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1st Shotgun & gauge write-up

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1st Shotgun & gauge write-up
A guy was asking 1st shotgun questions over on a CT web site. Of course everyone started offering simple advice based on their experience and preferences. It was a quiet day here on the home front so I got into writing a basic shotgun, action & gauge discussion to help him decide what fits into his world. Thought I'd share here in the hope of helping someone or better yet, that it provokes a comment or two that I learn from.


In response to: "SO,,,, if you were me,, what shotgun would you buy. My main reason for the gun is clay sports and bird hunting. The deer would be secondary if at all"

Let me pull up my soapbox. Close your eyes and picture a flushing grouse, your dog before you, mounting your shotgun to complete the dance. Now what kind of shotgun is it? A SXS? OU? or a single barrel camo job? Simply make it so. Unless you join a wicked exclusive club no one is going to care what gun you’re using, you’re a beginner and they have plenty of time to mold you into their image if that's their thing.

As Paul has already pointed out, no one makes a gun that's perfect for everything. We hunt and shoot for our own enjoyment and if a double makes you happier than a pump or semi, and you can afford it, then go with the double. They are generally more expensive and more exclusive but they shoot the same shells that pumps and semi's shoot. Most of the guys that I shoot and hunt with, have more than a couple shotguns.

A few thoughts towards your decision-making:


10 ga, largest allowed by federal law for waterfowl hunting. Maybe the largest allowed for hunting in the state but I haven't seen it spelled out anywhere. The 10 gauge is usually reserved for geese and late season ducks over open water. Guns are heavy to dampen the recoil of the BIG Shells, and ammo is expensive. You will not find commercial upland game loads for 10s. Good gauge for a waterfowl specialist but probably not their choice for teal and other early season ducks.

12 ga, Shells come in 3 lengths, 2.75", 3.0" & 3.5". You cannot safely shoot a longer shell then your gun is chambered for. The 2-3/4" shell is the standard target load and handled just about all of America's shooting requirements as long as lead was allowed. The 3" mag made a big comeback when waterfowlers were required to shoot non-toxic shot. To make up for lighter shot, a larger shot size is normally selected and a higher initial velocity is recommended for roughly the same leads as the older lead loads at 40 yrds. For instance the old lead "high brass" duck load was 1-1/4oz of #4 or #6s @ 1175 ft/sec(fps). 1-1/2 oz loads (baby-mags) were available for longer range but at a lower velocity. What I would consider a typical duck load today is a 3" 12 ga 1-1/4oz #2 steel at 1400+ fps.

The 12 ga 3.5" shells approach 10 ga performance but not quite as well, plus due to the lighter weight 12 ga guns, they are more abusive to both the shooter and the gun. I have shot a lot of 3.5's through my SBE over the last 10 years and have had it break twice in the last couple of years.

The versatility of the 12 gauge has made it the most popular guage in the US for close to 100 years. It's hard to beat it!

16 ga, In Europe and the US in the first half of the last century the 16 ga was quite popular. 16 ga guns were made on a lighter frame then the 12 ga and the 1 to 1-1/8 oz load of lead shot met most upland game needs in a lighter faster handling gun than a 12 ga. After WWII the 16 ga was pretty much killed off by the 20 ga 3" shell and the cost savings of eliminating the 16 ga frame, making the 16 ga gun as heavy as the 12 ga. While not officially dead the 16 ga doesn't have a good selection of loads, guns or local availability of ammo & components. The 3" inch 20 ga is a more versatile option than the 16 ga. However if you have a 16 gauge, shoot it! It's a fun gauge that works well on upland birds and early season ducks. It is not a goose gun with the commercially available steel shells.

20 ga. Second most popular gauge. Guns are smaller & lighter than 12 gauge versions. Unless the gun is being purchased strictly for skeet I would recommend only buying one chambered for both 2-3/4" & 3" shells. Standard 20 ga target load is a lead 7/8 oz, 2-3/4” shell. The 1/4 oz less shot is a handicap to target shooters but for shooting for fun who cares? In 3" you can shoot 1 oz steel loads or 1-1/8 oz lead for upland game. Personally for hunting freshly stocked pheasant I use 1 oz steel 4's at 1400 fps, same load that I'd use for early season teal/ducks.

