Gauging Shotgun Noise

Are 20-gauge duck guns really quieter than 12-gauges? That’s the question the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, in Dundee, Illinois, explores in its recent study “Shotgun Noise and Implications for Duck Hunting.” The study was prompted by the trend to require 20s at some duck clubs to reduce disturbance to other ducks on the property.

Before debating whether quieter reports do keep ducks around and what effect noise management and gauge limitations have on hunting-club management, the people at McGraw looked at a simpler question: Are 20s really noticeably quieter than 12s? I was on hand for the study and helped shoot hunting loads from 10 to 28 gauge while a sound scientist with a Brüel & Kjær Type 2250L sound-level meter recorded the reports from a safe spot 30 yards away.

The results were surprising. Not only was there very little difference in the reports of 12- and 20-gauge waterfowl loads, but some 20-gauge loads were actually louder than some 12-gauge loads. Many were only a decibel or two apart—a difference not discernible to our ears and probably not to a duck’s either. The only loads that stood out as noticeably louder or quieter were 3½" 1,500-fps 12-gauge loads at the loud end and 2¾" 1,300-to-1,350-fps steel and bismuth 28-gauge loads on the quiet end. The test also included pattern data on select 12- and 20-gauge loads. The study is worth a read for hunters considering a next duck gun, no matter which gauge they prefer.

The McGraw Wildlife Foundation was founded in 1948 by Max McGraw, a hunter and conservationist and the man who brought the electric toaster from the restaurant market into almost every home. The Foundation states that its mission is to “secure the future of hunting, fishing and land management through programs of science, education, demonstration and communication.”

For more information on the “Shotgun Noise and Implications for Duck Hunting” study, visit

Buy This Issue!

Written By
More from Phil Bourjaily
The Invincible Invictus IX
A gun beautiful to behold—and to shoot
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *