Most shooters choose shotguns by application: a gobbler gun, often a pump or autoloader, needs to chamber at least a 3-inch shell, preferably 3 1/2 inches, and be choked to shoot like a rifle. A sporting model, usually an over/under, needs to point fast and swing smoothly, and it should be fitted with a complement of chokes tucked into two long barrels. A bobwhite quail gun needs to be nimble, and for many people, that means it has but one short tube for minimal weight.
If statistics hold true, chances are that if you know 100 people, no more than five of them will own a side-by-side shotgun (except in one situation we describe below). The double-barrel, while not quite going the way of the dodo like the bolt-action shotgun largely has, is nonetheless down the totem pole of shooter preference.
It’s not hard to see why. The best side by sides, with properly regulated barrels and crisp handling, exist at the top of the pricing food chain. Most people can’t afford them. Affordable doubles suffer in comparison with over/unders, mainly because manufacturers are able to make stackbarrels better for the dollar. Side-by-sides don’t have the capacity of pumps or autoloaders, and they’re generally heavier as well.
Still, there are some side-by-sides being made and used, as an article in the September 2001 issue pointed out. In that issue, we tested Cowboy Action 12 gauges by Stoeger (the Coachgun), EMF (the Hartford), and Tristar (the 411R), preferring the Coachgun. To that set of double barrels we herewith add the Norinco Model 99, a Chinese-made double-trigger/double barrel/double-exposed-hammer 12 gauge with 3-inch chambers. Interstate Arms sells the Norinco for an MSRP of $389, but street prices are closer to $300. Also, we tested a 12-gauge Baikal IZH43 Bounty Hunter II, $375 MSRP, which is imported from Russia by European American Armory, based in Cocoa, Florida. It, too, can be purchased for around $300. The Baikal resembles the Norinco in size, but it lacks the exposed hammers. Also, the Russian gun has two safeties, a standard sliding safety just behind the lever that unlocks the action and a unique firing pin safety located on the trigger shoe.
We put these guns through their paces in a variety of situations, assessing their handling and function as general shooting and hunting products. However, because both guns are specifically offered as Cowboy Action items (they lack ejectors to comply with SASS rules), we paid particular attention to how they might perform in that venue. Here’s what we found.
This Russian-made shotgun has a 20-inch barrel with a 2.75-inch chamber, an “MC3” screw-in choke set (two Cylinder chokes, and one each Modified and Full choke), auto tang safety, Anson & Deeley style box-lock action, hammer-forged chrome-lined bores, titanium-coated triggers, and extractors. The barrels are rated for steel shot, but EAA says the supplied chokes aren’t. Steel-shot choke tubes for the Baikal are available from Colonial Arms Co., (800) 949-8088. Colonial also supplies additional chokes in 20 and 12 gauge. They are $19 for IC, M, and F choke constrictions.
The gun measured 35.6 inches in length, had a 13.5-inch LOP, featured a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and 2.5 inches at the heel. It weighed 6.3 pounds, with what looked to be a walnut stock. It had a single-selectable trigger and double internal hammers. The trigger broke at 5.75 pounds for the left barrel and 7.75 pounds for the right barrel.
The gun showed a lot of attention to safety, but in our testing, those details went awry. There’s a single sliding safety located behind the lever that unlocks the action. The safety is appropriate on a hunting gun, since it resets to Safe every time you open the action. But if we were using the gun for Cowboy pursuits, that safety would be annoying. Generally, you fire two sets of two shots in a Cowboy shotgun stage. It costs time and effort to put the safety back on Fire in between two-shot strings, and if you forget, it costs even more time. Also, we didn’t like the trigger-block safety button being built into the trigger shoe. To make the gun fire, the shooter presses the silver piece of square metal, built into the top of the trigger shoe, from to the right to the left. We didn’t like the placement of that safety because we don’t like to touch the trigger, or even have a finger inside the trigger guard, until we’ve mounted the gun on or near a target. While that’s possible with the trigger safety, it requires the shooter to roll the hand around the stock to push the button through, then reposition the hand on the grip. Of course, it’s possible to simply use the tang safety alone, which calls into question the need for the trigger block safety in the first place.
Elsewhere, we found other problems. If the selector is pushed to the right, the right barrel fires first, and if it is pushed to the left, then the left barrel fires first. With a single-trigger shotgun, you do not expect to have both barrels fire nearly simultaneously, but in our tests that happened twice. This suggests a trigger adjustment problem, but we couldn’t pin down the reason for the problem. Separately, but related to trigger function, we also noticed that after firing the first barrel, the distance the trigger needs to travel forward to reset and fire the second shot is significant.
We also noticed the splinter forend could use more wood to keep the shooter’s hand off the barrels. Additionally, the action was very stiff. The top lever frees the barrels to clear the back of the receiver, but they only partially open. The barrels have to be pushed downward to open enough to clear spent hulls and receive new shells.
For competition use, it’s helpful for shells to fall out of the gun rather than having to be picked free. After the Winchester AA shells were fired, they usually had to be pulled out of the gun about two-thirds of the time. Likewise, the Federal Hi-Brass stuck in the chambers and had to be pulled out with the fingers.
The gun had a slick plastic buttplate that mounted smoothly, but moved around in the shoulder pocket somewhat. Also, the toe of the stock was very sharp and would need to be beveled, in our view. All in all, we felt recoil was distributed more evenly with the flat buttplate on the Norinco.
