Gun Review: Stevens 311A Shotgun

[ I am pleased to present this guest post was written by Bill Rushmore. Bill blogs over at The Quarterdeck Log. Bill also wrote the guest blog post The Beretta Folding Shotgun]

Earlier this year I decided I wanted get involved with shooting the shotgun sports. My sportsman’s club had a monthly informal trap shoot which got me hooked. On my last guest post I blogged about the only shotgun I owned at the time. My sportsman’s club shot doubles so a single shot was going to cut it. I really needed something that could at least fire two shots. The problem was I didn’t have the money to spend on a sporting shotgun or really know what kind of shotgun I wanted anyway. As a stop gap I dug out from my Dad’s basement my late grandfather’s double barrel.

That shotgun of my grandfather’s was a Stevens 311A in 16 gauge built in 1951. A true classic American side by side and quite popular, since back then a side by side was the shotgun for the common man. The 311A was just one example of a family of double barrels that Stevens made from 1877 to 1988. It’s what is consider a “utility grade” shotgun. So it is very simple with no checker or engraving and a trigger for each barrel.

This particular shotgun sat for decades right next to my grandparents back door to protect the garden, the chicken coop, or the home from two or four legged thieves. It saw little (if any to be honest) maintenance. So when I rescued it from my dad’s basement I was a little concerned if it would actually work. The finish on the stock was completely shot but the there was only some minor rust on the barrels with only some very minor pitting in one small spot. Some Hoppe’s No. 9 and it was back in business and in good working order. It was quite a surprise really, a testament to Stevens quality from the 1950′s.

To be honest I wasn’t really all that excited about the double barrel at first. It wasn’t because it wasn’t a true trap gun. The trap shots at my sportsman’s club are pretty informal and about 90% of the participants use Remington 11-87′s. But come on, a double is Elmer Fudd’s gun or what farmers shot rock salt at trespassers with right? Plus I was concerned about fumbling with two triggers or dealing with lopsided recoil. But my fears were unfounded. That old shotgun shots real nice. Although selective triggers would be better the double triggers are quite natural when it comes to follow up shots. I am still just a beginner so I doubt it matters if would use a dedicated sporting shotgun or this until I get the hang of shooting clays. I am also now a fan of the 16 gauge. At one point it looked like this guage was on the endanger species list but I think it is here to stay for the time being. I found the recoil not bad yet it still gives a decent punch in a light weight gun.

After a few trap secessions I grew attached to my grandfather’s old double so I figured I would try to bring it back to life. I am certainly no expert gunsmith but I figured it would be hard to make it worse that it was so. So I picked up a blueing and stock finishing from Birchwood Casey at the local sporting good store. The kits come with detailed instructions. Anyone who passed wood and metal shop in school has the prerequisite skills (i.e. its pretty easy.) Since this the first time I did anything like this there are a few details that aren’t perfect but at arms length it looks like a new shotgun. My intent wasn’t to restore it back to its original condition so it could be hung up on the wall as a decoration but it bring it back to life for use in the field. What better way to honor my grandfather’s memory than to enjoy his old shotgun hunting with my dad and my sons like generations have been before us.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • I did something very similar after being invited to join a local gun clubs weekly trap league this last spring. For the first few weeks I shot a borrowed shotgun but then the Chantilly “Nations Gun Show” came around and I found a new, in the box, Savage 311 in a private sale.

    The seller told me that his father had been a dealer but had passed away in the late 1990s. He and his sister moved the remaining sporting weapons to a storage facility and just kept them as is until the financial crises made them decide to sell them this year. My good luck.

    I paid $450.00 for the shotgun and research indicates that it was manufactured in 1983. It still had the factory grease and was in the factory box. It took forever to clean but in the end I was left with an outstanding double barrel that would do for trap and hunting.

    I did have a spring break after about 400 rounds. It took a local Virginia gunsmith about a week to repair and it’s been perfect since. Truth be told, it shoots better than it’s 60-year old owner.

