Sporting rifles need to have a degree of specialization for the type of shooting that the hunter will be engaging in. For example, for long range hunting where shots may need to be taken out beyond 300meters, a properly set up bolt-action rifle with telescopic sights tends to be the most sensible choice, and with good reason. A well set up bolt action rifle offers both the optimum shot to shot accuracy, generally shooting sub Minute of Angle groups, and doing it with a high level of shot to shot consistency. Whilst the bolt-action rifle excels for accuracy however it does not excel at providing a swift sure second shot. In a situation where a repeat shot is needed a hunter will tend to choose a faster handling action such as a lever action or straight pull bolt action. The action type that is at the top of the preference list for a swift sure second shot however is neither the lever action, nor the straight pull bolt action, nor even the semi-automatic. The rifle that offers the fastest and most certain second shot is the double rifle.
This should come as no surprise to any of us. If in doubt visit a shotgun shooting range and watch what the top competitors use. It will almost invariably be a double barrel gun, I don’t know of any serious skeet or trap shooter who uses a lever action shotgun, or even a pump. For fast, instinctive shooting with the ability to fire two aimed shots the double barrel reigns supreme. For a rifle, the double-rifle does not reign supreme out at 400 yards or so, but it does beat all the competition when a quick second shot is required at shorter distances (i.e. less than 200 yards). A sporting semi-automatic, such the Browning BAR, may also deliver a quick second or third shot even at ranges out past 300 yards: but the semi-automatic Browning BAR is limited to a maximum caliber of .338 Winchester Magnum, and semi-automatics are often banned in places where big game is hunted. So if you are looking for reliable dangerous game stopping power the double rifle stands out as your best choice.
The downside of the double rifle however is the cost. Double rifles require significant hand work to get them working properly, and especially to get the two barrels shooting closely parallel to each other. British “best” double rifles typically cost as much as a modest house or an exotic car, but there are excellent double rifles available that cost about a tenth as much as a British “best” rifle. Amongst these more affordable double rifles, those from German gunmaker Merkel are some of the best money can buy. A Merkel double rifle will cost about as much as a modest new car, but it will outlast the car by a big margin, and will be near certain to provide a great deal more enjoyment than a commuter car.
Merkel began as a family business back on September 1st, 1898: the same year Paul Mauser created his legendary bolt action. Three Merkel brothers; Albert Oskar, and Gebhard (who were master gunsmiths) and stock-maker Karl Paul Merkel set up their business in the German town of Suhl. This gunmaking business was from the very start aimed at building sporting arms of the highest quality and the fact that the company managed to work through the two biggest wars in world history without being dragged into the making of war weapons is of itself a testimony to the determination of the Merkel family. The company survived the two wars by becoming a parts supplier for such things as carburettors, range-finders and small arms.
With the passing of Gebhard Merkel in 1933 the family business was passed down to the next generation, which was Ernst Merkel and the son in law of Karl Paul Merkel, Adolf Schade.
The quality of the guns and rifles made by Merkel was of such a high standard that in the between wars period, in 1937, Merkel was awarded “Grand Prix” at the Paris World Exhibition. The theme of the exhibition was “Art and technology applied in modern life”, a theme that fits perfectly with Merkel’s passion for making sporting arms that are at once both works of art, and works of craftsmanship incorporating technological excellence. The Grand Prix brought the name of Merkel into the world spotlight and many prominent people became Merkel customers. This fame was to serve Merkel in good stead because at the end of the Second World War the company was not forced to close but instead became the only gunmaker in Suhl to be allowed to remain in production.
Suhl was located in what became East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) and the socialist government took control of the company and all that had been built up by the family members over decades of dedicated hard work. Despite that the quality of the products from Merkel remained high and the government chose Merkel guns to present as gifts to prominent people such as American President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (who would be a key figure in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962), and cosmonaut Juri Gagarin, the first man in space. Even Chinese Chairman Mao Tse Tung was presented with a Merkel.
After the Berlin Wall came down heralding the end of the socialist German Democratic Republic and the re-unification of Germany, a group of investors took an interest in the company and Merkel has risen out of the ashes of a season of tumultuous world history like the Phoenix of Greek mythology rose from the fire. The company is making its great guns and rifles once again.
Gebruder Merkel make a range of side by side and over/under double rifles. Some are made for heavy calibers suited to African use, and many are made in smaller standard calibers for North American and European use. So whilst the most common reason for purchasing a double rifle is as “life insurance” for hunting dangerous game in Africa, or for buffalo and Banteng in Australia’s north, there are a number of other good reasons to choose one, such as for driven wild boar: a 500lb boar running at full speed is a quarry for which you need a rifle that is as much like a fast handling double barrel shotgun as you can get, especially if the aforementioned grunter is coming in your direction.
