The Curious History Of Combination Guns

Drilling Combination Gun

courtesy abovetopsecret.com

An interesting type of firearm that’s almost unknown to the modern shooter but was formerly much more popular is the combination gun. These firearms are chambered for multiple types of ammunition. While there are good reasons to not own one – the modern gun owner has virtually no use for one – there’s still some demand for them.

Why does anyone care? Well, a gun that divides a lot of opinion, but still manages to sell pretty well are the .410/.45 LC revolvers such as the Taurus Judge series and the Smith & Wesson GOVERNOR. Magnum Research makes the BFR in this chambering as well, which is certainly much nicer to look at than the other two. While a point of contention, they are actually part of a lineage.

In that regard, the form has never quite left us, though combination pistols are a very small exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of combination guns have been long guns and almost always break-action. They’re usually used for hunting; you have the option to shoot almost any kind of game at any time.

The typical format is an over-under with the top barrel in smoothbore (often enough 12-gauge or – as it’s called on the other side of the pond – 12 bore) and the bottom barrel chambered for a rifle cartridge. Side-by-side iterations, often called a “Cape gun,” were popular with some hunters in Africa.

Cape Gun Combination

courtesy shotgunforums.com

A very popular combination was a 12-gauge barrel for shot and .303 British rifle barrel, though plenty of other chamberings existed.

There was a similar design, namely Holland & Holland’s Paradox gun of the late 19th century. It was also called a “ball and shot gun” if made by someone other than H&H. However, they aren’t true combination guns as both barrels were the same size but had shallow rifling for using shot or slugs at the shooter’s leisure. They were best used at moderate ranges – around 100 yards – and the 8, 10 and 12 bore models were the most popular.

Krieghoff Trumpf Drilling Combination Gun

German gunmakers expanded on the design, creating guns known as drillings and vierlings, which are three- and four-barreled (“drilling” and “vierling” mean “triplet” and “quadruplet,” respectively) combination guns. The typical format was side-by-side or over-under shotgun barrels (12-gauge being most common) with a rifle barrel underneath or to the side of the shotgun barrels. Other configurations exist, but those are most common.

Vierlings offer even more versatility. Many designs feature two shotgun barrels, one centerfire and one rimfire rifle barrel, though – again – much depends on who made it.

There weren’t too many handhelds, but a few were made such as Lancaster pistols, which were four-barrel break-action pistols with a rotating striker mechanism. The way it worked was the striker/firing pin that fired rotated with each pull of the trigger. Usually, shallow rifling was employed so each barrel could fire either .410 gauge shot or .455 Webley rounds.

Carbine versions were briefly issued to British army engineers, and at least one rifle version was produced for the Maharajah of Rewa for hunting tigers. Lancashire pistols were found to be effective as Howdah pistols, so it was suited to the task.

The concept hasn’t entirely died out. While the combination guns and Paradox guns were certainly the province of Great White Hunters, there were some limited adopters in various militaries.

The Luftwaffe issued some drillings made by Sauer und Sohn (yep, the other half of SIG) to pilots in case they were shot down.

M6 Aircrew Survival Combination Gun

courtesy wikipedia.org

The American military cooked up the M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon for a similar purpose, a hammer-fired over-under survival rifle with a .410/.45LC top barrel and bottom barrel in .22 Hornet or .22 LR. These guns were based on the Marble Game Getter, a very similar design of firearm with a folding skeleton stock. The M6 rifles were issued from the 50s into the 70s, and some versions have been made for the civilian market by Chiappa, Springfield Armory and a few others.

Some high-end gunmakers still make drillings and vierlings, such as Italy’s FAMARS and Germany’s Johann Fanozj. Granted, these are handmade guns of exquisite beauty with price tags to match.

Rossi Circuit Judge

courtesy rossiusa.com

If you want to actually get a bit more out of the .410/.45 Colt platform, Rossi makes the Circuit Judge, a revolving rifle.

This is an interesting class of firearms with a small niche of their own, that will probably stay with us for the time being.

 

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

comments

  1. avatar Bugman says:

    An article about combination guns and no mention of the Savage 24?!?

    1. avatar CTstooge says:

      No kidding. 410/22LR. My first real gun.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      The most popular combo gun in America. It was my first gun and the gun that I took my first deer with. Decades later it was the gun my son used to take his first deer.
      The BRNO in 12 gauge /.30-066 is an impressive firearm as well.

