Skip to main content

Fox Sterlingworth Side-By-Side Shotgun

Fox Sterlingworth shotguns are regarded as the best of all the economy-grade American side-by-sides.

Fox Sterlingworth Side-By-Side Shotgun
Weighing just over 6 pounds, Joseph’s 16-gauge Fox Sterlingworth shows considerable exterior corrosion, but mechanically it’s perfect and handles like a wand.

The first time I read about a Fox Sterlingworth shotgun was in the pages of Galen Winter’s book The Best of the Major. It made an impression, and when I spotted the worn 16-gauge shotgun featured here on the used-gun rack of my favorite local gunshop, I knew immediately it was coming home with me.

A.H. Fox began making fine shotguns in the very early 1900s, touting them as the best side-by-side guns in the world. While they didn’t legitimately compete with the finest English guns, they were indeed some of the nicest—and most reliable—ever made in America.

Early versions were called “graded” guns, as in A Grade, B Grade, and C Grade. This referred to the quality and quantity of engraving, the quality of the wood, and so forth. In 1910 Fox introduced the Sterlingworth for economy-minded shooters. These guns featured basically the same action and barrels as all the upper-crust Fox guns but had only a minimalist border engraved and were fitted with standard-grade walnut stocks. They had less-costly extractors rather than ejectors, although ejectors were available for a substantial additional price.

Early Sterlingworths featured a black grip cap. Later, after Savage acquired the Fox company around 1930, the grip cap was abandoned. Several different versions eventually wore the Sterlingworth label, but most commonly, barrels were available in 26-, 28-, and 30-inch lengths, in 12, 20, and 16 gauges. Typically, they were choked in some combination of Full, Modified, or Cylinder.


Sterlingworths are regarded today by many experts to be the best of all the “economy” American side-by-sides.


Mechanicals

Featuring a box lock with internal hammers, Fox’s action is known for reliability. Action lockup is achieved via a rotary fastener activated by a top lever.

When the action is opened, the one-piece extractor is cammed rearward and draws any shotshells in the chambers—whether fired or fresh—about a quarter-inch out. Spent hulls may be plucked out and pocketed—one reason some avid shotgunners actually preferred the extractor over ejectors.

Thumbing the top lever to the right unlocks the action and mechanically moves the tang safety to the “Safe” position. As the action is opened, the dual internal hammers are cocked.

The Sterlingworth has a trigger for each barrel. The front trigger fires the right barrel; the rear trigger fires the left barrel.


Being an economy-grade side-by-side, the Sterlingworth has a simple tension latch to retain the forearm in place. To its credit, the latch comprises a roller-equipped plunger and coil spring and is arguably the best of its type.

Provenance

Dating 16-gauge Sterlingworths is problematic, but according to my research, my gun was manufactured in 1935. It has 26-inch barrels, and the pistol grip is the cheaper-looking late type without the grip cap. The finish is mostly gone and the gun has extensive signs of hard use, but it still locks up tight and fires with absolute reliability. Mechanically, it appears to be perfect.

As witnessed by the small circles of erosion around both firing pin holes in the standing breech, I can tell it has been fired a lot. The exterior has areas of significant rust, well past the freckling and pitting stages and into the scaling stage; however, the polished bores glow beautifully, without a spec of corrosion, indicating that however hard the previous owner or owners may have worked the gun in the field, they kept the bores clean and well oiled.


Rangetime

With just a trace of trepidation, I fired the Sterlingworth the first time with a box of Browning 16-gauge target loads. It digested the shotshells without hiccup, handled so naturally, and was so pleasant to fire that I couldn’t stop shooting it.

According to informal patterning on a snow bank, both barrels put shot clouds directly atop point of aim. The right barrel appears to have an IC or Skeet type of choke; the left barrel patterns like a Modified choke. It’s perfect for fast-moving upland game in tight cover. The gun’s stock has 2.75 inches of drop and about 0.20 inch of cast. American guns of this era were intended for all-around use on game, and the bit more drop in the stock helps center the pattern on the point of aim—an advantage for ducks dropping in on decoys.

In addition to placing shot clouds right where I looked, the shotgun mounted smoothly, balanced nicely, and had a surprisingly responsive swing. Trigger pull was beautifully crisp, and as a result the pull weight feels lighter than it is. By my Lyman digital trigger gauge, the front trigger breaks at 4 pounds, 14 ounces and the rear at 5 pounds, 4 ounces.

Weighing 6 pounds, 5 ounces, the gun carries beautifully even for long treks through upland country, yet by virtue of its 16-gauge bores, it punches above its weight class.

I don’t know that I’d want to fire a lot of full-octane high-brass 16-gauge shotshells through this svelte Fox Sterlingworth, but a few over the course of an afternoon pursuing chukars would be just fine. This gun offers solid, reliable performance and a feel and liveliness that far surpasses expectations. It is an incredible value, given its low cost, and is arguably the best value in vintage American side-by-sides.

Fox Sterlingworth Shotgun

  • Type: Side-by-side
  • Gauge: 16
  • Cartridge Capacity: 2
  • Barrels: 26 in.
  • Overall Length: 42.25 in.
  • Weight, Empty: 6.3 lbs.
  • Stock: Walnut
  • Length of Pull: 14.25 in. (to front trigger)
  • Finish: Blued barrels and action, oil-finished wood
  • Sights: Bead front
  • Safety: Two-position, automatic
  • Trigger: Front: 4.88-lb. pull; rear: 5.25-lb. pull (as tested)
  • Manufacturer: Savage Arms Corp., savagearms.com

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

How can a shorter-barrel revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barrel semiauto pistol? Here's why.Revolver vs. Semiauto Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity Handguns

Revolver vs. Semiauto Pistol: A Ballistic Oddity

Allan Jones - May 15, 2019

How can a shorter-barrel revolver have higher velocities than a longer-barrel semiauto pistol?...

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.Share the Handloading Experience Reloading

Share the Handloading Experience

Lane Pearce - May 19, 2019

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two decades.Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver Review Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 08, 2019

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver is back in production after being on ice for nearly two...

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

See More Trending Articles

More Shotguns

New offerings from Benelli, Browning, Franchi and more have us thinking there's never been a better time for shotgunners.31 New Shotguns for 2019 Shotguns

31 New Shotguns for 2019

Steve Gash - July 16, 2019

New offerings from Benelli, Browning, Franchi and more have us thinking there's never been a...

Savage Arms reveals the Model 212 and 220 bolt-action turkey shotguns, designed to give turkey hunters maximum performance and adjustability.Savage Arms Reveals Model 212 and 220 Shotguns Shotguns

Savage Arms Reveals Model 212 and 220 Shotguns

Shooting Times Digital Staff - March 14, 2019

Savage Arms reveals the Model 212 and 220 bolt-action turkey shotguns, designed to give turkey...

With three versions, three barrel lengths, and three different finishes from which to choose, the Savage Renegauge is by definition a eumatic alternative for a variety of shooting situations.Savage Renegauge Shotgun Review Shotguns

Savage Renegauge Shotgun Review

Steve Gash - July 13, 2020

With three versions, three barrel lengths, and three different finishes from which to choose,...

A side-by-side double barrel shotgun is much more than a fashion statement. The type has been a practical choice for hunters for more than 180 years.Why Side-by-Side Double Barrel Shotguns Survive Shotguns

Why Side-by-Side Double Barrel Shotguns Survive

John Barsness - September 17, 2019

A side-by-side double barrel shotgun is much more than a fashion statement. The type has been...

See More Shotguns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now