Specialist guns for specialist jobs – a side-by-side for clay shooting, a .410 for farmyard pests, and a semi-auto for serious gamekeeping duties

Winchester Model 23

Side-by-side classes in major sporting contests don’t seem to be as popular as they were, which is a pity because they formed a friendly link between clay and gameshooting. Nevertheless, using a side-by-side for club Sporting targets can be great fun, as well as sharpening up the reflexes ready for the autumn.

Winchester Model 23

Winchester Model 23

Of course, if you want to take clays with side-by-sides seriously then you need a specialist tool for the job, and there are not many suitable guns on the market. But on the second-hand shelves there are some gems, and one such is the Winchester Model 23.

The gun disappeared along with the much-loved Winchester 101 series of O/Us in the 1980s, but good examples still seem to be fetching premium prices. Basically, there are two qualities of Model 23s – a standard version for which I have given my target price of £800 for an example in excellent condition, and what Winchester described as the “Pigeon” grade which costs rather more – more than £1,000 for a good one.

These prices are nowhere near what American sportsmen are prepared to pay, and while researching this article I found one with an asking price of $6,000, which at the time of writing is around £4,500.

So, what do you get for your money? Firstly, the gun is a bit on the heavy side for a side-by-side, at around 7½lb, depending on barrel length. Three barrel lengths are available, at 25, 28 and 30 inches, with the 30 preferred for clay shooting. Sight picture is particularly good, with a high, ventilated rib giving a feel close to that of an O/U.

Woodwork is varnished, and most guns have a semi-pistol grip stock with a thin, hard butt plate on top of a thin, white spacer. The gun pictured has obviously had a thicker pad added by a previous owner. Fore-end is a beefy beavertail, although a very small number of guns produced late in the production run, which Winchester named the European, had English-style splinter fore-ends and straight-hand stocks.

The barrels are fixed-choke with chromed bores, and the chambers are three inches. The guns have magnum proof, usually with Birmingham stamps, but a few were proofed in Germany or Italy. Note that this proof is for lead shot, not steel.

Further information: The current Winchester importers cannot help with further information or spares. In the US Midwest Gun Works  list some spares, but there may be restrictions on importing them into the UK.

410 Mossberg pump action

410 Mossberg pump action

Sound-moderated .410 Mossberg pump-action

Doesn’t it annoy you when, just as you are getting fascinated by the plot of a detective or spy story, the author makes a glaring mistake over a simple firearms matter? If you are like me, it quite ruins the tale’s entertainment value. A common mistake is to assume that “silenced” guns make a tiny little “plop” noise about the strength of a whisper. They don’t, and the correct term is “sound moderated.” Such guns still go “bang”, although the noise is considerably reduced, particularly when subsonic ammunition is used. No sound moderator can quieten the sharp “crack” of supersonic ammo.

Now I’ve had my grumpy old man’s moan of the day, let me introduce a sound-moderated Mossberg pump-action .410, the reduced noise of which, particularly with subsonic cartridge, makes it ideal for zapping pests close to buildings or in any other situation where loud noise can be a disadvantage.

410 Mossberg pump action

410 Mossberg pump action

In this respect the Hushpower-converted Mossberg is particularly good, especially when you realise that sound-moderating a shotgun, with its load of shot and wadding, is more difficult than sound-moderating a pistol or rifle with its cartridge holding a single projectile.

For the purpose of vermin control, a pump-action is ideal. You get three shots (one cartridge in the chamber and two in the magazine tube), and the gun works perfectly on ammo that would not be powerful enough to cycle a semi-auto. If you are able to obtain a firearms certificate, you can obtain magazine tubes holding more cartridges.

It has to be admitted that sound-moderated shotguns are not pretty things, and pump-actions, on this side of the Atlantic at least, have an association with the uglier side of law enforcement. However, handsome is as handsome does, and the Mossberg looks reasonable with its wooden stock and fore-end and neatly blacked metal parts.

The standard barrel is just on the legal limit of 24 inches, and the sound moderator adds around two inches. Thus, with the pump action being longer than that of a break-action gun, it’s a bit like firing a conventional 28-inch gun.

New standard three-shot guns cost from £625 to £650.

More information: Visit  Saddlery and Gunroom or York Guns. The guns are also available through most gunsmiths.

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Thanks to Britain’s curious firearms laws, if you want to possess a semi-automatic shotgun capable of firing more than three shots without reloading you have to hold it on a firearms certificate, same as you would need for a rifle.

This law dates back to 1988, after the Hungerford killings of the previous year, in which no shotgun of any kind was used. And, well-founded rumour has it, three-shots stipulation was itself a mistake in that the lawmakers meant to say two shots, so they specified a two-shot magazine, not realising there would be a third cartridge in the chamber.

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Sometimes the ignorance of politicians makes you want to weep, doesn’t it? However, all this boils down to the fact that in order to be able to possess this Benelli Eight-shot, you have to have good reason. This “good reason” could be membership of a practical shotgun club, but in the case of most Sporting Gun readers it would be gamekeeping duties, such as the control of crows, magpies, pigeons and rabbits. And, with a three-inch chamber and magnum proof, the gun could also be used for short-range fox control providing heavy loads of big shot were used.

Most semi-autos are gas-fed, in that high-pressure gas is tapped via a port roughly half way along the barrel and fed into a cylinder. This then forces a piston back in order to cycle the bolt and reload a fresh cartridge. This means that, in order to ensure reliability, the mechanism has to be cleaned regularly to remove the residues of burned powder.

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

Benelli M2 Eight Shot

The Benelli is one of a very few semi-autos currently on the market that utilises an inertia system, which does away with dirty gas ports, pistons and cylinders. The only other gun with a similar mechanism available in the UK is the relatively new Browning A5.

In addition, all Benelli semi-autos have a very secure lock-up achieved by the use of a turning bolt – a bit like a Kalashnikov assault rifle. If you want to hold an M2 on a shotgun certificate, then there is a three-shot gun in the range.

A new M2 costs around £1,240, depending on the amount of discount the retailer will give you over the importer’s recommended price of £1,450.

More information: From the importers, GMK .

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