Mission Impossible: Over-and-Under vs. Side-by-Side

Mission Impossible: Over-and-Under vs. Side-by-Side

For us, choosing between the Over-and-Under and Side-by-Side is like choosing our favourite child. In an official capacity, we’ll sit comfortably on the fence on this one. Because ultimately, why not both? We’re here for a full-commitment approach to shooting, and obviously these are two excellent pieces of engineering that get our wholehearted approval. 

However, when pushed – which is of course what we did when we got our experts in a room together – there’s always room for debate. So, before you declare your weapon of choice, here are the arguments.  

The case for Over-and-Under 

Purdey Over-and-Under

We’ll start with the statistics. If you look out in the field today, you’ll find at least 75% of shooters using an Over-and-Under. At Purdey, 80% of the guns we produce are Over-and-Unders. We could rest our case there – but, for the sake of argument, let’s add a little more colour.

One of the greatest misconceptions is that the Over-and-Under was created after the Side-by-Side – in actual fact, the first one was created in 1561. However, back then, it was found to be unsafe and not so easy to shoot. Obviously, a lot has changed, otherwise we’d be in danger of undoing this argument entirely.

Now, there is no debate that the Over-and-Under is technically superior to the Side-by-Side. After those initial stumbling blocks, the Over-and-Under was further developed as the next generation to the Side-by-Side, using a single trigger and offering the shooter a natural line of sight. There’s a reason that today’s Olympic shooting sports demonstrate the skill of the shooter with an Over-and-Under. 

Meanwhile, the Side-by-Side has become the domain of the old-school shooters – the shooting world’s equivalent of Luddites. When you go to a shooting school for the first time, the Over-and-Under is the gun you’ll start with. In fact, we can’t name a school that uses a Side-by-Side as a standard weapon. 

The only reason the Side-by-Side maintains some semblance of authority is due to historical significance and, to an extent, that ‘old money’ vs. ‘new money’ charade. Side-by-Sides are more often the guns passed down through generations – it’s a showpiece in the field.

In short, the gun unquestionably superior in technology, accuracy, effectiveness, inclusivity and ease of use is the Over-and-Under. Over and out.  

The case for Side-by-Side

Purdey Side-by-Side

Let’s start by getting one thing straight. An Over-and-Under is not more accurate than a Side-by-Side. The person using it is what makes the difference. 

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the lines of the Side-by-Side at every angle are so much more elegant and refined than the Over-and-Under. Think of a Jaguar E-Type compared to an XJS – there's something much more desirable and aspirational about the E-Type. These are some of the great classics in life.

The Side-by-Side also possesses a very different balance and weight to the Over-and-Under, which means it handles differently and – dare we say it – possibly requires a bit more skill. That’s why so many people have gravitated towards the Over-and-Under. We are in a ‘quick-fix’ society, where people are not prepared to spend the time to master the craft. They want immediate gratification. 

If you do take the time to learn the true craft, the Side-by-Side comes into its own. The skill required is part of what makes it so special. It’s quick to load. It’s more reliable. And, if you are someone who needs the heft and weight of a Over-and-Under, put a pistol grip on it, add a raised rib, build a pigeon gun – which all the greats shooters did, Ripon, Percy, Northumberland… Pelé, Maradona – be one of those. 

There’s a global accessibility to the Side-by-Side, it’s not limited to the aristocracy in any way. It’s classic, elegant, traditional – and tradition is what we thrive on. The Side-by-Side is still the ultimate aspirational gun, and the fact that Purdey’s is 140 years old and unchanged is truly unique. The robust self-opening mechanism is one of our cleverest pieces of engineering – it’s inherently remarkable, no one else makes anything like it. 

If you gave us one last day shooting, it would be driven grouse. And, on driven grouse, hand to hand, we’d take you on with a Side-by-Side over and Over-and-Under any day. 

Disclaimer: Purdey approves of freedom of choice in guns; all opinions expressed here are purely for good sport. We’ll leave it for you to decide the winner of this particular debate. And, our true feelings will no doubt be revealed at the next shoot day – Over-and-Under or Side-by-Side, we’ll see you in the field.