German Shotguns

By Larry B. Schuknecht

In Germany the word “Flinte” means a shotgun. The source of this goes back to the French word “Fusil” which has two meanings 1. As steel or tinderbox and 2. applied to firearms it means both a lock that includes a steel therefore a snaphance as well as a flintlock, and furthermore, the entire weapon ( a smoothbore long gun). From this double meaning for Fusil the Germans used the word Flint to define the smooth bore long gun or what is today’s shotgun. (source- The Flintlock: its origin and development  by Torsten Lenk.

By Dietrich Apel

German side-by-side Shotguns date back to matchlock, flintlock and percussion gun days. But they really became the choice of the hunter with the arrival of breech loading guns. First came the needle fire guns, then the Lefaucheux guns with pin fire ammunition, followed shortly by Dreyse needle fire ammunition and finally center fire ammunition. The influence of English and French gun makers was very strong and English side-by-side shotguns are even today the guns by which all others are measured.It is an odd fact that the German gun makers adopted the Anson & Deely and the Greener design and still use it today. Most German shotguns are box lock guns where the firing mechanism is contained inside the action, not on a plate as on a side lock gun. Where English makers favored the side lock gun as the ultimate design, German gun makers added safety features to box lock guns that were as good as the interceptor sears in an English side lock gun.

Whereas German guns are often heavier and bulkier than light English guns, it was the Prussian Daly Gun that was just as light, slim and well balanced. These guns were built to order for the New York importer and gun dealer Charles Daly during a time when Suhl belonged to Prussia. They were made by the smaller gun maker Lindner, and also by J.P. Sauer & Son and a few others. They are now the most desirable German side-by-side shotguns.

But every gun maker in Suhl made shotguns in various models and designs, including side lock guns. Many of them are highly engraved and very attractive and come with automatic ejectors and some of them with single triggers. Better guns usually have buffalo horn trigger guards and horn butt plates.

Most German over & under shotguns have the Kersten bolting mechanism, also called double Greener, where a cross bolt engages two barrel extensions. Gustav Kersten, a German inventor and gunsmith, who convinced the Gebrüder Merkel Company in Suhl to use his design, invented this mechanism. It has been used ever since and Merkel shotguns are known the world over.

Merkel is the only major company in Suhl that survived World War II, Russian occupation and a Communist government. The company was temporarily owned the Austrian Steyr Company and by Heckler & Koch.

The company is now owned by Caracal GmbH in the United Arab Emirates operating from Suhl in Thuringia for the European market. Caracal GmbH is a subsidiary of the German hunting rifle and shotgun manufacturer Merkel GmbH which was acquired by Caracal International L.L.C. in 2007. In 2012, Caracal has open a subsidary in the United States, Caracal USA. Merkel guns, now including a bolt action rifles, are well made and available in the United States.

A few words of advice to those who have an older German shotgun or combination gun:        

The proof marks will tell you whether the gun was nitro proofed for smokeless powder. When in doubt, have it checked out by a reputable gunsmith.

Most of the earlier German guns had a shotgun chamber length of 2 9/16”.  Lengthening them for modern 2 ¾” shells can be done; however, in Europe your gun would have to go to a proof house after the chambers have been lengthened. A competent gunsmith can measure the wall thickness of the barrels and advise you. But you must accept the liability should something go wrong.

The chokes in older German shotguns, Drillings  or combination guns are many times very tight and this can cause bulging of the barrels right behind the chokes when used with modern shells. Having the chokes opened up is advisable and will not devalue your gun if done properly.

Dents and bulges in your shotgun bores need your attention. A skilled gunsmith can raise most dents and, if he can hone the bores, you will never know they were there when looking through the bores. On the outside, hand striking, polishing and rebluing will be required. Bulges can hardly ever be removed successfully.

Barrel rebluing on multi barrel guns must be done by the rust method. Hot bluing will eat out the solder that holds the barrels and ribs together and will lead to expensive repairs later.

