technology to measure barrel thickness every few inches to ensure uniform thickness. The net result of reducing the outer diameter of the barrels was the removal of 8 to 10 ounces of barrel weight. Now the new Kolar guns became even more lively.

The further result was the introduction of three new guns — the current Max Lite Skeet, Max Lite Sporter and Max Lite Trap. These three guns are the current state-of-the-art from Kolar, and are winning big in serious competition. When it comes to new skeet guns sold, 99 percent are shipped with 30-inch barrels as well as the Kolar Max AAA Sub-Gauge Tubes. Most are sold with a low-profile adjustable rib and comb (all Kolar guns now come with an adjustable comb — save the ones that are individually fitted to a customer). All three models are stocked with a 14.75-inch length of pull (LOP).

As Jeff says, “Few shooters require a longer stock than that.” If necessary, reducing LOP is easy. All stocks come with a Monte Carlo step-down at the rear (see photo). This stock configuration reduces felt recoil as the gun tends to come straight back — not up into the face.

Full-length view of the Max Lite Sporter.
Full-length view of the Max Lite Sporter.

Four different stock configurations are available in the skeet, sporting and trap models, and left-handed stocks are offered as well. All stocks are crafted in-house via close-tolerance CNC machinery. Jeff has become a master stock fitter, and with many of the Kolar guns sold customers come into Racine for his special fitting. This takes all day. After considerable work fitting a customer, he uses CNC machines to mill small segments of the stock — always leaving a bit of extra wood. Final stock dimensions are completed by hand.

According to Jeff Mainland, one customer from Utah asked for trap guns that printed patterns 80 percent above the point of aim, then ordered additional Kolars that shot 100 percent above point of aim. More and more Kolar trap guns are going out the door with these two configurations. The idea behind the very high shooting guns is that the rising trap target is still in view when the trigger is pulled. With patterns printing 50/50 the bird is usually covered by the barrels, thus not seen when the trigger is pulled. According to him, Kolar has 20 different stock/rib choices for trap shooters.

Jeff’s son Sean came on at Kolar a few years ago. That makes three generations of Mainlands at the company. Sean is the one who attends many of the trap, sporting and skeet competitions. These events are attended to obtain shooter input that will make a great American-made competition gun even better.

What about the special distributors that sell Kolar competition guns? The first to come on board was the aforementioned Robert Paxton. Paxton is one of the most seasoned shotgunners to ever break clay. A many-time All-American and member of the Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame, Paxton’s introduction to Don Mainland came via phone. Mainland had ordered a competition over/under with a set of sub-gauge tubes. A few weeks later, he ordered another gun and set of tubes, then a third, fourth — perhaps a fifth set — all within only a four-month period. Paxton was thinking, “This is my best customer!”

Shooting the Kolar is an experience that is tough to put into words. There’s a reason why competition shooters are flocking to the brand. And new shooters, too.
Shooting the Kolar is an experience that is tough to put into words. There’s a reason why competition shooters are flocking to the brand. And new shooters, too.

Eventually, Paxton asked Mainland what he was doing with all those expensive guns and sub-gauge tube sets. Mainland was dissecting them, cutting them into small pieces trying to find out what made them tick, thus how to make his gun better. When Mainland bought Kolar Sub-Gauge Tubes, Paxton was the first on board to sell them.

Mainland made his first 12 prototype Kolar shotguns and gave them to a dozen serious shooters with the request they shoot them for two years and report back. Robert Paxton received #4 and, like the other field testers, shot that prototype for two years. Skeet-shooting legend Wayne Mayes also received one of the prototypes. From 1994 until his untimely death, Mayes shot the same Kolar O/U. In fact, Mayes was significantly involved with Mainland and Ramagli as an adviser.

“This is a great American story – not just a gun company story,” Robert Paxton began. “When Mainland retired from bicycle competition he was looking for something new to do. His successful companies already employed hundreds, thus he began making a shotgun — not out of profit motive but of a genuine love for the shotgun game. You can see that by his creating twelve prototypes and giving them to serious shooters to shoot for two years. He wasn’t about to rush into anything. He was taking his time!

“It has been great to work with not only an American gunmaking company, but to work with one of the finest companies anyone could work with. Kolar has always been about quality, not quantity.”

Phil Baker, another Kolar distributor, heads up the Indiana Gun Club where only shotgun shooting takes place — trap, skeet and sporting clays. But this club also has an extensive gun room where all the popular competition guns are displayed and sold. “The Kolar guns outsell any of the other high-end shotguns,” Baker said. “We sell mostly trap guns, but also sell our share of sporting and skeet guns.”