28 ga. This is a popular skeet ga when 3 different ga. guns are required. Works well for close upland game like woodcock and grouse. Standard lead target and field load is 3/4 oz. Shells are wicked expensive and availability is poor. Not a gauge that a typical hunter is drawn to.

410 ga. Comes in two lengths but neither one holds much shot. Gun for expert wing-shots or stationary target hunters (squirrel & rabbit) where you can really aim a full choke pattern. If you want to frustrate a beginner, give them a 410 on the trap range.


Cheap break open single shots. They kick like mules and are clunky to shoot. Many of us started with them, few have any regrets moving on to a better gun.

Break open doubles, OU & SxS. Expensive and can be so sweet. Cheap ones are clunky and can have mechanical issues. If you find an inexpensive double, post up asking for reviews before dropping the money. OU are the gun of choice on today's target fields. In the blind the OU requires a bit more open space in front of you due to the amount of break required to clear the bottom shell. SxS in my mind look way more graceful and is the gun I'm swinging when I close my eyes and imagine swinging on the grouse.

Pumps, Best value for the buck hands down. Incredibly versatile with the ability to switch chokes, barrels and stocks. With the same investment, you can have an accurate 120-yard deer gun, a hard-hitting waterfowl piece, a very reasonable trap gun and an excellent pheasant gun. Although nice things said, my 870 12 ga. pump is definitely heavier and slower to get on a fast rising upland game bird than my light wt 20 ga semi or my dbbl. 16, but hunting with a decent dog should give you plenty of warning to get the job done and done well.

Semi-autos, run 3+ times the price of pumps and save you the need for pumping. Pull the trigger, gun shoots and is ready to shoot again with a simple pull of the trigger. Most serious middle aged waterfowlers that I hunt started with a pump, and have migrated to the semi-auto. A few have gone the OU route but exposing them to the hell we call late season waterfowling takes a tough man.

Semi-autos come in different types, gas operated and long or short recoil operated. The first semi-autos were long recoil operated where the barrel and bolt started to come back together as in the Browning A5 and Remington model 11. Around 1960(?) gas-operated designs hit the market like the Remington 1100. Some of the gasses from the fired shell are bled out of the barrel where they push back on a piston, which in turn works the bolt. O-rings and cleaning are very important maintenance items. Until the late 80's semi-auto shotguns were restricted to one shell length, either 2-3/4 or 3" Pumps were not, firing either shell length interchangeably.

In 1987 Remington came out with what I believe was the first semi-auto (model 1187) that shot 2-3/4 or 3 inch shells interchangeably. Then Benelli came out with their short recoil system where only the bolt (2-part) recoils, allowing shells of different lengths and loadings to be shot interchangeably including the new 3.5" 12 ga shell. Without gas systems the Benelli shotguns are light and quick handling. With the heavy loads they can beat on you pretty good.

My personal opinion is that Semi-Auto shotguns are not a good fist shotgun to hunt with for the simple reason that they are ready to shoot again, unless the hunter does something / put the safety on. Pump actions require the hunter to work the slide before being ready to shoot. In the field, it's very easy to get caught up in the moment, watching the duck or pheasant fall and forgetting that the gun is ready to shoot again. There are ways around this, but safety with a semi-auto demands a higher awareness.

So what do I hunt with? A pair of Benellis, both more than 10 years old acquired while they where being imported by Interarms. They’re a black plastic stocked SBE in 12 ga,, and a 20 ga Montefeltro with a wood stock. And for state land deer hunting, you’ll find me out with an 870 cantilevered scope and raised comb stock.

Quick follow up on Chucks Remington Vs Benelli fit, I find the 870 and SBE to be easy for me to interchange. I tried my cousins 1100 a few years back and couldn't hit the easiest shot. It was obviously shooting to a different point of aim. After a handful of misses I handed it back. I did not want to relearn my site picture.

