How long do you think double barrel shotguns served with police forces? The first successful pump gun was the Winchester 1897, which came out before sliced bread. What if I told you it was the mid to late 1990s? You might say, well, it was probably a backwater Sheriff’s department with four employees. What if I told you I’m talking about the NYPD? Yep, one of the world’s biggest, most expensive police forces in the world issued and qualified with the classic Savage 311.
I could say Savage-Stevens 311. Savage purchased Stevens in 1920. They continued to make their boxlock shotguns under several names. Most of the world seems content to call them the Savage 311. This shotgun was a robust, working man’s gun that was popular. They last forever. I have a Springfield marked variant from 1975, and it still goes bang without issue.
The NYPD famously issued the Ithaca 37 shotguns with patrol units, ESU, and of course, the Stakeout Squad. Their detectives and Narcotics division cops carried the Savage 311 for decades beyond the adoption of the repeating shotgun. Specifically for serving high-risk warrants. Their specific models featured 18.25-inch barrels and bead sights, so they are as simple as they get.
The Savage 311 Benefits
In a time where the pump action ruled and typically carried four to five rounds, why would anyone choose a double barrel shotgun? I’ve thought of a few benefits the Savage 311 could offer. I’m not saying these are the reason why the NYPD adopted the gun, just benefits.
These double barrel guns were fairly easy to take apart and stashed in a fairly small bag without gathering attention. They could be taken down with ease and put together prior to getting involved in social work.
Two barrels did mean you could use a wide variety of ammo without difficulty. You could even run a slug in one barrel and buckshot in another. The Savage 311 guns were also very robust and reliable. So were plenty of pump shotguns of the era.
The Sad Truth
In researching this article, I found a few interesting things. First was an old post from Pat Rogers. He stated they were used for so long that because the NYPD higher-ups didn’t think that the Detectives could efficiently use a pump action shotgun. In Tales From The Stakeout Squad, Jim Cirillo also seems to believe detectives couldn’t operate a shotgun.
Jim tells the story of two detectives who borrowed two Ithaca 37s. They couldn’t figure out how to unload the guns, so they went to a field and fired them.
Jim would later state, “That’s why when we were training detectives, we used to train them with double barrel shotguns, they were so much simpler for them to use.”
It seems like the NYPD didn’t do much to train their detectives on the proper use of a proper shotgun. I don’t believe NYPD detectives were stupid. I believe they were poorly trained. If you aren’t trained in how to use a weapon, how could you expect to use it? Supposedly the NYPD required an LT to take out the Savage 311 shotguns, so they were rarely used.
The Last Coach Guns
One of the few photos that seem to exist regarding NYPD detectives using these guns comes from Massad Ayoob and his book Stressfire 2. He has a line of detectives wearing eyes and ears training with the old Savage 311 shotguns. Double barrel shotguns will always be cool, but they were most certainly used well past their sell-by date. Even so, a shotgun is a fairly simple weapon, and in gunfights, it’s rare that the scattergun has to bark more than a few times.
Much like the Model 10 revolver, the NYPD held onto the Savage 311 shotguns for a long time. It’s a shame New York and the NYPD hate guns so much. I’d love to pick up one of these old double barrels on the secondary market. We live in the age of the carbine and have for decades, so it’s surprising to see that the old coach gun stuck around for so long.