The Resurgent American Side-by-Side Shotgun: A Brief History and Reasons for their Continued Popularity

by | Jun 11, 2024 | American History, Guest Blogger, Hunting, Shooting Sports, Turnbull Restoration & Manufacturing Blog | 4 comments

Restored Parker BHE 12 gauge side-by-side shotgun

Image: Restored Parker BHE 12 gauge side-by-side shotgun. Explore additional examples of shotgun restoration.

Guest Author Scott Severson Shares His Thoughts on the Storied Past and Bright Future of the Iconic Side-by-Side Shotgun

By Scott Severson,
The side-by-side (SXS) shotgun embodies elegance and a level of craftsmanship from a bygone era of American gunmaking. Revered for their balance, reliability, and aesthetic appeal, these firearms have made their mark on the history of shooting sports and hunting. This article delves into the past of iconic SXS shotguns, exploring legendary American brands like A.H. Fox, Ithaca, L.C. Smith, Lefever, and Parker. We’ll also look at the factors that led to their decline and their recent resurgence in popularity.

Please share your stories.
While you’re reading, we encourage you to think about and offer up any stories you may have about side-by-side shotguns. Are any of these American classic double guns in your family? What do they mean to you? What were your first experiences? We’d love to know your stories, so please feel free to use the comment section below to share.

Brief History of Side-by-Side Shotguns

Ansley H. Fox, 1894 Patent for Breech Loading Breakdown Gun

Image: Ansley H. Fox, 1894 Patent for Breech Loading Breakdown Gun.

Side-by-side (SXS) shotguns, with their distinctive twin barrels that are set next to each other horizontally, originated in the 1700’s in muzzleloader form with flintlock ignition. I’ve shot a replica of an original and can never quite get used to the slight muzzleloader lag for wing shooting. In the mid-1850 Charles Lancaster developed the equivalent of a primer to fire a breech-loaded cartridge. The folks at Purdey and Holland and Holland developed a sidelock version in 1875, then the race was on with multiple manufacturers making SXS shotguns and continuing to refine the designs (like the famous A.H. Fox design, above). These shotguns became the firearms of choice for hunters and recreational shooters due to their balance, reliability, and aesthetic appeal up until about the 1930s.

Which Classic Side-by-Side Shotguns Are the Most Popular?

Several American manufacturers rose to prominence by producing some of the finest side-by-side shotguns the world has ever seen. Among these, A.H. Fox, Ithaca, L.C. Smith, Lefever, Parker, and Winchester stand out as icons of American gun-making.

6 Historically Popular Side-by-Side Shotgun Makers

A.H. Fox

Fox Sterlingworth 12 Gauge Shotgun from 1932, after restoration work performed by Turnbull Restoration Co. of Bloomfield, NY

Image: Restored A.H. Fox Sterlingworth 12 gauge side by side shotgun from from 1932. Explore additional examples of A.H. Fox shotgun restoration.

A.H. Fox shotguns, founded by Ansley H. Fox in 1905, are celebrated for their precision engineering and elegant design. The A.H. Fox Sterlingworth model, known for its beautiful aesthetics, balance, and reliability, remains a favorite among collectors. These shotguns were produced in various grades, showcasing exquisite engravings and high-quality materials. They are truly a thing of beauty and a sight to behold.

“The double-barreled shotgun has come, and I really think it is the most beautiful gun I have ever seen. I am exceedingly proud of it.”

President Theodore Roosevelt

February 11, 1909 letter, written upon receipt of a new A.H. Fox shotgun to be used on his now-famous 1909 African Safari


Ithaca Flues 20 gauge shotgun with case colors by Turnbull Restoration Co., all other work by third party, for sale by Turnbull Restoration Co.

Image: Ithaca Flues 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, with case colors by Turnbull Restoration.

