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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.

Page Two - most-asked shotgun questions

No. 11
Do 2 3/4-Inch Shells Pattern More Uniformly In A 2 3/4-Inch Chamber Than In A Three-Inch Chamber?


My father is of the opinion that the firing of 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch shells in a gun with a 2 3/4-inch chamber produces better patterns than when they are fired in three-inch chambers. If this is true, the performance of short shells must be awful in guns with 3 1/2-inch chambers. Do you agree?

Through the years I have pattern-tested enough short shells in long chambers to become convinced that the information you have received is more speculation than fact. Only a few weeks ago I fired several 12-gauge 2 1/2-inch and 2 3/4-inch loads in an autoloader with a three-inch chamber, and the patterns they produced were just as uniform as those shot with three-inch shells. I then took the experiment another step by firing those three shell lengths in another shotgun with a 3 1/2-inch chamber and could tell no difference in pattern quality than when 3 1/2-inch shells were used. I have also experienced the same results with other gauges. Sometime back I bought a 1930s-vintage 20-gauge double with 2 1/2-inch chambers and pattern tested it with shells of that length made by the British firm of GameBore. I then had the chambers of the gun lengthened to 2 3/4 inches, and pattern quality with those same shells remained the same when fired in the longer chambers. The 2 1/2-inch shells also produced beautiful patterns when fired in a 20-gauge gun with three-inch chambers.

No. 12
If A Three-inch Shell Fits In My Gun's 2 3/4-Inch Chamber, Can I Fire It Safely With The Longer Shells?

The barrel of my 12-gauge shotgun is marked for 2 3/4-inch shells only, yet a three-inch shell will easily slip into its chamber. Does this mean it is safe to shoot three-inch shells in my gun?

Absolutely not. The linear dimension used to identify a particular shotshell refers to the length of its fired case and not that of the loaded round. Actual length will vary slightly among various brands of shells, but those designated as 2 3/4 inches usually measure around 2 5/16 inches before firing and 2 5/8 to
2 11/16 inches after firing. Three-inch shells usually measure from 2 1/2 to 2 5/8 inches before firing and lengthen to just under three inches when fired. Since the 2 3/4-inch chamber of a shotgun will usually measure at least that long, and sometimes slightly longer, you can see how an unfired three-inch shell will drop right into it. Firing shells of excessive length for the chamber can generate dangerously high pressures for the following reason: The inside diameter of a shotgun barrel rapidly becomes smaller just forward of the front end of the chamber in an area called the forcing cone. When a three-inch shell is fired in a 2 3/4-inch chamber, its crimp section opens into the forcing cone and in doing so effectively reduces bore diameter at that point. If the shot charge and wad column are required to squeeze through this partial obstruction, chamber pressure can increase.

No. 13
Which Chokes Are Most Useful?

Sometime back I received a brochure from a maker of aftermarket screw-in chokes and am amazed at the mind-boggling number of constrictions available. If you had to boil them all down to the most useful for wingshooting and clay target shooting with a 12-gauge gun, what would they be?

Let's take clay targets first. For 16-yard trap I prefer either Improved Cylinder or Light Modified, and when shooting trap doubles I use one of those in the bottom barrel of my over/under and Modified up top. Modified also works fine for handicap shooting back to the 20-yard line, but beyond that I would switch to Improved Modified or Full. When shooting regular skeet I prefer Cylinder or Skeet choke, and for sporting clays either of those along with Light Modified for the more distant targets and perhaps Modified for clay rabbits beyond 30 yards will get the job done.

Now for field work. When hunting birds that hold tight for a good pointing dog (preserve quail, pheasant, and chukar are good examples), I prefer Skeet in one barrel and Improved Cylinder in the other of a double gun. If I had to pick just one for a single-barrel gun, I'd go with Skeet. What you have just read also applies to mountain grouse. Increase ranges a bit for a combination of both close- and wild-flushing birds, and I'll take Improved Cylinder and Modified; if I had to make do with one, it would be the Improved Cylinder. Improved Cylinder will also handle doves out to 25 yards while longer shots on those birds will usually require Light Modified. When hunting extremely spooky birds that flush way out yonder, anything from Improved Modified to Full often proves to be none too tight.