  2. avatar Andy Buckmichael says:

    Drillings are beautiful guns.

  3. avatar TruthTellers says:

    The issue with combination guns is the same as double rifles: the barrels don’t hit to the same point with the sights. It’s not so much an issue with the shotgun barrel, but the rifled barrels it is. Considering the high cost of manufacturing a multi-barrel firearm, combination guns will never by making a comeback given their limitations.

    One would be better off buying a single shot break action like the H&R or Thompson Center instead and having spare barrels for that.

  4. avatar Manny A. says:

    Have had my 24V 357mag over 20ga since the early 80s. Keep it in a backpack with a telescopic pole. Would be my choice if l had to give up all of my guns but one to put meat in the pot.

    1. avatar Henry says:

      Sounds like a neat combo. You can drop deer or hogs with 20 ga. slugs or .357 hardcast. And a 20 ga. makes a great bird/rabbit/squirrel gun with shot shells. But you knew all that anyway 🙂

    2. avatar Bugman says:

      You have one of the holy grails of 24 collectors. I’m stalking a 24V series B in 30-30 over 20 gauge at a local pawn shop. It has been on the rack nearly a year for $750. I’ve never paid over $500 for one; thought I would for one like yours!

  5. avatar jwm says:

    Lancaster pistols. Not Lancashire pistols. And the m6 had a rifle barrel over a .410 barrel. Not the other way round. The military issue version had .22 hornet over .410.

    I still think an all metal, folding .22 over .410 would be a dandy survival gun.

  6. avatar TheUnspoken says:

    On the one hand it seems the extra weight and size would make a drilling gun not worth it to hunt with; a separate rifle and shotgun would seem to be a better option. On the other hand if repeaters weren’t really common yet, and you are truly wandering around a wild, unsettled environment, not sure exactly which animal you might see and hunt, I guess having an extra couple of shots over a single or double barrel, plus not carrying two guns into the field maybe helped?

    1. avatar drunkEODguy says:

      Essentially this, these seem like products of their time. Before specific hunting license/seasons were a thing, and dangerous game protection was a real concern

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        They are still great for a day at field. Single shot Quail hunts all day long and you are ready for a deer if you happen to catch one off guard.

    2. avatar Swarf says:

      I think the drilling guns were, in part, a practical workaround for Germany’s restrictions on the number of firearms mere peasants could own at one time.

      The more things change…

      I’ve got a WWII bring-back (2x16ga over a rimmed 8mm of some stripe) that I’ve inherited from my Grandfather, but it needs some gunsmithing love that is beyond my abilities (or desire to mess with): Cracked stock, the flip up sight doesn’t and one of the shotgun barrels won’t fire.

      My Dad thinks he dry-fired it to death over a bunch of years when he was a kid, sneaking it out of his Dad’s closet to play with it.

      1. avatar Kimberwarrior45 says:

        Actually the drilling was popular on the Continent because of the hunting seasons, which ran together. When out in the field you could be hunting Grouse then see a deer and take it with the same weapon. As a side note the most popular gauge is 16 in Europe.

  7. avatar billy-bob says:

    http://www.sitemason.com/files/cn9U1a/Owen%204bore%20r.JPG

    No need for a third barrel with one of these.

  8. avatar MMM says:

    I have seen some nice (and expensive) combo guns in Europe, where they seemed to be more popular for hunting, and a really awful version of the M6 that was just wretched, made by Chiappa I think.

    Limitations aside, I like the concept but don’t like the .410. For a “survival” weapon I would like a combo .22 and 12 guage. Ammo is inexpensive and ubiquitous, and it has considerably more power and flexibility than the .410. Strange that I’ve never seen it, evidently Savage made one at some point but I’ve never seen one.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      MMM,

      I would want .22 LR on top and 20 gauge on the bottom for a dual chambering survival long gun. Keep in mind that 20 gauge shot shells should be available everywhere that 12 gauge shot shells are available.

      Why 20 gauge on bottom? It reduces the bulk and weight of the long gun AND the shot shells without giving up much if anything in a survival situation.

      The more important question: which choke on that 20 gauge barrel? You would want an open (cylinder) choke if you decided to shoot slugs at deer or hogs. You would want something like modified choke if you where shooting at small game. And you would want full choke if you were shooting a ducks or geese. Perhaps the barrel would have to accommodate removable chokes and provide a space to store the chokes that you are not using???

