Why the O/U and SxS Shotgun Market is an Incomprehensible Mess

For many years, the American O/U shotgun market has been dominated by Browning and Beretta. Certainly, there have been good quality, affordable doubles that have appeared over the years, but most have eventually done belly-up or lost their American distribution.

The older Olin-Winchester 101, offered as a less-costly alternative to the Browning Citori, was popular for a time. Due to mismanagement, the Olin-Kodensha plant was eventually abandoned. SKB, imported by Ithaca and Weatherby, was a solid line for some time, but the SKB firearms plant is no more.

The F.A.I.R. guns, known as the Verona and then the Savage Milano, failed to last as well. Recently, the only mainstream American O/U, the Ruger Red Label, was retooled and relaunched. Embarrassingly, that adventure is now over. It isn't easy to built good-quality O/U models, much less SxS shotguns, cheaply. Ruger just spent a lot of money demonstrating that. It is even less easy to offer excellent customer service and support for them over time.

SigArms tried their O/U line twice, and failed. Smith & Wesson attempted their line of Turkish “heirloom quality guns,” and promptly failed. Marlin tried a relaunch of the L.C. Smith brand, and quickly failed as well. Benelli, a brand with zero experience with O/U shotguns, has just released and touted their overpriced alloy 828U. It is a confoundingly poor attempt at an O/U that is riddled with hyperbole about safety and strength, yet is backed by little more than false claims and truly horrible ergonomoics and aesthetics. Yet, severely overpricing the 828U blunder was no problem for Benelli and that's a shame.

Yet, the O/U market continues to suffer from an onslaught of dubious Turkish imports. Turkey has no proof house, comports to neither C.I.P. or SAAMI standards, and there reported are some sixty-some odd shotgun manufacturers in Turkey. Just about any level of product is possible from a situation like that and that's exactly what has happened. There have been all kinds of Turkish O/U models introduced by American names like S & W, Savage, and Mossberg, models that have abruptly vanished from the marketplace, or been replaced by “new” models from different Turkish makers. You can expect this to continue, for on January 29, 2015, the Turkish lira slumped to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar and has lost ground against the sliding euro as well.

All the while, this has taken potential new buyers out of the marketplace. Once you buy a new O/U, you probably aren't looking to buy another one the following week. As a result, Browning and Beretta haven't been able to do nearly the numbers they would like. Nor have they been able to make much money on their current lines. The consumer isn't completely dumb, for all anyone has to do is look at the very successful Beretta 680 series, a current model like the 686 Silver Pigeon. It is a simple design, and as well-proven as it gets, and you can buy a new one for less than $2000.


To be sure, Beretta makes more upscale models. A current Beretta 692 Sporting runs about $4000. The very nice 486 SxS goes for $5000 or so. You don't have to be a really quick study to ask where exactly the extra $2000 is, in a 692, as compared to a 686? There is no easy answer, particularly for the casual hunter and shooter who already might be enticed by the low-grade Turkish imports, and feels that the $2000 is already a goodly sum to pay to break a few clays or drop a few doves. The skimpy one year warranty from Beretta and the notorious reputation of customer disservice from Beretta doesn't help matters. Yet, Beretta Group often competes against itself, in the form of a Bettinsoli shotgun packaged and sold as a Franchi, and the tragic Benelli 828U (MSRP $2500 - $3000) that apparently is seeking fresh O/U dollars as well.

Beretta would surely like to jack the price on their 686 models, but they really can't. Browning is just as powerful of a brand as Beretta, and Browning has three distinct lines of O/U models: the Citori's, the Cynergy, and the Belgian “Winchester 101” that was formerly marketed as the Winchester Select.
On the upscale end, the Beretta DT11 sells for $8600 - $13,000 depending on configuration.

I had a nice visit with Kim Rhode at the range in Las Vegas: she loves her DT11. The gun is factory, the stock is custom. According to Kim, she already has 500,000 rounds through her DT11. If you are shooting 500 – 1000 rounds most every day, like Kim is, the price of the gun is without much meaning, compared to ammo, range fees, travel costs, and so forth.


For most folks, though, a few thousand dollars does have meaning, and that's why the Caesar Guerini Invictus has more widespread appeal. I think it also explains why a Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting at, say, $3500 with a lifetime warranty is an easier, more confident purchase than so many other vertical doubles with skimpy warranties, skimpy or non-existent customer service, or both.

In the future, we can expect more of the same. Weatherby has introduced the Orion O/U, this time by way of Turkey. Beretta themselves continues to bring over Stoeger models, from the Beretta-owned plant in Turkey and also from Brazil: E.R. Amantino in Veranópolis, Brazil makes the Stoeger Condor O/U.
In the increasingly competitive atmosphere, it isn't uncommon for a shotgun to be partially or primarily manufactured in Turkey, finally being run through the Gardone Val Trompia proof house only to be sold as an “Italian” shotgun. For a time, the “Made in USA” Beretta 3901 autoloader was supplied with Turkish barrels. As the years go by, you learn that things are very rarely as they seem.

In the future, Browning seems well-positioned to address much of the mainstream market. Caesar Guerini / Fabarm USA has addressed several aspects ignored by the larger conglomerates: exemplary customer service, warranty, aesthetic value, and largely ignored but fast-growing segments like the female shooters: the CG Syren line has been a vibrant success as a result. The more happy female shooters, the better as far as I'm concerned.

It is a confusing marketplace in 2015, to be sure, but on the brighter side, shooting the best shotgun you can afford has not been easier, so long as we do our homework.

Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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