April 6, 2023
By Joe Engesser
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Rifle? Shotgun? Why not two in one?
Designed for optimal versatility, combination guns have been offered in many forms. These unique firearms are often comprised of at least one smoothbore barrel and one rifle barrel, and they usually include a selector mechanism to choose between the two. While somewhat obscure today, the combination gun flourished in Europe, Africa, and India in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A finely engraved Westley Richards hammerless small bore drilling combination gun with .22 rimfire over .410 bore configuration, from the Tom Selleck Collection.
While there have been combination wheelguns like the LeMat revolver family of the 19th century, the notable majority of combination guns have been longarms. Even some contemporary revolver examples today harness the combination gun's spirit of practicality like the Taurus Judge and the Smith & Wesson Governor. Both are able to chamber cartridges for bullets or shot, but use a single barrel.
A LeMat revolver, a nine-shot .42 caliber muzzleloading wheelgun with an 18 gauge shotgun barrel mounted beneath the barrel. From the Greg Lampe Collection.
The combination gun has been manufactured in countless configurations, chambering options, and barrel combinations. Some combination guns were designed for specific situations, like taking small game, while others are capable of filling nearly any role, from wingshooting, mountain hunting, varmint control, home defense, survival, or pleasure on the range. Below, we'll take a closer look at the history, diversity, and application of this fascinating firearms genre.
While modern combination guns tend to resemble double rifles or double-barreled shotguns, with almost every model using a break-open action, early offerings of the combination gun were less standardized. In ‘Longrifles of Pennsylvania Vol. 1’ by Russell Harriger, the flintlock combination gun examples discussed are typically swivel breeches, or “wenders,”designed to rotate their barrels to line up with a single firing mechanism. Combination guns in general are rarer in the flintlock period, but both swivel breeches and combination guns with a separate lock for each stationary barrel were produced in slightly higher numbers in the percussion era.
Before American gun designers like John H. Hall and Simeon North revolutionized the manufacturing process by introducing the concept of standardized, machined parts, complex firearms like the combination gun were bound by the limitations of hand craftsmanship. A gun’s configuration was often dictated by the customer or the individual gunsmith, resulting in some astonishingly rare designs like the air gun/percussion action hybrid below.
The combination gun evolved alongside its shotgun counterpart, seeing a series of innovations in the 1860s and 1870s like the invention of the hammerless boxlock and sidelock actions and the adoption of metallic cartridges. Arguably the most influential development for the combination gun, however, was the introduction of the break-open, breechloading action.
Named for its popularity with hunters in the Cape Colony region of South Africa, the cape gun is a combination firearm with two barrels attached side-by-side. German and Austrian-manufactured cape guns, sometimes called “Büchsflinte,” often had a smooth left barrel and a rifled right barrel. British-made cape guns were typically produced in the opposite configuration, with their rifled barrel positioned on the left.
South Africa’s sparsely settled frontier presented enterprising hunters with a vast assortment of game, and carrying a single gun that could take anything from birds to cape buffalo offered convenience and flexibility. Most cape guns were robust firearms chambered in the large calibers required for the African bush. The cape gun found a market in Europe and America as well, and the variability and heavy stopping power offered by these unique combination guns also made them a favored choice with gamekeepers of the era.
A factory engraved and gold inlaid W. J. Wurz pinfire double cape gun with an extra barrel set.
The drilling combination gun derives its name from “drei,” the German word for the number three. The traditional drilling, or “forester's gun,” is composed of a rifle barrel situated underneath a break action double barrel shotgun, though numerous alternative layouts and barrel configurations were produced that catered to a variety of European hunting needs.
The Westley Richards hammerless drilling above offers an unusual exception and demonstrates the custom nature of these three-barreled combination guns. Sometimes called a “Schienendriling” or “rib drilling,” this layout includes a rifle barrel centered atop two shotgun barrels. This Westley Richards example, completed in January of 1933, is chambered in .410 gauge and .22 extra long rimfire and includes fixed locks, double trigger ejector action, and 26 inch barrels.
Many classic drillings were stocked more like a shotgun than a rifle since German hunters of the era tended to take far more game with shot and slugs, but configurations with two rifled barrels were also offered.
The engraving on the highest quality drilling examples featured a wide range of game including fox, hare, partridge, roe deer, stag, and wild boar, speaking to the sheer versatility of these fantastic combination guns. For the buyer who could only afford a single firearm, the drilling offered a tool well suited for bagging almost any quarry they encountered in the forests, fields, and meadows of continental Europe.
A factory game scene engraved G. Fuch 10 gauge/.22 Rem. Jet drilling combination gun.
Equipped with four barrels, vierling combination guns offered even more versatility than their drilling counterparts. The most common vierling designs featured two matching smoothbore barrels and two rifle barrels, usually one centerfire and one .22 rimfire. Typically these scarce combination guns included a shotgun and a rifle trigger and two corresponding selectors.