      1. avatar ChanceMcCall says:

        I had a .22WRM on top and a 12 gauge with changeable chokes on the bottom built for me years ago. Even though I bought it as a survival gun, I could not resist having engraving done as well. It was pretty expensive. Now it sits in a safe. It is exciting to look at.

      2. avatar Andrew Lews says:

        Actually the solution to the “which choke” dilemma was introduced many decades ago and then abandoned in the 50’s. I have a semi auto 12ga shotgun with a fully adjustable choke. Just twist the collet at the end of the barrel. No tools, no parts to remove.

    2. avatar Swarf says:

      If it was awful and wretched, Chiappa is a likely contender.

  9. They not only left out the old Savage Model 24, they also left out Savage’s new combination gun, the Model 42. The current versions are takedown guns, one button takedown with no tools required. Unfortunately, the only calibers offered for the Model 42 are 22 LR over .410 and 22 WMR over .410. I have the 22 WMR over 410 takedown version of the Model 42.
    I have my Model 42 scoped with a Burris 1-4 x 32 scope, zeroed for the 22 Magnum barrel (the top barrel). If I want to use it for .410 shot shells, I’d just dial the scope back to 1x, and using the Burris circle-dot reticle I might even be able to shoot skeet with it (haven’t tried yet, though, as I figure the shotgun barrel is mostly for survival). I’d much prefer if the shotgun barrel were 20 gauge, but Savage only makes the Model 42 in .410 bore. A 3-inch .410 shot shell from a 20″ barrel is much more powerful than a 2.5″ .410 shot shell from the 2″ barrel of a Taurus Judge or S&W Governor, so you could hunt with it. In a survival situation, a 3″ .410 slug from a 20″ barrel could kill a deer. I realize it’s not legal to hunt deer with anything less than a 20 gauge in many states, including mine, but I’m talking about a WROL survival situation where you need to hunt to survive. Given that poachers often take deer with 22 Magnum, in a WROL survival situation, you could use either barrel of the Model 42, either the .22 Magnum or a .410 slug to take deer from close range, but a .410 slug would be the better choice, and out of a 20″ barrel with a 3″ shell, it has more muzzle energy than a lever-action rifle shooting .44-40 Winchester, which our ancestors used to shoot deer in the 1800s with their Winchester 73, so if a Winchester 73 can take a deer, so can a Model 42.

    In my 22 WMR over .410 Model 42, I can shoot .410 3″, .410 2.5″, 22 Magnum, .22 WRF (Winchester Rimfire, an obsolete round with similar case dimensions to 22 Magnum), 22 LR with a chamber adapter, or in a pinch, 22 LR without a chamber adapter (which should be safe since it’s a single-shot, so if the 22 LR brass splits, it’s entirely enclosed in a closed action, although it might eventually damage the chamber or hurt accuracy to use 22 LR in a 22 WMR chamber).

    Best of all, it’s very lightweight, short (35″), very low recoil, and quickly takes down to fit in a backpack!

  10. avatar Mikec says:

    I know a group of coyote hunters that only use the Savage 24 with .223 over 12 gauge. They like to call them in close enough to use the 12 gauge, but if they won’t come in close the .223 does just fine. Since grouse season overlaps the big game seasons here in Idaho there are a few that use it. Nice only have to carry one long gun.

  11. avatar Chris T says:

    I have a German Drilling with the top two bbls being 16ga and the lower bbl is a 9mm X ?? rifled. Hammer fired with a center lever to change the left hammer over to hit the bottom firing pin. The break action lever is in the trigger guard. Markings on the weapon translate to “Overhammer” and it was referred to as a Boar/Stag
    gun. This was the first shotgun I ever fired when I was about 9 years of age.

  12. avatar Old Fur Trapper says:

    I believe it is more than obvious the writer made a serious error in stating modern hunters have no need for one! The idea of combination barrels originated back in the early days of antique firearms and carried over to modern times. The logic is simple as many have pointed out. A smooth bore barrel with a rifled barrel in any combination based on the shooter’s preferences can handle virtually anything they may encounter or want to hunt. For myself, I would love to build such a firearm in the antique style. Smooth bore barrels in .75 cal. with a rifled barrel in .54.

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