Learn about the nifty over-under combination gun, the Savage 24, including its history, use in the US Army Air Corps, and its 70-year production
I don’t always understand why I’m drawn to a specific gun. One that I see and say to myself, “Boy, I need one of those in my collection.”
Today’s gun is different, though; not so much for what it is, but for what it represents. It was on a rack in a collection of 100 or more firearms, but, when I saw it, I knew it was coming home with me. The stock was clean and looked to be original and not mucked with. The action had most of its case color remaining, something that is impressive on an older workhorse-type gun. Plus who doesn’t want to have a neat little combination gun in their collection?
To me, the Savage 24 represents youth and the carefree existence that places a child in the woods, free to roam as they see fit. It harkens to an older time when this child’s feral existence was the norm rather than the exception. Going out the backdoor of a white farmhouse with a few .22LR rounds and a few .410 shells in his coat pockets, looking for a rabbit or maybe a partridge for the table. The gun is kept in the corner of the mudroom, alongside boots and coats, a scruffy dog waits outside the door, tail wagging, waiting to accompany the boy as they head out into the big, wide world.
Perhaps that is an overly romantic version of “back in the day” that exists only in the recesses of my mind, but the gun certainly exists and the concept behind the design is sound.
The history of combination guns
The Savage 24 is a combination gun, meaning that it’s equal parts shotgun and rifle. The idea of a combination gun predates the Savage 24 and its earlier twin, the Stevens 22-410. A number of makers saw the value in providing the enterprising hunter with options.
As such, you will see combination guns in many forms: rifle and shotgun barrels stacked, side by side, and the ubiquitous drilling guns, many of German origin. Most drillings would have side-by-side shotgun barrels, typically with a rifle barrel centered underneath. Other three-barrel guns sported three different chamberings, usually a small game rifle cartridge, a large game chambering, and a shotgun.
Other options included Vierling guns, which had four barrels—typically two rifle barrels set in the valleys between the shotgun barrels. Further, European “cape guns” were the side-by-side version of the combination gun with a rifled barrel alongside a shotgun. Not to get too far distracted by the possibilities, I have in my life seen three- and four-barrel shotguns as well. One of the most unique was the four-barrel hammer gun, and there was, of course, the three-barrel side-by-side-by-side Boss & Co. shotgun.
The idea behind a combination gun was simple. You have options to choose from when pursuing fare for the table. If your walk in the woods provides you a sitting shot at a rabbit, you can select the small-bore rifle barrel. If a pheasant flushes, a simple flip of the side selector allows you to capitalize on the opportunity with the shotgun barrel. The other multiple-barrel guns allowed for this to extend into larger game. Many drillings and cape guns came with medium- to large-game cartridges in the 8mm and 9mm ranges—think guns that could kill deer, boar and stag. These guns were truly the tools of gamekeepers whose task it was to manage the land; they were versatile and easily adapted to whatever situation might arise.
The concept was, and still is, a sound one. These combination guns have found favor around the world. Here in the states, the .22-over-.410 combination was particularly useful for certain activities like trapping. Trappers are concerned with dispatching game in the cleanest way possible, which is usually a .22 round to the head of the trapped critter. That said, if you are walking around the woods as much as any successful trapper, there were bound to be chances at other game, so the .410 barrel was a nice plus to fatten the day’s bag.
The story of the Savage 24
The story of the Savage 24 actually starts with its predecessor, the Stevens 22-410, introduced in 1938 and made until 1950 when Savage came out with the 24.
Essentially, the Savage 24 was a Stevens 22-410 with a new name. Savage began producing firearms and, over the next 50 years, drastically increased its offerings. These combo guns were offered in a variety of rifle calibers, from .22 up to 30-30, including .22 Hornet, .222, .223 Remington, and .357. Typically, the larger centerfire rifle rounds were over 20- or 12-gauge shotgun barrels. Deluxe models, turkey and predator versions, a camper version, and more were available over the years. With so many different models and chamberings, one could occupy themselves simply collecting the different Savage 24s.
The design was relatively simple, and the guns will look very familiar to anyone who had a single-shot shotgun as their first gun. The idea was, stack a .22 caliber barrel on top of a .410 bore barrel and assemble the gun much like a single shot. The barrels hinge away from the action face, actuated by a top lever release like any other over/under gun. An exposed hammer is cocked manually with the thumb. Now, having a single hammer presents a slight issue as you need the one hammer to fire both barrels. The barrel selector on early 24s is a button on the side of the action. Moved up and down easily with the thumb, the shooter selected the top or bottom barrel by moving a metal cutoff block up and down, preventing the hammer from striking both firing pins. Years later, and to address some functional issues with the side selector, Savage redesigned and introduced a selector integral to the hammer. It was a small thumb-actuated throw lever. Later production changes moved the familiar top lever to the side of the action, and others moved to a press button in front of the trigger guard.
As production costs increased, like so many guns you will find, features trended towards being easier to manufacture rather than being improvements to the design. Barrels were split apart and no longer joined, which negatively affected the regulation, and point of impact became an issue.
Savage had the 24 in production into the 2000s representing around 70 years of production, give or take, with more than a dozen different models over the years. There are some great resources online including the savageshooters.com and savage24.com where you can find more information and specifics on the guns. Like so many other budget vintage guns, the early versions did not have serial numbers, so model release timelines tend to be a good way to date your gun.
It’s worth noting that these guns do come apart (i.e. take-down) easily. This feature, combined with their dual-barrel versatility, led to them being utilized as survival guns, though they weren’t the first combination gun to be used as such; drillings were used for the same reasons. There was the Luftwaffe drilling gun, a three-barrel combination gun used by German pilots in World War 2, and the United States provided pilots with the Springfield M6 Scout or Air Force M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon for the same purpose. Our Savage 24—or rather, the Stevens 22-410—saw use for the same purpose for the U.S. Army Air Corps with around 10,000 to 15,000 guns pressed into service.
These days, Savage offers the Model 42 in the place of the venerable Savage 24. It remains a .22 long rifle or .22 Winchester mag over a .410 bore, but looks only vaguely like the Savages of old. I expect that the synthetic stock and black finish are targeted to the survival community. I have not personally had the opportunity to handle and shoot a 42, so I will reserve any opinions on them for now.
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The Gun Room Podcast is presented by Upland Gun Company
Joel Penkala is an Upland Bird Hunter and outdoors enthusiast from New Jersey. His love of all things upland has led him to travel and hunt around the United States and fostered his affinity for double guns and bird dogs. He runs English Setters in his home covers chasing Woodcock, Grouse, and Pheasants.