My semi-literate online dictionary states that one of the definitions of “foresworn” is to be “renounced seriously.” It also could mean to swear against. I certainly feel that way about some forends. Some are ugly. Others get in the way. A few manage to do both.
Don’t get me wrong. We need some wood between the forehand and the barrels, but that wood should contribute to the ease of aligning and controlling the barrels.
The early tries at forends mostly got it right. It’s only later that gunmakers screwed up. Example: How could you possibly improve on the English splinter on a side-by-side? OK, maybe on a driven gun the slightly increased coverage that a modest beavertail offers is of advantage for those who don’t wear shooting gloves. But anything much bulkier than that simply detracts from the grace of the elegant side-by-side. It also moves the hand farther away from the barrels, which causes alignment and control problems for some shooters.
Over/unders are the worse forend offenders. The Merkel or sainted early Browning Superlight forends were the epitome of grace and function. After that things went downhill. Bulky beavertail O/U forends promised a “better grip.” It’s for sure that they added some nose weight, but their thickness moved the left hand farther away from the barrel than was necessary. The greater the distance the left hand is from the barrel, the less instinctive the pointing.
I don’t know why there is an unwritten rule that target guns have to have clunky forends. Perhaps some find that the bulky forend allows a better grip and thus more recoil control. Fair enough. But the downside is, again, more separation between the controlling hand and the barrel.
Much of your forend preference will depend on where you carry your left hand. If you carry it all the way back near the receiver, the forend really doesn’t matter. If you run the left hand all the way forward, the shape of the forend becomes more critical. Some target forends have horizontal finger grooves along the top edges. Those are great if they accommodate your fingers, not so great if they don’t.
Personally, on a target O/U I like a long slender grip. This allows me to move my left hand forward or aft as the shot dictates. It also allows me to point my index finger without having it bump into something.
And then there is the Schnabel forend. It’s a perfect example of what happens when some designer who has no idea about shotgunning tries to make a forend look artsy and simply ends up with a tribute to the pouting Hapsburg lip. I first saw Schnabel forends on German/Austrian rifles. Compared to a good old Model 70, they are queer ducks indeed, and the Schnabel fit right in with the Teutonic ideal of art-via-gizmo. But I have no idea how the Schnabel became de rigueur for today’s sporting clays guns.
The Schnabel starts off nicely enough at the rear. It’s slender and nicely curved. It’s just that when it gets up to that useless snout at the front that all semblance of class disappears. Visually, it promotes a harsh line on an otherwise smooth gun.
Practically, it’s worse. The Schnabel lip is fragile. I can’t tell you how many guns I’ve seen with that ridge dinged. Also, if you are an index-finger pointer, the Schnabel is a demanding mistress. If you short-arm the forend, you are fine, but if you extend your left hand, your index finger will suffer the Schnabel bite as it encounters that sharp front edge.
On the plus side, there is a cure. I have a gorgeous 1984 Browning Superlight that came afflicted with a Schnabel forend. It was totally out of place on the gun. What I wanted was that svelte rounded forend used on earlier Superlights. Coarse, medium and fine sandpapers can do miracles. A little sanding, a little refinishing and voila!: a glorious Schnabel-less Superlight.
Of course, all this is just one crank’s opinion. Most shooters don’t pay the slightest attention to the forend on their gun. It’s just sort of considered something that comes with the gun. But when you do have a choice, it pays to think carefully about it. A nice forend can make handling a gun so much more rewarding.
As far as forends go, forewarned is forearmed. Boots off. Beer open.