We thought the gun pointed well, probably a function of the 13.5-inch LOP. The grip was thin and had a sloping angle that fit the trigger hand well. The wood grain on the buttstock was wavy, tight, and attractive, and the matte finish showed most of the pores to be suitably filled. The splinter forend displayed more of a straight-grain wood pattern, and the finish was competent, but dulled.
Looking down the barrels, we noticed some waviness in how the nonglare pattern was cut on top of the 10mm-wide rib. Also, there was a bloom of rust on the rib about two-thirds of the way down, but that might have happened because we failed to oil the spot during testing. The blueing and finish on the receiver and trigger guard seemed even and smooth. Basic game scenes and scrollwork were engraved on the receiver’s flat surfaces. A single gold 2mm bead adorned the front end of the rib.
The 99 measured 37.25 inches long, had a 13.75-inch LOP for the back trigger and a 14.5-inch LOP for the front trigger. It featured a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and 2 inches at the heel. It weighed 7.25 pounds. A single, gold 3mm bead adorned the front end of the rib. The rib was 10mm wide.
There were sizeable differences between the guns, the main ones being the Norinco’s external hammers and sliding firing-pin safety, which make the hammers very easy, safe, and fast to use.
The firing pin safety is a block located forward of the hammers; the external portions of the block are two buttons. When a button protrudes from the right side of the action, it blocks the firing pins. It will stay in the Safe position until it is taken off by the shooter by pushing it inward (left) or if the shooter lays the gun down on the right side. That might inadvertently put it in the Fire position, though a cutout in the barrel makes it difficult for the button to be fully depressed unless it’s pushed in manually. The firing pin safety is designed so the shooter can load the shells into the chambers, close the action, then put the firing pin safety on and cock back the hammers. If the shooter’s thumb slips off the hammer while cocking it and the hammer strikes the external firing pin, the gun will not fire. Instead, with the hammers properly cocked and just before he is ready to fire, the shooter can depress the button on the gun’s right side, making the gun ready to fire both barrels.
We tried to get the gun to discharge by leaving both the tang and firing pin safeties off and cocking a hammer partially back. Just before it would lock back, we intentionally released the hammer on a live round. We did this about 50 times on each hammer. In no case did the round fire. We liked this design because we have seen other exposed-hammer shotguns which would discharge if the shooter’s thumb slipped off the hammer halfway back. (Note: If we pressed on the trigger and then pulled the hammer all the way back and then released it, the gun would fire, but that is what it should do.
There were no failures to function and no double-discharge surprises like we witnessed on the Baikal. However, the shooter can squeeze both triggers simultaneously and fire both barrels at once. We did it one time, and we don’t advise it.
We liked the way the 99 mounted. Part of that is due to the flat, hard-rubber buttplate, which was beveled on the top and fairly slick. Its toe also was rounded, so it wouldn’t gouge the shooter who mounted the gun improperly. The fore grip had a generous amount of wood.
When we opened the action on the 99, it fell completely open — exactly what we wanted it to do. Some shooters will pay a gunsmith to get their actions to open as quickly as the 99 action does out of the box. Likewise, the shells can easily be loaded, and after the gun is fired, Winchester AA shells fall out almost 100 percent of the time. The shooter can simply open the action, turn the gun on its side, and quickly shake the shells out of the gun without having to touch them at all. This is a big advantage for most shooters, but particularly Cowboy competitors. Many shooters will pay a gunsmith to open up the chambers so the shells will fall out. (The Federal Hi-Brass could usually be finger-plucked out, but this is not a load that Cowboy shooters would normally shoot. They generally prefer light target loads like the AAs.)
The front trigger fires the right barrel and the rear trigger fires the left barrel. It took 8 pounds of pressure to release the front trigger, and more than 12 pounds to release the back trigger. This Chinese shotgun has a 20-inch barrel with a 3-inch chamber.
We thought the gun pointed well, part of that due to the buttpad’s finish. The pistol grip offered plenty of surface for the trigger hand to control the gun, but the Norinco lacked the Baikal’s grip checkering. The wood grain showed some swirls and knots, but the matte finish was adequate. The forend displayed more clearcoat, which showed off the red-toned wood.
On top of the gun, the nonglare lines cut on top of the rib were straight, but the rib itself had dips in it. But with the hammers down, the gun offered a wide, easy to pick up sight picture on par with the Russian gun’s. The wood-to-metal fit was ham-handed on the sides of the receiver, we thought, but the metal-to-metal fit was adequate overall.
Gun Tests Recommends
Norinco Model 99 12 Gauge, $389. Buy It. This low-priced shotgun was safe and solid for many different field purposes. The external hammers make it even more appropriate for Cowboy shooters. Based on our recent evaluations of several affordable side-by-sides, we think that if you decide on an internal-hammer shotgun, go with the Stoeger and get a gunsmith to disconnect the automatic safety — if the gun will only be used for competition — and open the chambers up so the shells eject more easily. If you don’t mind the external hammers, go with the Norinco 99.
Baikal IZH43 Bounty Hunter II, $375. Don’t Buy. We didn’t like that this gun doubled on some shots, among other problems. For basically the same money, even with the “disadvantage” of Chinese gun’s external hammers, we’d take the Norinco in a runaway.