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When the under barrel of an O/U is fired first, recoil is sent directly to the shoulder and barrel lift is reduced for a better second shot. Photo by Dale Spartas/spartasphoto.com

This column continues to generate plenty of feedback. Following is a sample of letters I received during the past year along with my responses.


I own two 1920s-vintage American shotguns (a 12-gauge Fox Sterlingworth and a 20-gauge Parker VHE). Both, I understand, were manufactured with 2 916″ chambers. I have not had them measured. I’ve shot numerous 2¾″ rounds through both with no obvious ill effect. My question is: Am I causing harm to these guns by using 2¾″ ammunition? I reload, and I’m sure it is possible to have my reloaders set up to load 2½" shells and to search out components and recipes for 2½″ loads. However, it seems like such a bother if it is not necessary.


Shooting shells longer than a barrel’s chamber length always raises pressure and recoil levels. And the longer the shell is relative to the chamber length, the higher both rise. If you want no issues with either, load 2½″ smokeless-powder loads that develop pressures at or below the max pressure levels for service loads that your guns were proofed and designed for. (I have no reliable information on what those max pressure levels were for your specific guns.)

Given that your chambers are 316″ shorter than the correct chamber-length minimum for 2¾″ shells, I estimate that shooting 2¾″ 12-gauge loads in them likely will raise pressure 1,000 to 2,000 psi, depending on the specific load.

The safest bet for worry-free, safe shooting is to have the chambers lengthened to 2¾″, provided there is enough metal forward of the existing chambers to safely do so. Failing that, do not shoot any 2¾″ loads in them generating pressures exceeding 7,500 psi.

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I listened to your interview on Marty Fischer’s “Wing and Clay Nation” radio show (January 2020). You made a comment about preferring No. 6 steel for sporting clays. Do you feel that No. 6 steel has an advantage over No. 7½ hard (4% antimony) lead shot? How about 6% antimony? If so, could you offer some insight on how you came to that opinion? Thanks for all the work you do. I really enjoyed hearing your interview!


Thanks for tuning in.

I didn’t say I prefer No. 6 steel for sporting clays. What I said was that No. 6 steel is the best clay-target-breaking medicine, particularly at long range, that I have ever measured or witnessed. Winchester has found the same.

My database comes from having conducted several hundred steel-shot-shooting workshops and training sessions with shotshell-industry and state- and federal-wildlife personnel plus conservation-organization members across the US and Canada and in Europe and Australia from 1982 to 2012. These involved nearly 3,000 workshop participants and trainees firing well more than 200,000 rounds of steel shot at standard American-size clay targets thrown primarily edge-on at distances from 20 to 50-plus yards. Sometimes lead shot No. 7½s were fired by the same shooters for comparison. Scores were recorded carefully. The steel No. 6 loads—primarily one-ounce 12-gauge loads—decisively broke higher scores as the distances of shots increased.


I have a good-condition (not “excellent”) Winchester Model 12 Heavy Duck 12-gauge with the factory 3″ chamber and Full choke. It may be a little more valuable, having a factory rib. I’d like to put it back into service for waterfowl—mostly pass-shooting mallards and decoying mallards and Canada geese. Should I just shoot bismuth (though the largest shot I’m seeing available is No. 3), or should I have a “steel safe” Modified choke installed by Briley (or?). I own other shotguns for upland and shooting sports, so I don’t need this to be my all-around gun.


No need to make any modification to your Heavy Duck Model 12 or to avoid shooting any hard shot type (steel, HEVI-Shot or whatever) through its Full choke unless you want more-open patterns. This is provided that you don’t shoot a pellet size larger than BB and avoid velocity levels exceeding 1,400 fps. If you elect to shoot a soft pellet type like bismuth through your gun at longer ranges, you never will obtain the patterning performance or the killing ability of the harder, generally higher-density nontoxic pellet types.

The vast majority of O/U shooters fire the under barrel first with the more-open choke in that barrel.


Although the distance between the barrels on an over/under is small, the pattern centers converge at some design distance. If the object is to put that center on the target when shooting beyond and short of that distance, a pointing adjustment is required. Accepting that pattern width makes up for that difference, my question is perhaps more academic than practical: Is there a reason to use the top barrel (and a more open choke) for short shots and the lower barrel (and a tighter choke) for longer shots? It would seem that very close shots would require less obscuration of the target (with the barrel), and long shots might offset some hold under with shot drop. Is there any useful basis for this thinking?

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Such thinking is overthinking this issue.

Both barrels on over/unders are supposed to be adjusted at the factory to shoot to the same point of impact at some specific distance, usually 40 yards. You won’t know what that distance is or if both barrels have been adjusted correctly until you conduct point-of-impact testing (see Shot Talk, Sept/Oct ’16). Both barrels impact perfectly only at that specific design distance. Otherwise both impact a bit high at shooting distances closer and both a bit low at shooting distances farther than the impact-point design. No pointing compensation has to be made for 40- to 60-yard shots to allow for shot drop either. Both situations are basically no worries, because the several feet of pattern diameter more than compensate for the couple of inches of point-of-impact offset or gravity-caused shot drop.

The vast majority of O/U shooters fire the under barrel first with the more-open choke in that barrel. This brings the recoil from the first shot straight into the shoulder and reduces barrel lift for a better second shot.

To consult with Tom Roster or to order his new Advanced Lead & Bismuth Shot Handloading Manual, his HEVI-Shot and HW 13 reloading manual, or his instructional shooting DVD, contact Tom Roster, 1190 Lynnewood Blvd., Klamath Falls, OR 97601; 541-884-2974, [email protected].


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