12 Gauges: Side-By-Side, Double- Barrel Pump, and Tri-Barrel Guns
Graded as self-defense weapons and as clay-target tools, the three-barrel Chiappa would be our pick of the litter over the Silver Eagle Ptarmigan SxS and DP-12 double-barrel pumpgun.
Meeting or exceeding the needs of modern day double-gun enthusiasts seems to be a driving factor in some of the recent offerings by firearm companies that stretch the bounds of innovation. Tagging along on this trek into a bold new world, we have responded to reader requests by examining three 12-gauge double-gun selections that range from old school to double gun plus to double gun on steroids. The three shotguns in this test are the TR Imports Silver Eagle side by side; the Chiappa Firearms Triple Threat three-barrel break open; and the Standard Manufacturing DP-12 double-barrel pump action. All three shotguns carry a price tag in the moderate to high price range — $1297 for the Silver Eagle; $1,599 for the Chiappa; and $1699 for the DP-12. Because they are all double guns of one sort or another, we tested them both as self-defense firearms and as possible clay busters, and we graded them for both categories in what certainly may be one of the most unusual match ups in Gun Tests history.
The distinction between a shooter’s tools and a shooter’s toys is sometimes hard to determine and often depends upon an individual’s access to expendable income. In the arena of double-barreled shotguns, this distinction has been kicked into what some would call novelties, with the introduction of smokepoles that stretch the bounds of creativity.
The three 12-gauge shotguns we tested included a TR Imports Silver Eagle Ptarmigan side by side; a Chiappa Triple Threat three-barrel break open; and a Standard Manufacturing DP-12 double-barrel pump action. The DP-12’s action was to pump once, then shoot twice.
Evaluating the shotguns, we gave equal footing for their effectiveness on both paper and clays. Admittedly, there was a little head shaking and comments of “What were they thinking?” in some cases, but each of the shotguns was treated with equal respect on the range. For our shooting evaluations, our test ammunition included Winchester 2.75-inch Sabot Slugs pushing 400-grain slugs at 1450 fps; Royal Buck 2.75-inch loads of nine pellets of No. 00 buckshot with an average muzzle velocity of 1345 fps; and Remington ShurShot Heavy Dove 2.75-inch loads of 1 1/8 ounces of No. 6 shot with an average muzzle velocity of 1,255 fps. In addition, we tested each firearm on clay targets with Nobel Low Recoil 2.75-inch loads moving 7/8 ounce of No. 8 shot at an average muzzle velocity of 1200 fps. We encountered no misfires with any of the loads, although the Silver Eagle failed to eject several of the heavy loads during the self-defense testing. Here are our findings:
TR Imports Silver Eagle Ptarmigan Side-by-Side GH200ACE1228 12 Gauge, $1297
This is a classic-style side-by-side shotgun that can evoke memories of gentlemen and ladies hunting grouse or quail over well-trained pointers. We were a little puzzled about the depiction of gold inlaid ducks on each side of the receiver. However, we did like the looks of this double gun, and the heft, feel, and balance were quite satisfactory when engaging clays or birds. Putting it into use as a self-defense shotgun — not so much.
Sporting 28-inch barrels, with an overall length of 45.25 inches and tipping the scales at just 7.25 pounds, this Silver Eagle has the makings of a fine wingshooting tool. The splinter forearm with Schnabel tip was pleasing to the eye, but we felt the checkering was just a little to flat for our tastes. If a shooter plans to send a lot of lead down range, the barrels will become quite hot and uncomfortable without the protection of a larger forearm, so we’d advise wearing gloves during shooting sessions. We had no problems picking up clay targets over the sunken rib barrels with a single brass bead as a front sight.
A trigger pull of 6.25 pounds with both barrels was just barely in our preferred range and did not affect our shooting experience.
As is often portrayed in Hollywood Westerns (with exposed hammers) or current-day confrontations, the hero or heroine in a movie uses what’s available — i.e., a long-barreled side-by-side — to shoo off some bad actor. Better tools for the job of self defense aren’t available in such settings, because it’s not cinematically correct to own and know how to use the right tool for the job of protecting you, your family, or your property. We suspect such movie depictions are what lead Vice President Joe Biden to advise a couple of years ago, “…[I]f you want to protect yourself, get a double-barreled shotgun. I promise you, as I told my wife, we live in an area that’s wooded and somewhat secluded. I said, ‘Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put [up] that double-barreled shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house.’” Setting aside the legal implications of Biden’s advice and looking only at the tactical considerations, Dr. Jill Biden would then be empty — lack of capacity being one of the big drawbacks of the side-by-side or over/under used for self defense. Moreover, when we looked at the Silver Eagle in this role, we found it did not pattern well with self-defense loads. While producing decent patterns with slugs (about a 7-inch group at 20 paces) and buckshot (about a 5-inch group at the same distance), both groups were unacceptably low (6 inches below the center of the target) and to the left. Changing point of impact on a side-by-side is a tricky proposition.
