Too Clever by Half: Why the Over-and-Under Deserves Serious Consideration

[caption id="attachment_1212" align="aligncenter" width="625"]jd-new-over-and-under The New Over & Under from John Dickson[/caption]

It’s been said that only the British could call someone ‘too clever by half’ and mean it as an insult.

The phrase rather neatly illustrates two traits that run through our national character. First of all there’s the implication that simplicity is more desirable than complexity and second there’s the intimation that being clever is somehow slightly unsporting. Perhaps, then, it also sheds light on our general attitude to over-and-under shotguns.

There are, of course, many good reasons to stick with the trusted side-by-side. Nigel Muir of the Royal Berkshire Shooting School summarised them rather neatly when quoted in an excellent article by Jonathan Young in The Field. He explained that many of his clients favoured them ‘for their wonderful handling tradition, pleasing lines, joy of ownership, lack of weight and in many cases sound investment’.

The general consensus, however, is that it’s easier to shoot straight with and over-and-under thanks to its configuration, grip and weight. Many people still shy away from them, however, because they think they’re somehow less beautiful and, more importantly, because they suspect that the over-and-under is somehow new-fangled. ‘Too clever by half,’ is the suspicion of those who conveniently forget their easy, early adoption of modern fly rods, golf clubs and tennis rackets.

The aesthetic argument is, of course, entirely valid (although we would direct your attention to the photograph above) but the latter one simply rests on a widely held misconception. We asked legendary gunsmiths John Dickson & Son for their view on the new-fangled-ness of the ‘claybuster’s upstart’.

‘Nonsense’ was the word used, and we were directed to their 1888 ledger, detailing their first over-and-under.


At Oliver Brown, we believe that traditions should be respected and customs followed – but not blindly: we salute those who dare to defy them with good reason.