Damascus barrels require your serious consideration. We suggest that you read the article about barrel steel and barrel sleeving. You can consider the use of black powder shells, your own light load shells, available 2 ½” shells, a chamber insert or an insert barrel for use with a smaller gauge. The last two options are safe and can give you the pleasure of shooting an older gun without having to worry, even if it proves a bit cumbersome.

The right stock dimensions are so very important for good shotgun shooting. A qualified gunsmith can alter your stock to give you the proper length of pull, a good pad as well as the right pitch, drop and cast. In most cases a qualified gunsmith can bend your stock successfully.

German Bolt Action Hunting Rifles

A 98 square bridge Mauser with an octagon barrel, coutesy Johann Springer’s Erban
A Mannlicher-Schönauer Model GK Stutzen or full stock rifle photo coutesy Johann Springer’s Erban

By Dietrich Apel

As good bolt actions came on the market late in the 19th century, many German makers used them for hunting and sporting rifles, mostly the Mauser 98 ction, some Mannlicher-Schoenauer actions and in the early years the 88 Commission Rifle action and the Haenel action. Although they were not nearly so popular as the break-open hunting guns, most companies made them. The original Mauser Sporting Rifles made in the Mauser factory are the only ones that achieved known collector’s status as a group when in original condition as delivered from the factory.

The desirability of all the others depends on who made the rifle, how well it is made, the grade of the wood and the engraving. All of the major gun makers like Sauer and Krieghoff listed at least one model in their catalog, but many a small gunsmith or dealer also made them.

Many of the names that can be found on these rifles are not known to us and often can’t be identified. Laws and guild regulations specified that any gun business had to be owned or managed by a master gunsmith or had to employ a master gunsmith. This gave most small businesses the capability to build these sporting rifles in their own shops. We can, however, never be sure that the name on the rifle is that of a maker because it was also the custom that a dealer or gun shop would order a rifle from the bigger factory and have it engraved with the small gunsmith’s name.

Most of these rifles are very slim in comparison to American factory rifles. The action was usually fitted with a double set-trigger and a floor plate release lever that looked similar to the top lever on break-open guns. The bolt handle is usually converted to a Mannlicher-style spoon handle. They usually have an octagon/round barrel with a full-length integral top rib with a front bead and the standing open rear sight.

The stock is usually very slim, has a pistol grip with a grip cap or a round knob shape and a very slim, egg-shaped cheek piece. The front end of the stock is typically shaped like a beak and called a “Schnabel” the German word for beak.  The checkering is usually functional.

Many times the scope, which was originally mounted on the rifle, is no longer with it. Most of the scopes were mounted with the German claw mount, a very good mount when properly done. Such a mount has two bases, each with two rectangular openings and one of them with a spring loaded locking slide. To fit new rings and mount a new scope requires the help of a gunsmith who knows how to fit new rings to the bases. This could cost over $450.00 plus the price of the scope. If somebody quotes a much lower price, beware! A claw mount is only as good as the gunsmith who fits it.

The quality of the wood, the checkering, the engraving and the carving can vary a great deal. Most German guns, even the basic models, have some engraving. The quality of the work is what counts. Restyled military rifles can be good, usable rifles but do not have any collector’s value.

If in doubt about the caliber, have a gunsmith check it out. Many of these rifles were made for the old 8×57 military cartridge, also designated8x57J and have a .318” bore. Later versions have a .323” bore and are designated 8x57S. American ammunition marked 8 mm Mauser can be shot through both bores but may not achieve the ultimate result in the .323” bore. European makers have different loads for the two bore diameters and the re-loader can buy bullets in both diameters.

A note of caution for those who are not familiar with a set-trigger, also called hair trigger. On rifles with two triggers you pull back the rear trigger to set the hair trigger. On other rifles you can push the single trigger forward to set it. In both cases the let-off is very light and can be dangerous when not properly handled. The trigger should only be set when you are sure that you will shoot and must be uncocked if you are not able to shoot. Modern adjustable set-triggers for bolt-action rifles have a built in uncocking feature never found on older rifles.