More disturbing, several times during the testing with the heavy self-defense loads, the Silver Eagle failed to eject the shell from the right barrel, and the hull had to be knocked out with a cleaning rod. And, the action of the side-by-side was very stiff, and unless the shotgun was closed with authority, the top lever remained slightly off center.
We also experienced very poor patterning results with hunting loads filled with No. 6 shot, which we fired at paper 30 yards downrange. The Improved Cylinder choke in the right barrel produced an unbalanced 26-74% top/bottom pattern, and the Modified choke in the left barrel produced an 8-92% top/bottom pattern. The No. 8 load results were slightly better, with an IC pattern of 48-52% top/bottom pattern and a Modified pattern of 25-75% top/bottom.
Once we adjusted our shooting strategy to account for the low-left-pellet patterning of the firearm, we were able to handle a variety of clay targets. But making this accommodation isn’t the ideal strategy.
Our Team Said: As expected, the TR Imports Silver Eagle Ptarmigan Side-by-Side was the best of the trio in handling clay targets. It would be moderately acceptable as a bird and clay shooter, but for self-defense, we’d only choose it as a last resort.
Chiappa Triple Threat Three-Barrel Break Open 930-032 12 Gauge
Chiappa Triple Threat Three-Barrel Break Open 930-032 12 Gauge, $1599
Three-barrel firearms are not extremely unusual, although typically two shotgun barrels will be topped with a rifled barrel rather than the three 12-gauge barrels of this model. In this case, what we found was a very muzzle heavy and short (total length was 36 inches) shotgun that packed quite a punch.
When the stock extension was removed — a rather easy process in which the recoil pad is taken off and a supplied wrench is used to loosen the retaining bolt inside the stock — we were reminded of an old John Wayne Western. In the movie El Dorado, a character named Mississippi played by James Caan is incapable of accurately firing a handgun and is given a cut-down side-by-side loaded with buckshot. That handcannon in the movie packed a punch on both ends, just like the Chiappa does when it’s in “pistol” mode. The shooter may look cool carrying the device, but shooting it isn’t much fun, our team said.
Ranked as reasonably attractive rather than just plain weird, we found the 8.25-pound heft of the Chiappa to be pleasant enough. However, with its 18.5-inch barrels, the muzzle-heavy shotgun was much better suited for point-and-shoot targets rather than for clays in the air. It handled like a club, in our estimation.
The trigger pull on all three barrels was an acceptable 6 pounds. As advertised, the three-barrel shotgun always fires the right barrel, then the left, and then the top. It is impossible to touch off all three rounds at one time — a good thing — but the fixed sequence negates any possible choke selection that would allow a shooter to put different loads into play in a different order.
We found the shotgun was designed well and functioned every time. Recoil was slightly mitigated by the weight of the shotgun when fired from the shoulder, but we would have preferred a better recoil pad.
Patterning performance with the self-defense loads was marginal. Consistent groups of about 5 inches in diameter with the slugs and about 6 inches from center to center with the buckshot at 20 paces were slightly low left of the middle of the targets.
With the No. 6–shot loads at 30 yards, the top barrel produced a 56-44% pattern (56% above the center and 44% below); but the right barrel results were 29-71% and the left barrel results were 25-75%. Shots with No. 8 loads were consistently about 48-52% for all three barrels.
Unfortunately for the shooters testing the Chiappa, its short length and heavy weight were not conducive to consistent clay-target busting. We could not swing the heavy three-barrel gun satisfactorily.
Our Team Said: The plus of having a reliable third shot, based on the assumption that a pump-action or semi-automatic may fail to function at the wrong time, would have to be balanced against the heft and cost of this three-barrel firearm. We found the shotgun to be an acceptable, yet heavy, self-defense tool that has limited clay-target-breaking capabilities.
Standard Manufacturing DP-12 Double Barreled Pump-Action 12 Gauge, $1699
At first glance, one of our test team shooters described the DP-12 as a “double gun on steroids,” and we had to agree that he was right. This high-capacity shotgun would fit right in with the weapons featured in video games or movies depicting combat scenarios of the future.
