By Tom Roster
Photograph by Dale Spartas
A huge counterproductive trend in factory shotshells has been the history of developing ever-heavier shot charges and velocities in a given gauge and shell length. For example, it didn’t take long before the 20-gauge 2¾" shell was lengthened to 3" by US manufacturers, to better protect and propel 11⁄8-oz lead shot charges. That was a good move! But this soon was followed by butchering this nice “magnum” loading by throwing out vital shot-charge protection and jacking up load weight to 1¼ oz. The result: an out-of-balance, poor-patterning, heavy-recoiling shoulder buster (for older shooters especially).
In today’s shotgunning world there is an ever-increasing trend of shooting 28 gauge for sporting clays and skeet. And in hunting, 1-oz 28-gauge loads are now abundantly available and have contributed to an increase in the 28 gauge being used for upland hunting. But, judging from correspondence I’ve received, many 28-gauge shooters are starting to get carried away—or confused, as the case may be—as to what 28-gauge loads they should be shooting.
I am speaking specifically about questions regarding shooting 1-oz 28-gauge loads in 12-gauge shooting events or, where there are no restrictions on shot-charge weight, shooting 1-oz 28-gauge loads in 28-gauge events. The reasoning: “Wouldn’t a 1-oz shot charge help break more targets?” My answer is that the 1-oz load likely would pick up a couple more targets per round of 25, especially at longer distances, but only in any bore larger than 28. This is because, first, cramming 1 oz of lead shot into a 2¾" 28-gauge shell is basically the same sin as cramming 11⁄8 oz in a 2¾" 20 or 1¼ oz in a 3" 20. It simply takes more room than is available in a 2¾" 28-gauge hull to allow the wad column necessary to protect the pellets.
You will never shoot well with an out-of-balance, too-heavy load for the gun you’re carrying.
But what is of greater concern is the negative consequences of firing such loads in the typical fixed-breech over/under or side-by-side 28 for multiple shots. I’m speaking of the fact that, as the 28-gauge evolved, the idea was that light shot charges of ¾ oz or less would be shot in light guns carried over hill and dale for bird hunting. Thus were born 28-gauge shotguns commonly weighing less than 7 pounds. Even with today’s 1-oz 28-gauge loads, if all you’re doing is firing a couple of rounds during, say, a ruffed grouse or pheasant hunt, they can be shot comfortably in a less-than-7-pound gun. But what if you’re shooting this gun for doves, skeet or sporting clays, where 25 to 50-plus shells are commonly fired in a day? That is quite another matter. The cumulative recoil generated by such relatively heavy loads in a lighter gun becomes a big minus and begins to contribute to lifelong problems with flinching. In short, you are shooting an out-of-balance load, given the very light gun involved.
Let’s look at the recoil realities. As a benchmark, the typical 11⁄8-oz 1,200-fps load fired in an 8-pound trap gun generates approximately 21 foot-pounds of recoil. But trap shooters quickly learn to shoot such loads in guns approaching 9 pounds. This gets the recoil down closer to 17 foot-pounds. Bottom line: Typical target shooters weighing up to about 200 pounds cannot long tolerate shooting gun/load combinations generating 21 foot-pounds of recoil without at least going to 8-plus-pound gas-operated autoloaders.
For the sub-gauge shooter, a ¾-oz, 1,200-fps load in a 6½-pound gun generates a quite-comfortable recoil of about 11.5 foot-pounds. But increase the shot-charge weight to 1 oz, and now that 6½-pound gun will be transferring about 21 foot-pounds—the same experienced by our recoil-suffering trap shooter above. If you’re going to shoot a lot of 1-oz shells, then, regardless of gauge, you’re going to need a shotgun approaching 8 pounds to get the recoil down to around 16 foot-pounds. When it comes to 28- and 20-gauge shotguns, I shoot an O/U no lighter than 7¼ pounds for hunting with up to 7⁄8-oz and occasionally 1-oz loads and a gun no lighter than 7¾ pounds for target shooting with ¾-oz loads or for hunting with up to 11⁄8-oz loads. Both keep the recoil in the range that I can comfortably handle all day.
It’s a fact that you will never shoot well with an out-of-balance, too-heavy load for the gun you’re carrying. Best results always seem to come from shooting the lightest load that will get the job done relative to your gun’s weight.