The end of a great afternoon
Nobody will argue that the 12 gauge is the queen of all shotguns. It is the most available, the most used, the most flexible, and would be my recommendation to almost anyone that is getting start in shotguns, provided they have the size and muscles to handle the weight of the gun (recoil is no longer a problem with the advent of “featherweight” and low pressure target rounds that will shoot ¾ to 7/8 ounces).
But, with all its qualities the 12 may be just too much gun, and if it is the queen, then, in my opinion the 28 gauge is the princess of shotguns. I know that a lot of people will make their cases for the 16 and 20 gauges and a few may even put a word or two for the 410 bore. And the 24 and 32 gauges are all but forgotten.
Anyway, my vote and my case are for the 28 gauge and the light and in the majority of cases well-balanced guns that shoot it. And the last point is very important, if you are going to use a 28, make sure to select a gun that is made in a properly sized frame, and not some misconceived and ungainly aberration that just happen to haven smaller holes drilled in barrels that would handle a 20 gauge shell easily.
If you read other posts in this blog you will already know that our household guns when I grew up were 28 gauges, and that they were big enough to handle all the hunting that we had around.
At that time in Brazil the standard 28 gauge shells were waxed paper 2 ½ inches (65 mm) loaded with 5/8 ounces (15,5 grams) of shot. The available shot sizes were T (an uncommon size in the US, it is slightly larger than BB), 3, 5 and 7.
T shot is recommended for animal up to the size of a paca or agouti (Cuniculus paca), which is probably the best tasting meat we will ever have the pleasure of eating, and my father used it very successfully for that. For all feathered game, including waterfowl (the most prevalent around our farm were paturis (Netta erythrophtalma) which are similar to teals) and upland birds we used shot No. 5.
For larger game like capivara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) we relied on IDEAL slugs. The IDEAL is an European design that never caught up in the US, and is basically a pure lead cylinder that has three rings around it in the outside (this allows the slug to be stable while moving through the barrel and the external rings can deform when passing through the choke) and spiral groves inside that look like an helix or a propeller, therefore the popular name Helix Bullet. The internal groves are supposed to make the projectile spin during flight and provide enhanced stability and precision. To prove this we would put one slug inside the gun barrel and blow air from the shop compressor and the slug would really spin. If that really happened on flight I don’t know.
Later when I started having to hand load my own brass shot shells for capivara I replaced the more expensive IDEAL slugs by fishing sinkers of more or less the appropriate size, and used them quite effectively on an old Rossi Overland, side-by-side exposed hammer shotgun. I had a lot of fun with this gun and still have it stored in Brazil. It is completely out of face, one of the barrels has a bulge and the lower rib is coming apart, and it has not fired a shot in twenty years, but I could not part away from the little rack.
If you fast forward from my childhood to the last ten years, I have had many different 28 gauge shotguns here in the US and used them quite extensively, but solely for clay shooting and upland birds.
I had a very nice Beretta 686 that I could shoot quite well, but traded for a Browning 20 gauge side-by-side if for no other reason than I am really infatuated with side-by-side guns. This gun saw quite a bit of use on pheasants in many preserves in Michigan and on mourning doves in some farms in Indiana, since Michigan laws prevents us from shooting our birds before they migrate to Indiana where we must pay a lot more to shoot them. The only exception was the fall of 2004 when we had the only experimental dove season in Michigan (see blog “The Missed Doves of Michigan, September 2011).
Then I had a really charming Remington 1100 Sporting that I used as part of the trade for another side-by-side, this time an AyA 16 gauge, if for no other reason that I was tired of looking for ejected shells all over the local skeet fields and just could not use it if there was snow on the ground as 28 gauge shells are too expensive not to be reloaded.
Eventually I was able to overcome all the infamous Brazilian red tape and bring my dad’s Beretta 28 side-by-side Model 409 to the US and I already commented about this fantastic little gun on other posts. Initially I shot it very little as it was chambered for 2 ½ inch shells, but that is now solved as this gun was fully restored by Del Whitman.
Recently Brenneke started offering 28 gauge 5/8 ounce slugs, but I have no experience with them. Before that I created my own big game ammo by loading two 50 caliber musket balls inside a standard wad. Unhappily I never did any comprehensive tests to evaluate their performance, but I have little doubt that they would be as deadly as any muzzleloader shooting similar projectiles.
The last 28 gauge that I bought is a Browning Model 12 grade I. This gun fits me particularly well and outshoots almost any other gun that I have. My highest score at trap was shot with it, using ¾ ounces low speed reloads with No. 8 shot.
However during all these years and having shot all these fine guns I had one frustration. I had never used a 28 gauge to hunt codorna or perdiz (Nothura maculosa), the princess of upland birds that my father used to hunt. Before you ask, the queen of upland birds is the perdigão or martineta (Rhynchotus rufescens), but that is another story.
Finally in last July during my latest trip to Uruguay I was able to finally have the princess of shotguns and the princess of upland birds on the same date. I used a Stoeger/Boito/ERA 28 gauge side-by-side, and shot Spanish made ¾ ounces 7 ½ shells to shoot a 10 bird limit on perdiz every afternoon that I went out, and for an inexpensive Brazilian made shotgun, it performed amazingly well. All birds that I hit fell hard, and the many that I missed were entirely my fault.
On the mornings we shot doves and the odd pigeons, and I noticed no difference on my hit ratio compared to the 16’s and 20’s that I used on previous years and there was the added benefit of not having a sore shoulder once the morning was over.
On the last evening we performed a service to a local farming by thinning out the caturrita or cotorro (Myiopsitta monachus), a highly destructive vermin in the form of colorful parrot. Their nests were located in a eucalyptus grove and since we were not there for sport anything was fair game and we wanted to get the most of the shells that we had. I remember bringing seven birds down with a single shot, and at the end of the culling we shot about seventy five birds with less than forty shells.
Life is too short to do things that we don’t enjoy, so I am quite happy to be living with the 28 gauge for over four decades, since the days that I used to follow my father’s steps while hunting perdiz over our English pointer Diana in our farm in Brazil, and retrieving the spent 28 gauge paper hulls just to smell their inebriant essence, until some weeks ago when I first had the opportunity to smell a Michigan woodcock shot by the same Beretta shotgun.
And I hope that I will be able to continue to enjoy many other “adventures”.