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The 20 Most-Asked Questions About Shotguns, Answered by an Expert
20 Most-Asked Shotgun Questions - By Layne Simpson, Field Editor, Shooting Times.

Layne receives a lot of questions about scatterguns; here are the 20 most common along with his answers, based on over 40 years of shooting and hunting.

Shooting Times readers are great at coming up with interesting and often challenging technical questions, and I'm happy to say I receive far more letters each month than I can possibly squeeze into my "Questions & Answers" column. What happens to letters that don't get used? Well, for starters they all get read. And if a particular letter pertains to a subject I believe to be of general interest to a fair number of other readers, it is filed away under one of various headings like "Rifles," "Cartridges," "Optical Instruments," "Wildcats," etc. Anytime one of those files starts filling up, I know quite a large percentage of readers have to be interested in that particular subject. About a year ago my "Varmint Shooting" letter file grew to the point where the ST editors and I decided it was time to combine the 20 most popular questions into a feature article, so I did just that. More recently, my "Shotgun Stuff" file was on the verge of splitting at its seams, so we figured the time had come to do the same for that subject - the 20 most-asked shotgun questions. Here, then, are 20 of the most popular questions I have received from readers interested in all things dealing with the sport of shotgunning.

No. 1
Are Magnum Loads Faster Than Standard Field Loads?

I have been told that I will have to lead a duck more when using a standard field load than when using a magnum load because the latter is loaded to higher velocity. How much faster are magnum shotshells?

Unlike magnum centerfire rifle cartridges, which are usually faster than standard cartridges, magnum shotshells of all gauges are often slower than regular field loads. Use of the word magnum in shotshell terminology refers to a heavier shot charge and not necessarily an increase in speed. As examples, Remington's 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch Premier Magnum turkey load has 1 1/2 ounces of shot and a 1260 fps muzzle velocity rating while Remington's standard Game Load delivers 1/4 ounce less shot but is rated at a quicker 1330 fps. Moving on up in payload size, respective shot charge weights of the Premier Magnum loadings of the three-inch and 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge Magnum shells are two and 2 1/4 ounces respectively while their muzzle velocities are only 1175 and 1150 fps respectively. It all has to do with the maximum chamber pressures within which the ammunition makers must work, and when light and heavy shot charges are loaded to the same pressures, the latter will be lower in velocity.

No. 2
What Is A Shot Tower?

The gunshop owner from whom I recently bought some No. 8 lead shot made by Winchester said it was formed in a shot tower. What is a shot tower?

When free-falling through the air, the surface tension of any liquid, whether it be water from a rain cloud or a molten metal like lead, causes each droplet to become spherical in shape. In the making of shot, molten lead is poured into a large pan, the bottom of which is full of small holes. The size of these holes determines the size of the shot. As the pan is vibrated droplets of lead fall through the air and land in a pool of water where they are cooled with little to no deformation. Since it was once thought that the formation of uniformly round lead droplets required a drop through the air of 150 feet or so, the process took place in a tall structure commonly referred to as a shot tower. Some shot manufacturers still use shot towers while others use the Bleimeister process in which the lead droplets fall only a few feet.

No. 3
Can Choke Be Measured With A Coin?

At a recent gun show I observed an old gentleman placing a coin in the muzzle of a 12-gauge shotgun and pronouncing it as having a Full choke. Can the choke constriction really be measured with a coin?

Some shotgunners believe the amount of choke in a barrel can be determined by simply measuring its inside diameter at the muzzle, but this has never been true (and it never will be true unless all manufacturers decide to get together and start making barrels of the same gauge with a common bore diameter). The amount of choke constriction in a barrel is the difference between its bore diameter and the constriction at its muzzle; the best way to measure both is with a special dial caliper (available from Brownells, Dept. ST, 200 S. Front St., Montezuma, IA 50171). Bore diameter can vary considerably among the various manufacturers, and the same holds true for muzzle constriction for a given choke designation. Taking the 12 gauge as an example, while standard bore diameter is supposed to be in the neighborhood of .729 to .730 inch, barrels from various makers can range anywhere from .720 to .735 inch, and those that have been backbored can be even larger. Assuming that the correct amount of constriction for, say, Full choke for the 12 gauge is .040 inch, it is easy to see how actual inside diameter at the muzzle can vary from .680 to .695 inch for that designation.

No. 4
What's The Most Common Mistake Made By Inexperienced Shotgunners In Choosing Equipment?

When it comes to choosing the right equipment, what single mistake is an inexperienced shotgunner most likely to make?

I'd say choosing more choke than is actually required for a specific application is the single most common mistake made by those who are new to shotgunning. In many parts of the U.S. (and the world for that matter), a very large percentage of aerial targets are taken inside 25 yards; for this reason most shooters would miss fewer birds if they chose one of the more open chokes such as Skeet or Improved Cylinder. In addition to averaging a lower number of shells per bird, those hunters would also damage the meat of fewer of the birds they do hit. Other applications do require tighter chokes, but the beginning shotgunner who starts out with less choke than he thinks he needs and then works up to tighter chokes as required is a lot better off than one who starts the game with an extremely tight choke. The chart below shows the approximate diameters of patterns produced by various common chokes at several ranges; it should give you an idea of how difficult it is to hit close-range targets with extremely tight chokes.

Choke Pattern Diameter
Approximate Pattern Diameter (Inches)
10 Yards
20 Yards
25 Yards
30 Yards
40 Yards

No. 5
Does The 12 Gauge Shoot A Bigger Pattern?

How much larger in diameter is the pattern thrown by a 12-gauge gun than a 20-gauge gun with the same choke?