Baker also has a mobile sales unit run by John Hardin. The vehicle is filled with all the competition guns Baker sells at the Indiana Gun Club, with a special concentration on Kolar models. The mobile unit stays on the road visiting the bigger shoots — especially trap shoots — showing shooters the guns inside often with the offer to test fire them for a round or two. This traveling truck has been a very successful way for Phil Baker to market more of his shotguns.

Jerry Stillions’ highly engraved Kolar Max Lite Skeet. Stillions spent a full day at the Racine, Wisconsin, factory to have Jeff Mainland do a custom gun fitting. When you order a Kolar, it will fit you like a glove.
Jerry Stillions’ highly engraved Kolar Max Lite Skeet. Stillions spent a full day at the Racine, Wisconsin, factory to have Jeff Mainland do a custom gun fitting. When you order a Kolar, it will fit you like a glove.

Pat Lieske has two gun ranges — Island Lake Shooting Range just north of Ann Arbor, and Bald Mountain Shooting Range near Detroit. His gun shop is in Bald Mountain. Both clubs offer sporting clays, trap, skeet, 5-stand and rifle and pistol ranges. Lieske is no stranger to clay target shooting. Previously a many-time skeet All-American and multiple skeet champion, Lieske found sporting clays some years ago and, evidently, has never looked back. Some of his wins have been highlighted previously. He negotiated with John Ramagli to become a Kolar dealer. No doubt winning the National Championship with a new Max Lite Sporter sealed that deal.

Actually, Lieske shot a Kolar years before when barrels were a bit heavier, but he told me the new Max Lite Sporter was a significant improvement. “The balance, dynamics and lack of recoil put this current Kolar Sporter in a class by itself,” he said. Lieske hasn’t been the first person I’ve talked with who is adamant about the Kolar’s lack of recoil.

He now shoots a low gun at sporting clays unless the targets being presented suggest a mounted gun. “When shooting low gun, the balance and dynamics of a shotgun are even more important than when shooting a mounted gun. Here again the new Kolar shines.”

He also told me that both he and his customers like dealing with a company that makes its guns right here in America. “Further, this is the only gun ever designed from the beginning to accommodate sub-gauge tubes. Small-gauge sporting competition is becoming more important, so the gun’s design for 12-gauge and sub-gauges again set the Kolar apart.”

Murry Gerber started Elite Shotguns, based north of Pittsburgh, five years ago. In a short time, he and his staff of only two have experienced a meteoric rise in shotgun sales, especially Kolars. When Gerber was starting his gun shop he had several choices for a high-end clay target over/under. He and his partners researched the possibilities and found Kolar was an American company. The fact that Kolar guns were made in America made the decision for them. But how to convince Kolar to have Elite become a distributor?

A CNC milling machine is used to rough out the shape of all Kolar stocks prior to extensive handwork and application of the finish.
A CNC milling machine is used to rough out the shape of all Kolar stocks prior to extensive handwork and application of the finish.

Gerber and partner Don Watt flew to Racine after they had set up a meeting with John Ramagli. In addition to promising to place a significant order with Kolar, Ramagli wanted more and Gerber wanted to give more. Elite was adamant about giving customers exceptional service. Elite also committed to support clay target tournaments.

Regarding those promised tournaments, Elite became a sponsor of what had been the Great Eastern Skeet Championships. The last two years the tournament has been called the Elite Classic, so this relatively new company has made the commitment to support competitive shooting. But Elite has gone further, supporting such events as the World Skeet Shooting Championships, National Sporting Clays Championships, and the U.S. Open Championships in both sporting and skeet.

Unique in the world of clay target shooting, Elite is the driving force behind their Pro Shooters Weekend. During this springtime event, Kolar pro shooters are invited to Western Pennsylvania for a three-day shoot. For a small entry fee, participants get lessons from these pros in trap, sporting and skeet, including shells and targets. “This is a prime way of giving back to our customers,” said Gerber. “Once we sell them a great clay target gun we want them to use it most effectively.”

Paul Giambrone III, longtime Kolar champion skeet shooter and advisor.
Paul Giambrone III, longtime Kolar champion skeet shooter and advisor.

“This is clearly a world-class product,” said Gerber. “More and more shooters are seeing the gun’s advantages and switching to it. When customers come to us with a problem, Kolar has been so cooperative. Their customer service is exceptional, and customer service is a main reason our company was started.”

Two years ago, Elite Shotguns teamed up with Dan Lewis, who is based in California. Lewis had become the top Kolar distributor in the Western U.S., and Elite was the leading sales shop in the East. Since then, the two have purchased space on Industry Row at the National Gun Club in San Antonio, another venue to sell their shotguns.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2019, 73rd Edition.

