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November 09, 2007

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A Mild Note of Shotgun Dissent

In our December/January issue, my esteemed colleague (and Shotguns columnist) Phil Bourjaily had the gall to pick the 50 best shotguns of all time, and you can read what he has to say right here on our website.

But I have quibbles. I can see his picking a Purdey as number one because the Brits pretty much perfected the over/under and side-by-side, but I think the Italians have beaten them at their own game. Their guns are stronger and the work is better. If an Italian engraver, for example, tried to get away with the engraving seen on the Purdey in our photo (below), he would be stoned to death in the street.

Also, I can't see putting the Parker ahead of the A.H. Fox. People get all misty-eyed about Parkers, but the Fox was in just about every way a better gun--much simpler and much stronger.

On the other hand, I am thrilled to see that Phil put the Remington 870 second, ahead of the Winchester Model 12, which he ranked 7th. No repeating shotgun has ever pointed as well as the Model 12, but the Remington was as good a gun, maybe better, and could be built far more easily. It is still here today, and flourishing, while the Model 12 is history.

So read Phil's rankings and dive in.


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I went through the list twice and found no Browning bps.

It's not a top 50 shotgun?

I think Phil Bourjaily has been sniffing way too much gunpowder.


Great article and I love DP’s critique. I can’t imagine any worse violators of scared, dogma than these two….except for me. I have to agree with most placings and models although I was shocked High Standards’ pump gun wasn’t included. It’s just as sweet looking and functional as the 870 and Model 12.

Purdy is the standard for all doubles. Period. I believe Fox and Ithaca doubles were superior to anything else USA made in all catagories. It boggles my mind how folks shot 70 to 100-years ago. All these s/s were stocked with massive drops. I shoulder one of these babies and I’m staring at the tang. They must have shot with head high.

I’m glad Winchester 101 didn’t make the cut. It was never a premium shotgun IMO. SKB’s used fence posts for stocking material. Ruger followed suit and well as having their shotguns badly balanced.

The Italian guns are running the show now in O/U’s and Auto’s. It’s tough and very expensive to beat them.

An item I discovered presently with most of the Italian and Browning guns is they are stocked with too long of a pull. This is poison making crossing shots. For me, instead of seeing a big circle in front of me, I see a “V”.

Have fun.

Ralph the Rifleman

I agree with Dave's opinion, and agree that the Italian made guns are primo; even a "reasonable" priced one at $5000 is worth it.
As for SXS, I think the spanish have that corner of the market fenced in!


Purdy, Boss, and some of the others perfected 'game gun' handling long ago. I just don't understand why with our modern technology and brains we can not duplicate their performance (close but no cigar). I have shot with a borrowed Boss, just wish I could afford one.

Chad Love

Can't quibble too much with most of the mass-production choices.

I probably would have replaced the Gold with the BPS and I might have included the Beretta BL series O/Us that preceded the 680 series guns. Beautiful guns and I think they really primed the pump for later acceptance of Beretta's guns.

I was glad to see the inclusion of the Miroku/Daly guns. Matter of fact, I'd bet Miroku has more rperesentation on the list than any other manufacturer. The Citori is Miroku-built, as was the BSS.
My early 70s Daly-branded Miroku O/U is as dear to me as my Berettas.

Steve C

The “best” gun debate often defaults to the category of Fallacy of Composition. The best materials and best fit and finish means the best gun. Hardly.

What’s best is always more about emotion and imagination that objective assessment. The example of the Model 12 is a good example of something that survives as much on its legend as it’s accomplishments. The James Dean of shotguns.

I think Boss and Fabbri make beautiful museum pieces you can shoot but I’d no more want to own one than hang the Hope Diamond around my neck.


Amen to the notion that the A.H.Fox is superior to Parker!

Learned with an A.H.Fox and still borrow it from Dad on occasion! It is solid, feels just right and hits what I shoot at most of the time. When I miss it is because I did something wrong.

As for the comments on the Rem 870 vs the Win M 12; purely from a shooter stand point it is the M12 hands down! Slickest action going, period. DEP is right on the simplicity and cost to manufacture argument; the revered M12 is not in the race anymore because of that. Winchester's replacement for the M12 (the M1200) wasn't up to the test.

As to the 870 in 16 gauge, I had wanted one until you busted my bubble Dave! I think I will just go with a 20 gauge instead. I am sure if I hefted the 16 in the store I would have made the same decision. Maybe the store near me still has that old M12 Winchester in 16 gauge!


