Why Do Some Shotguns Have Two Barrels? Now You Know!

I’ve owned most every variety of shotgun available, and some no longer made; their history and design are simply amazing.

Some shotguns have two barrels in order to allow the shooter to fire more shells. Early shotguns were slow to load and a second loaded barrel proved indispensable on the frontier. Some modern tactical shotguns have two barrels to put more shot downrange in a short timeframe.

They’ve been in use for centuries, but there are some pros and cons, as well as legality concerns. Read on!

What Are Double Barrel Shotguns For?

All guns used to me muzzle-loading, the bullet and gunpowder were loaded in separately from the end of the barrel then tamped down a rod. This took a while and if a shot missed its mark, the minute spent reloading usually meant missed game or worse in a defensive situation. Early explorers and frontiersmen used double barreled shotguns to help them survive. It literally gave them a second chance in a life-or-death situation.

The double barrel shotgun, as it is called, originated hundreds of years ago with some examples in the fourteenth century! They’ve certainly come a long way since then, and don’t quite look like they used to. Though they have very different looks, the entire purpose is to put more shots into a target as quickly as possible.

The Benefits of a Double Barrel Shotgun

The primary benefit used to be having a second shot ready, back when there weren’t repeating and autoloading shotguns. Now that those old-fashioned guns are obsolete (but still fun) there still are some real reasons why you might want one, other than the fact that they just plain look cool!

 A nice benefit to double barrel shotguns is that they are heavy. With firearms, more weight equals less recoil. Shotguns have a lot of recoils to start with, so that’s a great benefit right there. To compare weight: The average single barrel shotgun weighs around 6 pounds while double barrels average 8, and are up to 10!

If you plan to do a lot of shooting, such as Competition Trap or Skeet, a heavy gun will save your shoulders. The lower recoil keeps the bruising down and helps maintain a good follow-through. They are also rear heavy, which helps the gun swing faster.

They also offer you the ability to have multiple choke options in one gun. Choke controlling how wide a shotgun scatters its shot. many double barrel shotguns have one barrel in a modified coke (medium) and one in cylinder choke (the widest).  Still, some have both the same.

The Downsides to Double Barreled Shotguns

As I said, they are heavy. In most instances, hunters would rather lug around a lightweight gun all day and fire a few shots with more recoil than carry a gun weighing nearly twice as much all day just to save a little recoil on one or two shots. Most hunters prefer lighter guns in this day and age.

Since there are two barrels, they need to be lined up square, along the same plane in order to hit the same target with the second shot. the problem is, sometimes they aren’t concentric at all.  The two barrels are made separately, then joined in the middle. Sometimes they get attached crooked.

In this case, one or both barrels will not hit what you are aiming at. it gets worse at further distances. I’ve seen it happen and let me tell you, it’s weird, as well as super annoying. Fortunately, that problem has become increasingly rare, and with CNC machining, almost extinct now days.

Do Double Barreled Shotguns Shoot Two Bullets at Once?

Generally speaking, no. It’s quite rare to find one that does. That would create massive recoil, up to 50 ft/lbs. with common hunting loads, which would be getting insane! Both barrels firing at once used to be a fairly common design in the US, but in the 1920s, they became possibly machine guns by technicality.

US Federal law defines a Machinegun as:

“Any weapon which shoots is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one bullet without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

As you can see there, if it fires both barrels with one trigger pull, it’s pretty much legally a machinegun. Which you can own in the US if you pay up and file the proper paperwork. Some European-made shotguns actually do this, but different countries have different rules. There are no currently US-made shotguns that fire both barrels at once.

I do recall one fellow on a duck hunting trip who had one like that. He loaned it to my dad to try, unaware that both barrels fired at once, and he promptly ended up on his rear in the water. The recoil was pretty intense and his back hurt for a few days.

Most will fire a different barrel with each pull of the trigger. Some fancy ones have a switch on them to choose which barrel fires first. If not, generally the left or upper barrel fires first.  Then there are the two trigger models. These have a separate trigger for each barrel. No, it doesn’t really work to pull both at once.

Are Double Barrel Shotguns Better?

Asking a gun guy which gun is best is a loaded question, pun intended. Most who prefer a double barrel simply like the look of them, which is a fine reason. A lot of sporting clay shooters prefer them because of their rear heavy balance, which can improve the smoothness of the swing.

A lot of shooters, including myself, simply like the traditional look and feel of them. There are some incredible options available for competition shooting, and just some very fine-made models. They range in price from $500 to over $5,000. If you like them, you’ll find one to suit your needs.

Is There a Triple Barrel Shotgun?

Meet the Deuce plus one! The triple barrel shotgun is a furthering of the principle at play for the classic double barrel shotgun. They are ridiculous and super heavy but sure are conversation starters. They are not nor will ever be common, but are cool in a weird useless way.

There are several companies that make them, like the classy gunmaker Charles Daly. Then there are companies like Chiappa who just specialize in making heavy and unconventional guns. They’re out there if you feel the need for one. More power to ya.