It might look good, but does it perform like you need it to? Vic Harker looks at the differences between shotguns built for specific purposes
A basic principle that should always be kept in mind when contemplating the purchase of a new gun is: are you buying it for design or performance – they can be two very different things. An off-the-rack gun is built to a design and so, in terms of specification, will conform to current ideas as they relate to Trap, Skeet and Sporter guns. These ideas change over the years and it maybe that they constitute improvements, but they are inevitably the subjective idea of a person, or persons, of what is suitable.
Buying for performance is rather a different thing and is often illustrated in the matter of choke boring. If we purchase a Trap gun on the basis of it having Full choke in the top barrel, do we mean it should (a) have 40thou of constriction or (b) that it should put 70 per cent of the shot charge into a 30in diameter circle at 40 yards? If your choice is (a) then you are specifying the accepted principles of design but if it is (b) you are choosing performance.
This matter of design or performance carries over into every aspect of shotgun specification. Take a Trap gun, for example: years of perceived wisdom decreed that 30in barrels were the correct length, not 29, 31 or 32in. This was the norm for decades, reinforced by the success of shooters who never considered anything other than the conventional choice. Nothing changed in the UK until Peter Croft tried a 32in Miroku, a rare gun in those days, as the distributor at that time had never considered bringing them into the country. Like his customers, he chose what was conventional design, never considering something different, which, for some, could improve performance.
Accurate gun fit is a matter of putting performance before design. The handsomest stock configuration created from the finest piece of figured walnut is useless if its measurements don’t conform to your physical characteristics. Stock dimensions are almost as individual as fingerprints and while some shooters can perform reasonably well with something ready-made, it comes down to a matter of chance.
People of average build – though I hesitate to define that, as a man of 5ft 10in weighing 13 stone was considered the norm by the American firearms industry for decades – but that did not take into account length of neck or breadth of shoulder. One of the first good-quality volume production shotguns to reach the UK in the 1960s was the Miroku.
There were no Sporter models offered then, the choice being limited to Trap, Skeet and field models. Stock dimensions for the Trap gun were: length-of-pull 14¼in, drop-at-comb 13/8in, drop-at-Monte Carlo 2½in. Specifications for the field and Skeet guns were: length-of-pull 141/8in, drop-at-comb 1½in, drop-at-heel 2½in. I would suggest this specification might equate to a man short to medium height with a long neck.
Miroku has improved a great deal and this is best reflected in the guns they now make for Browning, which are much closer to the requirements of the average British shooter, if there is such a person. Beretta, the other best selling over-and-under in the UK, has also upped its game over the years with the stock dimensions made closer to today’s average requirements. The adjustable comb that Browning and Beretta offer on some models is a huge step forward in providing better gun fit for customers, and is a good example of putting performance first.
Other options designed to improve performance is the high rib or the adjustable high rib – but does it improve your performance, or is it a design you like to have? You should keep in mind it can alter your gun’s point-of-impact (POI) in relation to where you point it: raise the rib at the breech end and your gun will shoot higher, lower it at the breech and raise it at the front and the POI is lower. This is fine if it helps you, but also bear in mind that with a high rib the stock must be compatible, and hopefully it will be adjustable for comb height. It will provide you with a head-up posture, different to the one you are obliged to adopt for a flat-rib gun. If this doesn’t improve performance, don’t put design ahead of performance – look for alternatives.
The detachable choke tube is another feature invented to make the shotgun more versatile by providing the shooter with a choice of choke constrictions. A useful concept for many shooters, it was originally invented in the USA by Winchester and was fiercely resisted by other gunmakers to begin with. This included Beretta and Browning, which feared the device would cost them sales of conventional guns and claimed it would make guns muzzle heavy.
For at least two years, the Winchester 101 and its Win-choke system outsold its competitors in the medium price segment until Beretta and Browning bowed to the inevitable and were soon advertising the virtues of interchangeable chokes. As I write, in front of me is a detachable choked Beretta 690 Sporter which balances perfectly, the makers having made sure there is enough weight in the stock to achieve this. A perfect example of design enhancing performance.