Steve C
The Model 12 survived on a lot more than legend. The action is slick as fresh motor oil. Model 12's point like an extension of your finger (as it should be). The higher grade M12's were finished as well as any American made shotgun. The John Moses Browning design proved durable in two world wars. Shall I go on?

The Model 12 went the way of the Dodo bird because it was too damn expensive to manufacture in an era of mass produced competition.

I, for one, whistfully hope that this new iteration of Winchester will bring back a limited run of Model 12's in each of the gauges, I think the market might bear it if they are done with the care of the original.


The A. H. Fox guns undoubtedly are the best choice of those made or previously manufacturered in American factories (see my comments in the photo section). Also Mark-1 please note that my SKB's and Ithaca SKB's are NOT stocked with fence posts. Upon close inspection you will see that they are actually low grade South American p**s elm sap wood. To be perfectly truthful I have heard that this particular type of elm is an alternative for fence posts in southern Chili. Either way I look past the wood and still love the 28 gauge SKB.

Chad Love

Actually my Ithaca SKB isn't stocked with a fence post either. I'm pretty sure in a former life it was part of a cross-brace for a shipping pallet full of steel ingots bound for the SKB factory in Japan, and when it got there some enterprising factory worker decided to use it instead of a walnut stock blank.


I'm the first to admit, Boys, not all Ithaca SKB's were stocked with old fence posts. My ex-father- in-law....God Rest his AA scores and soul...dominated the Upstate New York skeet fields in the mid-70's with an Ithaca SKB 800. It was a fine gun...with fine wood.

owned two Model 12s made in the 1950s (one a Marine Corps surplus). I like the Ithaca Model 37 (late 60s era) and BPS (mid 80s era) better, and not just for their downward ejection. If I had to pick just one as my sole pump shotgun, it would be the BPS. The only version of the Model 870 I have shot was an Upland Special, owned by a friend and which I loved, but I couldn’t hit anything with it. But I’m also a huge fan of the older Model 500 Mossbergs. So, my conclusion is that good pump shotguns are where you find them.

My comment is that there are few shotguns that are personalized as much as the Model 12. It has been a victim to the snob appeal, myths, and legends that guns sometimes draw. The Model 12 has cult followings in all three categories. There's also probably not a noted outdoorsman or gun writer in the last eighty years that hasn't shot a Model 12 and heaped laurels upon it so there’s that element of “expert opinion”. But for millions, much of the love for the Model 12 comes from it being their first shotgun they shot as a kid, for others it was their dad’s or grandfather’s shotgun, all of which stirs some strong embers of their love for hunting. That’s the emotional aspect I was talking about.

As for it being too expensive to produce, that was relatively true at the time (as was the relative superiority of the design). But look at the price of shotguns now. And when they tried reintroducing it a few years ago it didn’t take off. Some of this has to do with the shift to auto shotgun and resurgence of O/U and S/S guns but it also reflects that the great things the Model 12 use to bring to the table are no longer exceptional.

The history, tradition, and romance surrounding the Model 12 are undeniable. It being the best pump shotgun is not.

Steve C


That's my post directly above on the Model 12 in response to your comments. It somehow got cutoff and my name deleted


Probably a dumb question but why do shotgun prices seem so high relative to rifles? If you had a list of the best fifty rifles I could afford most of them with a second mortgage. If I had to have one of the double shotguns I would have to sell a kidney. I do have one of the autos listed though.

Prices for comparable quality guns are closer than you might think. But, in the spirit of the question, those high dollar shotguns on the top 50 list require more custom (i.e., hand crafted) work that similar rifles.

Some of the current CZs are examples of a high quality shotguns at very reasonable prices

Trae B.

I have a question.do they actually make 8 gauges I hear people say that they have one but they can never prove it and I have never seen one.so mr petzal can you answer this for me?

Dr. Ralph

Just don't understand this love affair with side by sides... they're certainly beautiful works of art but personally I can't hit with them. About the only shotgun I ever have been able to hit with is number 5 on the list. That old soft shooting 1100. Every time they try to kill it, it comes back to life in another form. Should have called it the phoenix.

Bernie Kuntz

Dave, Dave, how on earth can you say that the Model 870 is as good or maybe better than the Model 12? I will concede the fact that the Model 870 still is being manufactured but nothing beyond that. My first "real" shotgun was a M-870 in 16 gauge which I still own. However, I have M 12s in 16 and 12 gauge and would not trade them for a truck load of M 870s!

If I may, some of my opinions: The Browning Auto-5 was one of the finest ever. I have owned a "Sweet Sixteen" since 1971. It is a tragedy that is was discontinued. I won a Browning Gold Hunter, NRA Commemorative from 2000. The SOB jams all the time after it heats up. No magazine cutoff either. My gunsmith says he will check it out.

