Shotgun Should I Use For ?????
in the development of what we've come to know as the shotgun, hunters
of ducks and other gamebirds used a variety of methods to sneak
up on game "on the set" and fire a charge of rocks, and later lead
pellets at single or entire flocks of birds before they could fly
off. Heavy, cumbersome guns with primitive ignition systems made
"shooting flying" impractical if not impossible.
wasn't until the development of systems such as the flintlock in
the 18th century, that the ability to fire at moving/flying game
began to be a practical form of hunting.
in America, while we have romanticized notions about the Colt and
the Winchester as the "Guns that won the West", the strongest argument
can be made that the real tool of the pioneer was the shotgun. With
a single gun, a frontiersman could feed himself and family, keep
"critters" out of the vegetable garden plus do an adequate job of
defense from hostiles. Loaded with a single ball, the shotgun at
short range made a credible tool for deer and even larger game.
the last 200 years or so, shotguns which, with one modern exception,
are classified in "gauges", have come in a variety of bore sizes
from the massive 4 gauge (and larger) "punt guns" used in the last
century by market hunters to fire at large flocks of "sitting ducks"
to the diminutive .22 rimfire shot loads.
gauge is a comparatively primitive form of measurement of the number
of pure lead balls fitting the bore size that equal one pound. For
example, a gun in which 12 lead balls that just fit down the barrel
were to weigh one pound, is a 12 gauge. Said differently, the bigger
the gauge number, the smaller the hole because it takes more balls
to weigh one pound.
one common exception to the gauge measurement is the .410 shotgun,
which is actually a bore diameter designation.
the commonly encountered shotgun ammunition sizes are (smallest
to largest), the .410, 28, 20, 16, 12, and 10.
we outline the hunting applications of each gauge, there are two
other points the novice must understand: Chokes, and shot pellet
presumption is that the reader understands that the shotgun typically
fires a load of small pellets rather than a single projectile (bullet)
as does a rifle. Historically, these pellets have been made of lead,
but due to evidence (subject to debate) that ducks in particular
are ingesting lead pellets from the bottom of lakes and marshes
and contracting lead poisoning, in the USA, waterfowl hunters are
now required to use non-toxic shot (steel).
novice looking over gauge and shot pellet size alternatives within
each gauge needn't be bewildered. Speaking of lead shot only for
the moment, one needs only to remember that just the opposite as
with gauge sizes, the bigger the number (shot size) the smaller
the size of the individual pellets. Typically, larger pellets are
used for larger quarry.
smallest pellet size normally used for hunting is the size 8, typically
used for game the size of quail or dove. Size 7 1/2 or 6 are used
for many upland species such as grouse or pheasants. Size 5 and
4 are often recommended for pheasants shot at greater distance (larger
pellets, because they are heavier, retain their velocity better
and so killing power over distance is greater than the smaller sizes),
where lead is legal, #4s or 5s are commonly used for ducks, with
lead 2s or the still larger BB size used for the largest of birds
such as Canada geese.
occasionally encountered, are shotgun shells loaded with "buck shot",
so called because the pellets are large enough to take game like
deer. These sizes range from #4 buck to the largest size #00, referred
to as "double aught buck". (I mention here that there are single
projectile shotgun loads, typically referred to as slugs, or rifled
slugs that are far more efficient on deer sized game than buck shot.)
"steel shot" (actually an iron alloy) is much less heavy than lead,
larger pellets are needed to provide the same individual pellet
energy. As a general rule, duck hunters who might have used lead
6's are counseled to move up two shot sizes (#4) when switching
to steel. Because long range duck and goose hunters needed steel
loads with sufficient pellet energy, new steel sizes that fit between
lead BB and #4 buck have appeared with letter designations such
as T and F.
earliest shotgunners quickly realized that the moment a charge of
shot left the barrel, the individual pellets colliding with each
other and meeting wind resistance began to disburse, and after only
20-30 yards, killing power was dramatically reduced because the
pellets had spread so much that too few hit the target. A solution
was to use larger pellets so fewer need to connect, but this is
partly offset because bigger & heavier pellets meant fewer of them
can fit in the shell casing in the first place.
credit an American market hunter in the 19th century named Fred
Kimball with the idea of constricting (choking down) the bore of
the shotgun to better focus the pellets just as the nozzle of a
garden hose can be made to shoot a stream instead of a spray.
