Prewar British double-barrel fowling pieces represent the pinnacle of side-by-side shotguns and, according to some aficionados, the pinnacle of gunmaking as an art. Almost all side-by-side scatterguns built since then draw on some element of British design, and Mossberg’s new Turkish-built boxlock Silver Reserve II shotguns are no exception. I have had the privilege of examining, shooting, and reviewing samples of Mossberg’s new upland guns in 20 and 28 gauges.
I’m not an expert in the finer points of side-by-side shotgun design and jargon, so I consulted Shotgun Technicana by Michael McIntosh and David Trevallion liberally as I disassembled and examined the new Mossberg guns. Clearly, the Silver Reserve IIs combine traditional elements with modern manufacturing techniques, and they also offer some concessions to contemporary shotgunning, such as removable/exchangeable choke tubes.
While “chopper lump” barrels—wherein each barrel is forged integral to half the locking lump, and the two lumps are then wedded together—are all the rage in fine fowling pieces, such are time consuming and expensive to manufacture. Here’s where I found one of the most dramatic departures from traditional design: The Mossberg Silver Reserve II barrels fix to the action via a locking lump that is one integral piece with the chambers. The chambers, rib extension, and locking lump are all machined from one solid hunk of steel that’s 2.50 inches in length. Into this are secured the rib and the individual barrels, which—in reduced diameter—extend clear through the block to the rear face of the chambers.
I’m not savvy enough in side-by-side durability to render an opinion on how this method of construction will affect long-term performance. Internally, the chambers appear to have fairly clean machining, and the rear of the barrel faces lock up nice and square with the receiver face. The flat rear surfaces of the barrels are nice and square, but do retain plentiful machining marks.
The Silver Reserve IIs are not ejector guns; rather, they are extractor guns, obliging—or allowing, depending on your viewpoint—the shooter to pluck the partially extracted cases from the chambers manually.
Like almost all side-by-sides, the barrel and forearm assembly pivot around the hinge pin via the “hook,” a semicircular cut in the front of the locking lumps. Lockup is achieved through two “bites,” which are square-cut notches in the lump that are engaged by a sliding locking plate activated by the thumb lever. The thumb lever itself and a slender rib extension combine to form a sort of pseudo top fastener where it has the greatest mechanical effect.
Though stiff—as new guns tend to be—the SRIIs break open smoothly. The thumb lever, safety/selector, and trigger guard are blued; the action is left in the white and machine engraved with full-coverage scrollwork. Thankfully, the engraving pattern is fine in nature and unobtrusive rather than deep and coarse. The fences (the round-backed surfaces that form the rear of the standing breech) are stippled rather than engraved.
The nonautomatic tang safety does double duty as barrel selector. With the slide in the “Safe” position, it may be clicked to the left to fire the left barrel or moved to the right to fire the right barrel. It functions smoothly and positively.
Compressing the internal hammersprings is accomplished the traditional way through a union of the rear of the forearm iron where it mates up with the knuckle at the front of the action. Cocking levers protrude from the front of the knuckle and are captured by square holes in the forearm iron, and rotating the shotgun from the locked to the open position causes the levers to compress the springs.
SRIIs feature a single, mechanical trigger. Since it is not an inertia-shift design, no recoil is required to shift from the first to the second barrel. In other words, if the first barrel happens to be empty, or you experience a dud, you don’t have to whack the butt with your palm to get the sear to shift so that you can fire the second barrel. Just squeeze; the second barrel will fire.
Reliable they are, but no one would accuse the sample guns tested for this report of having clean, crisp, or light trigger pulls. I’m sure they’ll smooth up and become lighter in pull weight with use, but from the factory the 20 gauge’s first pull weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces; the second at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. The 28-gauge gun’s trigger pulls measured 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 5 pounds, 15 ounces.
The finish of the barrels doesn’t exactly glow, but the bluing is nice and even, and the polish is adequate. Unlike many side-by-side shotguns that are fitted with interchangeable choke tubes, the SRII barrels do not have an obvious step up in diameter to accommodate the threaded tubes. Rather, they simply flare slightly toward the muzzles, almost like a nice set of swamped barrels. A small silver bead is affixed near the end of the rib.