Super-X-1: My wife bought me one from a guy about 15 years ago who shoots a Browning Superposed and couldn't get used to the cross-bolt safety on the Super-X-1. You will never find a finer semi-auto. Too heavy for my taste to carry for pheasants but great in a duck blind and for sporting clays. And it always works!

The SP-10: Great goose gun. I've owned it for 13 years and hammered lots of Canadas. No malfunctions. Get rid of the steel shot, shoot Federal Tungton-iron and you will be impressed!

Model 1100: Very good gun, have owned a 16 gauge in that model since 1974 and gave it to my wife.

Model 50 Win.: Same gun, I believe, as the M 59 only the 50 doesn't have the goofy glass barrel. Not a great gun by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason I own it is it belonged to my father.

I am sort of a heathen in some circles as I have never owned a double. I have shot some, but never owned one. Wish I had one of those Merkels you have written about, Dave. One time I could have bought one new for $2,850 but didn't do so. Now they are several times that amount! (Sob!)

I enjoy the blog!

Maybe It's because I'm getting old, but I think it's a sufficiently notable achievement to create a list of Top Fifty Shotguns, have good reasons for your selections and not omit any obvious candidates.
Gents, in three hours I'm taking my little 20 ga. Winchester 101 out of the safe and going quail shooting....and a pox on Mr. Bourjaily for not ranking it among the top 30. (I couldn't access the complete list on the Internet.)


Trae B.

I have seen 8-ga shotguns mostly in Europe since the gauge is outlawed for hunting in North America. I saw one fine old 8-ga double that belonged to a Long Island market hunter. It was willed to his son who wasn’t any spring chicken. IMO 10 and 8 ga guns handle much differently than the smaller gauges.

YooperJack: Read Gene Hill’s essays. He articulated the world of shotguns, shotgunning the Uplands and Marshes, and dogs much better than me. I’d be plagiarizing him shamefully.

To all: I think it’s a disgusting sham to throw a 16-ga gun on a 12-ga frame and a 28-ga on a 20-ga frame although one of my favorite shotguns is a 28-ga 1100 [lt20-ga frame]. Both acts destroy the benefits and strengths of both gauges'guns.


I do not believe there are any current production shotguns larger than 10 gauge. I have seen 8 and 4 gauge guns from earlier eras in private collections and museums, also punt and battery shotguns in museums. The 4 gauge I have held was a muzzle loading, percussion fired double barrel which tips the scales at over 15 lbs, one did not shoulder such a peice; it was laid over the gunnals of your boat and fired when a flock of ducks or geese were rafting within range. The one 8 gauge I've seen up close was a black powder cartridge peice, marginally lighter than the 4 gauge though I am told it could be shouldered and swung on moving birds.

Dr. Ralph

Nice pictures... wonderful to sit back and enjoy. Muzzle loading is over in Tennessee and next weekend the rifles come out. Need to go to the gunsmith and pick up the .257 Wby. and hit the range. You know I had an Ithaca 37 back when I was a kid but it got stolen. I had forgotten about the scenes on the side and it kind of jolted me when I saw it again. All this fuss over the Model 12 has me curious. I am going to open some safes and find mine just to see if it really is that smooth.


I love my 870, If I had to pick between my wife and my 870, well she might be lookin! I would die to have a Purdey, guess I could quit eating, no lights, heat, sell a couple kids, truck motorcycle, 4wheeler, and all my blood. Maybe just maybe I could put a down payment one. Held one once and wet myself!


One of my favorite vineyards has this to say: "The best wine is the wine you like the best." That probably goes for most things. I have a friend who had a nice Browning B-SS. It carried like a dream, but I couldn't hit the side of a barn with it. With my Plain Jane 870, the birds drop and the clays turn to dust. Is the 870 the better gun? In my hands it is.


Maybe there is something I'm missing, but I was given a new 20ga Fox by my son in 1976 that had been in storage for 20yr. It is very pretty to look at,but there is no reasonable way to compare it to my old 12ga L.C.Smith. #1:it outweighs the Smith by a pound.#2:the left barell patterns 16"higher than the right. #3:the left hammer broke on the first box of shells.
Now tell me, how can we say that the Fox is the better gun than the Smith, when I've run thousaands of shells thriugh it without a single misshap.
Probably I just got a lemmon, judging from expert oppinion. I will keep it, because it was a gift, but when I hunt quail or pheasant, it will stay home, and the old Smith will go with me.

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