While almost any shotgun can be used in the pursuit of upland birds like pheasants, grouse, quail, and woodcock, there’s a definite pleasure in hunting these fast fliers with classic long guns. Guns.com put together a list of our favorite time-tested shotties, all reliable, readily available on the used market, price-accessible to most hunters, and with the class to define a nostalgic day afield.
Browning Superposed or Citori
One of the most revered over-under shotguns in America’s upland birding fields and clays courses is the Browning Superposed or its successor, the Citori. The Superposed is one of the quintessential stacked-barrel shotguns. Early originals were made in Belgium with great attention to detail. That quality has driven both collectability and price to a premium. For those who own them, though, traditional Superposeds make exceptional, elegant, well-balanced hunting companions. Our 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels is a nicely engraved Pigeon grade that has been well-loved over the years and is more a hunter than a safe queen.
The Browning timeline progressed from Belgian-made Superposeds to the modernized progeny Citori line with interchangeable chokes and more end-user options. Many of the later manufactured Citori doubles came out of the Japanese Miroku plant, which is well-regarded for quality. While the original Superposed pieces are as collectible now as they are good shooters, the newer manufacture Citoris are available with many specialty variants for everything from sporting clays and skeet to all types of hunting editions.
Since we’re talking field hunting classics, our first choice would be a Superposed, even one showing battle scars, because those doubles were built to endure. That said, we’ve hunted with many a gauge of Citori over the years, every time a pleasure.
Balanced over-under shotguns, built for the field and proven in performance, are a gem for hunters. Winchester’s Model 101 drew heavily from Browning’s Superposed design but aimed to compete at a more pocket-friendly price point. Hence, original 101s were built in Japan versus the Superposed’s birth in Belgium.
Buyers can select from a number of grades of 101 over-unders, including Field, Pigeon, and Featherweight in either 28, 20, and 12 gauge or .410 bore. Most use an engraved receiver with a box-lock action, single-selective trigger, dual ejectors, and ventilated-rib barrels. Modern manufacture saw the addition of Diamond and XTR variants, among others.
Our older 20-gauge Field Model 101 with its fixed modified and full chokes knocked down more than a few pheasants in South Dakota, and it also doubles as a sweet clay gun. Newer variants come with interchangeable chokes, but we’ve never once wished against our fixed constrictions. Every 101 we’ve handled has been a smooth swinging, fast-shouldering double barrel with the feel of a quality shotgun. Choose one of the older production Model 101s for that timeless upland feel you’ll find with few other O/Us.
Remington 870 Wingmaster
It’s difficult to list durable and capable hunting shotguns without mentioning the pump-action Remington Model 870 family. None are as iconic, especially for upland hunting, as the 870 Wingmaster slide actions. That fine gloss bluing, hardwood stocks, and field-shooting lines have defined generations of bird hunting memories. These simple, tubular-magazine pumps could be disassembled easily and have stood the test of time. Choose from almost any bore ranging between .410 and 12 gauge, barrel length, or choke constriction for a tailored hunting companion.
Don’t be afraid of those earlier, glossy-Dupont finish stocked, fleur-de-lis checkered, fixed choke Wingmasters. In fact, they’re simply some of the best. Whether you opt for the standard 2 3/4-inch chamber or the heavier magnums, these guns will gobble up shells and knock down birds. The recent shift in Remington ownership and subsequent halt in production have caused prices on lightly used Wingmasters – especially in sub-gauges – to skyrocket.
That cost increase is due to the demand of hunters who recognize the beauty and reliability of those older Wingmasters, which are a step above their kin. While a standard 870 or even the budget-priced Express line will get the job done in the field, there’s no substitute for the nostalgia and value of the Wingmaster.
Ruger Red Label
The company known for their quality American-made handguns also put out a cult-favorite over-under shotgun. Ruger Red Label over-unders have come in and out of production several times over the years, yet the demand for these scatterguns remains stronger now than ever. Initially, William Ruger saw a need for an O/U that would be priced more affordably than the Browning designs, and Ruger’s brainchild has been the only Ruger shotgun. Whether for birding or clays, the Red Label remains a solid option, albeit a bit harder to find than the aforementioned Winchester or Browning.
