A Continental Combination Gun
by SDH
(First Appeared in Shooting Sportsman)

#3. Combo stock- copy
Austrian Johann Peterlongo combination gun

Although some folks think that Drillings—guns with side-by-side shotgun barrels over single rifle barrels—are the epitome of sophistication and practicality, I’ve never cared for them. Drillings often seem overweight and out of balance as double shotguns and either lack the optical sights that would make them viable big-game rifles or have scopes that negate their shotgun component’s practicality.

More to my preference—and for some reason seldom written about—are the over/under combination guns once popular in Europe. Some combination guns have the rifle barrel on top but they are scarce and I can’t remember ever seeing one built that way. I don’t like the side-by-side combination guns because they always seem to lean towards the heavier rifle barrel. Although Drillings continue to be manufactured by some European gunmakers, over/under combo guns are still being made today but seldom seen even as used guns.

The example I’m presenting here is marked on the top rib “Johann Peterlongo, Innsbruck/Tirol” (Innsbruck being the largest city in the Austrian state of Tyrol.) A collector friend who purchased it at auction brought this gun to my shop. He was unsure of the caliber and dropped it off for help identifying the particulars of this intriguing, unusual and obviously high quality mid-European firearm. Because these combination guns are so seldom seen or written about I thought it an interesting subject for a column, it’s obvious quality and shotgun orientation makes it a prime example of the guns I like to present in the Web site called finegunmaking.com.

What I enjoy most about two-barrel combination guns is that they are more dynamic and usually balance like fine shotguns, which also makes the typical iron-sight usage seem much more viable. I hunt big game with a single-shot rifle, and I like my shotguns to handle with some fast-moving dynamics. Few Drillings offer this feel. In fact, during my first several years of hunting I used a single-shot, break-open 20-gauge, and I fondly remember the necessity of making the only shot count.

I’m hard pressed to justify using any rifle/shotgun combination for the hunting I do in Montana. Although rabbit, sage grouse and elk seasons are open at the same time, I quit shooting rabbits decades ago. Besides, I don’t need a particular reason to own a gun other than that I simply like it, as I like this combo gun. It is about as simple as a break-open gun can be, yet it has several special features, sophisticated lockwork and a very high degree of quality craftsmanship throughout.

Johann Peterlongo (1826-1898) founded a gunmaking business in Innsbruck, Austria in 1854. Little is know of the business except the successor was Richard Marholdt who continued gunmaking under his own name (Tiroler Waffenfabrik Peterlongo Richard Mahrholdt & Sohn) until his death in 1947, the firm continuing until the 1970’s. Surviving Johann Peterlongo marked guns are mainly break-open guns with examples of single-shot, O/U rifles and shotguns and combination guns along with side-by-side rifles, drillings and other multi-barreled guns. Peterlongo guns have well deserved reputation for high quality and functionality.
#2. Lock & inlet larger- copy
Fine gunmaking shows in both the lockmaking and the stockmaking.

Starting with the specifications, the 27-3/16” shotgun barrel is 16 gauge with 2-5/8” chambers and .025” of choke constriction, or approximately Full. It has a rather wide, tapered, matte top rib, and there are side ribs between it and the lower rifle barrel. The rifle barrel is 8mm—a true .318” bore—and the muzzles of both barrels are flush. The rib is dovetailed for a rear sight, with one standing and one folding leaf. The front sight is a silver bead, and the breech ends of the barrels have engraved bolsters where they meet the action sides. The gun weighs 6 pounds 6 ounces and balances just ahead of the hinge-pin.

Bolting is with a Purdey-type double underbolt, and unlike many Continental break-open guns, this one does not have a crossbolt. It does have a well-fit doll’s-head rib extension. The barrel lumps are attached to the bottom of the rifle barrel. A conventional toplever actuates the locking bolt.

The external-hammer locks are true back-action locks (with the mainspring and lockplate behind the hammer), inletted flush with the wood and secured with two cross pins (screws)—one about center and one at the tail of the lockplates. The locks are very well made, exhibiting excellent geometry, and are cleanly and precisely inletted into the stock. They are made with a rebounding feature that uses a long mainspring leg contacting the tumblers to raise the hammers from the strikers (firing pins) to engage a half-cock safety notch after firing.

