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Those Wonderful Combination Guns September 1995
Gerhard Schroeder and Dan Martinez  

The seed for this story was actually planted by Dan. After reading about the T/C Contender and insert barrels in these pages about a year ago, he mentioned to me that he had been thinking about doing a few paragraphs on combo's, primarily since he is a proud combo owner himself. But I'm also a big fan of them, so we decided to do this story together.

Germany: The Land of Combo Guns
If you saw the story about my '95 vacation, you read about the drilling, a combination shotgun/rifle hunting tool. Well, in particular the Germans and Austrians have gone totally nuts with respect to combination guns. To rattle down a few, and bewilder you with their respective gigantic German designations, take your pick for the coming Christmas season: (sticker shock is definitely guaranteed!!)

Side by side shotgun-rifle
Over/under shotgun-rifle
Side by side shotgun, with rifle barrel centered below the smoothbores
Shotgun barrel above large rifle barrel, with small rifle barrel to one side slightly above large rifle barrel
Side by side rifle, with shotgun barrel centered below them
Same as drilling, but with an ADDITIONAL small rifle barrel positioned either above or immediately below the smoothbores.

Then there are variations of the 4 barrel vierling, but why? If you can physically carry it, and financially endure it, there are shops in the old country that will build you your wonder combo. But what the (pardon my German) for?

In Europe and most definitely Africa, where seasons for various game overlap and the game inhabits the same terrain, combo's, well, some of them, do make sense. But what about here? A hunter in Germany would always be prepared with a drilling; a wild boar may come into range while duck hunting. A drilling might be his only (hunting) weapon, even including a .22 rimfire insert barrel.

An Arizona hunter might be the exact opposite: a 20 gauge auto for dove, an O/U for quail, a 12 gauge for late season, and a 10 gauge for waterfowl; a .22 auto for rabbits, .223 for varmints, 25-06 for deer, 270 Weatherby for antelope, .338 mag for elk, a .416 mag for buffalo, 45-70 for bear, and a couple of others thrown in just because he always wanted one, or they were on sale, or he found a steal at a yard sale, or because his second grandson was born. And most of us fit somewhere in between.

A German Combo in the Wild West
Before I moved to this great country I pooled my limited assets and financial resources and bought a plain but high quality O/U, 12 gauge over 7x65R, from Blaser. But when I did that I really had only a vague idea of the hunting opportunities here in Arizona. So, where does a combo make sense?

On the top of my list is turkey. Some states only allow shotguns, but here we can use a rifle as well. Since I hunt the fall season, I'm prepared whether the turkey is 18 or 80 yards away. And it so happened that over the years I've bagged 5 turkeys, three with the rifle using lead bullets, and two with the smoothbore. Also, until recently, the bandtail pigeon season overlapped with turkey, plus squirrels and waterfowl. Sure, a shotgun would take care of the pinecats, but I prefer to use the rifle. Next would be varmints, coyotes in particular. Again, with the combo, I'm ready for any distance, plus moving targets out to about 40 steps.

But that's about all. Most other game is either a shotgun OR rifle type deal, at least that is how most of us hunt. When we go after deer, we hunt deer and ignore the quail, squirrels, rabbits, or occasional duck.

Except me. Couldn't quite shake those old country habits, and my O/U makes it possible. Yes, as a rifle it is only a single shot. However, after 14 seasons in Arizona I've only been in one situation where I could have fired more shots at big game, in this case deer, with a repeating rifle after missing the first shot at a moving buck. And since the buck hightailed it after that, it is quite uncertain that I would have bagged him then. So, the single shot hasn't been a handicap.

With the shotgun going after big game (turkey), it's the same story. I never needed a second shot. However, if I take the combo for small game, primarily quail, I do miss not having a second shot. But the combo allows me to take rifle shots at coyotes, or more frequently, running bunnies, which I dislike shooting with shot. Using downloaded lead bullets (RCBS 145 grain on top of 14 grains of 4227), many cottontails ended up in the freezer.

The most memorable use of the combo happened on a quail hunt east of Horseshoe Lake. There were five of us in two trucks. We were on our way back to the river when a crow was headed to cross the dirt road in shooting range. Both trucks stopped, and the other four guys proceeded to empty their pumps and autos at the crow. I was the passenger in David Stimens' 'burb. With the crow on his side, I didn't get into the action until the crow, by now reaching top speed, was a good 60 steps out, too far for the quail load. Using the first trigger, I launched the lead bullet anyway, and, son of a gun, the crow folded. With a raking shot that had grazed wing, neck and head, it still required a finishing shot to put it out of its misery.