You may also find that the trigger pull is very hard when not set. This is a built in problem and a safety feature that can be improved but never totally remedied by a good gunsmith.

Post WW-II German Bolt Action Rifles were strongly influenced by the American occupation troops, who were the only ones in the years after the end of the war who were allowed to own such rifles. Many were built on surplus military actions, using surplus military barrels. Weatherby gun stock  styling was very popular in those days. The Wiesbaden Rod & Gun Club and the Ramstein Rod & Gun Club, both of the American Airforce, were centers of this activity. Many of them were engraved and had stock inlays.

It was amazing what a carton of cigarettes could be traded for in those years.

Members of the American Custom Gunmakers Guild have elevated bolt action rifles to a very high quality standard and still prefer the Mauser 98 actions. They are quite capable to make a fine rifle to your specification, including one in the German tradition.

Books available from the GGCA:

Mauser: Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles

Mauser Bolt Rifles          Mauser Smallbores

Argentine Mauser Rifles


German Double Rifles

By Dietrich Apel

There is no other hunting rifle that allows you to fire a second shot quickly and without lowering the gun. This is a great advantage for the serious hunter, but most important to those who hunt dangerous charging game. It could be a matter of life or death.

Why are Double Rifles and Double Rifle Drillings so much more expensive? First, they take more time to make and to regulate so that both rifle barrels shoot into the same group at a given distance. Also, the ammunition used for regulation and sighting-in is often quite expensive. Regulating the older double rifles to perfection borders on art and requires a great amount of patience. The reason for this is the fact that soft-soldered barrel ribs hold the barrels on the traditional older guns together. When one barrel is fired and heats up, it expands, creating stress and a slight bend in the barrel assembly. Proper regulation allows for this, but best results not only depend on the ability of the shooter, but also on shooting the second barrel within five to ten seconds off-hand, not rested on a sand bag.

Regulation is done by heating up the front end of the barrel assembly until the solder starts flowing, then moving the rifle barrel position in relationship to the second or third barrel. This takes a lot of time because the barrels must cool off completely between shots. Sighting in requires great skill and sometimes a lot of ammunition. To get best results, the owner of a gun must use the same ammunition that was used for regulation — even from the same batch of ammunition for best results.

As a rule of thumb with double rifles, ammunition with lighter bullets or higher velocities will generally move the points of impact of the two barrels closer together or even make the barrels ‘cross’; that is, the right barrel might actually print to the left of the left barrel.  Heavier bullets or lower velocities will tend to make the two barrels shoot ‘wide’.  Even the bullet shape can affect points of impact with double rifles.  For an excellent book on double rifle shooting, loads and lore, see Graeme Wright’s book Shooting the British Double Rifle, ISBN 0-949749-40-0.

All owners of Drillings, Combination Guns and Double Rifles must accept, that as a rule the rifle barrels will not shoot the same tight groups that are possible with a bolt action or single barrel rifle and that the point of impact will change as the rifle barrel heats up after one or more shots.

Most modern German double rifles and combination guns are now equipped with a regulating mechanism at the muzzle and some have floating barrels that can expand as they get hot, a very definite improvement over over the old traditional guns.

The modern Krieghoff Double Rifles and Double Rifle Drillings are very popular because they have a hand-cocking mechanism that allows the carrying of a loaded gun without ever making an accidental discharge possible. Their Double Rifle Drilling with a shotgun slug in the third barrel is perhaps the most effective gun for use on dangerous charging game.

German Combination Hunting Guns

A Bockbüchsflinte or over under rifle/shotgun made by Johann Springer’s Erban in Vienna. It is 5.6 x 52R and 20 ga.
A Simson side by side three barrel set, one is double rifle, one rifle and shotgun and the third is a double shotgun.

By Dietrich Apel

Although the traditional Drilling with two shotgun barrels next to each other on top and a rifle barrel underneath cradled in the middle, is by far the most popular combination gun among many other variations that are available. All of them are proof of the ingenuity of the gun makers and the goal to make a gun slimmer, lighter in weight or more unique.

