As part of our Start Shooting series, we're explaining the jargon you're likely to come across and take a look at the types of shotgun available and their main component parts
It’s nice to look at old magazine adverts and think: “Wow, in 1904 I could’ve bought a best London gun for about £100, a good day’s wages today!” Back then, though, most folk didn’t earn that sort of money in a year. and things haven’t changed a century later.
Today the average annual wage is about half the £55,000 starting price for a hand-built London gun. So if that doesn’t put things into perspective, nothing will! By all means splash out loads of cash on getting the finest shotgun money can buy – if your bank account will stand it. But don’t fret if you can’t. Today’s computer-controlled milling machines coupled with enduring traditional hand skills rattle out guns that perform faultlessly – and at prices people can afford.
For a little more than £1,000 you can buy a gun that will still be firing on all cylinders long after you’ve departed this life. If that’s still too much you can pick up a very serviceable secondhand gun built by a famous continental, or Japanese, maker for as little as £500.
Where shotguns are concerned there are dozens of variations on a theme, variations that make them more suitable for certain forms of shooting than others. However they roughly break down into three categories.
These guns have the barrels set alongside each other in a horizontal plane. Mainly used for live quarry shooting because of their light weight and balance.
Over and under (O/U)
By far the most popular all-round gun for clay, game and rough shooting today. The barrels are stacked one on top of the other to give a clearer view of the target. Heavier than a side-by-side and more tiresome to carry for long distances, but this is no bad thing when a lot of shots are fired in succession, or you want to dampen recoil.
These single barrel multi-shot guns use a gas or spring-operated system to eject and reload cartridges and they’re very soft on the shoulder. They’re frowned upon in game shooting because it’s near impossible to tell at a glance whether they’re unloaded or not, yet they’re terrific guns for clay shooting, wildfowling and pigeon shooting. Despite their heavier weight they are a popular choice among shooters who are recoil sensitive.
These are made from individual steel tubes held together by soldered ribs. The barrels hook onto the action of a gun and everything is locked solidly in place by a dovetailed bolt when the gun is shut. The bolt prevents the gun springing open when a shot is fired and it releases its grip on the barrel lumps when the user opens the gun by pushing across the top lever arm. Barrels have to withstand high pressures generated by a cartridge and they are tested in their country of origin by subjecting them to a test charge far in excess of the pressures they will be expected to withstand in normal use. If the gun passes “proof” the barrels are stamped accordingly before the gun is offered for sale.
The lockwork on a gun comprises a trigger that releases the hammer (tumbler), which in turn hits a firing pin to strike the cartridge primer. When the gun is opened the hammer is re-cocked by way of spring-operated levers. other springs housed either inside the fore-end wood, or in the walls of the barrels, kick empty cartridges clear of the gun at the same time.
The commonest form of mechanism used by gunmakers is known as a boxlock action. This is a strong, reliable design that is cheaper to build than a sidelock system where the lockwork for each barrel is fitted to a detachable plate inlet into both sides of the stock.
The lock and action of the gun are fitted securely to a stock made from walnut – a resilient wood that gunmakers can shape easily and which rarely cracks during use. The stock is shaped to fit the user’s shoulder pocket and allow them to seat their face comfortably on the wood so that their eyes align with the target down the rib of the gun. Most factory-made guns are stocked in a way to suit most people but a gunsmith can easily alter the dimensions to suit an individual’s physique.
Shotgun Jargon Buster
Action: the part of the gun behind the barrel, which contains the gun’s firing and locking mechanism.
Boxlock: a gun in which all of the firing mechanism is contained within and directly attached to the action frame.
Cocking rod: a rod attached to the gun’s hammers, forcing them backwards as the gun opens, thereby resetting them for subsequent shots.
Colour hardening: a surface finish can be applied to the exterior of actions and lock plates which produces an abstract pattern of colours – usually blues, browns and yellowish-browns.
Drops at comb and heel: the vertical distance of the comb and heel of the stock from a line projected backwards in line with the gun’s rib.
Fore-end iron: the metal component within the fore end wood, the rearward part of which forms part of the gun’s jointing. the iron may also be fitted with some elements of the ejector mechanism. Fore-end loop: also known as the barrel loop – the steel projection beneath the barrels to which the fore end is attached by a latch mechanism.
Furniture: the metal parts attached to the action such as trigger guard, top and bottom straps.
Gauge: the American term for bore – for example 12-gauge, 20-gauge, etc.
Hand: the part of the stock which is gripped by the palm and fingers of the trigger hand.
Head: the forward part of the stock, where it joins the metal of the gun’s action.
Jointing: hinge mechanism of a break-action shotgun.
Knuckle: the half-round section at the forward end of the action, which forms part of the gun’s jointing.
Monobloc: the modern method of constructing shotgun barrel sets, in which separate tubes are sleeved into a steel forging which forms the breech ends and lump.
Proof: the official pressure testing of a gun for safety, performed by a nationally- recognised body. it is illegal to sell a gun which does not have valid proof.
Side plate: an artificial lock plate fitted to a boxlock gun, for cosmetic purposes.
Sidelock: a gun with the main elements of the lock mechanism are mounted on removable plates attached to the sides of the action.
Single selective trigger: a single trigger fitted to a two- barrelled gun which can be set to the top or the bottom barrel first.
Striker: another word for a firing pin.
Top strap: the top, rearward part of a gun’s action, behind the top lever trigger plate: a removable plate carrying the trigger and, usually, all the major components of the gun’s firing mechanism.
Tumbler: another word for a shotgun’s hammer.