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The Golden Age of Shotguns

by Bill Hanus

"Nature always sides with the hidden flaw" -- Murphy’s Law
Without a doubt, the twentieth century ushered in the "Golden Age" of shotgun development. Small gauge shotshells -- and the small-framed guns to use them -- came of age- Charles Parker invented the 28 gauge. The legendary Moder 1912 Winchester was offered first in 20 gauge. Double gun makers from England and Europe competed with American makers to offer the greatest selection of side-by-side shotguns in history. In Europe, live pigeon shooters pioneered the use of ultra high performance 12 gauge ammunition and heavy guns to handle it. The legends of Parker, Ithaca, LC. Smith, Fox, Lefever, Iver Johnson, Remington, Baker, Stevens and many others were born and live on in gun cabinets of fortunate hunters and -- routinely perform their assigned tasks magnificently every fall.

The Model 1897 Winchester pump action hammer gun went to war as a trench gun in WWI. An interesting sidebar is that in a war which introduced poison gas, barbed wire, tanks, machine guns and air war as new ways to kill people, it was the Model 1897 which the Germans complained of as being "inhumane" and urged that it be banned from "civilized war."

Nearly every one of the great names in American gunmaking offered their version of this absolutely unique American shooting phenomenon -- the "repeater" shotgun. Scoffed at and derided by European makers, American ingenuity had evolved a whole new shooting system with which to reap the wildlife riches of America’s crop lands, weed patches, forests and waterways. The repeating shotgun -- often chambered to hold 5, 6 or 7 shells in 12,16, 20 gauge (with 28 gauge and 410 soon to follow) -- was aimed at filling a bottomless game bag.

Times change, but not America’s love affair with shotguns.

The Hidden Flaw Revealed
The development of the repeater shotgun in the colonies were met with disdain in Europe, where the idea of milder shotgun loads was dealt with by shortening the 12 gauge shotshell and the shotgun chambers for which it was intended. The idea was to produce a low recoil 12 gauge gun with a 20 or 28 gauge payload. Good idea, but dumb execution. This plan would have been acceptable if an agreement existed whereby each of these short-chambered guns was to be buried with the original owner when he died.

Early in the century, shotgun chambering lengths were kind of loosey goosey all over the world. lf you own an American shotgun made before the mid-1930’s, or a European one made before World War II, it is entirely possible you have a short- chambered shotgun in your gun cabinet. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that 2-3/4" chambering became the standard in The U.S. The famous Browning "Sweet 16" semi-automatic, for example, was originally chambered for 2-9/16" shells -- and Browning still offers a program to convert these old beauties to accept 2-3/4" shells.

Tons of "liberated" short-chambered European shotguns came to our shores in the duffel bags of returning U.S. servicemen after WWII. More recently, so many short- chambered English doubles have been air-freighted to the U.S. that the sheer weight of metal threatens to deflect true north compass readings and has probably caused changes in the climate that have been falsely attributed to El Nino. Several makers even offer short- chambered shotguns today.

There are many good reasons for not owning and using a short-chambered shotgun. But the main one is:

You can chamber a 2-3/4" shell (2.44") in a 2-1/2" (2.5") chamber.

And fire it!!!!
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