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Switching from shooting an over-and-under to a side-by-side shotgun

How can you achieve and maintain your scores when you're using a new, or borrowed gun?

over and under shotgun


Say you’re shooting in a competition and one of the firing pins in your gun breaks in half. You’d have no option but to try and borrow a gun from another competitor to use for the rest of the event.

But how would you cope if the new gun is a side-by-side when you’ve been shooting an over-and-under for the past 20 or 30 years? Will this alter the way you shoot and what can you do to stay in a winning position?

Alternatively, taking clayshooting out of the equation for a moment, maybe you enjoy a few driven or walked-up days every year and would appreciate the reduced weight of a side-by-side game gun?

If you’re in a situation where you’re going to use two different types of gun – for whatever reason – here are a few pointers that will help.


A Perazzi 20-bore side by side

A Perazzi 20-bore side by side

Stay focused

Going from an over-under to a side-by-side might seem to be a radical change, but most of the perceived differences are in the shooter’s mind and not a physical factor. Of course, the barrels will be double the width, but you shouldn’t be concentrating on the muzzles anyway.

Obviously you have to be aware of them, with respect to where they are in relation to the target, but the crucial element is to focus on the bird and where it’s going.

cartridges for clayshooting

No real difference

The important thing to remember is that although the barrels are horizontally next to each other, in real life shooting situations they might just as well be on top of each other as in an over-and-under. The barrels are simply too close to make any real difference to busting any clay at a normal shooting distance.

In fact, in every test I’ve ever done, whenever you were to fire both barrels at a fixed point on a pattern plate at 20 yards the overlap of the patterns was almost identical – and certainly similar to those achieved when using an over-and-under in the same circumstances.

So I’m convinced that any perceived differences are all in the shooter’s head and nothing to do with the guns.

All the shooter needs to remember

Firing a couple of shells at a pattern plate will not only tell you the spread of the patterns are similar from each barrel (choking aside), it will probably also show the average side-by-side shoots ‘flatter’ than a typical over-and-under.

All the shooter needs to remember is that instead of the gun throwing lead at a ratio of 60% above the point of aim, the concentration of shot is going to be much nearer and grouped around the ‘actual’ point of aim. As such, you can hit any true going away bird simply by placing the target on the bead and pulling the trigger.

If you have to change guns in the middle of a clay competition

  • Try to borrow a gun with similar woodwork, with comparable stock length and cast.
  • If the discipline allows, shoot gun-up to alleviate any mounting errors.
  • Make sure the gun is choked the same as your old one – or as near as can be.
  • Ensure the gun is suitably chambered for your preferred choice of cartridge.
  • Never be tempted to borrow a gun that’s blatantly wrong for you – a right-handed shooter using a left-hander’s gun, for instance.
  • Remember the sight picture every time you fire the new gun. Repeat the process if you bust the clay, and try something different if you don’t!
  • Always use the rib as your starting point for ascertaining the height of the bird relative to the muzzles.
  • If you’re going to use a different gun for any length of time – gameshooting in the winter, perhaps – experiment with different cartridge combinations before the start of the season. You’ll be surprised how you might have to compensate and get used to the lower weight, shorter barrels and possibly more kick from the gun. Never experiment when you’re shooting live quarry.
  • If you’re confident your gun mounting technique is consistent and you still feel there’s something not quite right, go to a gunsmith or a shooting ground that has the use of a try-gun. It’s surprising how just small adjustments to the cast, comb and stock length can make huge differences to the way the gun handles.
  • The majority of side-by-side guns have a double trigger. The back trigger always fires the left-hand barrel, the barrel that’s traditionally choked more tightly. Concentrate when you’re shooting. With practice you’ll be able to choose which barrel you’re going to fire – and a lot quicker than fiddling around with a little lever next to the top lever.
  • Don’t forget you’ve got two triggers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people trying to pull the same trigger twice. Make a habit of taking your finger off the trigger, ready for the next shot, as soon as you fire one of the barrels.

over and under shotgun

The rise of the over-and-under

On a shoot day in October I had a fascinating conversation with a fellow gun about his switch from a side-by-side to an over-under.…

Final tip

If you’re using a side-by-side instead of shooting your over-and-under, don’t worry. Simply treat every bird the same as you did before. Remember to use the bead on the rib as your reference point and, even more important, and especially for looping or crossing targets, don’t forget the gun will shoot flatter than your usual over-and-under.