Gun Review: Stoeger Double Defense Over/Under 12 Gauge

Back in the day, Wells Fargo stagecoach drivers carried short barreled side-by-side shotguns to fend off n’er do wells. With the advent of pump action and semi-automatic shotguns, self-defense-minded Americans abandoned break-action shotguns to hunting, skeet and trap shooters. With the advent of  cowboy action shooting, the coach gun reappeared—with a vengeance. And then cowboy-catering Stoeger saw the tacticool light. They painted it black (you devil), threw a couple of picatinny rails on board, added a fiberoptic sight and eis! The Stoeger Condor was reborn as the Double Defense. And then reborn again as an over/under gun (for those who can’t take sides). Should you trust your life to this shotty? Well . . .

Let’s start with a comparison between the ridiculous and the sublime. Submitted for your consideration: a $375 Brazilian shotty and my $3k Beretta 687 Silver Pigeon III. Other than price, style, quality, materials, decoration, provenance and form, they’re identical. In fact, both 12-gauge shotguns would be formidable in a fight. But one’s more formidable than the other. Beauty and the Beast. Point taken? No? Try this . . .

E.R. Amantino in Veranópolis, Brazil manufactures the Double Defense for Stoeger. They’ve been making shotguns for the Brazilian military and police forces since 1962. According to their website, “[w]e manufacture shotguns to be in contact with the nature respecting its cycles and preservation, not to kill people.”

Maybe they haven’t updated their site since they started cranking out the Double Defense, but it’s pretty clear that this bad boy isn’t made “to be in contact with the nature respecting its cycles and preservation.” Nah, this thing’s made to kill people. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it deer/dove/pig hunting—if that’s all I had available.

When you first pick up the gun, you immediately notice that this is one stout, heavy-duty piece of kit. Whereas the Beretta 687 invokes images of a gazelle, the Stoeger is pure wildebeest. Even so, overall workmanship and wood-to-metal finish is quite good, especially given the price point.

Make no mistake: everything on the DD is utilitarian grade, from the high-carbon steel to the matte blue finish and the matte black stained wood. Most of that’s fine by me, but I have noticed that the barrel assembly is more prone to rust than I’d like. This is particularly evident underneath the handguard and behind the side picatinny rails.

In fact, the Stoeger had a small amount of surface rust behind the side picatinny rail before I even fired the gun. At first I thought the finish was a type of weather-resistant Parkerizing, that’s not the case. I’d recommend keeping these hidden areas lubed with a small film of heavy grease.

A single trigger fires both barrels. Even though I fired roughly 500 rounds through the Double Defense, I’m at a loss to remember anything about the go pedal. But an unremarkable trigger on a defense-oriented shotgun is a good thing. If it had been too light, too heavy or had too much creep, it would have stood out. By not drawing attention to itself, the trigger proves that it’s just right.

As with all internal hammer shotgun designs, the recoil of the first round resets the hammer  for the a second shot. When dry firing the top barrel, you have to bump the stock on the ground slightly in order to simulate the recoil of the bottom barrel’s shell igniting.

High end over/under shotguns have a throw lever on the tang safety that allows the user to select which barrel fires first. The Stoeger doesn’t. Why would it? Benelli M2 owners note: the less things the operator has to manipulate on a defensive shotgun, the better.

On the other hand, ejectors. Shotguns with ejectors punt spent shell casings out of both chambers when the breech is opened. As you’d expect at this price point, the Stoeger Double Defense is equipped with a single extractor. The device backs the shells out of the chamber a quarter inch or so. The operator then pulls them out the rest of the way manually.

Again, this is no bad thing. Gunsmiths report that ejectors account for the vast majority of mechanical problems with over and under shotguns. The parts that comprise the ejector system are under a lot of tension and stress [ED: who isn’t?] and tend to break under prolonged use.

When I first unboxed the Stoeger, the tang safety was tight. After manipulating the trigger back and forth a few hundred times, it’s smoothed out. A bit. A gunsmith could (and should) polish the safety to improve its function. On a weapon intended for self-defense, every part of the gun should be easy to manipulate.

Once the gun’s broken in, disassembly is easy. In theory. The Double Defense comes from the factory tighter than the Tower of Power horn section. Wrangling off the fore-end takes mega-muscle. The part’s held to the barrel via a serrated, half-moon, wheel-style release. As far as I can tell, it’s a unique design—as in “that’s a unique dress you’re wearing tonight dear.” Not a deal breaker, though.