I’ve always admired the John Browning-designed Model 37 pump action shotgun made by Ithaca Gun Company. For most, that gun is synonymous with the company. Before they became famous for the Model 37, they made the Ithaca Baker shotgun in the late 1880s. In 1907 they purchased a patent for an upgraded design from Emil Flues and began mass production of the Ithaca Flues Double Barrel shotgun. This would become the best-selling gun of the time, with high-grade models sold to influential customers like Annie Oakley.  They would later partner with Lefever to produce Lefever’s hammerless shotgun. Ithaca has changed hands multiple times, the current owner focuses primarily on various incarnations of the Model 37.

L.C. Smith

Photo of a restored L.C. Smith Grade 4 from 1920, restoration work performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

Image: Restored L.C. Smith Grade 4 10 gauge side-by-side shotgun from 1920. Explore additional examples of L.C. Smith shotgun restoration.

L.C. Smith got its start when Lyman Cornelis Smith and his brother Leroy partnered with WH Baker to produce guns under the Baker name. Baker and Leroy Smith left to create Ithaca. Lyman continued to build the “Baker” guns until 1884 and launched his own design in 1886. Smith later became interested in manufacturing typewriters (Smith Corona) and sold the company to John Hunter in 1888 who started producing the L.C. Smith brand guns that made them popular. Under Hunter, L.C. Smith offered a variety of models up until the early 1950s for hunters and trap and skeet shooters of various grades. L.C. Smith shotguns of this era were highly prized by hunters, recreational shooters, and collectors.


Restored Lefever A Grade 410 bore

Founded by Daniel Myron Lefever in 1883, Lefever Arms Company produced shotguns renowned for their innovative engineering and superior craftsmanship. Lefever’s development of the first truly hammerless double shotgun was a significant advancement in technology of the day. The robust construction and unique ball-and-socket joint of Lefever shotguns ensured smooth operation and reduced wear. True Lefever-made guns were made until 1919 and then Ithaca made several incarnations of Lefever models into the 1940’s.


Parker Bros. AHE 20 Gauge Side by Side from 1918, restored by Turnbull Restoration Co. of Bloomfield, NY

Image: Restored Parker AHE 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun. Explore additional examples of Parker shotgun restoration.

Charles Parker had a Union contract to produce rifles during the Civil War. This experience led Charles to found the Parker Brother’s Gun Company with his three sons in 1867. They operated independently until 1934 when they were purchased by Remington. They ultimately ceased production in 1942, producing over 242,000 guns during their run.  Parker shotguns were known for their exceptional quality, balance, and reliability, and were available in various grades, each featuring different levels of engraving and wood quality. Higher-grade Parkers, with their intricate scrollwork and finely checkered stocks, are rightly considered works of art. This is a Parker Invincible model. It is 1 of only  3 guns of this grade that were ever made.


Winchester Model 21 American 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, after restoration services performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

No list of American side-by-side shotguns can go without mentioning Winchester and the Model 21. The first model 21 was marketed in 1930 for $59. That’s roughly $1,100 today’s dollars, but good luck finding one for that today! They are highly sought after by collectors, examples I could find examples for sale, at this writing, start at $8,000 and go up from there. Their desirability is rooted in the Model 21 being a beautiful gun that was very high quality. The 21 was known for the unique way the gun locks up with an under bolt that can be tightened as the action loosens over time. Plus their steel quality allowed the gun to handle hotter loads than many other contemporary models. And as a result, you can still find serviceable models today.

Why did Side-by-Side Shotguns Fall Out of Favor?

Winchester Model 21 American 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, after restoration services performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

Image: The historic Ithaca Gun Company factory (The History Center in Tompkins County)

While it’s popular to blame the launch of John Browning’s Superposed, the decline in the popularity of side-by-side shotguns can be attributed to several factors. The depression didn’t help matters and SXS shotguns were labor-intensive and expensive to build. At the same time, the increasing popularity of quality pump-action shotguns, like the Winchester Model 12 and later the Ithaca Model 37, offered hunters and shooters greater firepower at a much more affordable price.

Additionally, changing hunting regulations that allowed the taking of more birds and the rise of competitive shooting sports that favored higher-capacity shotguns also contributed to the shift away from SXS designs. The Browning Over/Under shotgun played a role, but economics and mass production of quality pump shotguns were a larger factor. As a result, by 1951 the Winchester Model 21 was the only quality SXS shotgun for sale that was made in the USA.