In the past, we were lucky enough to spend a few weeks with a lovely 28 gauge from the Guns.com Vault. That stainless-receiver Red Label was fitted with 26-inch barrels, interchangeable chokes, and a straight English-style stock rather than the more common semi-pistol grip. Speaking of wood, the walnut stocks display stylish checkering and a fine figure to boot. The gun weighs in just a hair under 6 pounds, making it svelte and attractive as well as a true deadly pleasure in the field. While we adore sub-gauges, it’s much more common to find 12- or 20-gauge Red Labels on the used market.
Beretta Silver Pigeon
Ask any upland hunter or clay shooter to name three of the classiest over-under shotguns and a Beretta Silver Pigeon double is sure to be among them. While the Silver Pigeon is not an exact model per se, that package defines what most uplanders desire in an attractive, useable, and delightful O/U. Silver Pigeons have been built around Beretta Models 686 and 687, available in almost every bore from the baby .410 to 12 gauge.
While we consider the 20 or 28 gauge to be among the most desirable for smaller upland birds, plenty of 12 gauges are found afield chasing wild, long-tailed pheasants. There are ventilated-rib barrels, Select grade walnut stocks, tang safety selectors, and that iconic silver receiver. Barrel lengths of 26 or 28 inches are the most common for hunters, though crossover sporting shooters may opt for the 30 or 32 inchers.
Earlier models wear fixed chokes, with later specimens using interchangeable tubes. While the latter are more valued, finding an older specimen with the correct fixed constrictions for the game and terrain you hunt – think modified and full – can be even better. The even balance, quick shouldering, and easy swing keep Beretta’s Silver Pigeon a favorite for birders and sporters alike.
Winchester Model 12
There’s something to be said for hunting with nostalgic shotguns, and few define that better than the Winchester Model 12. These hammerless, tubular-magazine slide guns were built for over 50 years, beginning with its namesake 1912. Not only were they workhorse civilian guns, but these pump-action designs have seen service in several branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. If that doesn’t speak to the platform’s durability, I don’t know what will.
We’ve hunted with multiple Model 12 shotguns over the years, and even when the guns are well worn, there’s a certain charm to going afield with such a classic. The walnut stocks, though sometimes worn, get that attractive warmth with the patina of age and use. The Model 12 at once harkens back to adventures afield from decades ago yet is ready to bag today's upland birds as well. Though there are many barrel lengths available, we’ve always favored a 28-inch plain barrel.
The majority have fixed chokes, with modified and full being the most common, and both work well on flushing birds. As with most shotguns, the 12-gauge models are the most common, but for a true traditional joy in the field, we gravitate to the 16 gauges or, if we can find them, a 20 or 28 gauge. Best of all, Model 12s can be described as both some of the most collectible and affordable on the list.
Ithaca Model 37
The Ithaca Model 37 is yet another design that can be chalked up to John Moses Browning. The shotgun went into production in 1937 and has been a consistent companion for both deer and bird hunters ever since. Few upland hunters who adore slide actions can resist the allure of the ol’ Model 37. Whether it is a standard or Featherlight, there is a Model 37 suitable for just about any shooter. Choose from bores like 16, 20, or 28 gauge for pursuing most upland birds in style or go with a standard 12 gauge for a do-all shotgun. These tubular-magazine pumps can be had in the hardwood pistol-grip style as well as English straight stocks and synthetics.
Of note, the Model 37 loads and ejects via its port on the underside of the receiver, making it friendly for left-handed hunters. Made in America, the Ithaca Model 37 is a workaday pump that’s at home in any conditions. Though proven, lasting slide actions, Ithaca Model 37s in perfectly serviceable condition sell for a bargain even today. On a recent pheasant expedition to South Dakota, we saw more than one well-loved Ithaca in truck window gun racks, each of which has bagged countless birds over the years, which is a testament to the gun’s longevity.