The Double Defense features a standard box-lock over/under action complete with machine-turned monoblock sides. Recesses on either side of the receiver engage trunion pins, on which the barrels pivot, allowing for smooth opening and closing. The gun requires a good deal of force to break open after a shell is fired. Again, gunsmiths need apply.

The block is jeweled, which is somewhat of an unexpected feature on such an inexpensive gun. However, even out of the box there were gouges in the metal that detract from its appearance. As shown in the photo above, these gouges have increased in number over the two months I’ve been testing the gun through normal handling.

Range Time

For testing purposes, I ran as many different types of ammo through the Stoeger as I could get my hands on. A partial sample is shown in the photo above. I put around 500 rounds through the gun, including the following types:

  • 1 ounce, 2¾ in.  Brenneke K.O. slugs;
  • 1 ounce 2¾ in Federal Trueball Deep Penetrator slugs;
  • 2¾ in Olin “Military Grade”  No. 00 Buckshot (9 pellets)
  • 2¾ in Remington No. 00 Buckshot (9 pellets)
  • 1¼ ounce 3 inch Federal  Magnum Rifled Slug HP
  • 1¼ ounce 3 inch Federal  Magnum No. 00 Buckshot (15 pellets)
  • 1 & 1/8 ounce 2¾ in.  Federal “Top Gun” #8 shot and #7½  shot
  • Various Remington Premier  STS Target loads, #9 shot, #8 shot, etc.

Most of what I shot was rack-grade target birdshot. Clay pigeons laid against a dirt berm made a good reactive target to test the handling and accuracy of the gun. The Stoeger points well and made quick work of the clays at 15-25 yards.

The photo above shows one round of the relatively inexpensive 1  1/8 ounce, 2¾ in. Federal “Top Gun” #7½  shot fired at 20 yards. This round contains around 400 pellets. As you can tell from the photo, the pattern is roughly 20 inches across.  This tells me that if you’re planning to use birdshot for self defense, you’d better plan on engaging the target at 10 yards or less. [Note: “Self defense” shooting scenarios become more legally dubious if the attacker is more than seven to ten yards from the defender.]

The shot above is the result of two rounds of 1¼ ounce 3 inch Federal No. 00 Magnum Buckshot (15 pellets) fired at 15 yards in rapid-fire mode (roughly one second between shots). Although my original intention was to shoot the bottom target with the bottom barrel, I ended up doing it backwards. In both cases, all 15 pellets are on target The spread is roughly 12 inches for the first shot, and a little over 10 for the second – pretty ideal for a self-defense situation. You can see from the photo that the top barrel (bottom target) is printing a few inches to the right.

The photograph above shows one round of 1 ounce 2¾ in Federal Trueball Deep Penetrator slugs placed in each of the two 18 inch Shoot-N-See targets from 20 yards.  The first round was from the bottom barrel and hit just under my point of aim on the top target. No issue there; I was using a using a raised red-dot optic.

The top barrel, on the other hand, consistently shot a few inches to the right at 20 yards.  Note on the bottom target, you can see what appears to be a bullseye hit just above the red center aiming circle. That jagged hole is caused by the plastic wad that follows the lead projectile. The slug hit around 4 inches to the right and two inches down from center.

I shot three more Tru-ball Deep Penetrator rounds from the same distance, and got consistent results. Keep in mind I was shooting offhand and at rapid “self-defense” speed.  And some of the perceived “hits” are actually just the wad and plastic ball tearing through the target.

Unlike the jagged holes left by the wad, the slug itself left very precise, round holes. Also, given that I was firing rapidly, I wouldn’t say these groups are a measure of the inherent “benched” accuracy of the ammo or barrels, but are rather show the real-world accuracy you can expect when using this weapon with slugs.

Overall, I was pleased with the way the Stoeger shot. While the barrel alignment wasn’t perfect, it certainly was good enough to fill its intended role.

Reliability

My Google-Fu unearthed a few posts accusing the Double Defense of a malfunction that caused both barrels to fire simultaneously. It didn’t happen to me. The test gun ate all of the 2¾ and 3 inch shells I could feed it without any problems. I feel confident in pronouncing it mechanically sound.

 What To Do With Those Rails?

As shown above, the Stoeger is ready to fill the role of deer sniper – topped with a 3-12 x 56 Zeiss Conquest and a cheap Ramline bipod. JK. But shooting slugs at 100 yards with my “.729 x 76.2mm smoothbore sniper rifle” was a ton o’ fun! The Double D was pretty darn accurate, all things considered.