If push came to shove, I could get by with fewer chokes, but you asked for what I consider to be optimum rather than minimum.

No. 14
Are Clay Target Games Good Practice For Hunting?

A gun club in my area offers trap, skeet, and sporting clays, but a friend I hunt with says neither game has any value as far as making me a better shot in the field is concerned. He says there are clay target shooters and there are hunters, and the only thing the two have in common is their guns go "bang." What do you say?

I say your friend should give clay target shooting a try before voicing an opinion. Perfection is impossible to achieve without practice, and few hunting seasons or game bag limits are generous enough to allow us a great deal of time for that. While some of the shots presented in the clay target games (such as the springing teal of sporting clays) are seldom encountered in the field, even those shots offer an excellent way to learn the fundamentals of shotgunning. I'll put it this way: Of the top skeet and sporting clays shooters I know, each and every one who hunts is also an excellent shot in the field. I'm also convinced that shooting clay targets during the off-season makes me a far better shot in the field.

No. 15
Are High-Brass Hulls Stronger Than Low-Brass?

It would appear to me that high-brass shells are stronger than low-brass shells. Assuming this to be true, which brand should I shoot in my old Winchester Model 12?

All manufacturers load shotshells of the various types to similar chamber pressure levels, and how high the brass extends up on the body of the case has absolutely no bearing on strength. Modern plastic hulls are strong enough to withstand the relatively low chamber pressures to which shotshells are loaded even if they have no brass at all. The ACTIV hull, which is of virtually all-plastic construction, is a good example of how true this is; the only metal it contains is a thin disc imbedded in its head to prevent the extractor of a gun from ripping through its thin plastic rim. High-brass hulls, low-brass hulls, no-brass hulls, there really is no practical difference in their ability to withstand chamber pressures during firing.
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No. 16
Should I Handload Shotshells?

I own shotguns in 12, 20, 28, and .410 and am trying to decide if I should start reloading my shells. What do you think?

Whether or not reloading shotshells is worthwhile from a purely practical point of view boils down to only two factors: cost and the need for specialty loads not available in factory-loaded ammunition. If your shotgunning is limited to hunting and perhaps no more than a few rounds of skeet each year to sharpen your eye for the upcoming season, it might be difficult to justify purchasing the equipment needed even if it is nothing more than the least expensive single-stage reloader available. On the other hand, if in addition to hunting you also burn up a lot of shells on clay targets, you probably can't afford not to reload.

Having the option of reloading will also allow you to cook up any specialty loads needed. For example, my 20-gauge Westley Richards quail gun was built back in the 1930s, so I treat it kindly by feeding it nothing heavier than 3/4 ounce of shot and 11.5 grains of Hodgdon's International Clays for a muzzle velocity of 1100 fps. Recoil is quite comfortable, chamber pressure averages a mild 8000 psi, and the load drops bobwhites like a laser. This is basically a 28-gauge equivalent load not available in factory-loaded form, and only by handloading am I able to shoot it.

No. 17
For What Applications Are Manual And Automatic Safeties Best Suited?

I have noticed that the safeties of several modern over/under doubles, with the Remington Peerless and Ruger Red Label as examples, can be set internally for either manual or automatic operation. For what applications are the two modes best suited?

Most clay target shooters prefer a nonautomatic safety and one that is blocked to prevent it from being pushed to the "On" position. A blocked safety is okay in competitive shooting where the gun is never loaded until the shooter steps to the firing point, but such a safety should never be used in the field. I prefer manual safeties on all my guns whether they be used for competitive shooting or the field, but when using one for hunting I keep its safety "On" until I am in the act of actually firing the gun. Hunters of lesser experience with double-barrel shotguns are probably better off with a safety that automatically returns to the "On" position when the top lever is thumbed to the side for loading, although some might argue this point since autoloaders and pump guns do not have automatic safeties.

No. 18
Will A Bigger, Brighter Front Sight Help?