Each shotgun is provided with five chokes, including—judging by the notches—Full, Improved Modified, Modified, Improved Cylinder, and Skeet constrictions. With them is a T-type choke tube wrench.
The forearm is secured via an Anson latch. A push-button release at the tip of the forearm may be depressed, and the forearm can be rotated away from the barrel to remove. According to Shotgun Technicana, the Anson latch is the simplest and best type of forearm latch. It uses few moving parts, is almost infallible when properly built, and is unaffected by extensive use and wear. On the SRIIs, it is easily released with the tip of a finger, and it snaps into position with an audible click when replaced.
The semibeavertail, black walnut forearm is checkered with, as close as I could determine, 22-lines-per-inch checkering, as is the pistol grip. It is neither machine nor laser cut. From what I could discern through a magnifying glass, it is machine stippled through the use of tiny polygon-shaped points. At a glance from 3 feet, it appears as if it should be as deep and as sharply pointed as cut checkering, but it is in fact neither. However, it does look good and provides a nice, no-slip gripping surface.
Wood-to-metal fit is more than acceptable, but the wood is slightly proud in most areas. I could find no unsightly gaps or disparities, and the satin finish on the walnut is above par; it’s even, with well-filled pores, and is silky smooth to the touch.
A thin rubber buttpad is mounted to the rear of the nice black walnut buttstock, and it offers a little relief from recoil. A hard rubber or plastic piece is set into the heel portion of the pad, making mounting these shotguns less prone to the hang-ups so frequently caused when soft rubber catches on an armpit full of tweed.
Just a shade of fiddleback figure exists in the stocks of both sample guns. Contrary to my admittedly narrow view of what a proper double-barreled fowling piece should be, the Silver Reserve II features a pistol grip rather than a straight grip, but in spite of my opinion, the shotguns mount, balance, and swing nicely.
Armed with a bulk pack of 20-gauge and a box of 28-gauge shells, my Champion’s Choice automatic clay target thrower, and a couple of boxes of clay pigeons, I took to the gravel pit in the mountains behind my home to give the SRIIs a whirl. I started with the 20-gauge gun, and at first I was unable to break a clay. I may not be a crack clay pigeon shooter, but usually they don’t all get away from me. After a half-dozen futile shots I paused to pattern the shotgun. I tend to get right down on the stock, my sight picture showing little rib beneath the bead. The SRII patterned some 10 inches low at 20 yards, so I changed my cheekweld and sight picture to show a bit more rib below the bead, and that brought the pattern much closer to center. Few were the clay pigeons that escaped after that.
Function was flawless, but as the gun got hot and dirty, shells became slightly snug in the chambers but never threatened to stick. The forearm is just large enough to protect one’s hand from a really hot barrel.
I liked the 20-gauge gun, but when I picked up the 28 I never—to my shock—missed a clay. Granted, I shot less than a box of shells, saving a few rounds in the hopes of jumping up a jackrabbit later, but still, it shouldered well, pointed naturally, and dusted those clays as if there was a homing device in each of those sleek little 28-gauge shells.
Unfortunately, no upland or waterfowl seasons were in effect at the time of this writing, so I was unable to put the shotguns to the uses for which they were intended. I did, however, wander the rolling sagebrush and juniper hills in search of jackrabbits. Perhaps owing to heavily overcast weather there was a perfect dearth of the long-eared desert hares, but my hunt did allow me to carry the Mossberg Silver Reserve IIs long enough to evaluate field handling characteristics, which were quite good.
While the 12-gauge version—of which I did not have a test sample—is available with either a 26- or 28-inch barrel, both the 20- and 28-gauge guns have 26-inch tubes. That length makes for excellent maneuverability through brush.
They don’t have chopper lump barrels, and their pistol grips, single triggers, and semibeavertail forearms stray outside the realm of my vision of the perfect side-by-side, but Mossberg’s new Silver Reserve II side-by-sides are solid, attractive, well-balanced scatterguns. And even though they are etched “Made in Turkey” instead of “London,” unlike those fine, obscenely expensive British guns, shooters need not feel unsettled about putting the Mossberg SRIIs to work doing what they do best—dusting clays and dropping birds without fuss or muss. I’d be delighted to wander afield with a Silver Reserve II side-by-side (especially in 28 gauge) anytime opportunity knocks.