This brings us to fit:

Your shotgun must fit YOU! Shotguns are used for hitting moving targets and they are pointed not aimed. How the shotgun mounts (fits into your shoulder and lines up with your eye) is critical. It needs to be the same every time, even as you change your clothes as the weather changes. While there may be a bead or two looking down the barrel you’re not going to be using them in a shooting situation. Your eye must naturally look straight down the barrel. While you focus on the target, your barrel is either swinging through the bird or staying ahead of the bird’s flight path when you fire. To hit consistently you must be free to swing smoothly while maintaining your site picture. Remember a couple of truisms; don't lead, don't hit & Don't follow through and you've shoot behind.

Hope these general comments help with your new shotgun decision. Try as many different guns as possible to help you decide what fits and what you like. Above all keep it fun and shoot what you want to shoot.

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Re: 1st Shotgun & gauge write-up In reply to
Well written post Scott,

I am that middle aged (plus) shooter that went from a pump (870) to a gas operated auto (11-87). No#1 the auto doesn't short shuck and #2 it is much easier on my poor old shoulder.

If there is a draw back to any auto is that it becomes a SludgeOmatic without regular cleaning, if you don't keep the sludge out of it, it doesn't matic. I break mine down after every 50 rounds or after it's been wet and clean and dry it before reassembly.

The Remington 1100 you mentioned is an "Everyman's gun" meaning thet the stock dimensions and weight distribution are made to be a reasonable fit for the majority of potential customers. Many of them need some tinkering to get the same shot picture that an individual is used to.

My son's first gun was a single barrelled 20 Ga. that kicked like a mule. Before it ruined his shooting I got him a Remington 1100 20 Ga. youth model which he learned to shoot extremely well. He shot many doves and ducks with that gun and even killed his first deer with it.

Right now the auto's I own are a Remington 11-87, a Beretta 390 and a Fabarms (made by H&K). The Remington usually gets the nod as it handles like an old friend. The Fabarms was sold to me on a "deal" so I bought it as a spare gun. I also own ,but rarely shoot anymore an old 870 (chromed shell carrier) That 870 shot a lot of game in it's day but has basically been put out to pasture.

All shotguns are interesting for some reason or other. Ie. I once owned a Savage pump that had a tendency to fire before the bolt had completely closed. After a strong admonition to the future owner, I gave him the gun.

Have a great New Year,


PS My very first shotgun was a single barrelled Savage model 94-c 12 Ga. 32" full choke.
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Re: 1st Shotgun & gauge write-up In reply to
Good writeup Scott! I am currently tyring to decide about a first gun for my 11 yr. old son. He can shoot a full size 12 Ga. but not well. I think a well fitted 20 Ga. may be the best place to start.

GREAT point about the pump vs. auto with regards to the second shot. I know that kids get excited if they hit something and may forget that the gun is automatically reloaded.

Harry - you must be a great shot if you learned with 32" barrells! Holy cow! Did it look like this:

Cheers, Dave

Last edited by:

quane: Dec 26, 2008, 7:09 PM
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Re: 1st Shotgun & gauge write-up In reply to
Nice write up Scott,

Just to add my two cents:

I started hunting at 14, the first year I shot a borrowed Remington 1100, 12 gauge 2.75". I was a skinny whip of a kid, and the recoil off that reasonably heavy auto was no problem. And I could empty that gun faster than anyone in the blind! (I even killed 3 birds that fall)

The next summer my dad bought me a BPS (12 gauge, 3 inch) and that is when I learned to shoot! I mean take my time and make my shots count. I purchased a shug barrel for it about 12 years ago, but otherwise I have yet to see a true need for any more gun than what my pump offers.

Also, I remember someone recomending for young, new hunters, to give them an auto, to ease the recoil, but only let them load one shell in the chamber, which would address your safety concern and the issue I had with getting 'slap-happy' on the trigger.


"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again."

A. Pope