The 1873 Colt Single-Action Army Rides Again

While classic 1873 Colt Single-Action Army revolvers are cost prohibitive, there are a number of modern-day replicas that look great, shoot well and are priced affordably.

Who makes some of the best 1873 Colt Single-Action Army replicas?

The LOOK! Maybe that’s one of the many factors that make the 1873 Colt Single-Action Army (SAA) so enduring. Hardly a gun nut anywhere doesn’t know the LOOK. Such guns can be picked out under the glass at local gun shops — with only the slightest glance. The reason for this article is that so many Peacemaker replicas have sprung up — made both in this country and abroad — and those old-time/new-time guns are selling well. Obviously, we will be covering a lot of them here in solid detail.

The Holy Smoker Cimarron worn by Russel Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma.”
The Holy Smoker Cimarron worn by Russel Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma.”

Bone Up On Legendary Colt Firearms

Despite the Colt Single-Action Army being born in 1873, it pays to go back to earlier Colt models, for these were the guns that set the universe in motion to produce one of the most iconic revolvers ever. The Colt Walker model might be the handgun that started the LOOK. At the time of its introduction in 1847, the Colt Walker was the most powerful handgun ever. Each of its six chambers fired a .454-caliber round ball ahead of as much as 60 grains of black powder. Glance at any Colt Walker and you will see a bit of the LOOK.

The Walker weighed all of 4.5 pounds, so this one was not for quick draw work. Not in 1847. In 1851, Colt came out with the Navy model in .36-caliber. This one fired a lead round ball in the .375- to .380-inch diameter range with a much-reduced black powder load compared to the Walker. Obviously, weight compared to the Walker was significantly reduced. With lower weight and smaller size, the Colt Navy of 1851 was ideal for carrying in the holster, or even pocket carrying, though the latter might be a stretch. The .36-caliber ball was still able to go out the muzzle at about 1,000 feet per second (fps).

The next step toward the 1873 SAA was the Colt 1860 Army model. Look at the Walker, the Navy and the Army models, and maybe you, too, can see the emergence of the 1873 coming. The 1860 Army’s receiver was the same size as the 1851 Navy. Due to a different rebated cylinder design, the “Army” was able to fire those .44-caliber round balls.

1-Engraved-51-Navy-BP

If you purchased a real Colt 1873 SAA in the late 1950s and/or early 1960s — you did or have done very well financially. However, it’s still possible to own a piece of this Colt history through the many SAA replicas that are available today. Though the following isn’t meant to encompass all the replicas available, we’ll try to cover as many as possible or as many as this writer knows about — which is a good many.

Ruger

In 1953, Ruger introduced its Single-Six model — in .22 rimfire — a small version of the SAA, but which retained the LOOK. Two years later, Bill Ruger introduced his Blackhawk — again, with the LOOK, but with the addition of an adjustable rear sight. No doubt due to the popularity of TV Westerns, Blackhawk sales took off. Years later and they’re still going strong in popularity.

The Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) was formed in 1987 — a sport of fun competition involving shooting with old-time guns — only with firearms of the Old West’s earlier times, and one of the rules was no open sights. Thus, in 1993, Bill Ruger came out with his Vaquero model — perhaps mainly to accommodate those SASS members who didn’t own or couldn’t find original Colt Single-Action Army six-shooters at a reasonable price.

Predating the Ruger Vaqueros were the Ruger Blackhawks, like these with adjustable rear sights.
Predating the Ruger Vaqueros were the Ruger Blackhawks, like these with adjustable rear sights.

The first Vaquero had a 7.5-inch barrel, and I had the good sense to buy one. This one has a case-colored receiver, wood grips, blued steel barrel, cylinder and trigger guard. Only offered in .45 Colt originally, this long-barrel rendition was next offered with a 5.5-inch barrel, later still a 4.62-inch barrel. The Vaquero is still available today, though not with the 7.5-inch barrel — only 5.5 and 4.62. However, stainless steel Vaquero versions are available. Recently, I bought a 4.62-inch barrel Vaquero in stainless. It’s one lovely gun to look at, and one great gun to shoot. This one is still available in .45 Colt and .38/.357. Calibers .44/40 and a few others have been discontinued. There’s also a Bisley Vaquero with tighter reverse to the grip and the SASS model — a matched pair of .45 Colt revolvers with a 5.5-inch barrel or a matched pair of .38/.357 4.62-inch barrel revolvers — both in the matched pair series with consecutive serial numbers. Many Cowboy Action Shooters wear and use two SAA types when practicing or competing. Check photos of my 7.5-inch blued and 4.62-inch stainless Vaqueros.