Everything including the degree of choke constriction being the same, gauge has nothing to do with pattern size. At any given distance patterns from the 10, 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410 will measure approximately the same diameter so long as they are choked the same. The only exception is when extremely soft shot is used. Smaller bores sometimes throw slightly larger patterns with extremely soft shot due to a higher level of pellet deformation during firing, but the difference is seldom great enough to make a difference in the field.

No. 6
Is One Trigger Better Than Two?

When I was a youngster practically every double-barrel shotgun I saw had two triggers, but most of the newer models made today have a single trigger. Is one better than two?

Some shotgunners have a specific preference between single and double triggers while others use either with equal satisfaction. I regularly use doubles with both types, and even though I would just as soon have one as the other, I do recognize that each has slight advantages. While pull length always remains the same with a single trigger, it is longer for the front trigger than for the rear trigger on a gun with two triggers. This seems to bother some shooters. Barrel selection can be a bit quicker with two triggers, but their biggest advantage as I see it comes when hunting flushing birds such as quail. On a number of occasions I have fired one barrel at a single bird and then had a second one flush while my gun was broken down for reloading. A double gun with two triggers can be closed on an empty chamber and the bird quickly taken with the second barrel by simply squeezing its trigger. If this is done while hunting with a gun equipped with a single trigger, the barrel selector has to be switched prior to pulling the trigger in order to fire the loaded barrel, making it a bit slower to get back into action. The advantage of a double-trigger gun in the field is slight, but it is there just the same.

No. 7
Will Copper-Plated Shot Damage An Old Shotgun Barrel?

I have a very nice old Winchester Model 21 double and would like to try factory ammo with copper-plated shot. I have been told that type of shot is harder than plain lead shot and might damage the barrels of my gun. Do you agree? What types of shot are safe to use in my Model 21?

The antimony content of shot is what determines its degree of hardness, and copper plating serves only to prevent surface oxidation of the shot and to make it pretty. Nickel plating does increase shot hardness a bit, but even it is not hard enough to cause any damage to the barrels of your Model 21. Any type of lead shot, whether it be plated or nonplated, is suitable for use in old doubles like yours. Three of the nontoxic shot types now readily available-tungsten-matrix, tungsten polymer, and
bismuth-are also suitable for use in your Model 21.

No. 8
How Do I Become A Better Wingshot?

I have long taken great pride in my marksmanship with a rifle, but wingshooting gives me fits. What rules would help me become more proficient with a shotgun?

The two most common mistakes inexperienced shotgunners make are lifting the head from the stock as they fire and stopping the swing as the trigger is squeezed. Keeping your cheek glued to the stock as the gun fires is an absolute must as failing to do so will usually cause you to shoot over the target. Stopping your swing just as you pull the trigger will cause you to shoot behind the target. Other rules are important, but learning to keep your head down and pulling the trigger as the muzzle swings through the target will go a long way toward making you a better wingshot. If you have a gun club nearby, you will likely find an experienced skeet shooter there who will be happy to instruct you in the fundamentals of shotgunning. You might also want to consider attending one of the many shotgun schools and clinics held across the country each year. I highly recommend the Remington Shooting School, and you can obtain rates as well as a location schedule by calling 1-800-742-7053.

No. 9
What Is Backboring?

I keep seeing the term backboring used in describing shotgun barrels, but I'm not sure I fully understand what it means. Can you explain it and any benefit it offers?

Also called overboring, backboring simply means that the bore diameter of a barrel exceeds what has long been the industry standard. Depending on whose chart you believe, .729 to .730 inch is standard for the 12 gauge while the bore diameter of a backbored barrel usually measures from .735 to .740 inch and sometimes a bit larger. As for any major benefit, some shooters are convinced that backboring along with lengthening of the forcing cone of a barrel reduces recoil, and while I don't believe this has been proven to be true scientifically, I am sold on the concept. The idea of backboring a shotgun barrel is a very old one, but it did not prove to be entirely practical until the introduction of the modern plastic wad with a flanged overpowder cup capable of obturating sufficiently to seal off the oversized bore.

No. 10
Is A Straight Or Curved Grip Best?

While shopping for a new shotgun I noticed that several are available with either a curved or a straight grip. I prefer the looks of the straight-grip guns but have never tried that style. Which is best?

Like many features seen on various types of firearms, choosing between a straight or curved grip boils down more to individual preference than anything else. I prefer the curved grip for shooting clay target games such as skeet, trap, and sporting clays because it allows for more uniform positioning of the hand from shot to shot. The straight grip (or straight hand as the English call it) is often touted as the best choice for a double with two triggers since it allows the hand to move more smoothly from one trigger to the other when shooting. While this might be true for some shotgunners, I find that I shoot equally well afield with either style. Two of my favorite upland game guns are a Westley Richards side-by-side double with two triggers and straight grip and an L.C. Smith double with dual triggers and a curved grip. Just for the fun of it I sometimes start a hunt with one and finish up with the other, but I find my shells per bird average to be the same regardless of which gun I use.

A straight grip does tend to cause the trigger-hand elbow to be held higher as the gun is mounted, and while it is believed by some that this discourages lifting of the head when shooting (a common cause of misses), I find missing about as easy with one type of stock as the other. Perhaps the best thing the straight grip has going for it is its looks; to my eye a fine side-by-side double with twin triggers, straight-grip stock, and splinter forearm is one of the most handsome of all firearms.

Page One - Favorite Shotgun Questions 1 through 10
Page Two - Favorite Shotgun Questions 11 through 20

This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in July, 1999.

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