Back to big game hunting. Using the combo, which by the way is extremely light at 6 lbs. 2 oz. (with its 23.6" barrels), has allowed me to go "hunting", instead of just "big game" hunting. I'm not burdening myself with a box of 12 gauge to limit out on quail when I leave deer camp in the morning, but I do take along at least a couple of shells. My usual routine is to start small game hunting when I'm on my return trip to camp. All that banging at small game hasn't yet chased off the big game beast that I had tags for. Instead, I'll almost always bring some game home, quail if it's a desert hunt, squirrel taken with the lead bullet if it's a timber hunt. With the break-open design, switching ammo is easy and quick. And the gun's light weight makes it almost enjoyable to carry.

Where the gun is absolutely worthless is on the silhouette range. Since both barrels are brazed together, making repeated shots literally bends the rifle barrel up. The hot rifle barrel wants to expand, and the cold shotgun barrel does not. I've verified it on paper, point of impact after five quick shots changes over six inches at 50 steps. In fact, if you keep shooting, the brazed joint might fail. This is not true for the Savage type combo's. I've seen Dan Martinez and Bob Martin use theirs for some of our events. On the Savage, the two barrels aren't brazed together.

Gerhard's Blaser Bockbüchsflinte

The quick attach/detach (QAD) scope mount allows me to carry the combo either as a primary shotgun or rifle. When I'm after small game or in dense cover, the scope is in my pocket, but here in Arizona I carry the combo scoped most of the time. Besides that, detaching it takes a little less time since I don't have to "look" at the mount. In fact, the most frequent scenario is an approaching crow while I'm hunting in timber. For that, the scope is off and squeezed between my legs in about a second to enable a fast shotgun blast at the flying beast.

Operation is, like with anything else, a matter of practice. Yes, I've pulled the wrong trigger on more than one occasion, but never really screwed anything up because of it. That only happened on fast shotgun shots, where the rifle was fired instead. There aren't any bucks that I showered with #4's. What I learned from these accidental rifle shots is that the gun points really nice, since the shots didn't miss the bunnies by much. (Yes, I told you above that I don't like to shoot bunnies with shot, and I don't! But, hey, if its been a slow weekend is it my fault that a bunny takes off running at the wrong moment?)

A combo is somewhat specialized and not everyone cares about them. But they do offer opportunities that either rifle or a shotgun alone can't. Reflecting back on it, and not counting the critters I bagged with it in the old country in the few months prior to coming over here for good, I've covered several miles with the Blaser. It has been with me to down dove, quail, ducks, crows, bandtail pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, turkeys, javelina, whitetail, muleys, and elk, all with one gun.

In all honesty, how often have you been in the field armed with the one, and wished you had the other? I met one guy once on a turkey hunt that carried both his long barrel 12 gauge single and his scoped .22 mag Marlin (plus a .45 auto). Yeah, that works, if some of your genes originate in the mule family (as in jackass). If you aren't a beast of burden, though, opt for a combo. Although one from Savage isn't as light and lacks some other niceties such as set triggers, QAD mounts or European looks, those combos are a great buy. I used to have one back in '77, .222 Rem over 20 ga., and it did just fine. And if turkeys are your game, you almost have to have one.

Dan, what do think?

Perfect For Arizona Turkey Hunting
In fact, Gerhard, that's exactly why I picked up my first Savage. As you mention, particularly in the fall when the birds do not respond as readily to calling, it's a great comfort knowing that with my trusty combo, I can make that 40 to 100 yard shot that I just couldn't with a shotgun alone. I always thought that the standard fall turkey hunting advice, to run into a flock, waving your arms and screaming so they scatter, then hiding and calling them back, was rather silly. Why not just pop 'em when you see 'em and be done with it?

I don't know how many times, as I've been sitting at the base of a tree, melting into the natural scene in my full camo, that I've had this argument with myself:

"When the bird comes into view, I'll zap him with the .223, and put up with a little hydrostatically ruined meat." (flick the hammer nose barrel selector to the rifle barrel) . . . "Or maybe, I'll slam him with 2 oz. of #5 shot, and put up with picking lead pellets out of the meat at the table." (flick the barrel selector to shotgun) . . . "No, I don't want one of my little guys ingesting lead pellets accidentally." (flick the barrel selector to rifle) . . . But there's a better chance of a lights-out-CNS hit with the shotgun, and I can shred the meat carefully before I give it to my boys (flick) . . . And on it goes. You've got a lot of time to think while you're waiting for Mr. Tom.

All of my experience with combo guns has been with the Savage Model 24s. At one point, I had three in my gun safe. I just sold one, so now I'm down to only two. But I know that soon I'll need one more as my second son reaches hunting age (not that my first son has yet reached the age where he can shoot "his" gun).