Cimarron

When I saw the Cimarron Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative online, I had to have one. This is a Single-Action Army 1873 replica with 7.5-inch barrel, all metal parts nickel plated, mock ivory grips and deeply etched engraving all over. The “T.R.” initials are engraved on the frame to the left of the hammer. Since this one is a “commemorative,” I shouldn’t have shot it — but I couldn’t resist. The trigger is creep free and goes off at 3 pounds! When I got to the range and started shooting, I discovered this one to be extremely accurate. “Commemorative” or not, I’m going to keep shooting this great-looking replica.

This is a good time to point out that many of these replicas are built with better, more modern steels than the original Colts. Further, sophisticated CNC machines are capable of extreme close milling tolerances — compared to the 1870s, even through into the mid 1970s.

Cimarron Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative model — nickeled, mock ivory grips and deeply etch engraved all over. The “T.R.” initials are clearly seen engraved on this Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative revolver.
Cimarron Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative model — nickeled, mock ivory grips and deeply etch engraved all over. The “T.R.” initials are clearly seen engraved on this Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative revolver.

Going back to the Cimarron Teddy gun … like the original Colts, you can bring the hammer to half cock so the cylinder can be spun for loading and unloading once the loading gate has been opened. With the Vaquero — just open the loading gate — the cylinder can be spun (turned).

Cimarron’s basic Single-Action Army model is called the Model P (Pre-War 1896–1940). These guns have case-colored receivers with blued barrels and cylinders. The company’s best seller in the P Model wears the 4.75-inch barrel, but 5.5-inch and 7.5-inch barrels are offered. Stocks are walnut with the Cimarron medallion.

Stainless-steel seems appropriately common for Cimarron customers as there’s a Stainless Frontier in .38/.357 with a 4.75-inch barrel, the same with a 5.5-inch barrel — as well as a 7.5-incher. Ditto for all these in .45 Colt. Suggested retail is listed at $740. This is for top steels and guns made to tight tolerances, as well as the LOOK.

The Man with No Name from Cimarron, worn by Clint Eastwood in more than one of his “Spaghetti Westerns.”
The Man with No Name from Cimarron, worn by Clint Eastwood in more than one of his “Spaghetti Westerns.”

At less than $550 suggested retail, in the Cimarron Value series is the El Malo, Big Iron and Pistolero. All these models are available in more than one barrel length, and in most cases .38/.357 and .45 Colt. There’s also the blued version of the stainless Frontier.

A most interesting Cimarron series is the Hollywood line. Start with “The Man with No Name” model. This is a facsimile of the six-shooter Clint Eastwood carried in “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More.” A silver snake adorns the right side of the grip. Select from a 4.75- and 5.5-inch barrel — .45 Colt only. There’s also the Holy Smoker model with a gold cross on the grip — this one carried by Russel Crowe in the movie “3:10 to Yuma.” Barrel is 4.75 inches, and chambered for .45 Colt. The Cimarron Wyatt Earp Buntline wears a 10-inch barrel. On the grip is a silver panel with Earp’s name and more — another .45 Colt. The Rooster Shooter was carried by John Wayne who played Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” — a 4.75-inch barrel in .45 Colt with grips turned yellowish. These Cimarron SAA replicas are imported from Pietta in Italy.

Uberti

Also from Italy comes the SAA replicas from Uberti. These days Uberti — at least the imports — are under the control of the company that owns Benelli, Franchi, Stoeger and perhaps others. My first Uberti is called the Cattleman. The Cattleman is right out of 1873 Single-Action Army history with a case-colored receiver, blued barrel and cylinder with walnut grips — in .45 Colt. Mine wears a 5.5-inch barrel. Like the originals, open the loading gate, and bring the hammer to half cock to turn the cylinder for loading and unloading. The trigger is excellent. It goes off at 3 pounds on my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Scale. Mike Crevar has done superb triggers on both my Vaqueros and other handguns.

The Uberti Cattleman also comes in stainless — here with a 7.5-inch barrel.
The Uberti Cattleman also comes in stainless — here with a 7.5-inch barrel.

The Cattleman does not have a safety transfer bar, so load it with five cartridges, then let the hammer down on the empty cylinder. Normal procedure is load one, skip a cylinder, and then load the remaining four. Cock the hammer from half cock to the empty chamber. In Cowboy Action Shooting competition, only five cartridges can be loaded — and the hammer must rest on an empty chamber. Recommendation: Load any Single-Action Army with five, whether the gun has a safety transfer bar or not.

