The shotgun has long and rightfully been regarded as the most useful of firearms. Because of its wide range of projectiles, even the old smoothbore flintlock fowlers were good for everything in the woods up to 75 yards or so.
But the carriage gun, or “coach gun” as it was called here in the West, was a specialty item. With its shorter barrel, and corresponding shorter sight radius, it was designed for use against other humans. Even more specifically, it was designed to shoot humans riding horseback while the shooter was mounted on a moving horse-drawn carriage. That ain’t easy to do. I’ve tried shooting from atop a running horse at a stationary balloon, and that was nigh impossible. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if the target was moving too…and shooting back!
And yet, that’s exactly what folks had to do. Carriage routes were spanned by messenger services like the Pony Express, and by private carriers, the most famous of which was Wells Fargo, well before the American West was tamed of killers and thieves. Folks traveling by horse-drawn carriage were under regular threat of robbery and death by several of the native tribes and just as often by common thieves.
The coach gun was the answer to the call for a short-range, powerful firearm capable of firing and reloading from a shaky platform.
The idea of a coach gun being associated with the American West is certainly justified, but the coach gun didn’t start there. In fact, the basics of the coach gun existed for literally hundreds of years prior to the expansion of the American West.
Long before Lewis and Clark carried it on their expedition, long before it was used at Harper’s Ferry, even before its use in the Plymouth colonies, the blunderbuss was in hard use on carriages in the Old World. Short in length, fast to shoot, reload, and shoot again from a moving carriage, the blunderbuss was considered the earliest purpose-designed “carriage gun.” After all, what do you think that big flared muzzle is for? It’s so that powder and shot can be loaded quickly on a moving, shaky platform.
As America would realize her Manifest Destiny, coach guns, often called “Messenger Guns,” found further refinement. These short, usually double-barreled cartridge shotguns became ubiquitous with the men riding the stages, as well as Texas Rangers and mounted lawmen throughout the South and Southwest.
The most obvious difference between the two CZ coach guns is that the Shaprtail is a more modern, cock-on-close side by side while the Hammer Classic has…um…hammers.
The Sharptail’s manual of arms is pretty simple. Open the gun by pressing the release lever on the grip tang to the right, open the gun, insert rounds, close the guns, pull the trigger. If you want the second barrel to fire, pull the trigger again. There’s just one trigger. The tang-mounted safety does not reengage after shots or after the gun is opened. You can choose which barrel fires first by moving the selector mounted within the safety.
The Hammer Classic is a bit more complex. After you close the loaded gun, regardless of the position of the safety, you’ll need to pull one or both of the hammers back. The Hammer Classic has two triggers. The front trigger fires the right barrel, the rear trigger the left.
The Sharptail is faster and more practical, the Hammer Classic a little more traditional, and just plain cool.
Each firearm comes broken down in a plastic case. If you read that and thought “GLOCK lunchbox,” think again. Each piece is velvet-sleeved, and set into the semi-fitted case. It snaps shut with four closures and, although not quite sturdy enough for airline travel, would do well for any other standard storage or transportation.
Breakdown or reassembly is simple and easy with the takedown lever located under the fore end of each shotgun.
Each gun is lightly engraved…really just some hand embellishments. It’s not lots of deep scroll work, but the simple hammer stamps and a little bit of scrolling lines into the gun blend well and give the gun a refined look.
Note that on both guns all of the screws are correctly oriented with the long lines of the firearms. Each flathead screw is slightly embellished and finished the same as the receivers. That’s a nice touch.
Even without looking at the triggers on the Hammer Classic, they would be hard to get confused. They are not that far apart from each other, but feel very different. The rear trigger is smaller and more curved, while the front is also wider than the rear.
Obviously, without the need to cock the hammers, the Sharptail is going to be the faster of the two guns to load and fire. That said, I was able to cock both of the Hammer Classic’s hammers by simply sweeping my support hand hard back over them. According to my timer, I’m almost a full second slower with the Hammer Classic than I am with the Sharptail. Not much, but it’s something.
I would highly recommend practicing this speed cocking maneuver extensively with snap-caps before loading the barrels and trying this with live rounds, as it is possible to set off the gun like this prior to fully mounting it. Remember, amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.
The hammers are also close enough to simply reach up with my firing hand and cock with my thumb, while keeping the rest of my hand on the wrist of the stock.
All of the hardware, save the barrels, on each gun are have a color case hardened finish. The finish is a simple chemical processes, not actual bone and charcoal case hardening. It is done very well.
The finish is beautiful. Just gorgeous. As I said, all of the parts, save the triggers and the barrels, are color cased finished and polished. These guns are relatively inexpensive, but they certainly don’t look it.
Most of the wood-to-metal fit is quite good, although there are a few gaps and uneven places here and there. In some spots, the wood is recessed to the metal, in some other spots, it stand just a bit proud.
The wood itself is Turkish walnut, with some really nice, deep checkering. This is not AAA Fancy Turkish Walnut. The stock blanks alone would be worth more than the entire shotgun if that were the case. Still, it’s nice wood, and far better than we find on most American-made shotguns and rifles at considerably higher prices.
The stock geometry fits well, with a length of pull likely appropriate for male or larger female shooters. It will be a little long for you shorter folks. I found the wrist to be a little narrow for my size large hands. The comb height was a little low for me, and it’s a straight drop with no cast. The overall geometry is great for what the coach guns were designed to do, which is simply to shoot folks up close and fast while on the move.
Neither shotgun includes a rear sight, but each has a single front sight with a white plastic insert at the end of the serrated rib in the middle of the 20″ barrels.
