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European countries have a long history of a divided class system. Because of this, only the landowning upper class were permitted to hunt. Commoners were not allowed to hunt, let alone own weapons. However, the commoners could participate in the hunting by pushing their way through the landowner’s property and scare out the game for the rich hunter to shoot. Many times the commoners shared in the varied bounty of the hunt.
The game harvest could consist of small game such as rabbits, partridge or squirrel. Medium and big game such as wild pig, boar, bear and stag could also be had on such a hunt. For such varied species, an all purpose weapon was needed instead of multiple, game specific guns. For this reason, the German and Austrian gunmakers came up with the Drilling and Vierling style hunting firearm. A drilling is three barreled and the Vierling is a four barreled shoulder fired gun.
Though there are many configurations in which the barrels are arranged, the most common appears as a side by side shotgun with a rifle barrel nestled below and between the shotgun barrels. The Vierling usually housed a smaller rifle barrel in the rib on top and between the shotgun barrels in addition to the rifle barrel beneath.
The barrel selector is most often mounted on the tang at the rear of the action, where the safety is located on most modern double barrel shotguns. Pushing forward on the selector will select the rifle barrel and elevate a sight on the rib above the shotgun barrel. This sight is calibrated to be used with the rifle barrel and also with the smaller caliber barrel (at closer range) in the case of the Vierling. This is a very complex arrangement and it becomes readily apparent that commoners could not afford the cost of such precision and complicated manufacturing processes.
Usually, the shotgun barrels would have one loaded with bird shot for small game and the other one loaded with a slug or single ball for close medium/large game. The rifle barrel would be loaded with a high power cartridge for medium/large game at longer distances.
These weapons regained popularity after WW2 because of restrictions placed on private firearms ownership throughout Europe. Many countries restricted people to having only one gun per person. Since these guns are multi-purposed, people saw fit to spend the extra money on such a weapon.
These guns are renowned for their beauty as well as functionality. Most are lavishly engraved and inlaid with gold, silver and sometimes, platinum. Butt plates and trigger guards are often made of horn or antler. They are truly works of art, highly prized by collectors and hunters alike.