The two barrel combination gun has the advantage that it is much slimmer and lighter in weight and that a third firing mechanism or a selector are not needed, making the gun less complicated and cheaper to produce.

The over and under combination gun is perhaps the most popular among the various barrel configurations because it is very slim.

The side-by-side combination guns, also called cape guns, are more traditional and give the shooter who is used to a side-by-side shotgun a similar sighting plane as the one he got used to on his shotgun.

German Drillings and Vierlings

A drilling with side by side shotgun barrels and a rifle barrel underneath with a side lock action.

Image courtesy of the German Gun Collectors Assoc. from their 2014 Calendar 

By Dietrich Apel

(Three and four barrel guns)
The German word “Drilling” means “triplet”, and “Vierling” means quadruplet. That’s what guns with three or four barrels are called in Germany and Austria where they are most popular.

Guns with multiple barrels date back hundreds of years, but only the invention of breech loading guns and of center fire ammunition in the 19th century made these guns practical and very popular.

Let’s look at the Drillings first. The earliest versions had opening levers under the trigger guard and outside hammers. Hammerless box lock and side lock guns that could be opened with top levers followed and are still made today.

Hunting traditions and conditions in Central Europe made the Drilling the highly valued preferred gun of the professional foresters and serious hunters. Overlapping hunting seasons make it very desirable to have a shotgun and a rifle available at all times. In addition, the hunter can carry a barrel in a small caliber like .22 long rifle, which can be inserted, into one of the shotgun barrels.

Since most Drillings have only two triggers to fire three barrels, they are equipped with a selector that allows the front trigger to fire the right shotgun barrel and the rifle barrel. Early hammer guns have a small lever on the top tang for selecting the barrel to be used. On later guns the selector can be on top of the grip or next to the triggers. More advanced guns have separate hand cocking levers or cocking slides for the rifle barrel. They also have rear sights that automatically elevate when the rifle barrel is selected.

Another feature that most Drillings have is a set mrchanism that converts the front trigger to a hair trigger when it is pushed forward and set. This feature allows the hunter to fire a rifle shot without flinching but its sensitivity can lead to an accidental discharge if not handled with care. On guns with built in set-triggers a small adjustment screw protrudes from the front trigger.

Most of the older Drillings have two 16 Ga. shotgun barrels with

2 9/16 inch long chambers and very tight chokes. It might be advisable to have the chambers lengthened to 2 ¾” and the chokes opened up for use with modern shells that now have shot cups.

A great variety of rifle calibers existed at the time, most of them obsolete and less powerful than today’s cartridges. For two popular calibers, the 9.3x72R and the 8x57JR, factory ammunition is still available. Most other calibers have to be re-manufactured by a competent person with reloading experience.

Before using one of these early guns, it would be prudent to familiarize yourself with all of its mechanical features and have it inspected, measured and cleaned by a competent gunsmith. In About the Guns- Gun Components you can find information that will help you to better understand the mechanisms that are used in your gun.

Early guns were built for use with black powder. Ammunition of the period was much less powerful than modern ammunition and the barrels were not as strong as today’s barrels. Proof marks must be correctly interpreted. Modern guns are all nitro-proofed for use with smokeless powder. When in doubt, always err on the safe side, especially when the barrels are made of Damascus steel. Short of having your gun re-proofed in a European proof house, a costly and time consuming effort, the risk is yours when you shoot the gun.

Some of these guns have scope mount bases but the scope is no longer with the gun. Most of the bases are for the German claw mount that must always be hand fitted. This mount is very good when it is properly fitted, but it takes a competent gunsmith and quite a bit of time to do the job right. When done in a professional way, it will enhance the value of your gun. Information on scopes and mounts can also be found in About the Guns-Gun Components

Three-barrel shotguns gave the shooter more fire power in the days of plentiful game without bag limits.