One of the necessary oddities of these guns is that the right lock fires the lower (rifle) barrel via a steeply inclined striker. The left lock’s firing pin is more nearly horizontal. The front set trigger actuates the rifle barrel. Pushing the trigger forward engages the setting mechanism, allowing a hair-, or very light, trigger pull for precise aiming. The rear trigger fires the shotgun barrel in the conventional manner but has the added feature of being spring-loaded to prevent trigger slack or rattle.
#1. Peterlongo Combo- copy
The combination includes a 16 ga. barrel over a 8mm rifle barrel and a folding peep sight cleverly mounted in the tang.

This gun has another special mechanism for accurately shooting the rifle barrel: a sight that folds down flush into a recess in the top tang. This super-cool addition, lifted with the thumbnail at the extreme rear of the tang, pops into an upright position and is held firmly by spring tension.

The gun was built with a dark, reddish walnut stock with strong, even grain. It has a comfortably open pistol grip with a buffalo horn grip cap and a serrated horn buttplate. The stock dimensions are moderate, with 13-5/8” length of pull, 1-1/2” drop at comb and 2-5/8” drop at heel. The stock shows cast-off and toe-out and is comfortable to mount as either a shotgun or looking down the rifle sights. The checkering is about 25 lpi, has well-defined, beveled borders and provides a good gripping surface. The forend is secured with a Deeley-type pull-down latch and has an abbreviated Schnabel-type lip at its front. As with most Continental multi-barreled guns—shotgun, rifle or the various combinations—this one has a small pancake cheekpiece and sling swivels. It has a modest amount of quality engraving, more like finely cut English scroll than what we might consider Germanic.

I am relatively well versed in foreign proof marks and have good reference material, but this gun really threw me. I counted more than a dozen different stampings on the bottom of the rifle barrel, with stamps obliterating stamps on the bottom of the barrels and bolsters, more on the side ribs and even more markings on the inside of the action. I could decipher the German eagle first proof, crown-over-U second proof and inspection, 16 in a circle for the shotgun barrel gauge, and NP for nitro proof. It also has the NPF of the Ferlach, Austria, proof house. I could not find a clear designation for the rifle bore or cartridge or the definitive date of manufacture marking that most German guns display. Believe me, I spent plenty of time trying to decipher the various and sundry marks, which mainly translate into “too much information!”

The complication with this gun is the rifle barrel, and it is a complication that is common to many firearms of this type: It is very difficult to determine the true cartridge that the barrel was chambered for. The gun has an 8mm rifle barrel, but the true bore diameter is .318” and not the .323” common to later 8mm Continental rifles. Even after doing a chamber cast (pouring molten metal into the rifle chamber to cast a facsimile that could be measured), the best guess I could come up with was the obsolete 8x46R (“rimmed”) Sauer cartridge. I have not yet been able to obtain any of these cartridges.
Cartridges of the World, Seventh Edition offers on the 8x46R Sauer: “This obsolete blackpowder cartridge was used in single-shot and combination guns. It is shown in post-WWII RWS catalogs as a discontinued number. It was popular in its day and rifles in this chambering are common.” This is an 8mm cartridge by bore measurement NOT an 8.15.

#4. Lock crop- copy
The locks are very finely crafted and designed with a tiny leaf on the end of the mainspring to actuate the hammer rebound.

While researching this gun, I also had a German-made Drilling in the shop that appeared to be chambered for 9.3x72R and discovered that there are two different bore sizes for that cartridge as well. Slugging the bore (expanding a lead slug into the rifle barrel) and making a chamber cast are imperative to determining the correct cartridges for most multi-barreled guns of this vintage.

Shooting the rifle barrel of the over/under combo gun will require either having brass cases made to fit the chamber or re-chambering to the more common 8x57R. Shooting the shotgun barrel will require the use of short shells and moderate- to low-pressure loads out of respect for the gun’s vintage.

As I said at the beginning, the gun handles very nicely and would be a pleasure to take afield. I know of a small patch of Yellowstone River bottomland close to my home where pheasant and whitetail deer coexist, and this would be a fun gun to hunt there. I also said collectors don’t need a reason to own a classically styled gun of sophisticated manufacture with intriguing mechanisms. Mr. Peterlongo built all of that into this combination gun and did it well.

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