Live Bird Gun — if you collect double-barrel shotguns, those three words can cost you plenty. There seems to be something special about doubles made for pigeon shooting–something that collectors like and sellers love. That’s why true pigeon guns command premium prices. It’s also why dealers are quick to label any side-by-side or over/under with certain features a Live Bird Gun.
To see what I mean, check out this 20 gauge Parker DHE. It’s a nice 20g–with no safety. A missing safety is supposed to be a rubber stamp that certifies a double as a “Live Bird Gun.” But while plenty of pigeon guns lack safeties, not all of them do, and a missing safety does not mean a double was made for pigeons. So in this Parker’s case, are we looking at a true pigeon gun? I doubt it.
My first objection is to the gauge – 20. Live pigeon shooting is a competitive sport. It’s expensive to participate in. To succeed, you must down your bird in a set area (the ring). To do this effectively, you would want to put as much lead as possible on your target (shooters are limited to 1 1/4 oz. loads). While there are handicapped advantages for 14 & 16 gauges, there are none for 20s. So there’s no benefit to shooting live pigeons with a 20g. In a game where money rides on every pull of the trigger, zero advantage equals zero reason.
Also, this Parker is a light gun (it’s on an O frame) with a longish stock (14 3/8″ LOP) and 28″ barrels. Whoever ordered it was not a small person (DH-grade Parkers were custom guns). Instead, this shooter were probably a bit bigger than average and they wanted a light-weight gun. But if you were shooting pigeons with a 20g, you would push the heaviest load possible through the gun–probably an ounce. To make the double comfortable to shoot, the gun would have to be much heavier than this one.
Finally, there’s the single trigger. Back when single triggers were less than 100% reliable, pigeon shooters tended to avoid them. Misfires and malfunctions count as balks–or missed birds–in the pigeon ring. And when a missed bird can cost you $1000+, you do everything possible to avoid them. That’s why pigeon shooters used to insist upon double triggers.
So why is this gun missing a safety? Not everyone liked them, that’s why. Charles Askins and Nash Buckingham had shotgun made without them (Bo Whoop didn’t have a safety), as did many other shooters. I’ve seen enough safety-less 20 gauge guns to think that it was common for people to order them without it.
My guess it that this Parker was made as a gentleman’s quail gun. The owner probably shot on plantations over pointers and the gun spend most of its time in a case or scabbard. It would have been removed when the dogs were on point and loaded after it’s owner was ready to shoot and waiting for the flush. Whatever the case, I doubt it saw any time in a pigeon ring.