Model 140 Boxlock
The base model Merkel double rifle is the Model 140 with a boxlock modified Anson & Deeley action featuring double underlugs and a Greener top cross-bolt. This rifle is made as the 140AE (African Express) in a range of calibers suitable for large deer on up to dangerous game: .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rigby, .470 NE, .500 NE.
The Model 140AE features an articulated front trigger, express sights (50, 75 and 100 meters), hard soldered barrels, and ejectors. Ejectors make reloading a double rifle vastly more easy and for most hunters are recommended: if you need to reload quickly when dealing with a dangerous quarry, broken fingernails trying to prise out a stubborn fired case might just be the least of your worries. The rifle has provision for Weaver style telescopic sight mounts. Some people don’t like a rifle-scope on a double rifle but they can be a wise choice in certain shooting situations. So it is good to have a quality rifle-scope in quick detachable mounts. If you are thinking of this for the more powerful calibers such as the .470 NE or even .500 NE then a rifle-scope with a long eye-relief is going to be important. One specialist rifle-scope is the German Nickel Magnum 1.5-6×30 EDS. This rifle-scope is made specifically for heavy recoiling rifles and has a 4.9″/125mm eye-relief. The extended eye-relief comes at a price however and that price is a reduction of the field of view by comparison with rifle-scopes with a shorter eye relief. For the Nickel Magnum 1.5-6×30 EDS the field of view is 15m – 5.5 m at 100m (45 ft. – 16.5 ft. at 100 yd.).
The overall length of the Model 140 is 40.16″/102cm with a barrel length of 23.6″/60cm. Weight begins at 10.14lb/4.6kg on up depending on caliber.
Optional features include a Pachmayr recoil pad, (which would be recommended), octagonal barrels, and various engraving and deluxe walnut stock options.
You will find the Model 140AE on the Merkel website if you click here.
Model 141 Petite Frame Boxlock
The Merkel 141 is made on the petite 28 gauge action and so with its short barrels it is one of the lightest double rifles in the world. This rifle also has a feature built in to permit regulating the barrels by the use of adjustment screws at the muzzle.
The Model 141 features a modified Anson & Deeley action with dual locking under-lugs and a Greener top cross-bolt. Available calibers for this rifle are: 7x65R, .30-06 Springfield, .30R Blaser, 8x57IRS, and 9,3x74R. All bar one of these are rimmed cartridges made specifically for use in double rifles and combination guns. The 30-06 will be a common choice for American buyers. The 7x65R is the rimmed sibling of the rimless 7×64 Brenneke, which has been one of the most popular cartridges in Europe.
The standard Model 141 comes with double triggers incorporating a European set trigger mechanism on the front trigger. A set trigger provides a safe way to have a light trigger pull available on a hunting rifle. On a double rifle the front trigger is normally pushed forward to activate it. If the shot is not taken the set trigger can be unset by applying the safety catch and then pressing the trigger, it will click harmlessly. The rifle must of course be kept pointing in a safe direction when doing this.
The Model 141 tips the scales at 6.6lb/3kg and has 21.6″/55cm barrels giving it an overall length of 38.2″/97cm.
You will find full information about the Model 141 at the Merkel website if you click here.
Model 160 Sidelock
The Merkel Model 160 is a true side-lock double rifle with detachable locks to make cleaning and servicing easy. The Model 160, like the model 140, is made as an “African Express” version as the 160AE. This rifle is made in the same calibers as the 140AE: .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rigby, .470 NE, .500 NE, and additionally in .450/400 NE. The .450/400 NE is an excellent caliber choice for a double rifle. The 450/400 packs similar power to the .375 H&H Magnum but uses a rimmed case operating at lower pressures. The .470 NE and the .500 NE are however the better choices for a dangerous game double rifle as they are rimmed cases, and use heavy large diameter bullets at moderate velocity.
Like the 140 AE the 160AE has hard soldered barrels, ejectors, and an articulated front trigger to prevent injury to the trigger finger when firing a heavy caliber rifle.
Rifle weight is 10.1lb/4.6kg on up. Typical weight of a .500 NE as an example should be up around 10.75lb or so to comfortably handle the recoil.
Barrel length of the 160AE is listed as 23.6″/60cm and the rifle’s overall length is 40.2″/102cm.
There are various engraving, walnut and custom options available for the 160AE. You will find full details at the Merkel website if you click here.