German and Austrian designers pushed the concept to the limit with the five-barreled fünfling, the rarest of the rare when it comes to combination guns. Almost all of these elusive firearms were custom-made for the high-end commercial market. Where vierling translates to “quadrupled” in German, fünfling in turn means “quintuple.”
Where the cape gun and most common drilling examples are based around a side-by-side configuration, other combination guns employ a superposed design. Over/under models became a popular choice for combination guns in the 20th century for several reasons, including price point, balance, and a broader variety of cartridge configurations.
Stacking a smoothbore and a rifle barrel on top of one another eliminated some of the horizontal obstruction found in side-by-side combination guns and meant that each barrel was naturally aligned directly with the gun’s rear sights. And unlike the horizontal force recoil experienced with side-by-sides that could result in the firearm twisting in the shooter's hand, the over/under combination gun produced a more manageable up-and-backward recoil.
From high-grade custom offerings by reputed German manufacturers like Merkel to utilitarian examples like the Savage Model 24, the over/under combination gun covered every niche in the market. For the American farmer or homesteader, such guns could perform double duty as a sustenance and predator control option. For the intrepid hunter, the over/under combination gun provided the versatility of having a moose and a grouse gun in one.
Perhaps no over/under combination gun is as famous with the everyman hunter as the Savage Model 24. Debuting in 1950, the Savage Model 24 went on to enjoy a six decade production life, offering an easy-to-store, easy-to-upkeep truck gun that appealed to the masses.
The original and most common configuration for the Savage Model 24 combination gun was a .22 caliber barrel atop a .410 bore shotgun barrel, but the handy firearm's popularity soon resulted in a laundry list of chambering options to choose from. Modern combinations guns have taken a great deal of inspiration from the model.
During WW2, the U.S. Army Air Corps was searching for a compact, lightweight long gun to issue to aircrewmen. The Savage Model 24’s predecessor, the Stevens 22 .410 over under was adopted in 1939 and illustrates yet another role the combination gun would fill as a military survival arm.
While the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered the no-frills, easy-to-produce Stevens 22-410 for $10.62 per unit, the German Luftwaffe equipped its airmen with the luxurious M30 drilling, a combination gun that would have been right at home on an alpine hunt. The M30 drilling was composed of a pair of two 12 gauge barrels over a 9.3x74R rifled barrel and finely engraved by respected Suhl gunmaker J.P. Sauer & Sohn.
In 1941, the Luftwaffe adopted the M30 drilling during the height of WW2’s North African campaign. As Luftwaffe General Adolf Josef Ferdinand Gallan described, the M30 drilling was “standard equipment for our fighter Bf 109 and Stuka bombers to operate in the desert. The purpose was to shoot animals for survival.”
The U.S. Air Force continued to opt for affordability and function when it came to its survival guns, introducing the Springfield Armory M6 Scout in 1952. Also called the “Air Force M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon,” the M6 Scout was a combination gun with similar chambering to its Stevens 22-410 precursor. Civilian versions of the M6 Scout offered by manufacturers like Chiappa and Springfield found a market with survivalists and outdoorsmen, keeping the design alive after it was phased out by the Air Force in the early 1970s.
The M6 Scout and its folding skeleton stock was based on the Marble Game Getter, another distinct combination gun outfitted with a rifled .22 caliber upper barrel and a smoothbore lower chambered in either .410 or .44 bore. The Game Getter was pitched to the public as a weapon for all seasons which could be folded up and strapped to a pack without excess burden, then rapidly deployed for recreational plinking or taking small game.
Finally, we have the Paradox gun, which takes a unique approach to the combination gun idea by taking a double-barrel shotgun and adding a bit of rifling to the end of each barrel. Patented in 1885 by British Lieutenant Colonel George Vincent Fosbery as a shotgun rifle hybrid, the Paradox gun was a versatile long arm capable of chambering both solid bullets and shotgun cartridges. Its targets included everything from small upland game birds, African elephants, and German Zeppelin during World War 1.
Today, the combination gun remains in use with a relatively small but loyal segment of firearms enthusiasts. Fine modern combination guns are available from European manufacturers like Italy’s FAMARS and Germany’s Johann Fanozj, while more modest pieces like the Savage Model 42, the Chiappa Firearms Double Badger, and the Baikal MP94 are found at entry level price points. Models like the Winchester Super Grade XTR over/under combination gun fall somewhere in between, offering a classic elegance at an attainable cost.
Rock Island Auction Company features combination guns for sale from every era, with examples that cater to all tastes and aspirations. For hunters and sportsmen, the combination gun offers the chance to own a firearm capable of taking a wide array of game in a single package and the ability to capitalize on opportunities with a simple flip of a selector. To collectors, shooters, and arms enthusiasts, the combination gun represents the chance to own a specialized firearm with a unique aesthetic and deep ties to our hunting heritage.
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Anyone thinking about dipping their toe into the world of firearms collecting should visit one of Rock Island Auction Company’s Sporting & Collector
The armament of a bygone era display the love and craftsmanship that the tools of the trade had whether built for the aristocrat or the farmer. Appreciation of the past can hopefully prepare us for the future.
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