shotgun chokes are referred to as full (the most constriction),
modified (medium), improved cylinder (a small amount), and cylinder
(no constriction). You will also occasionally encounter nuance sizes
such as extra-full, skeet, or improved-modified.
traditional British designations are full, half (modified), quarter
(improved cylinder), and cylinder.
first learning about how choke boring extends the killing range
of a shotgun from less than 30 yards (cyl. bore) to 60 yards or
more (full choke), the reader might logically ask why any hunter
would use anything but the tightest choke available. There are two
reasons. First, the spread, or pattern of the shot load over a larger
area can make hitting a flying bird easier because it allows for
some aiming error. Second, a bird shot at close range with a tightly
choked gun can be hit by too many pellets, destroying its edibility.
who's quarry is typically shot at closer range are counseled to
use a more open choke such as improved cylinder; at the longest
distances, full; with modified recommended as a more all around
there have been in times past, a number of adjustable choke devices
marketed, a hunter wishing greater versatility was required to either
have multiple guns with different choked barrels, or a gun with
the last few years, guns with changeable "screw in" chokes have
become common; greatly increasing versatility for the one gun hunter.
is considerable overlap in the suitability of shotgun gauges for
various game. For example, one can easily find or handload 1 ounce
shot charges in the 28, 20, 16 and 12 gauge. So what gauge to use
for which game is far from a black and white decision. One hunter
might want maximum versatility, while another might focus on only
one type of hunting. Whereas one duck and goose hunter might be
well served with a heavier 12 or 10 gauge, but another who also
hunts ruffed grouse where a lighter 20 gauge is a better choice
might opt to also duck hunt with the same 20 gauge gun.
is no intention below to make absolute statements about what is
best. Rather these comments are to be guidelines for the novice.
As always, the hunter is encouraged to ask for additional advice
and make his or her own informed decisions.
science is also so inexact to be referred to more as art than science
by many, with nearly as many exceptions to the rules, than rules.
Another example: Will a one ounce shot charge from a 20 gauge be
exactly as effective as one from a 12? No. In general, because the
20 has a smaller bore, the shot exits the barrel in a longer and
more strung out mass (called a shot string) than a 12. Yet if the
20 user was firing ammo with high quality shot versus the 12 gauge
using inexpensive promotional loads, the 20 might actually be more
effective, and in either case, since it requires only a few of the
hundreds of pellets in that ounce to hit and bring down the quarry,
the hunter might find no practical difference between the two. See
what I mean?
smallest of the commonly encountered shotgun sizes, the four-ten
is suitable for game such as rabbits, squirrels and some smaller
close range bird hunting. Because four-ten guns tend to be lighter
weight and the small sized cartridge generates less recoil or "kick",
it is often recommended as a beginners gun with which to learn shooting
fundamentals. However, many disagree with this approach citing that
the very small shot charge makes effective hitting of the target
more difficult and can discourage the beginner. This writer tends
to agree, and recommends that the beginner start with a larger gauge
with the four-ten reserved for specialty applications or for use
ammunition comes in 2 1/2 inch and 3" lengths, with nearly all guns
capable of firing both. The 3" holds more shot and is therefore
a better hunting choice.
comparatively uncommon, the 28 "kicks like a .410 and hits like
a 20". For years, the only reason the gauge did not completely disappear
was because of a skeet shooting application. It is the smallest
gauge many feel practical for bird hunting, and in a trim and fast
handling shotgun is a delight to use on such game as quail. Drawbacks
are limited availability of ammo, an inadequacy at longer ranges,
and insufficient shell capacity to handle larger shot, including
popular, the 20 is an excellent choice for many types of hunting.
Most guns are light enough to not pose a long distance carrying
problem, and with the 20 gauge 3" magnum, it approaches the 12 in
effectiveness. For any hunter whose quarry is other than deer, ducks,
geese or turkey (and it can suffice in these applications), the
20 should be a strong consideration. It is highly recommended as
a first gun (with light loads if recoil is a problem).
very popular, and with periodic surges in popularity, the 16 remains
in a back seat position to both the 20 and the 12. Proponents will
argue that it throws better patterns than the 20, and equals the
12 in game getting power. There once was more truth to this argument
than today. With advances in shotshell technology more devoted to
the 12 and 20 than the 16, the 20 gauge now equals or surpasses
the 16. When it became impractical for American manufacturers to
build guns in three frame sizes, the 16's (after being made for
a time on 12 gauge frames) lost favor. If a hunter wanted power,
he bought a 12. If he wanted light weight, he bought a 20. Both
ammo and reloading components are more difficult to find, and while
I personally intend to keep my one remaining 16; for practical purposes
it cannot get the highest of recommendations.
