The following information on the double rifle comes from Rifles and Rifle Shooting by Charles Askins. Rifles & Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
The double express rifle has never been in much demand in this country, but any American who has occasion to shoot in India or Africa will find it wise to include one or more of these weapons in his armory. Men who hunt game of the nature of elephants, rhinos, lions, and tigers, have long pinned their faith to the double rifle, and we have no grounds for disputing their good judgment. Perhaps in course of time some form of magazine rifle will replace the double express, but up to the present date no other weapon has been found quite so deadly and reliable upon a charging beast at close quarters. More emphatically is this true where the English manner of stalking is followed, with the sportsman carrying one rifle and his shikari the second. If any rifle ever supersedes the double it seems now that it must be an automatic.
The highly finished English double rifle has long been considered the finest example of the art of gun building. Beyond question it requires more gunsmith’s skill to put together two rifled tubes and insure that they will shoot to the same center at all distances from short range to the maximum than to construct any other style of gun. Not every double rifle will do this either, and the sportsman who finds himself in need of one of these arms should purchase only from the very best maker, and even then should carefully target and test his weapon.
The trouble with the double rifle is that both barrels may not shoot on exactly the same elevation, or they may shoot apart, or cross their missiles. Indeed it is quite impossible to make a double rifle quite as accurate at all ranges as a single barrel, but for practical purposes, at sporting ranges, it is just as effective.
There is no disputing the claim that a double hammerless, self-ejecting rifle of high grade is a splendid weapon. It is quicker with its two shots than any repeating rifle with the exception of the automatic; there is no such thing as balking or jamming it for the two shots it contains, whatever the excitement, and the arm is chambered for the most powerful sporting cartridges in use. Rifles of this description, when constructed of moderate weights to use medium cartridges, should have much the feel and balance of a shotgun which especially fits them for the sort of instinctive snap work that must sometimes stop a charging beast.
A double rifle can be obtained suitable for shooting any species of game from rooks and rabbits to elephants, in weights from five pounds to twenty. If it were worth while to purchase one of these weapons for American shooting, the .333 as made by Jeffery, using a 250 grain bullet driven with a velocity of 2,600 feet should certainly prove a killer. This cartridge is more powerful than anything we have and might appeal to the man who is looking for striking force and deadliness.
For service in India and Africa the double rifle can be obtained in various bores and cartridges. Some of the best liked are the .375, .400, .404, .450, .475, .500, .577, and .600 cordite. The latter is charged with one hundred grains of powder and a nine hundred grain bullet and is warranted to kill anything before it—perhaps behind as well.
No less an authority than W. W. Greener maintains that the recoil of these great rifles is unbearable, and that they never should have been built in such calibers. Probably the best double rifles for African game would be the .333, .400, .450, and .475. They appear to be quite powerful enough for elephants, have velocities and trajectories equal to the ordinary military small bores, and the recoil is to be preferred to the swing of an elephant’s trunk.
In purchasing a double rifle economy should not be considered. A first rate rifle can hardly be secured under three hundred dollars and five hundred might well be expended for one. These rifles are made after the same design as the ordinary double shotgun by some builders, hammerless, ejector locks, top lever, and single trigger, where desired. The most favored mechanism for the more powerful cartridges, however, is the under lever, in which the lever which withdraws the lug bolts lies under the guard. It is stated that the under lever has ten times the withdrawing force at the top and that it entirely obviates jams from the tremendous pressure which sometimes occurs and disables the gun temporarily where the top lever is in use. The one excuse for the great double express rifle is its danger and it would not do to add to this by a mechanism that might possibly render the weapon useless in a time of peril.
The Shotgun and Rifle
Double barrel guns with one barrel for shot and the other rifled have never been manufactured in America so far as the writer is aware. Some of them have been imported, chiefly in the hands of immigrants from Germany and France. I think not a great many of them are now being made even in Europe.
This sort of weapon has its uses in a country of mixed small and large game. It is well adapted to driven deer shooting after the German fashion especially for small deer like the roe. One barrel loaded with buckshot could then be used for running animals and the rifle cartridge for still shots. The arm once saw a certain amount of service in the south where chasing deer with hounds, heading them off, and shooting from horseback was the accepted style. It is a handy gun for mixed turkey and small game, but for this purpose is not so good as the next model we have to consider, the three-barrel.
The Three Barrel Gun
The three-barrel gun as now constructed has two shotgun barrels lying side by side as usual with a rifle barrel beneath. But two locks are used to fire the three barrels, the shift being made from one of the shot barrels to the rifle by means of a lever. These weapons are still being built in this country, also numbers of them are imported.
Formerly they were manufactured in different styles, some with the rifle barrel on top in place of the top rib, and the late D. Kirkwood, of Boston, has made them with four barrels two shot and two rifle. He was an old time expert gunsmith of a kind now becoming rare.
The three-barrel gun is an attractive arm for certain purposes. For the mixed shooting such as can be found in Florida or Texas, principally quail and wildfowl but occasionally deer or turkey, it is a combination not to be excelled in a single weapon. It is, of course, a good double shotgun with the added advantage of an accurate rifle always at the sportsman’s command. In a country like Texas, Mexico, or Central America where the game may be turkey, deer, bobcats, wildfowl, or quail, I do not know of a more useful weapon than the three barrel.
These arms are now being chambered for modern high power cartridges such as the .25-35, .30-30, .32-40, and .38-55, as well as for lighter ammunition, including the .25-20-86. Probably the .30-30 is the most favored cartridge, with 16 or 20 gauge shot barrels, the entire arm to weigh not exceeding 7 1/4, pounds.
Even the man who shoots in a well settled country can get quite a bit of sport out of his three barrel that he would otherwise miss. With it crows, hawks, foxes, and woodchucks can be killed, while it is a more sportsmanlike weapon for shooting rabbits and squirrels than any shotgun. Cracking the head of a squirrel in the top of a hundred foot hickory is a worthy feat, but shooting him with shot is mere pot hunting.
The use of a three-barreled arm is pretty well confined to America, North and South. In Europe a different weapon replaces it, the muzzle rifled shotgun.
As its name implies, this is a shotgun with its muzzle having a shallow rifling, calculated to spin a cylindrical, pointed bullet of moderate length. Usually the ball is hollow at point or base, sometimes both, so as to permit the greatest length of missile without undue weight.
The most popular sizes of “ball-and-shot-guns ” are the 20 and 28 gauges. The 28 drives a rifle bullet of 290 grains, the 20, one of 380. The velocities are from fourteen to sixteen hundred feet, and the striking force from seventeen hundred to twenty-four hundred foot pounds. The accuracy is said to be nearly equal to a double rifle at ranges up to two hundred yards. The arm weighs in these lighter gauges from 5 1/4 to 7 pounds. With a shot charge the weapon is about as effective as any other cylinder bored gun.
Arms of this description would no doubt be very convenient where the sportsman was obliged to travel light, as in long canoe voyages, where the limit of weight was one gun, and the game of a mixed character. As a rifle the power would be sufficient for anything up to moose.
The rifled shotgun is also made in heavier bores, 16, 12, 10, and 8, with charges running as high as ten drams of powder and a thousand grain ball. While such weapons are used in India for cover shooting there is little about them to attract an American sportsman.