[This post is by Dana Farrell, a Serious birder who writes about bird hunting, guns and sporting clays from the liberal bastion of Ann Arbor, MI. He spends each autumn in northern Michigan grouse hunting with his Brittany, Woodrow. Email him at tamaracksporting AT comcast DOT net.]
In a world of smart phones and laser rangefinders, there’s something transforming about holding a fine shotgun. Pick it up, and for a split second – longer, if you allow it – the mind will quiet, the pulse slow, and the pressures of the modern world go away, if only for a moment or two.
The sculpted lines will draw you back to a simpler time, revealing that a shotgun’s true power isn’t measured in terms of payload, but in its ability to transcend space and time. Listen as it calls to you from a frosty field of brome grass, or the gloaming light of a dog-hair popple stand. Such is the power of a fine side-by-side shotgun (SxS).
Bargains: You Get What You Pay For
New SxSs are priced from under $500 to over six figures. With such a wide price range, it’s important to find the intersection of quality and value. While good SxSs can be notoriously expensive, a few guns out there are both economical and high quality – if you know what to look for.
Doubles that go new for under $1,000 are often problems waiting to happen, and should be given great scrutiny if you want something that will hold up over time. That’s not to say you can’t chance into a good used gun now and then for a grand or less, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
A quality gun is one that won’t shoot loose, isn’t prone to double-firing and has good triggers. The Browning BSS is one such gun.
Good Quality, Good Price
Manufactured from 1971 to 1988, the BSS – an attractive little boxlock – was manufactured to a level of quality the late J.M. Browning would be proud of, and remains one of the best values on the SxS market. It fills the niche between cheaply made, inexpensive guns and pricier options going for thousands more.
The BSS was made in Grades 1 and 2, in what was referred to as Standard (pistol grip) and Sporter models (English stocked, longer-tanged trigger guard). All but a rare few were made with single triggers, with single selective triggers standard on later versions.
All had a semi-beavertail forend, the Standard model was high gloss and the Sporter was semi-gloss. The butt plate was made of black plastic with Browning stamped on it.
Safeties were automatic and all featured a solid matted rib and a German silver front bead. The guns came in 12ga and 20ga in 26″ and 28″ barrels.
They aren’t by any stretch of the imagination ornate guns, but have a certain understated elegance: Grade 1 guns have a roughly 50% engraved all-steel blued receiver, Grade 2 has a slightly more ornate grayed receiver.
With the simple yet tasteful engraving and good wood-to-metal fit, Browning put its resources where it really counted with the BSS – in the reliable mechanics of the gun. the BSS has many of the features of more expensive SxSs like the Winchester Model 21: double-locking underbolts, bushed firing pins and automatic ejectors – all details you’d expect from a gun costing thousands more.
The American SxS Renaissance
If anyone knows SxSs and their place in the firearms market, it’s Traverse City, MI’s Bryan Bilinski, noted shotgun fitter, shooting instructor and owner of Fieldsport. Bryan says the BSS came on the market several years before the SxS renaissance of the mid-1990s – when younger professionals had enough money to buy their first double, and wanted a touchpoint to a bygone era.
“It was like all the stars lined up at one time,” Bryan says. “Shooting Sportman Magazine came out, Double Gun Journal came out, Sporting Classics magazine really focused hard on SxSs, and SxS doubles became extremely popular.”
Unfortunately, by the time this American trend rolled around, the BSS was already out of production.
– End of part 1 of 2 –