Model 161 Petite Frame Sidelock
The Model 161 small frame double rifle is made on a 28 gauge shotgun size sidelock action and so, like its Model 141 box-lock sibling, it is a short, light and quick rifle. The rifle has double under-lugs and Greener cross-bolt. The Model 161 is made in the same caliber range as the 141: 7x65R, .30-06 Springfield, .30R Blaser, 8x57IRS, and 9,3x74R. (Other calibers are available on request).
Weight of the Model 161 is approximately 6.6lb/3kg depending on caliber. With a barrel length of 21.6″/55cm the rifle has an overall length of 38.2″/97cm. The rifle has a front set trigger, quarter rib express sight set up for driven hunt, and the quarter rib is prepared for a pivot mount for telescopic sight fitting. Ejectors are an optional extra, and there is a large range of other custom options available.
You will find the Model 161 on the Merkel website if you click here.
Model B3 O/U Double Rifle
The Model B3 over/under double rifle uses a safety cocking mechanism rather than a traditional safety catch and also features an adjustable lower barrel so the owner can re-set the barrel regulation to suit the ammunition they are using. This rifle is not intended as a dangerous game rifle but for driven game situations, and so it has a single trigger as standard, with a double trigger being optional.
Calibers are .30-06 Springfield, .30R Blaser, 8x57IRS, and 9,3x74R. All of these are suitable for wild boar or any species likely to be encountered on a driven hunt. The double rifle design is also easy to use in a driven hunt situation where you may have to unload and move to various stations during the day.
The Model B3 weighs approximately 7lb/3.2kg and with 21.6″/55cm barrels has an overall length of 38.2″/97cm.
You will find the Model B3 at the Merkel website if you click here.
Model B4 Bergstutzen O/U Double Rifle
The Merkel B4 Bergstutzen (Mountain Rifle) is an unusual concept for US shooters in that each of the double barrels is in a different caliber. The idea behind this is to provide a small caliber for such game as fox, and a standard caliber for chamois or deer. To this end the rifle’s small caliber barrel can be had in .222 Remington, .223 Remington, or 5,6x52R (i.e. .22 High-Power Savage – A Charles Newton design). The larger caliber barrel choices are 7x57R, 7x65R, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .30R Blaser, 8x57IRS, and 9,3x74R.
This model has an adjustable lower barrel, and that feature is of especial importance in this dual caliber model so that the two barrels can be adjusted to shoot closely parallel to each other, or to a common point of impact at a set distance if you prefer that method.
The B4 Bergstutzen has a finely tuned double trigger and is only available in Titanium Nitrided finish in either black or Suhl edition.
Like the Model B3 this rifle has a selective cocking switch instead of a traditional safety catch. These are a very good safety mechanism.
You will find the Model B4 Bergstutzen on the Merkel website if you click here.
Model 323 O/U Double Rifle
The Merkel Model 323 is the deluxe over/under double rifle with a sidelock action featuring double under-lugs and Kersten locking mechanism. This rifle is made in 7x57R, 7x65R, .30R Blaser, 8x57IRS, 9,3x74R, and .375 H&H Magnum, with other calibers available on request. In .375 H&H Magnum this could be a superb rifle for the “World wide one rifle hunter”, preferably fitted with a sensible low powered rifle-scope in quick detachable mounts.
For rifle-scope mounting Merkel offers the choice of either Suhl swing mounts or Suhl claw mounts.
Ejectors are optional on this fine rifle and if it were to be used as a dangerous game rifle in .375H&H Magnum that is an option I would be sure to fit.
Weight of the Merkel 323 is approximately 8.2lb/3.7kg and length is 40.5″/103cm with 23.6″/60cm barrels.
A double rifle is not going to be the cheapest thing you ever buy, but Merkel double rifles are not out of reach, being similar in price to a modest new car or a nice used one. If you are able to consider a hunting trip to Africa then it is near certain you can contemplate owning one. The Merkel Model 140 rifles on the Merkel USA website were mostly listed at USD$13,255.00 at time of writing, in calibers from 30-06 to .375 H&H Magnum up to the even more serious .470 NE and .500 NE. Not cheap, but not over the top expensive either – not for a rifle that offers “life insurance” in the way a double rifle does.
If you are looking for one of the sidelock 160AE prices will be significantly higher than that, but even the more expensive Merkel models with engraving and higher grade walnut options are still about half the cost of a comparable British “best” rifle from the likes of Holland & Holland, Westley Richards, Anderson Wheeler or Rigby: and if the going gets tough out on safari a couple of .500 Nitro Express bullets from a Merkel Model 140 is going to stop the buffalo, hippo or pachyderm just as surely as the British rifle would.
Merkel have a US distributor and you will find the double rifles at the Merkel USA website if you click here.
(All pictures courtesy Merkel unless otherwise noted).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.