Evolution of a Classic
The Savage Model 24 combo gun actually began life as the Stevens Model 22-410 in 1939. This gun, in turn was based on the earliest Stevens exposed hammer single shot shotgun designs such as the Models 93 and 97 Nitro Specials from the turn of the century. Savage bought out Stevens in 1920, but the combo gun was introduced as a Stevens and continued in production as the Stevens Model 22-410 through 1950. After that time, the gun was renamed the Savage Model 24 with various letter suffixes over the years. The current production gun is the Model 24F which was introduced in 1989, and which supplanted the 24V and 24D.

The evolution of the gun over the years has been marked by a gradual increase in caliber and gauge. Starting as a .22 rimfire over .410, progressing through successively larger gauges and calibers. Current gauge and caliber offerings in the 24F are both 20 and 12 gauge with any of .22 Hornet, .223 Rem., or .30-30 caliber rifle barrels. Additionally, the 20 gauge is also available paired with a .22 LR barrel.

The gun is a basic break action design with a thumb operated exposed hammer and single trigger. The action is broken with a top lever which opens the action when pushed either to the left or to the right. Over the years, Stevens/Savage experimented with a receiver side lever and a push button on the front of the trigger guard, but recent production has come back to the top lever.

The Model 24 barrel arrangement is similar, but opposite to that of the German Bockbüchsflinte, in that the rifle barrel is over the shotgun barrel. Which barrel fires is chosen by a rotating hammer nose. A thumb operated lever on the hammer moves the hammer nose up or down to strike the firing pin of the rifle or shotgun barrel respectively. The hammer itself is of the rebounding type. In the relaxed position, the hammer does not rest on the firing pin. When cocked and released, the hammer's inertia takes it past the resting position to strike the firing pin. The hammer is only free to move fully forward while the trigger is pulled back. After striking the firing pin, the hammer rebounds back to the intermediate resting position.

Dan's Savage Model 24F

The 12 gauge shotgun barrel was introduced on the current production F model. The 12 gauge is the only shot barrel in the M24 lineage to wear interchangeable chokes. It is supplied with F, M, and IC chokes compatible with Mossberg Accu-Chokes. The 20 gauge F model barrel is fixed modified, but all earlier M24 and 22-410 shotgun barrels were fixed full.

My first M24 was a 24F-12 in .223 Rem. over 12 gauge which I purchased new for turkey hunting. It cost around $340. Current production F-models all come with Rynite stocks. Savage has a special turkey model designated the 24F-12T. The only difference is that the Rynite stock comes painted in camo colors. I camo'ed mine myself, with satisfying results.

My second M24 was a 24D in .22 LR over 20 gauge that I bought used at Shooters World for $200. I thought it would be the perfect learner gun for a boy, but later I grew disenchanted with it because it wasn't legal for turkey. An Arizona turkey rifle needs to be .22 mag. minimum.

So I went to the gun show looking particularly for a D model in .22 mag and found 2. One was the plain model and one was the deluxe model. The difference between the two is a stained birch stock vs. walnut with pressed checkering. I opted for the deluxe at $150. I eventually got rid of the .22 LR.

Despite my enthusiasm for these Savages, I don't mind admitting that these guns have a number of warts.

Unlike the expensive German combos, a problem with the Savages is that the barrels do not shoot to the same point of aim. When I patterned the gun at 35 yards, I found that the center of the shot pattern is about 10" to 12" below the .223 bullet hole. This is also the case with the .22 mag. over 20 gauge. The iron sights on both the F and the D models are worthless. I found that if I shortened the rear sight of the D by about 3/16", I could begin to make the sights usable for rifle. Before I got rid of the .22 LR, I broke the rear sight when I tried to bend it to lay down in an effort to lower it. I learned my lesson and used a hacksaw and file on D model no. 2.

On my 24F, I mounted a Simmons ProHunter 4x32 shotgun scope on high see-thru rings. The scope is regulated for the .223. With high rings, your cheek doesn't rest on the stock when sighting through the scope - you end up using the side of your chin. For the shotgun, I look at the front sight through the see-thru scope mount like I'm using a giant peep sight. The rear sight is a folding leaf, and it stays folded down and ignored.

I did end up scoping the .22 mag., but that scope is not (yet) on high rings. The F model is drilled and tapped for a Weaver mount (the package for the mount says it is for the Savage Model 24V, but it also fits the F), but the D model has only a .22 style dovetail pair of grooves cut into the top barrel. There is engraving on the barrel which warns you, "Do not fire shotgun barrel with scope attached." Well I have, and it hasn't blown up or anything.

The scopes I am using are designed for shotguns with a generous 5" of eye relief. At the time the D model was made, there was no such thing as a shotgun scope. I guess they assumed that people would be using a short eye relief .22 scope on this gun, and they were worried about folks smacking themselves in the eye. There is no such warning on the F model.

