Unlike some of the other old guys, I do not have a double barrel shotgun tradition. I grew up using my grandfather’s Winchester Model 12 pump action or Remington 11-87 automatic. My first shotgun was a Mossberg 500. It was only later in life that I picked up a double barrel here and there. While I enjoyed firing them, I have clung to my pump-action shotguns. Recently, I tested a well made, reliable, and fast-handling double-barrel shotgun that just may be among the best firearms I have yet tested for personal defense. I purchased the Stoeger Coach Gun on a lark and found a credible shotgun. It is simple to operate and offers high hit potential.
The Coach Gun stirs up images of stagecoach riders in the Old West or perhaps a Hamer or Threepersons in the 1930s walking the mean streets of a border town. The Coach Gun is very well fitted and finished. The bluing is good, and the wood is well finished with a nice fit to the metal work. The shotgun is 36.5 inches long and the barrels are 20 inches long.
Nothing has a ratio quite like that in a shotgun. You can get a lot of barrel length into a relatively short firearm. Sighting is accomplished by a traditional rib and a bead front sight. The balance of this shotgun is excellent. The Coach Gun is a little stock-heavy, but when you are tracking targets, the Coach Gun moves very smoothly. And, while the Coach Gun will find its way into Cowboy Action Shooting and thrive, I have a different role for my example.
The action was the typical break-open shotgun, and in this case, it was stiff. The fitting was good to excellent. This is a shotgun with tight tolerances. When the shotgun is opened, the safety moves to the safe position. This is a good point for safety.
Readying for the Range
The shells are loaded in each chamber one at a time. The safety is moved forward to fire. The triggers are heavy, but then, you do not wish light dual triggers—you may double. I have fired a double barrel with both barrels once or twice; it isn’t something I wish to repeat.
The Stoeger Coach Gun is very fast to a follow-up shot. Recover the sight, realign on the target or the next target, and fire the shotgun using the second barrel. The shotgun is then broken open to reload. The Coach Gun doesn’t feature automatic ejectors, so the shells must be picked out before the shotgun is reloaded.
The shotgun was tested beginning with what I traditionally test shotguns with, the Winchester 12 gauge AA birdshot loading. 7 ½ shot is a light load that makes for easy shooting. I tested handling and loading. I determined that the right barrel is open choke and the left is modified.
The right barrel strikes just slightly right of the point of aim at 7 yards, while the left barrel strikes the X ring. It was easier to check sight regulation with birdshot before proceeding to buckshot. The shotgun gets on target quickly and offers a fast second shot. I would feel confident with this shotgun as a home defense firearm.
I do not keep my pump action shotguns chamber loaded, and I would not keep a double barrel chamber loaded at home ready. An advantage of the double gun is that you may keep the action broken open and the chambers loaded. It is plenty fast to shut the action if you need to use the shotgun.
It is as fast or faster than racking the action of a pump. You have to compare the speed and handling of a double barrel against the magazine capacity of the pump action. I can’t tell you what to do, but the double barrel beats any handgun and has served long and well in America.
Moving to defense loads (I would never use birdshot for defense unless I was in a situation similar to Hitchcock’s The Birds) I used two types of buckshot and a modern buck and ball load. I have been exploring #1 buckshot after reading a report by a Federal agency on its use. With 16 pellets in Winchester’s 2 ¾-inch shell, this load has a good pattern and almost twice as many balls as Winchester’s 2 ¾-inch 00 buckshot. Penetration is better than #4 buckshot but not as great as #00. This is a good choice for home defense.
For running varmints, coyote at close range and defense against feral dogs, this is a good load. It isn’t a hard kicker but the Coach Gun weighs only 6.5 pounds, so there is a price for fast handling. The patterns were encouraging and the hits centered. Moving to #00 buckshot, I saw nine pellets centered in the X ring when I corrected for the sight offset. I also tested the shotgun to 15 yards and found that this is at the near limit of its usefulness with the open choke barrel.
At longer range, solid shot is needed. A number of experienced individuals prefer the slug for personal defense. A 498-grain (1-ounce) slug offers wound potential at close range beyond that of any other shoulder-fired firearm commonly used for home defense. Winchester’s PDX load features a slug mated with three buckshot balls. This buck-and-ball load offers good performance and is among the best choices for shotgun defense.
I have learned the sweet spot in aiming with the Coach Gun. Shotguns are individual, and each shooter must learn where the buckshot load or slug strikes on the target, in relation to the sights. The slug load struck slightly low at 15 yards. The barrels sent the slugs within two inches of the other—excellent regulation!
After testing the Stoeger Gun, I find a reliable shotgun well suited to home defense. It would serve well in the wild for protection against dangerous beasts. For rabbit, squirrel, and some fowl, it would be a fast-handling game getter. I like this shotgun a lot, and I think it is well worth its modest price.
Do you rely on a shotgun for personal defense? Which model? Which load do you prefer? Share your answers in the comment section.
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