The sort of people who buy lightweight guns have changed a bit over the last 80 years.
In the 1970s we sold a lot of 12-bore Churchill guns with 25″ barrels, a fashion which started in the 1930s when people went in search of lighter and lighter guns.
There wasn?t really any rhyme or reason as to who the guns went to, although they were often serious shooters.
A lot of Churchill guns were taken right down to 6lbs or less in weight, and even Purdey made a few guns like this.
The popularity of lightweight guns changed as cartridges became more consistent.
In many ways it was cartridges which shaped the shotgun market as they became more consistently powerful.
Good cartridges going through a light 12-bore will kick quite a lot, but even some 24gram and lighter loads can be very punchy, so you still have to be a bit careful.
LIGHTWEIGHT 12 OR 20-BORE?
We tend to sell lightweight guns now to youngsters just starting to shoot and for those who don?t fire many shots but walk a lot in a day.
However, due to there being a wide range of very consistent cartridges available, many buyers will look straight to a 20-bore rather than a lightweight 12-bore.
Years ago we saw 12-bores with 2″ chambers which weighed as little as 5¼lbs, but they did kick like a mule.
I shoot onehanded, and once tried a gun with 2″ chambers and could barely hold on to it each time I pulled the trigger!
The most popular lightweight guns made today come from Browning and Beretta, who both produce lightweight 12-bore over-unders.
Lightweight 12-bore side-by-sides are very rare because side-by-side shotguns are comparatively light anyway.
There are a few out there, however: AYA for example produce a Churchill-style gun with 25″ barrels that weighs about 6¼lbs, which for a side-by-side is now considered light.
Lightweight 20-bores are more unusual, though in fact we have recently had a lightweight over-under 20-bore made by Lanber with an alloy action for one of our customers.
Most 20-bore over-unders tend to weigh between 6 – 6½lbs, but this one is right down to 5¾lbs.
Rizzini also produce a similar lightweight gun in 20-bore by using metal alloys.
The advantage of going for a lightweight 12-bore over a 20-bore is you keep a larger shot pattern.
I always say you should go for a 20-bore not just because you want a lighter gun, but because you want a challenge as the pattern is smaller.
With a lighter cartridge load in a lightweight 12-bore you will retain a larger pattern, making your task that little bit easier.
Obviously, lightweight guns are easier to carry around, but you have to be very deliberate with your swing.
They come to the shoulder very easily, but they will also stop very easily unless you concentrate on your swing.
The most obvious problem, however, is with recoil – with less mass in the gun, it will kick more.
If you were pigeon shooting with one of these guns or shooting clays you would likely have quite a sore shoulder by the end of the day.
But, if you pick a cartridge which is softer on your shoulder or fit a recoil absorbing pad they will be fine.
Over-under guns are made lightweight by constructing the action body from metal alloys, which are lighter, with all the working parts made of steel.
The face of the action is made of a steel insert, providing strength, and the action is often made in a shallower profile.
The rib between the barrels is often removed or ventilated to reduce weight, and the stock hollowed out and made slightly slimmer.
But it?s a bit like moving a ton of feathers – you have to take out a lot out of wood and metal to bring the weight down a small amount.
I would look to use a 24gram cartridge as you can get some really good lighter game loads now.
Personally, I recommend No.6 shot – some would say you should use No.7 shot for the pattern, but really you won?t see a great difference, and No.6 provides more of a punch for clean kills.
Given that these types of guns will be used for walked-up shooting where the birds are generally going away from you, I feel it is better to have the increased killing power – you want to do justice to you and to your quarry.
For similar reasons I would suggest quarter and half choke, though if you are using a lightweight gun for driven shooting you could go for a wider choke.
Churchill Utility shotgun
This gun is a spring-opening model, and is a five/six serial number, meaning it was built just before the Second World War when light guns of this type with short barrels were very popular.
It?s got the Churchill quick-sighting rib on it, which is a raised rib unlike the more common modern flat or concave ribs. In theory it is a little like the rib on an over-under, offering a large single sight plain and appearing to elongate the short barrels.
The gun is light, but the balance remains right on the hinge pin as with all classic English guns. It is quite lively in the hands, and these handling characteristics do require you to shoot with significant discipline.
Of course, guns of this type were sold to sit nicely alongside Churchill?s own shooting technique, where the gun is fired almost as soon as it is mounted in order to keep momentum in the shot.
It is beautifully individually scroll and rosette engraved, and has well-figured and finished woodwork.
This particular gun will have been used mainly for driven game, since it has improved and quarter choke.
Nearly all Churchill guns had short stocks, so most have had the stock extended, as this one has.
It could be happily used with 24gram cartridge loads. Unusually, this gun has 26½” barrels, and was built as an alternative to Holland & Holland?s Brevis shotgun, which was built around the same time.
The Churchill offered a cheaper boxlock alternative to the high grade London gun.
It?s also great value for money – a new AYA Number Four costs a little more than this, and yet the Churchill will give you the pleasure of owning a classic English gun.
Browning Cynergy Hunter Light
This gun comes in various grades, where the more expensive type will have better quality wood and engraving.
The balance and feel of the guns and the internal mechanisms are identical.
The action body is made from a lightweight alloy, with the internal parts of the lock and the breech face made from steel, so there is no need to worry about reliability or wearing.
Browning guns normally have a 3″ chamber, but this being a lightweight gun it only has a 2¾” chamber.
As part of weight-saving measures, this gun has been back-bored, where the internal diameter of the barrels is increased.
This not only reduces the overall weight of the gun, but helps to make the felt recoil more manageable.
The recoil from firing the gun is not actually reduced, it is just felt in a different way as more of an extended push rather than a harsh kick.
Overall barrel thickness is maintained, so there is no need to worry about safety or reliability issues. They come with Invecta multi-chokes, meaning you could quite happily use the gun for rough shooting with tight chokes, and then open it out for a driven day.
They have a Schnabel fore-end and a pistol grip stock.
Over-unders by design require a hollowed stock for the stock bolt which fixes the metal action to the wooden stock, but more has been removed here to reduce weight, bringing the gun to a little over 6lbs.
All over-unders tend to be a little barrel heavy, and this is certainly accentuated on lightweight guns where you have lost weight in the action.
On a light gun such as this however, this is not a bad thing, helping you with a smooth follow-through on the swing.
Webley & Scott 20-bore
This is an English-made Webley & Scott, featuring the name ?Galley & Son Ltd. King’s Lynn and Cambridge? on the rib.
It was particularly popular in the 1970s to have the name of the gun retailer put on the gun – indeed, we used to do the same thing.
This gun would have been made in the early 1970s, and is a 20-bore with 26″ barrels.
It weighs approximately 5½lbs, so it is very light, and like most Webleys has 2¾” chambers.
This would mean you could put heavier loads through it should you so wish, but I wouldn?t recommend it.
It is beautifully balanced, as you would expect in an English gun, though the shorter barrels will require a deliberate swing to maintain momentum.
It would come into its own when rough shooting, or walking-up with a dog as, being a side-by-side, it is comfortable to carry on the arm compared to a slightly more cumbersome over-under.
It would be ideal for a youth or a lady, and indeed this probably once had just such an owner as the stock has been shortened and then re-extended at some point in its past.
Coming in at just under £3,000, it compares well with an AYA Number Two in 20-bore and would be very reliable.
You are also having the pleasure of buying into a part of English gunmaking history, since Webley & Scott stopped producing guns in 1978.