It's true what Gerhard says about weight. The F models are the heaviest of them all. Without scope, the F model is spec'ed at 8 lbs. I usually carry a round in each chamber, and four to six 3" 2 oz. magnum turkey loads in a buttstock shell carrier, plus scope, plus sling. However, all that weight helps when you touch off one of those magnum shotshells on this standing breech gun with hard plastic buttpad (I've seen pictures of the F with a ventilated rubber recoil pad, but mine is solid, hard plastic.). Though I haven't weighed it, the D model is considerably lighter, and is a lot more fun to tote in the field.

Speaking of weight, these guns come with a horrendously heavy single action trigger pull. I measured my F when I got it at 11 pounds! Engaging in a little amateur 'smith work, I honed and stoned the sear to get the trigger pull down to 4 pounds. It's got a tiny bit of creep, but still it's a vast improvement. I'm not gonna touch the trigger on the D because it is the gun I will be teaching my boys to hunt with. I want to make sure that this gun only goes off due to a concerted, conscious effort on the part of the shooter.

As a birdgun, the F model swings like a lead pipe. That's not to say that I can't hit anything with it. I took it out to the trap range once (scope off) and hit 13 of 25. The best I've ever done in trap is 23 with a real shotgun, so while 13 isn't wonderful, it's not disgraceful, either. Anyways, you aim, not swing a turkey gun.

More warts: If you buy a used D model. It will have a broken shotgun firing pin spring. You can check this by pointing the barrel down, opening the gun (so the stock and breech is still pointing down), pull the trigger and push the hammer forward (first make sure that you have selected the shotgun barrel). You will be able to see the firing pin protrude from the breech face. Now let go of the hammer and let it rebound to its rest position. The firing pin will not retract with the hammer. If it does, a miracle has occurred and you do not have a broken spring.

When I found this on D model no. 1, I ordered a new spring from Savage and installed it. To check it, I pulled the trigger on a cocked hammer, and promptly broke the replacement. What I ended up doing on both D models, was to fashion a little foam rubber donut which I fit in place of the spring. Works great. I found exactly the same condition on D model number 2, which was the first thing I looked for. F models do not have the problem.

Oh, the gun will still work with a broken spring. Usually, the non-indented portion of the primer will push the firing pin back into the breech as you open the action. Still, the chance for shearing off the tip of the firing pin exists.

Another wart: The F models are finished rather crudely. The shotgun barrel is very rough inside. You can see the concentric boring marks. And the finish is Parkerized (I think), not blued. In wet weather, a fine layer of brown rust will develop by the end of the day. It comes off with some gun oil and rubbing, but still, it's disconcerting. D models are blued.

Enough of this negativity. With all these aforementioned problems, why do I love these guns? First of course, for the wonderful versatility a combo gun offers, as outlined so well by Gerhard. Second, in the Savage, you get all that versatility for a reasonable price, unlike those fine Old World combos.

Early M24s did indeed have the barrels brazed together at the end. However, the later D models have a sort of clamp at the end which includes the integral front sight. I haven't done enough rapid fire shooting with the D to determine whether or not this clamp allows the barrels to grow independently.

But the F models have a ring which is brazed to the bottom of the rifle barrel. It goes around the shotgun barrel, but is not fixed to the shotgun barrel. I've had no problems with shot stringing on this gun. Yes, I do use this gun in our club shoots, and with good results. I topped the field of 15 shooters in the rifle stage of the 1993 Turkey Shoot with this gun. Most recently, I shot it in the CF Rifle Fun Shoot and came in 3rd of 8.

Unfortunately, I haven't been as prolific in game-getting as Herr Schroeder. I'm still looking for my first turkey. I've taken exactly one cottontail and one squirrel with my F. I was walking down an abandoned logging road when I chanced upon the bunny sitting about 5 yards away. Dumb bunny didn't run, so I decided to test the terminal ballistics of the .223 on light game. I carefully sighted through the scope at center of mass and let the hammer fall. The woods resounded with a great boom as the barrels pitched up hard. Huh? What happened? I thought the gun blew up. Then I realized that I had actually unleashed the magnum load of #5s, not the .223. Anyone for bunny-burger?

On another trip, I was sitting under a tree waiting for Mr. Tom to stroll by. Unfortunately, I had caught the attention of a squirrel in the tree I had chosen to sit under. He barked and he chattered, barked and chattered, telling the whole forest, "Hey, there's a turkey hunter under my tree!" Well, I put up with that for about 20 minutes, figuring he was gonna get bored and stop Real Soon Now. Well, he never did. At least, not until I blew him out of the tree with a swarm of lead. Ahhh, peace and quiet.

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