I recently realized that I don’t write much about shotguns. I guess this is partly because there isn’t as much to discuss with shotguns as there is with rifles and handguns.
With rifles you can talk endlessly about accuracy, velocity, bullet weight, caliber, drop at various ranges, size of groups at 100 yards, overall length, wildcats, new cartridges, and many other fine points that are just not important, or do not apply, with shotguns. For instance, when was the last time you heard of a new shotgun gauge being introduced?
However, that does not mean shotguns are not interesting.
The truth is that I love shotguns very much and have a modest collection of fine guns. I have my old competition shotgun I used for many years when I was shooting NSSA skeet. It is a really sweet Beretta Model 682 Gold Sporting, with 30-inch ported barrels and the best looking smoke and honey-colored stock I have ever seen on a shotgun.
I have a full set of Briley Ultra-Light tubes for it, in .410, 28-, and 20-gauge. I also have a very nice Browning Sweet 16, a Browning Citori 20-gauge, a Browning Citori .410, and an SKB-made Ithaca side-by-side 12-gauge with 25-inch barrels, as well as several more of lesser quality and value.
In the bad old days not all shotguns were good for every purpose. Today most shotguns have screw-in choke tubes, but they were not widely available until the early ’70s.
Older guns were generally had one choke, or two if it was some kind of double barrel. My grandfather LaMascus’s last shotgun was a Stevens single-shot 12-gauge with a 36-inch, full-choke barrel.
It was great for ducks and geese, okay for doves, but was a disaster for quail. If you took a quail on a covey rise and hit it center, all you had left were pieces—little pieces.
Once I shot a dove at very close range as it came over me from behind a tank dam, about like station 8 high house in skeet. I hit it dead center and just two wings came wafting down. On the other hand, I once killed a dove stone dead with it at more than 80 steps.
My .410 is choked full and modified. I use it on quail with great success. The difference is that the .410’s three-inch shell uses 11/16 of an ounce of shot (1/2-ounce in the 2 1/2-inch), while the 12-gauge generally uses 1 1/8 ounces.
The smaller amount of shot and the long, skinny shot string (all things being equal, the shorter the shot string the better the pattern) of the .410 causes a thin pattern on flying game. Even with the full choke it is good for no more than about 35 yards.
From 25 to 35 yards, it’s an okay upland gun. I have killed a lot of pheasants with it, using three-inch, #7 1/2 shells, shooting over pointers on a hunting preserve. That being said, however, it is in no way the equal of any of the other gauges.
Most generalists of the old days settled for a modified choke, and many used an improved cylinder in their 12-gauges for doves and quail. Today, with the great improvement in shotgun shells with plastic shot collars, an improved-cylinder choke will pattern about as tightly as an older modified did without modern shot collars, maybe even tighter.
My Ithaca 12-gauge is choked modified and skeet, and it is murder on quail over good dogs. The load I use in it is one ounce of #7 shot (not 7 1/2) at about 1,150 feet per second.
For many years my father’s favorite shotgun was a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster 12-gauge with a 26-inch barrel, choked improved-cylinder. When Dad was in his prime he was absolutely astounding on quail or doves with his old pump-gun. I have seen him take three bobwhites on a covey rise, with three shots.
I shot my first 25-straights in both skeet and trap with an 870. A Wingmaster or 870 Express is still a very fine choice for the upland bird hunter. If you want to use that gun on ducks or geese, you can just screw in a full or modified choke tube and go to town.
In my early days of hunting on the rolling plains of north Texas, lead shot was used for everything, including ducks and geese. Where I live these days is desert, and ducks are rare as unicorns. As a result my familiarity with modern shot shell loads for waterfowl is not what it should be.
However today, instead of lead, you have to use steel or some kind of non-toxic shot for waterfowl. Steel shot patterns beautifully up close, but loses its energy very quickly. This means that if the waterfowler wants to take shots over about 35 yards he has to use very large shot.
Lead shot of about #6, or maybe #4, was great for ducks, today the hunter would have to use #2 steel shot to get the same effective range, or even less. This gave rise to the 3-1/2-inch 12-gauge shell. This means that there are fewer shot in the shell, per volume, which causes the pattern to be comparatively thinner and the shot string longer, meaning fewer hits on the bird at any given range. Because of this, many waterfowl hunters today have even gone to 10-gauges. Goose hunters today are using the same size steel shot that I use in lead shot for bobcats and foxes.
Anyway, I don’t write as much about shotguns as I would like, but maybe I can change that. We’ll see. You can help by addressing any questions or comments you might have on the subject to me at the email address below.
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]