Dating back more than 150 years, the simple crack or hinge action single barreled shotgun has endured the test of time and remains even today as an inexpensive option for sportsmen seeking almost any game.
The first breechloader
When compared to virtually any other modern sporting arm, the hinge-break shotgun predates most if not all bolt-action, semi-auto, and lever guns out there. Going as far back as 1836, French gunsmith Casimir Lefaucheux, taking inspiration from earlier designs that just didn’t work, came up with something innovative. Lefaucheux’s gun, a smoothbore longarm that loaded from the breech rather than the muzzle, used a self-contained paper tube that held both the charge and the shot in one handy shell. This shell was fired from a pinfire primer in the rear that was struck by a hammer in the rear of breech. To load and reload, one simply cracked the breech open and inserted or extracted the round by hand. Once fired, the empty paper hull was removed and a new one inserted if needed.
Sound familiar? Fast forward 179 years and you still see these simple shotties today. Why are they so enduring?
Ease of use
A lot of the reason for these guns still being made and sold by the pallet is that they are about a simple as you can get. When you look up the schematics of these guns and see that in general they contain less than 40 parts (and realize that most of these are not moving parts), you get an idea of how basic these guns can be. This translates into easy maintenance with no appreciable action to disassemble, no possibility of an ammunition induced jam or short stroke like you find in a semi-auto or pump, and a lower threshold of general gunsmithing needed to replace worn or broken parts.
Further, to unload and make safe, all one has to do is crack the action open and catch the rapidly ejecting shell to preserve for future use. When hunting in Michigan’s woods, this can come in handy.
Remember state DNR regs require that firearms be unloaded when the hunter “is afield outside the legal hunting hours,” or when carried on a vehicle, ORV (to include snowmobiles), or boats. There can be perhaps no easier shotgun to load or unload than a crack barrel. Plus, when hunting migratory birds, its super simple to prove you aren’t carrying more than three hulls in your gun when the man comes upon you.
The simplicity of these guns means that they are easy to train new sportsmen with and a good bit lighter, which means fewer gripes about carrying in the field.
The gun I grew up hunting rabbit and squirrel with was an H&R .410 single barrel. This gun, which weighed something on the order of 4 pounds, was amazingly quick on the shoulder for those running bunnies and fidgety tree rats while still being able to make effective shots at 20-ish yards. I gentleman I know who lives down the street from me picks up 3-4 flop ears every time he goes out through the use of a TriStar .410– validating that they still work just fine even for a Turkish made gun.
Then moving through the calibers, you have 20s, 12s and even 10s (NEF made a Turkey Master for years with an extra full T choke that is about like hitting your shoulder with a baseball bat when it goes off) that you can chose from that allow the whole range of options from nighttime fur bearers to nuisance wildlife, deer and waterfowl.
Perhaps the best part of the deal on these guns is that they can be had for chump change when compared to other modern sporting shotguns. I’ve seen them on gun show tables for as low as $25 in good condition and on big box shelves for $169 new from makers as varied as NEF (which is owned by Remington now) and Brazilian (Taurus-owned) Rossi.
So in the end it’s easy to see why these shotguns have proved popular since 1836. Likely, they will for another two centuries as well.