Although the exterior of the shotguns are very well executed, the interiors are a just OK. Small tool marks abound. Nothing is particularly well polished on the inside. Overall, it’s just a little rough.
Note that the shells do not eject. They simply extract. The breach of each barrel is also not chamfered or funneled in any way, so if you want to shoot Cowboy Action Style matches, that’s probably something you’ll want to do or have done if you intend to be competitive.
The action of both guns came out of the box very stiff. To be fair, these guns sat in the TTAG safe for many months before anyone got to review them. The oil they were packed in was fairly set by the time I got them, so they really should have had a deep cleaning prior to my shooting. Instead, I liberally sprayed them with Eezox and ran a bore snake through each tube and got to blastin’.
Although the actions started stiff, by the end of the review, just a quick snap up while holding the action release and the guns came right open. Of course, that was after hundreds of openings and closing of each firearm.
These guns are made by Huglu in Turkey for CZ-USA. Huglu makes some gorgeous, well-performing guns by any standard. The CZ coach guns are by no means the top of the line that Huglu produces.
The short, fairly thin barrels make recoil stout but handling quick. These are not designed to be guns with weight at the end for swinging and shooting flying birds and clays. They need to be brought up fast, stopped quick, and moved to reload even quicker. The barrel length and weight are appropriate for just that.
As far as historical barrel length, these are a right in the middle. The shotguns purchased by Wells Fargo for their “Messenger Guns” were 24″ and 26″ barrels, but many made prior to the company’s bulk purchases were as short as 14″. Shorter, “sawed-off” shotguns did exist, but they were fairly rare.
Remember these were originally black powder cartridge guns and super fine grain powder was unheard of in the old west. That black powder needs some barrel to burn. Twenty inches for these guns is just perfect.
Both barrels on both guns are fixed cylinder bore. The old adage of 1″ spread of 00 per yard held true. Aiming at the center of a silhouette target at 25 yards, and using 2 3/4″ 9-pellet 00 buckshot, 7 of the 9 pellets hit the target. Obviously, they all struck left of center using the left barrel and right of center with the right barrel. Aiming at the left edge of the target and shooting with the right barrel landed all 9 pellets into the target. Shoot both barrels of either gun full of birdshot at 15 yards and you’ll absolutely cover the target.
I put quite a bit of birdshot through each of these guns just to get the feel for them, but birdshot isn’t what these guns were historically for. Coach guns were the quintessential close-range combat firearms for a couple of hundred years, and they were made to fire heavy shot. I put 100 rounds of 00 buckshot through each of these shotguns over a few days time.
Throughout the review, I had no failures to fire or failures to release the barrels and extract. The buckshot hulls always fell out with a sharp jerk of the gun. The safeties never failed to engage or disengage quickly and easily. The barrel selector on the Sharptail never stuck, and never failed to work. Quite simply, the guns performed flawlessly.
That said, especially the with the Hammer Classic, you had better keep a tight grip on the gun when shooting buckshot. Recoil is not overwhelming, and quick “one-two” shots on target are completely doable, but you will certainly know when you’ve pulled the trigger.
Unlike the Sharptail, the Hammer Classic has no recoil pad. There are no sharp edges, but still, after 100 rounds, my shoulder was feeling it. So was my jaw, as to get a good sight picture on either gun, I had to press my face down onto the walnut stock firmly. Under the recoil of the 00 buck, with either gun, my face took a bit of a beating.
I’m a big fan of CZ, and these two SxS guns are yet another example of why. Beautiful guns that perform their purpose very well, and at a surprisingly low price point. Both of these guns have MSRP’s under $1,000, and retail prices from $800 to $850. These are classy, fun guns to own and to shoot.
CZ Hammer Coach 12 Gauge, 20″ Barrels
Chambering: 12 Gauge
Max Shell Length: 3 in
Barrel Length: 20
Stock: Turkish walnut stock with pistol grip
Length Of Pull: 14 1/2 in
Forend Style: Spliter Forend
Receiver Finish: Color Case Hardened
Barrel Finish: Gloss Black Chrome
Rib: 8mm Flat
Overall Length: 37.38 in
Weight: 6.7 lbs
Comb: 1 1/2 in
Heel: 2 1/4 in
Trigger Mech: Dual Triggers
Safety: Manual Tang Safety, Rebounding Hammers
MSRP: $922.00 (less via Brownells)
CZ Sharp-Tail Coach 12 Gauge
Chambering: 12 Gauge
Max Shell Length: 3 in
Barrel Length: 20 in
Stock: Turkish Walnut
Length Of Pull: 14.5 in
Forend Style: Semi-Beavertail
Receiver Finish: Color Case Hardened
Barrel Finish: Black Hard Chrome
Overall Length: 37.5 in
Weight: 6 lbs
Comb: 1.5 in
Heel: 2.25 in
Trigger: Mechanical Single Selectable
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
The engraving, the wood, and the finish aren’t world class. But it’s not really fair to compare these against shotguns costing 25 to 100 times as much, either. For the price, they are extremely well furnished and adorned.
You could change the front sight out with minimal work, and it’s fairly easy to do unnecessary trigger work.
Reliability * * * * *
Everything worked every time on both guns.
Accuracy * * * * *
The wide pattern remained consistent within shell brands and types.
Overall * * * * 1/2
The internals could be better polished and the wood-to-metal fit could be a little better in some places. But overall, these are just outstanding guns for this price point. How’s this for an endorsement: I tried to buy this Hammer Classic, but another TTAG writer had already beat me to it!