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Combos
October 2006
Gerhard Schroeder

Left to Right:
Blaser Model ES70, 12 ga. over 7x65R
Savage Model 24F, .223 over 12 ga.
Savage Model 24V, .30-30 over 20 ga.

You may remember our little adventure last November in Montana. My son Josh and I were after deer, his first hunt there as a resident. Aside from some of the habitat near Bozeman reminding me of Germany, so did the hunting itself. Too often did we kick up other critters in our pursuit of whitetails. Those other critters happened to be quite tasty as well, and in season. In particular the river bottoms were just begging for a shotgun. Pheasant, mallards and partridge seemed to laugh at Josh’s 7 Mag as they took to their wings.

OK, now I’ve been there, seen that. Unarmed in 2005, I’d like to return now, buy a license, be opportunistic as we patrol the thick brush along the Missouri again. So I would bring my Blaser in 12 Gauge over 7x65R. I probably would let him carry it, since he’ll have the deer tag. But, I also would bring the Blaser back home with me, even though he may have way more chances to use it to its full potential. You know where this is heading, we need another combo. I’m sure I spelled that correctly, n-e-e-d. That is not an entirely unfortunate position to be in. Yes, it’s a job that needs doing, but if approached correctly, should be more fun than requirement. Time was on my side, basically at least eleven months. There was a restriction, however. I’m not about to pay (west) European prices. The kid isn’t that passionate about hunting anyway. So, what are the options? I pretty much began this type of thought process on my drive back home to Arizona, while all the excitement was still very much pushing the ‘Review’ button in my mind, and time was plenty.

Three options came to mind. That insert barrel in 45-70 would make any decent over-under 12 gauge into a makeshift combo. Three problems here. Such shotgun would not be cheap, reloading the rifled barrel is slow, and the rig would be heavy. Not to mention scoping that outfit.

There had been talk about a Baikal combo a few years ago. I’d only seen one at a show once, a rather rugged weapon, compared to my Blaser. And who knows how accurate these Russian creations are! Either this country does not seem to have embraced them much, or everyone who got one will not part with it again. As I remember their price was right, but other than that they seem mysterious. The final option has to be a Savage combo. I’m not up to date with what configurations are – or have been – available.

As it happens occasionally, a gun show was upon us. Except, I couldn’t go. So I instructed my good friend the Oberst to ‘look for one’. I had given him a Llama pistol as possible trade stock. The specifications for “one” was that the combo had to have a rifle caliber of at least 30-30 power. If the “one” would be in good condition, and under four bills, go for it. If it was of (west) European design and priced accordingly, get a phone number. Here is his story. Mike went to the fourth table, detected a Savage combo, determined it to be of 20 gauge 3” and 30-30 Winchester (now long out of production), and traded it straight across for the Llama. Did I mention he’s my buddy?

Now I had to get to work. Order a scope (the Savage had a Weaver base installed, and looked in excellent shape, by the way), find 30-30 brass in my garage, and load some. Even before the scope was on hand, I fired the thing. Both barrels functioned. Open sights were a little off. During the next outing, with a 6-power scope in place, came a little surprise. The rifle barrel was accurate, under an inch at fifty paces, plenty good for an opportunity tool. But hitting aerial targets with the 20ga barrel proved very impractical (read “virtually impossible”) at six-power. That session also revealed a little issue. The buttstock came loose. Turns out that the stock screw was stripped. My buddy Ron made a new one, so testing could continue.

In the mean time the 1.5 - 4.5 Tasco arrived. My thinking went along these lines. This combo would primarily be used as a rifle. Josh would make bagging a deer his priority. The combo would also allow him a crack at birds along the way. The Tasco would therefore be used primarily at the 1.5 setting. If time permitted for a long shot, he could crank her up to 4.5 – same concept as your bread ‘n butter 3-9.

By the way, if you’re looking for a combo that is primary shotgun, you can’t beat a drilling. Of course that means sticker shock. With a single smooth barrel, look for a Tikka. At the (next) gun show in May you could have fetched one up for five bills, 12 ga on top, .222Rem below. Definitely several notches up from a Savage in quality. Good thing that Tikka did not have a larger rifle caliber. I would have been very tempted. Then news came from Remington, that they market combos. It is basically the old Baikal design.

Gerhard tried his hand with the Savage Model
24V at the Buckhunter’s Challenge shoot
Sure enough, buddy Mike found one standing in the rack at Randall’s Firearms. I swung by there to check it out. If anything, at least their exterior finishes seemed to have improved. I found it to be handy, near-perfect stock fit, quite a tool. Almost bought it, too, because it was in 12 gauge 3” and .308 Winchester. But even I found some common sense, and left the beast at Randall’s.