Three shot groups averaged in the five to eight inch range (using the bottom barrel only).  Brenneke K.O. slugs are even more accurate, putting in four to six inch groups on average.  With a few adjustments I think I could even improve on that. So even though I’d prefer to hunt deer with a rifled-barrel shotgun that fires sabot slugs, the Stoeger could fill the deer assassin role in a pinch.

Or, if sniping with slugs isn’t your thing, you can release your inner “gangsta” with a vertical foregrip on the side rail! Do gangstas’ really use Aimpoints? I thought the whole point to being a gangsta was not to aim. So maybe this set up was totally stupid, just like gangstas.

TTAG has lampooned the Laserlite Pistol bayonet. I shared that disdain. But—if you can avoid slicing friendlies or yourself to ribbons during initial deployment, a dual bayonet-equipped Double Defense (Quadruple Defense?) would certainly discourage a bad guy from rushing you after you’d expended your two shots.

The twin blade Double D is a bit “mall ninja” for my tastes, and it just might send the wrong message to a post-incident prosecutor. More than that, when my wife saw the bayonets on the Stoeger, she suddenly thought she had a new tool for weeding her vegetable garden and edging the lawn. Obviously, that could be problematic.

Is this Thing Really Viable for Self Defense?  

The Double Defense’s two-round capacity isn’t as big a liability as one might imagine—especially if you’re using a shotgun as a last ditch defensive weapon (having fought your way to the scattergun with your handgun). If you know you only have two rounds on board, you’re more likely going to make them count. And two rounds you can fire—as opposed to multiple rounds you can’t (short-stroking a pump, failing to set-up a semi, etc.)—make no small amount of sense.

Conversely, if you know you have 20 rounds in your Glock 17, you might be more tempted to spray and pray. There’s plenty of video evidence of cops doing this in gun fights. And the vast majority of gunfights are settled in one or two rounds – especially when those rounds are fired from a shotgun.

Perhaps it’s best to think of the Stoeger Double Defense as The Mother of All Derringers.

On the downside, a shotgun with a safety that automatically engages after reloading? In my opinion, any sort of manually-operated safety is a potential liability on a home defense weapon. But then I’m a little crazy that way, and drop safe isn’t just a Road Runner cartoon concept.

Conclusion

As you can see below, the Stoeger Double Defense has made some new friends amongst the existing home defense regulars at Casa Grine. ‘Nuff said?

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: 12 gauge (.729 inches)
Action: Break open
Capacity: 2 rounds
Overall Length: 36 ½ inches
Barrel Length: 20″
Weight:  7.1 lbs. unloaded
Choke:  Fixed Improved Cylinder (IC)
Sight: green fiber-optic front sight
Finish: matte blue metal, matte black stained hardwood
Price: $479 (MSRP)   $350-400 (street price)

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style  * * * * *
The Double Defense is a love-it-or hate it type affair. If you are into tacticool, you will love it. Otherwise, meh. In my case, black suits me just fine.

Ergonomics  * * * *
The Stoeger is comfortable to shoot. Recoil is manageable even with full-powered 3 inch slugs and buckshot. The stock has a length of pull of 14 ½ inches and a drop at comb of 1 3/8 inches. The rubberized buttpad does a good job of taming recoil, but it does tend to catch on clothing. Again, the action and the safety need a bit of fine tuning, as discussed below.

Reliability * * * * *
The gun worked like a charm. I experienced none of the double fires that have been reported by others on various internet forums.

Customize This  * * * * *
With three Picatinny rails, you can get stupid with lights, optics, bayonets, etc.

Accuracy  * * *
The Stoeger’s accurate enough to serve its intended purpose, but the slightly misaligned top barrel calls for a two-point deduction. The defect was only apparent when shooting slugs out of the top barrel. With birdshot or slugs, I really didn’t notice it much. Chris and I spent an afternoon shooting beargrass flowers from 15-30 yards; the Stoeger put enough lead on target to chop the flower off every time.

Refinement  * * *
The Double Defense needs some ‘smith work to achieve its true potential. Break open is too stiff after a round is fired, the tang safety needs to be polished smooth and the chambers could be touched up so the shells can be flicked out.

Overall   * * * 1/2
A solid effort given the price point. To keep the cost of the gun down, the manufacturer hasn’t taken the time to smooth out some of the rough edges. If you’re willing to get some work done on the gun, you’ll have a yourself a solid performer.