Vierlings are much more expensive and for that reason, not as many can be found in the market place. The fourth barrel on most Vierlings is for a small bore caliber like the 22 LR and the 22 Hornet. This barrel is often located in the elevated top rib and the gun is called Schienen Drilling. Heavier caliber fourth barrels are usually located above the other rifle barrel, cradled between the shotgun barrels. This gives the gun a higher contour.

The mechanism on Vierlings is quite complicated and crowded, and these guns are quite a bit heavier than the Drilling. The Vierlings with aluminum actions are lighter in weight and but more expensive. By using modern high grade steel for the action it could be made slimmer and the difference in weight is minimal

German Hammer Drillings

A Peter Oberhammer of Munich three barrel/Drilling rifle

(three barrel gun)

By Dietrich Apel

Drilling is the German word triplet. The development of breech loading center fire guns made it possible and practical to make guns with three barrels.

Although Drillings were made in quite a few countries, they were and are still most popular in Germany and Austria. Overlapping hunting seasons give the hunters and foresters a versatile gun for hunting a great variety of game animals with one gun.

The first really practical Drillings came on the market in the second half of the 19th. Century and were breech loading hammer guns. They were made in gun making centers like Suhl and Zella-Mehlis in Germany, Liege in Belgium and Ferlach in Austria. But they were also made by many small gun makers all over Europe. Their quality and their prices varied greatly, and many times the actual maker can’t be identified because many guns are marked with the dealer’s name or not at all. Hammer Drillings were popular well into the 1930s and are still made on special order.

Most of these guns had two 16 Ga. shotgun barrels with 2 9/16” long chambers and the 9.3x72R rifle caliber. Factory ammunition is still available.

They usually have a built in set-trigger for the rifle barrel. A small adjustment screw protrudes from the front trigger and the trigger can be set as a hair trigger by pushing it forward.

Early guns have a locking lever under the trigger guard, later models a top lever.  Very early guns have the locking lever under the forend (Lefaucheux action). The front trigger fires the right shotgun barrel or, when selected, the rifle barrel. The selector is operated by a small lever on the top tang or a slide button on the top tang that looks like a safety. On better guns the rear sight is automatically elevated when the rifle barrel is selected.

Since these guns date back to a time when cartridges had much lower pressures than modern ones and proof laws did not yet exist, great care must be taken in determining whether a gun is safe to shoot and what ammunition is suitable for it. Unless you feel qualified, inspection by a good gunsmith is advisable.

The steel used for the barrels on early guns or very inexpensive guns did not have the strength of the barrel steel used today. Damascus steel barrels demand extra caution. Although good Damascus steel can be as strong as fluid steel, there is no test other than proof testing for knowing the difference.

The shotgun chamber length must be measured and light load 2 ½” shells may have to be used. If the rifle caliber is not obvious, a chamber cast should be made and measured in order to determine the caliber accurately. Chamber inserts for the use of smaller gage shells and re-manufactured rifle ammunition can make it possible to shoot and enjoy the use of these old guns, but in some cases it is too risky. In Europe a gun like this would have to go back to a proof house but, since we don’t have proof houses in this country, the liability is yours. Play it safe! A hammer gun is not necessarily safer to carry than a hammerless gun, especially when the back action locks do not have rebounding hammers with half cock or safety notches.

German Single Shot Rifles

By Dietrich Apel

Nr.10 Schilling 4

Pirschbüchse Bergstutzen

Stalking Rifle – Mountain Rifle

Not too many German single shot hunting rifles can be found because most serious hunters had owned either a Drilling, a Combination Gun or a bolt action Sporting Rifle. But there were those who felt that they shy needed only one shot, and they were the ones who were attracted to the rifles with Anson & Deeley type actions or the falling block actions that were so widely used for target rifles. Some of the target rifle actions were also used for hunting rifles, and Joerg Schilling in Zella-Mehlis still builds hunting rifles on the well known Buechl action But two actions come to mind that were designed specifically for hunting rifles.