way of illustration of the comparative popularity of the 12 gauge,
my own gun vault contains 10 shotguns at present. One 28, one 20,
one 16 and seven 12 gauges. The 12 is far and away the most versatile
and most practical of all. In a light gun with light charges it
makes an excellent short range and fast handling "bird gun" for
such game as quail and grouse, and at the other end of the spectrum,
the 12 gauge magnum 3 inch is the most popular choice for duck,
geese and turkey.
today only for an "upland game" gun, you might opt for a light 20.
If looking just for a heavy duck and goose model, you might consider
the 10 (there are now a few guns being chambered for a 3 1/2 inch
12 gauge super magnum); but for overall versatility, the 12 is never
a bad choice.
times past, if a hunter was a duck and goose specialist, the big
10 was the gun to have (U.S. laws in the 1920's outlawed gauges
bigger than 10 for waterfowl use.). Over time, the 12 gauge 3 inch
magnum surpassed the 10 with shell technology and less massive guns.
But with the requirement for less efficient steel shot, bigger again
became better (in theory), and the 10 has seen an upswing in popularity.
remains some debate as to the practical advantages of the 10 over
the 12 in the ability to smoothly swing a bigger gun and actually
hit a long range flying target as well as actual delivery of a killing
pattern any further out than the 12 can do. If you must have the
biggest, this is it, but for the beginner or any hunter with the
intent to pursue anything other than long range ducks and geese,
the 10 is not the best choice.
kind of gun (action type) do I buy?
come as single shots, a few bolt actions, slide actions (pumps),
semi-automatics, and double barrels (either side by side or over
single shots and bolt actions, while having some hunting utility,
are quickly dismissed as no situation where they would be a first
choice is recognized.
the pump and the semi auto have good utilitarian applications, with
this writer giving the slight edge to the pump. While the "automatic"
has a slight edge in rapidity of fire, and often less perceived
recoil, accurate followup shots, with practice, are virtually as
quick with the pump. All currently manufactured pumps, I believe,
are now chambered for at least the 3" magnum (12 and 20) which means
they will function with the standard length ammunition as well.
The same cannot be said for all models of semi-automatic.
it is also true that the auto and the pump have a ammunition capacity
of typically 5 shots, all models are now shipped with a magazine
plug (here in America) limiting capacity to three (a waterfowl hunting
restriction). Three shots is sufficient for nearly all situations,
and some countries further restrict capacity to two, negating any
advantage (other than cost) that these guns have over the double
the epitome of sporting arms, the classic side by side double barrel
has long been out of mainstream favor in the USA. The reasons are
several including the perception of comparative fragility, the high
cost of manufacture, and the belief that looking over two barrels
is a less precise method of aiming (ok, pointing).
a physics discussion, it is true that getting two barrels affixed
side by side to shoot to the same point of aim is a labor intensive
and so expensive procedure. The other reasons, are debatable.
and under models are a different matter. With many, but not all,
of the dynamic handling characteristics of a quality SxS, but still
more expensive than the pumps or automatics; these guns are quite
are a number of guns available in a range of features and quality,
but if forced to make recommendations, I'd suggest:
the one gun hunter on a budget, but desiring maximum versatility:
870 12 gauge, pump action, 3 inch chamber, screw in chokes, 26 inch
barrel if possible- 28 inch ok. If I wanted to add deer hunting,
special added barrels with rifle sights are available.
duck, geese, turkey and deer, not a consideration, the same gun
is available in 20 gauge.
economy model of the 870, called the Express can be had for just
Remington has said they will no longer honor any warranty if the
shooter converts the safety to left handed operation and so after
market left hand safeties are no longer available. There is an 870
made especially for left handers)
those desiring a semi-automatic, look at the Remington 11-87 (12
gauge only. Hunting models have 3 inch chambers, target models do
over and unders, the Ruger Red Label is a good value, but a bit
heavy for some tastes. It is available in 12 and 20. The Browning
Citori is also an excellent choice and comes in a variety of configurations.
to currently available side by sides, there are none either made
or imported that are priced under $1000 to which I can give endorsement.