Why are Side-by-Side Shotguns Increasing in Popularity?

Winchester Model 21 American 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, after restoration services performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

Suddenly side-by-side shotguns are becoming the gun to have again. The resurgence in popularity of SXS shotguns can likely be attributed to several factors. Certainly, gun enthusiasts appreciate these firearms’ historical significance and timeless craftsmanship. Plus, the aesthetic appeal and balance of SXS shotguns make them a pleasure to shoot. A growing interest in hunting as a means to secure high-quality natural food and the accessibility of public land for upland bird hunting has also contributed to their renewed popularity. Finally, coupled with renewed interest in hunting for younger generations, there’s a new crop of side-by-sides from Italy that are good guns and some models for reasonable prices that are making them more affordable and accessible.

“Perhaps it’s because there is no more beautiful form of hunting than a stroll through the grouse woods in all her autumn glory, one needs a gun that is equal to the experience.”

Scott Severson


Hunting with a Side-by-Side Shotgun

Winchester Model 21 American 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, after restoration services performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

If you’re a wing shooter and you suddenly take up hunting with a side-by-side shotgun, it’s going to take some getting used to. I know people who are good shots otherwise, who just cannot get used to the view of two barrels. So you may want to shoot one a bit before jumping in with both feet. And, as is true with any shotgun, it’s paramount that the gun fits you well or you simply will not shoot it well. Or at least as well as you could.

On the positive side, the SXS also has some distinct advantages. Their balance and pointability make them ideal for upland bird hunting, where quick, instinctive shots are often required. They are quickly becoming the gun to have in the grouse woods. Although it is a bit of a dichotomy as grouse hunting in the thick brush is often quite rough on guns, and yet consistently of all the various forms of shotgun hunting that I do, I find it’s grouse hunters who seem to always have the fanciest guns with beautiful wood and engraving. Perhaps it’s because there is no more beautiful form of hunting than a stroll through the grouse woods in all her autumn glory, one needs a gun that is equal to the experience.

Final Thoughts on Side-by-Side Shotguns

Winchester Model 21 American 20 gauge side-by-side shotgun, after restoration services performed by Turnbull Restoration of Bloomfield, NY

From their historical significance to modern-day appeal, the side-by-side shotgun truly holds a timeless allure for hunters and collectors alike. At their inception, the side-by-side shotgun represented the pinnacle of firearm design and craftsmanship. From the elegant lines of A.H. Fox to the robust engineering of Lefever, these shotguns have left an indelible mark on the history of American gunmaking. While they fell out of favor for a time, the renewed appreciation for their beauty, history, and performance has brought them back into the spotlight. Whether they are purchased for hunting or collecting, SXS shotguns offer us all a connection to a bygone era, and I can think of no better testament to the enduring appeal of finely crafted firearms.

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By Scott Severson

By Scott Severson

Scott is the editor of is committed to providing the best in-depth content, resources, and reviews on the gear that hunters need to be successful in the field. HuntTested covers guns, big game gear, upland game gear, camping, and outdoor feature stories.

Read more posts by Scott Severson here.


  1. Jim Honaker

    Beautiful firearms and pieces of art. I unfortunately, cannot hit my mark consistently with a SXS, preferring the O/U platform for my birding trips. Excellent article.

    • Turnbull Restoration

      Thanks for reading Jim! Glad you’ve got a platform that serves you best.

  2. Lindsay C. Blanton, Jr

    I inherited a Parker VHE half frame. It came from my uncle who was an avid quail hunter. The gun had some wear from all his hunting but nothing serious. However as a family heirloom I sent it to Doug Turnbull for an overhaul. Wow what a beautiful collector gun it is now. I also inherited a LC Smith field grade that I turned over to Doug Turnbull too, and it is also beautiful albeit not as big a collector item as the Parker. Doug Turnbull and his team do fantastic work!!!

    • Turnbull Restoration

      Thank you for sharing Lindsay. It was a distinct pleasure to work on your heirlooms.


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