If you were ever wondering about the popularity of Single-Action Army replicas, consider that Uberti offers 13 different Cattleman models, ranging from Charcoal Blue, Nickel, Stainless, plus a Chisholm, Cody, Desperado, Matching Pair, Frisco, Old West, Hombre, Callahan, Callahan Target (with adjustable sights) and an engraved Cattleman. Many of these are offered in multiple barrel lengths — all in .45 Colt, a few in other calibers. The number of SKUs in just the Cattlemen Uberti models is thus staggering. In most cases, there are minor changes in these above models, like brass trigger guard, steel back strap, blued frame with casehardened hammer and more.

But the Cattlemen only touches the surface of what’s available in the Uberti SAA line. The .22 rimfire SAA-type six-shooters are not being covered here, but the Stallion is in .22 rimfire but also .38 with 5.5-inch barrel — the same with the Stallion Target, which features adjustable rear sights. The Cattleman II has a retractable firing pin — again — lots of different II models. There are also several different El Patron models from Uberti.

Parting Shots

The author’s own Cimarron Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative model — nickeled, mock ivory grips and deeply etch engraved all over.
The author’s own Cimarron Teddy Roosevelt Commemorative model — nickeled, mock ivory grips and deeply etch engraved all over.

But by now you have the picture. An entire gun-making industry has arisen from the death of the old Single-Action Army. As already covered, these replicas can be excellent, in some cases even better than the original 1873 model Colts — due to better steels and tighter machining tolerances. Most of us can’t afford a real 1873 Single-Action Army Colt. Even for those who can, those guns are most often stored and not shot due to their value. The 1873 replicas are not only shooters, they’re top shooters!

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


Find Out More About Iconic Colt


Getting the Swing of a Proper Shotgun Swing

swing-lead

If your shotgun swing tends to occur with minimal, or no, body turn, it’s easy to practice the proper maneuver. Do it at home, practicing with an unloaded gun. In addition to learning to turn your entire body as you swing the shotgun, you’ll also be practicing a proper gun mount.

The tendency for so many is a dip maneuver. As the gun is mounted, the right hand gets too active in bringing the butt stock to the shoulder. When that happens the muzzle dips down away from the target’s flight path, whether the bird in question is flying straightaway, offers a quartering or a crossing shot. What you want is a smooth move to the bird, not just with your hands, but also with the ever-so-important muzzle.

How do you do that? The mistake so many make is that they start the butt stock to the shoulder first. This move almost guarantees that the muzzle will come down, probably away from the bird’s flight path. The additional negative here is this. As this shooter is getting the butt to the shoulder the muzzle isn’t moving yet. Thus the bird is getting further ahead of that muzzle.

What makes a lot more sense is to start the muzzle moving with the bird so that the pitch or feathered target doesn’t get that jump on you. Then bring the stock to the shoulder as you keep swinging and turning. You may still see some muzzle dip as the butt stock nears your shoulder. If this happens, try less gripping pressure with the right/pistol grip hand. Also, work on smoothness as you practice at home. If the muzzle dips down, slow down until you become more accustomed to this move and comfortable with it.

It’s a good idea to initially practice this move on an imaginary straightaway clay. Get the feel of having the muzzle move smoothly and unwaveringly to the top corner of your office or den wall. One company sells a special flashlight that you can insert in your practice gun’s muzzle. It has a tiny red beam. The slightest incorrect move to the imaginary bird can thus be seen easily via the light on the wall corner.

Once you’re comfortable with this smooth move to the straightaway target, it’s time to work on a crossing shot. Here you can use the seam where the wall meets the ceiling. Start the muzzle at the room’s corner, gun down. Start swinging along that wall/ceiling seam, blending in the gun mount while turning, hopefully from the ankles up. As the stock hits your shoulder and cheek, this is when you should be hitting the trigger in a real clay-shooting situation.

How often should you practice this gun mounting and body turning scenario? I don’t think any of us should ever stop. This practice should be done every day, at least several times a week, – and not only in the days or weeks leading up to an upcoming tournament.

Why? Because the proper gun mount and the proper turn in your swing hits at the very fundamentals of shotgun shooting. Watch any how-to video on shooting, golf or the stock market. What do the extremely successful pros go back to day in and day out? It’s the fundamentals. I recall watching a golf video years ago – done by Gary Player. He kept going back to his grip. To his caddy and other close golfing friends he would say something like, “Keep an eye on my grip. It has to be perfect. If you ever notice the slightest change in my grip, tell me right away.”

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Shotgun Games.

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