6-Heeren Action-7-a named after its inventor who  patented it in 1881 has been used by various gun makers in Germany and other European countries, among them Greifelt in Suhl, Nagel & Menz in Strassburg, Steigleder in Berlin and Blaser in Switzerland. Hartmann & Weiss in Hamburg, Germany still produces Heeren actions today and uses them for some of their excellent rifles. An article about one of these rifles in Journal Nr.29 of the GGCA can be found in our archive by clicking on the words above that are blue and underlined


6-Hagn Action-7-b was designed by Martin Hagn in cooperation with Hartmann & Weiss who produce the action, use it for their own rifles but also for Martin Hagn who now has his own gun shop in Cranbrook, Canada. An article about Martin Hagn and Hartmann & Weiss can be found in our archive by clicking on the words above that are blue and underlined.


6-Single Shot Rifles-7-c with Anson & Deeley break-open type actions were made by most gun makers in Germany. Most of them had double set-triggers and half-octagon half-round barrels with full length ribs. They were available in various grades from the plain functional rifles to those that were fully engraved and had fancy stocks. They were used for stalking and as mountain rifles. The word Bergstutzen indicates that the rifle very is light and has a short barrel for use when hunting in high mountains. An article about these rifles can be found in our archive by clicking on the words above that are blue and underlined.


German Garden Guns and Flobert Guns

by Axel Eichendorff

Nr.14 Garden guns (Warnant)

The Gartenflinten (garden guns) were used to shoot small birds, rats, rabbits and varmints around the house. These were made for the trade in countless variations by a “cottage industry” centered on Zella-Mehlis, the rivaling gunmaking center only about 5 miles from Suhl. Nowadays it is impossible to find out who really made a specific gun for whom, as they were ordered by wholesalers through other wholesalers from many individuals like barrel makers, actioners, stockers and so on, who were in turn supplied with the rough forgings by the local wholesalers. Any “model designations or numbers” were attached by the companies who published catalogs, like AKAH, exporters like ALFA or mail order houses like Burgsmueller, Steigleder or Stukenbrok.

These guns could be ordered with several action designs with side push-button like the Stevens tip-up, a push-forward under lever, or a side lever  or turning under lever. They came as single barrel smooth bores, small bore rifles, side by sides and even over and unders. Through the course of history, changing gun legislation and abuse they have become quite rare here in Germany. I have seen only two side-by sides up to now, both combination guns with a smooth bore in 9mm Flobert rimfire and the rifled barrel in 6mm Flobert/.22BB cap nominally. Both the 9mm smooth bore and the 6mm rifles did not legally count as “firearms” up to the 1960s, but the 6mm Flobert rifles are usually chambered quite generously. They usually shoot .22lr’s as if made for them. But they were also made in some center fire calibers, all obsolete now, as you may see on the attached catalog sections.

These guns were quite inexpensive and not as well finished as more expensive guns. They have not achieved collector’s value and should be examined by a qualified gunsmith before they are shot.

Warnant was another inventor whose action design was used on these kind of guns, and so were the  Flobert gun that are named after the inventor.

Nicholas Flobert was a gunmaker in Paris who patented a rim fire cartridge in 1840. Flobert Rifles, Pistols and Ammunition were named after him and were made in a great variety of light and inexpensive guns for rim fire ammunition from a single BB ball to the 22 Caliber Long Rifle and other 6mm, 7mm and 9mm Cartridges, as well as for small gage shotgun shells. These rifles and pistols were very inexpensive and made by various makers, many of them in Zella-Mehlis, a town near Suhl.

Most of these guns did not achieve any collector’s status and can be of poor quality. They are listed in catalogs of mail order houses from the early 1900. Careful inspection by a gunsmith is essential before shooting a gun like this.Nr.15GardenGun

The German Gun Collectors Association offers the following catalog re-prints that list Garden Guns, Flobert Guns and Ammunition:

1920 AKAH catalog

1908 H. Burgsmueller & Sons Catalog,

Steigleder Catalog