|Best Pheasant Guns and Loads|
My favorite shotgun for hunting preserve pheasants is a Winchester Parker reproduction in 28 gauge. While I prefer 28-inch barrels on a double, this one just happened to have 26-inch tubes when I bought it. Its barrels are choked Quail-1 (.004 inch of constriction) and Quail-2 (.010 inch).
Many hunters would consider the 28 not enough gun for pheasant, and this is true for some conditions. But for shots out to 25, maybe 30 yards, it hammers birds with the best of 'em when the right load is used. Only a few months before this was written I hunted wild pheasants in South Dakota as a guest of Browning. New Citori Feather XS shotguns in 12, 20, 28, and .410 were available, and each and every day saw several of us racing to see who would end up with the six-pound gun in 28 gauge. Using Winchester Super-X ammo loaded with an ounce of No. 6 shot, we consistently grassed birds out to 30 yards. The limit was three birds per day, and over a period of two days I bagged a pheasant on six consecutive flushes with exactly seven shots. Using the same gun and load, another hunter in our group went seven straight dead birds with only seven shots.
I thought long and hard before including the .410 bore in an article on hunting a bird as big and tough as the pheasant simply because in the wrong hands it can be a wounder of game; no true sportsman wants any part of that. But since it along with the 28 gauge are growing in popularity among experienced hunters who go after ringnecks on commercial hunting preserves, I decided to include it but emphasize its limitations.
The biggest thing the .410 has against it is its light shot charge when compared with the larger gauges. The heaviest shot charge that can be handloaded in the three-inch shell is 3/4 ounce. Such a load, by the way, was once offered by both Winchester and Remington. This is also the standard shot charge weight of the 28 gauge, and while it contains a few pellets more than are in the more common 1 1/16-ounce loading of the .410, it still isn't capable of delivering as heavy a payload as the bigger bores. Regardless of how much choke the relatively light shot charge is squeezed through, pattern density becomes quite patchy at about 25 yards; some loads don't even hold up out to that distance.
When hunting preserve pheasants with the .410 I use nothing but 3/4 ounce of No. 6 nickel-plated shot. The Federal three-inch case is the best choice since it has a bit more capacity than the Remington and Winchester hulls. The Remington hull can be used, but the shotcup petals of the wad have to be shortened a bit with scissors to make room for the heavy shot charge. I most often use an Iver Johnson with Skeet choke that has .005 inch of constriction in its right barrel and .010 inch in the left (Skeet and Improved Cylinder). While my shots-per-dead-bird average is as good with the .410 as when I use the 28 or 20, my birds-flushed-to-birds-shot-at ratio is lower with the smaller bore simply because I turn down quite a few opportunities that would be easy shots with one of the bigger gauges.
The secret to living happily ever after with the little .410 is to combine the heaviest loads available with the right chokes and absolutely refrain from taking a shot at any pheasant once it passes the 20-yard line. Anyone who cannot live by those rules will do everyone (including the game) a big favor by leaving the .410 at home.
Guns For Pheasant
Due to the great number of shotguns presently available it is impossible for me to mention very many in this report, but I will write a word or two about several over/under doubles I have been impressed with of late. A couple are from Weatherby, the Orion Upland and the Athena Grade IV. I used the latter on an Arkansas duck hunt and a Minnesota pheasant hunt and have yet to find anything to complain about. Both models are quite handsome, beautifully balanced, throw excellent patterns, and are available in 12 and 20 gauge. Another newer over/under I really enjoyed hunting with was the Citori Feather XS from Browning. Other new over/unders include the Remington Model 300 Ideal and USRAC/Winchester Supreme.
I'm sure more pheasants fall victim to hunters armed with autoloaders than with any other type of shotgun. This is easy to understand considering the affordable price of some of them along with the ability of the gas-operated models to soak up part of the recoil from heavy loads. Of the new autoloaders I have field-tested, the ones that impressed me most were the Weatherby SAS and Beretta AL391. Both are very nice guns. Other good autoloaders are available from Remington, Browning, Mossberg, Franchi, and Benelli.
As slide-action guns go, I see more pheasant hunters toting Remington 870s and discontinued Winchester Model 12s than all others combined. I seldom hunt with the pump gun, but if ever that changes I'll probably go with the 12-gauge 870 Wingmaster for wild pheasant and the same gun in 28-gauge for preserve hunting. Other pump guns I wouldn't mind spending a day or two in the field with are the Browning BPS, Benelli Nova, USRAC/ Winchester Model 1300 Ranger, and Mossberg Model 500 Sporting.
Page One - Overview, 12 Gauge, 20 Gauge
This article was originally published in Shooting Times Gun Guide 2001 in 2001.