Designed as a bullpup, the DP-12 is 29.5 inches long with a thermal-coated aircraft-grade aluminum receiver, Picatinny rails for sights and accessories, and a capacity of 14 rounds in the magazines, plus two in the chambers. In theory, the shooter can send a lot of lead downrange quick, fast, and in a hurry.
However, we found that the addition of the provided pistol grip on the forearm was absolutely necessary for quick and effective cycling of the pump action. Without the pistol grip, the forearm was too large and uncomfortable to hold, in the opinion of our shooters.
The two 18.9-inch barrels are mounted side by side and the firing sequence is always right barrel then left barrel. There’s no selector switch. We noted that if the ambidextrous AR-style safety is put in Fire mode and one barrel is touched off, the safety cannot be reengaged until both the fired and unfired shells are ejected or the second shot is fired. This must be a design requirement to make sure the right barrel always fires first, but we were uncomfortable with the feature of carrying a loaded firearm off safety or having to eject a live round to make the shotgun safe.
To load the DP-12, move the forend and slide assembly forward. Slide the action closed with chambers empty so that the bolt sled will aid in locating the ammunition. The tubular magazines can be filled simultaneously by using two fingers while the firearm is stable, upside down, and pointed in a safe direction. Turn the gun so the loading ports on bottom behind the trigger guard are facing upward. With fingers on the base of the round(s), insert the round(s) into the loading/ejection port and slide the round(s) into the magazine using your fingers. The rounds should slide under and should be held in place by the magazine hooks. The magazine hooks must be pulled up to manually release shells from the magazine tubes.
The magazines may be filled to capacity with seven, or fewer, 2.75-inch shotshells in each tube. To load the chambers, pull down the action bar release on the trigger guard and maintain downward pressure to unlock forend. As the company notes in the manual, do not hold the forend behind the Picatinny rail — doing so will short-stroke the action and pinch your hand.
Also, the procedure for loading a shell directly into the chamber of the DP-12 is different than most other shotguns because of the combined loading and ejection port. To load a shell into the chamber of the DP-12, use the following procedure:
Ensure the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction before loading. Engage the safety by ensuring the pointer is selecting Safe. Pull down the action bar lock and maintain downward pressure to unlock the forend. Move the forend so that it is about a half-inch from the rearmost position. Inspect that the shell lifters are down against the top of the receiver and are not blocking access to the chamber. Place a shell or two shells in the chamber(s) and cycle the action forward to chamber the inserted shells. Move the forend fully rearward and then fully forward to chamber two rounds from the magazine tubes, one in each barrel. The gun is now ready to fire with the safety on. One round may now be placed into each of the magazine tubes to replace the two that have been chambered.
Tipping the scales at 10.25 pounds unloaded and 12 pounds with 16 rounds in the magazines and chambers, this is a heavy and bulky firearm whose firepower feature dominates any favorable handling factors. We could pump out a lot of lead downrange, but it was not a pleasant experience.
Fired at targets simulating self-defense situations, the DP-12 produced groups of about 5 inches across with both slugs and buckshot when a LaserLyte Center Mass laser sight (Model CM-K15B, $220) was added to the top Picatinny rail. Without the rail, the accuracy of the DP-12 was poor at 20 yards and embarrassing at 30 yards.
A trigger-pull weight of 10 pounds for each barrel was also very disappointing. When the pull is that heavy, there is almost no possibility of a smooth touch off on any type of target.
With both the No. 6 and No. 8 loads, patterning results with the DP-12 were dismal. The right barrel produced only 63 pellet hits with the No. 6 shot, all well above the center of the target at 30 yards. The left barrel punched 123 pellets through the paper with a 75/25 spread.
Results with the No. 8 loads were nearly as bad, with an average pattern of 80-20 and 182 pellet hits. That could go a long way toward explaining the shotgun’s complete failure on the clay target course. Admittedly, this weapon was never designed for clay target shooting, but if a product is introduced to the double gun market, it seems to us that it should have some features that would apply in all double-gun scenarios.
Our Team Said: Taking a wallet hit of about $1,700 for a bulky, high-capacity shotgun that would be an extreme overkill of firepower in most self-defense situations seems to be unjustified, in our opinion. However, if you are that someone with a lot of expendable income interested in a multi-shot blaster rather than a fine shooting tool, the DP-12 could be your new toy.