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Can I find a steel-proofed English spec side-by-side?

Bill Harriman advises a reader

side by side shotgun

A Spanish AYA 12 bore

Q: Much has been said about the steel shot debate and it looks inevitable that many old, and often hand-made, guns will be scrapped or become obsolete ornaments. While there are a huge number of steel-proofed over-and-unders, does anyone make a steel-proofed side-by-side to an English specification for less than, say, £1,500? I’m specifically thinking of 30in barrels, straight stock and a maximum weight of 6lb 12oz.  

A: I don’t agree that old guns will “become obsolete ornaments”. Any nitro-proofed gun that is still in proof can be used with standard steel shot cartridges. It does not have to be specifically proofed for steel shot.

Using the International Proof Commission (CIP) principle of not using a cartridge longer than the gun’s chamber, any standard steel will be safe in any nitro-proofed gun in good condition. That gives plenty of room for manoeuvre because most guns built in or imported into the UK after 1954 have 70mm (2 ¾in) chambers. There is a glut of well-made Spanish side-by-side guns on the market at the moment.

Time to buy a side-by-side

Side-by-sides are unfashionable, so now is the time to buy and £1,500 will get you a stormer.

In the case of older guns, Eley Hawk offers 2½in cartridges loaded with steel shot and eco wadding that dissolves in water within 24 hours. Again, these are fine for use in nitro-proofed guns in good condition and that remain in proof. I have been using them in my Charles Lancaster side-by-side, made in 1909. They have not done any damage. For Damascus-barrelled guns, bismuth is a viable alternative. I have been using that successfully for the past four seasons in my Mortimer hammergun, made in about 1885.

You can read more about steel proofing and shotguns here. You’ll find some useful tips and advice to help you in your search and answers to your questions.