Talk about kids, they don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore! Spoiled, that’s what they are. Josh came by to visit briefly during Summer break. He did not like that Savage too much. OK, he does know what the Blaser is and what it offers, and he did have some practical points. That barrel selector on top of the hammer bothered him the most. He doubted, knowing that he doesn’t have the time to practice much, that he could get used to switching that thing back to shotgun ‘as game was flushing’. Combining that with cocking the hammer and aiming through the scope drove the outfit way too far into the compromising category for him.

But hey, I already had this rig, and some ammo loaded, so why not test it? Exactly that happened during and after our Buckhunter’s Challenge event. I tried the 30-30 at long-range deer targets. Even when loaded with pointed bullets the 30-30 is not the right medicine for stuff that stands between 230 and 300 yards. On top of that, I fired mostly offhand. However, against my expectations I hit every one of the targets, just not in the kill zone. To me it did show that this rig could be taken after deer where distances are reasonable. The Savage combo is a very reasonable rifle.

But what about the shotgun? Dan, Mike and I stayed after the shoot to find some answers. Now there were three combos for testing because Dan threw his Savage .223 Rem over 12 gauge into the mix. Not to give the 12 gauges an inherent advantage, I had loaded shells with only 7/8 ounce of 7-1/2s. Ben helped us, launching all the clays, while we swapped guns trying to shatter them. There was always a second shooter, but we only scored if the second shooter had a whole bird to shoot at, or a piece was broken. Here are our results:

  Dan Mike Gerhard
Blaser Scoped
 
1 of 2
50%
5 of 7
72%
Blaser Open Sights
1 of 3
33%
 
3 of 5
60%
Savage 12ga Scoped
1 of 3
33%
 
3 of 4
75%
Savage 12ga Open Sights
3 of 9
33%
2 of 3
67%
 
Savage 20ga Scoped
7 of 11
64%
6 of 13
46%
4 of 7
57%
Savage 20ga Open Sights
4 of 5
80%
4 of 7
57%
2 of 2
100%

My own observations – a scope setting of 1.5 clearly allowed me to find the clay bird quickly due to the increased field of view. Next was the 3 power on my Blaser, and most difficult was the 4 power on Dan’s combo. Not too surprising. What also helped was the reticle in the 1.5 to 4.5 Tasco. Its circle around the crosshairs seemed to help the decision to pull the trigger, what I call the ‘close enough’ phenomenon. Dan did not shoot the scoped Blaser, but clearly favored that reticle in the Tasco for clays. Mike did not say much, but decided to get the Savage from me anyway.

So, yes, a low power scope on a combo allows aerial hits from the shotgun barrel. Just not quite as reliably as with open sights, and even here the combos did not seem to perform as predictably as a regular over/under shotgun, or your favorite pump or auto. A combo remains a compromise. Possibly practice would close that gap.

There’s another thing, a mind issue. I would call that the combo mentality. That is, I have the presence of mind that I indeed have two different barrels at my disposal. Since my primary shotgun is an over/under, where the lower barrel is constricted to modified, and the upper to full choke, I am used to selecting the forward trigger for modified, and the rear for full. Plus, I have hunted with both that Laurona and the Blaser (where the forward trigger fires the rifle, and the rear fires the shotgun) for over twenty years now. Trigger selection has become ‘second nature’. Dan and Mike have no such ‘training’. Dan would not even wait to cock the hammer until the clay was in the air, whereas I for all shots cocked after launching, simulating more of a hunting scenario, where I do not compress the firing pin spring on the Blaser until game is in the air.

But back to Josh’s concern…what happens if the selector on the Savage is set for rifle when the pheasant flushes? I tried that, cocking the hammer after yelling ‘pull’, then switching to shotgun, then shouldering and finding the clay in the scope. He was right, way too much to remember, way too much to do. The Savage design actually makes it easier to switch from shotgun to rifle. But then, when a deer presents a shot, will he have the frame of mind, the ‘combo mentality’ to select the rifle barrel before squeezing the trigger?

Bottom Line: The scope is clearly a handicap when using a combo in classic shotgun fashion. But it is not a detriment, and with more testing should not scare anyone. Tasco’s Pro-Shot reticle impressed here. The Savage would delight for scenarios such as turkey hunting, where the hunter is primarily stationary or has some time to make a barrel selection. When using a combo on a fur and feather ‘flush’ hunt (read Montana river bottom), two triggers seem a must. Maybe I need to get back to Randall’s after all.

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