If you use a double-barrel shotgun for hunting or sport shooting, it is either an over-under or a side by side shotgun. Double barrel shotguns are great for shooting clays or hunting birds and game. But, what many new shooters want to know, is what’s the difference between an over-under and a side by side shotgun?

Learn about the benefits and drawbacks to an over-under vs a side by side shotgun for collecting and sport shooting. Find out how each type differs in price, use, and design. And, take a look at some examples of both types that are to be featured in an upcoming firearms auction. 

Over-Under vs Side by Side Shotgun: Everything You Need to Know

When it comes to double-barrel shotguns, the over-under is much more widely used, but plenty of collectors and owners have a side by side shotgun on the shelf. Over-under shotguns are contemporary to the side by side. The traditional option – side by side (SBS) shotguns are, arguably, just as effective and easy to use.

You can most readily see the difference in these two double-barrel shotguns, both, in construction and usage. Olympic shooters use over-under shotguns, whereas, Lords of the English countryside shoot an SBS shotgun. Side by side shotguns date much farther back in history than over-under shotguns, and they largely retain the classic design and aesthetic. 

The glaringly obvious difference between the two is the barrel configuration. Over-under shotguns feature two barrels stacked on top of each other. A side by side shotgun features two barrels sitting next to each other. 

If you ask experts which is the higher form, the vote is split. And, there are just about as many explanations for why one is better than the other as there are opinionated individuals. So, take a look at how these two barrel configurations alter, benefit, or hinder the use of the firearm. 

Horizontal vs Vertical Shooting Plane 

The largest area affected by the barrel configuration of either type of shotgun is the difference in how the shooter addresses the site plane. Over-under shotguns have a vertical shooting plane since the barrels are stacked. A side by side shotgun affords shooters a horizontal shooting plane. 

A horizontal shooting plane requires the shooter to practice greater technique than that of an over-under. Over-under shotguns are widely considered easier to aim than an SBS shotgun – but the verdict changes depending on who you ask. 

The one thing that is for sure, is the physical difference in how a shooter aims when using an over-under vs side-by-side shotgun. With a side by side, the shooter must lower their head to see evenly down the center of the barrels. Over-under shotguns allow the shooter’s head to remain raised, in the standard modern shooting fashion.

Do You Want One Trigger or Two?

When looking at the differences between a side by side and over-under, the second most obvious difference is the triggers. Over-under shotguns feature a single-trigger system on every model. A side by side shotgun, on the other hand, might feature a single or a double-trigger system

You might be asking yourself, what’s the point of a double-trigger system? Many bird shooters and small game hunters prefer the side by side double-trigger system to the over-under, because it affords more accuracy through barrel selection. If the bird pops up on the shooters left, they fire the trigger for the left barrel, and vise versa. 

A drawback of double-trigger systems is that they are more prone to misfires. There is more propensity for the shooter to unintentionally discharge a double-trigger side by side. For this reason, the single-trigger system was introduced to the side by side, for simplicity and safety.

Do You Prefer a Pistol Grip Stock or Straight Stock?

Nearly all over under shotguns feature a pistol grip stock, whereas, a traditional SBS shotgun features a straight or English stock. Proponents of the straight stock say that the splinter forend provides exceptional accuracy and balance to the SBS shotgun. One drawback of the straight stick is that new shooters must get used to holding the grip without obstructing their aim.

Proponents of the pistol grip stock on an over-under shotgun have less of a learning curve. The pistol grip style stock is, arguably, the more user friendly of the two. Game and bird hunters will argue, though, that there is no substitution for the lightweight design and precision control afforded by a straight stock side by side. 

Does a SIde by Side Shotgun Produce More or Less Kickback?

When it comes to recoil or kickback from the shotgun, over under produce less. An over-under shotgun is designed to hold the barrels deeper into the stock, which affords more stability. Also, an over-under is heavier than a side by side, which absorbs more recoil than a lighter-weight side by side shotgun. 

At the end of the day, every shooter’s preference is different, and each has their reasons. SBS shotguns are traditional and include a learning curve for new shooters, whereas over-under shotguns are somewhat self-explanatory. But, when it comes to collectability, the side by side takes the cake. 

Nearly every great gun manufacturer in the world makes or has made a double-barrel side by side shotgun at one time or another. Some are common classics, whereas others are preciously rare – but every side by side shotgun tells a story from history. If you’re interested in adding a classic side by side shotgun to your collection, browse the available shotgun inventory at an upcoming auction.