    Papa Bill

  • Erich Martell

    I really enjoyed this read and the pictures. Gave me a nice, happy feeling – I sure hope the 16-ga Stevens stays in your family for centuries to come.

  • Yes!

    My first experience with a shotgun was the 311.

    30 years later, I brought one at auction for a song, as steel shot had just been made mandatory for gamebird (which I don’t bother with)

    The left-hand barrel would often not fire, but this was fixed by stripping- sure enough it had many years of oil and crud binding up the lock. Not the first time I have got a bargin buying a ‘sometimes working’ gun!

  • I enjoyed both of your gun post Bill. Years back my girlfriend (now wife) and her (now our) son joined me in Cowboy Action Shooting. I had a russian built 12 gauge double barrel with exposed hammers but we needed another shotgun. Matt and Helene found stevens double like this one 12 Gauge. It may have been a 311 but it lives at Matts house these days and I’m not sure of the model number.
    It was heaver than mine, which helped with recoil, and the internal hammers ment it was faster on the stages when reloading two or three times under the clock. The beastie is built like an anvil and extremely reliable.
    The two trigger system is so natural I have never had a new shooter experience difficulty making friends with it. As for follow up shots, I don’t think there is a better system than double barrels for two quick, aimed shots be it shotgun or rifle.
    Both Matt and I have various modern shotguns but when hunting for Ducks or Geese I still show up with my double barrel russian with exposed hammers, and Matt has his Stevens Double.

  • Pedro

    There is something special about shooting an old gun that was once owned by a family member from a generation or two back.

    In today’s throw away society, good honest blue steel and walnut stands out, and having that connection to another family member adds to the mystique.

    Treasure that gun, Bill. It will live on for generations more. Might not be worth a great deal of money, but has a priceless history.

  • A long time ago and in another part of the world, I owned a Savage-Stevens SxS 12 ga shotgun which is still registered in my name. It accounted for over 200 pigs shot with ball and countless more shots at inanimate targets when I was bored. And when I moved to the USA, the gun was as tight as it had been the day I bought it. Somehow, they made things to last in the old days unlike now – call me an old fart if you like, but this is why I prefer a mint Browning A-5 made in 1956 for hunting these days and not the latest whizz-bang Benelli or Remington semi auto. The Savage-Stevens were poor mens’ guns and if they were built as well as mine was, you can appreciate how well the more expensive guns built in the old days were.

    PS – Double triggers can be as easy to use as single selective ones. Just takes practice and there should be some fun in shooting a few rounds of clays at a club to get the hang of shooting with them.

  • William

    It was great to read about the Stevens 311’s I recently inherited one from my father, though he had many guns (some more valuable than the 311) the old side by side was the only one I wanted, it was “Dad’s gun” the one he always carried when he taught me how to hunt and how to be a true sportsman.
    I had intended to retire the ol 16 gauge even though it’s still in great shape (dad bought it new in the mid 50’s) I want it to stay just like it was the last time dad carried it.
    However, reading your blog I’m starting to think that it may be more of a tribute to my dad to carry on with the old gun, would he want me to lock it away in my gun safe only to be brought out from time to time to admire the American craftmanship that went into this fine gun, or would he rather I carried it in the woods and use it the way it was meant to be used, the way he taught me to use it.
    It’s a beautiful, reliable gun and makes a perfect argument for those who think that the more a gun cost the better it is, in some cases they have a point but when it comes to the 311 I don’t know what more they could ask for (unless their just wanting something pretty to look at with fine engraving etc.) if your looking for a fine qual or rabbit gun, this is as good as any out there

  • james paul

    I failed to check the box below – “notify me of followup comments via email.”
    I accidentally submitted my post about 10 minutes ago before I had edited it.
    I would appreciate being notified if anyone responds to my comments about my dad’s Stevens double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. It still has sentimental value to me.

  • William M Durham

    I have a pair of these weapons, one 12 and 1 20 ga. Love them both, saving for my grandkids