The barrel of my shotgun has a relatively small bead up front. If I have a larger one installed, will it help me to shoot more quail and pheasant with fewer shells?

Probably not. A large front bead is good to have on a shotgun used for hunting turkeys because the gun is usually aimed at a gobbler while it is standing on the ground in order to concentrate the dense center of the shot pattern on its head and neck areas. On the other hand, when a shotgun is properly used for wingshooting, it is pointed and fired instinctively and not aimed. In other words, the shooter really should not be conscious of whether or not the barrel actually has a bead.

No. 19
How Can I Use My Damascus-Barreled Shotgun In The Field Without Handloading Blackpowder Loads?

An old Parker 12-gauge shotgun I have is in excellent condition, but a gunsmith tells me I should shoot only blackpowder loads in its Damascus barrels. I really don't want to start handloading for just one gun (especially with blackpowder), so I am looking for an alternative short of spending a fortune to have a set of modern steel barrels made. How can I return this fine old gun to the field?

It sounds like you have already completed the most important step in trying to return your cherished old gun to the field-having a gunsmith check out its condition. For other readers considering shooting an old Damascus-barreled shotgun, I can't stress enough the importance of having a competent gunsmith look it over before firing it with any kind of load. With that said, the easiest solution to your problem is to try some of Five Star Classic Cartridge's (Dept. ST, Box 2059, Jonesboro, GA 30237; phone: 770-473-7100) Pyrodex-powered 12-gauge shotshells. According to Five Star and Hodgdon (who makes Pyrodex), these loads are as safe as any blackpowder shells in this type of shotgun, as long as a competent gunsmith has pronounced the gun shootable. While Five Star's shotshells are intended primarily for cowboy action shotgun events and are loaded with No. 7 1/2 shot, they could be used for small- and upland-game hunting.

If you want to use your Damascus-barreled Parker for a wider variety of shooting, I recommend that you purchase a set of full-length subgauge tubes in 28 gauge or .410 bore. Since the tubes alone are strong enough to handle normal chamber pressures generated by those two chamberings, you could safely fire modern factory ammo in your gun without being concerned about it suffering any damage whatsoever. Two types of subgauge tubes are available, drop-in and custom fitted, and prices usually run anywhere from $300 to $500 per pair.

No. 20
Is It Possible To Shoot Skeet With One Gun?

I want to start shooting skeet but cannot afford to buy an entire battery of shotguns. Could I get by with one gun and gauge? If so, what would the combination be? What are some of the more popular skeet guns?

If your intention is to shoot skeet for fun and perhaps to sharpen your eye for hunting, any shotgun capable of shooting two rounds will suffice, so long as it is 12 gauge or smaller. I see lots of shooters on the skeet fields with all sorts of hunting guns that would probably never win a tournament, but the fellows shooting them are having a ball and when all is said and done, that's what is important.

On the other hand, if you think you might become serious enough about the game to enter tournaments, you will eventually want to shoot all four events so it is important to start out with the right gun. Very few skeeters shoot a battery of guns these days. Instead, most use a 12-gauge over/under with three sets of subgauge tubes that allow them to also shoot the 20, 28, and .410 in the same gun. Doing so is less expensive than buying four doubles (or one double with four sets of barrels), and more importantly the gun handles and feels close to the same regardless of which of the four shells is being shot.

Your best bet is to start out with a good 12-gauge double and then add a set of 28-gauge tubes as your budget allows. With the capability of shooting the 12 and 28 in the same gun, you would have three events covered since the National Skeet Shooting Association allows the 28 to be used in both the 28- and 20-gauge events. This would not greatly handicap you since the percentage of targets you will break with the 28 should be about the same as you will break with the 20. Later would come a pair of .410 tubes, and then your last purchase could be the 20-gauge tubes.

The most popular manufacturers of over/unders among skeet shooters at this time are Browning, Beretta, Krieghoff, and Perazzi, mainly because of the durability of the guns they build. The most popular barrel length is 28 inches. If you can't afford a new gun, shop around because clay target shooters switch guns about as often as they change underwear and plenty of used ones (guns that is) are on the market.

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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