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Hearing Damage

Good morning,

I am a week or so away from buying a new shotgun. After a lot of research, I have my choices narrowed down to the Beretta AL391 12ga. 28″ barrel and the Beretta 686 Onyx 12 ga. 28″ barrels (in the X-Tra Wood). My research has indicated that both are fine guns and it will really come down to what I finally decide I can afford (and the results of this inquiry). I plan to use the gun for a roughly 60/40 split between clays shooting and hunting.

My question to you all revolves around gun noise. I have, unfortunately, very sensitive hearing, and at 25 years old, already have tinnitus (constant ringing) in both ears that is the result of one dove hunt in which I shot 49 light dove loads over the course of 4 hours and walked off the field with permanent hearing damage. I refuse to give up my love for hunting and shooting, but needless to say, I have to protect my ears very carefully from here on out.

Here is my question: Is there any difference in the noise level between different types of guns? In other words, are gas semi-autos quieter than O/U’s or vice versa? The reason I ask this is because after watching a clay shooting match this weekend, it seemed to me that the gas semi-autos seemed to produce less muzzle blast than the O/U’s. Maybe it was my imagination or just different types of shells being shot by different shooters, but it is something that I have noticed before. The semi-autos seem to me to make more of a mechanical/action/gas type noise (for lack of better description) whereas O/U’s and pumps seem to produce more of a pure blast. In your experience, is any of this accurate?

In short, I would be very grateful if you all could provide me with as much information as possible on getting the quietist type of 12 gauge shotgun I can. As indicated above, I have my gun choices narrowed to either a gas semi-auto or an O/U. Also, any advice you might have on ways to make a stock gun shoot more quietly with modifications, aftermarket parts, et cetera would also be appreciated. Finally, because I don’t trust them, I don’t use these electronic hearing protectors that shut off automatically above a certain decibel level. I only use non-electronic plugs and muffs. I am sick of wearing bulky muffs that interfere with my gun stock but obviously muffs provide better protection than plugs.

I have thought recently about paying the money to get a pair of custom-fitted in-the-ear plugs from a company like ESP, Westone, et cetera. Are these expensive custom fitted plugs worth it or is it just as effective to buy the cheaper non-custom plugs? In short, any advice you could give me regarding the least obtrusive, best protecting hearing protection would also be appreciated.

Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to your response.



Dear Gregory,

Shotgun blast is a function of barrel (length and design such as porting) and shell. It is not a function of gun action design. The “clunking and clanging” sound that an auto makes is not loud enough to damage hearing. It’s loud enough to be noticed, but doesn’t have the decibel level to damage. The opening of the bolt and clearance of the shell is delayed until the shot is out of the barrel, so I don’t think that much shell noise or blast comes out of the ejection port. I think it’s the muzzle blast that does it. Generally, the longer the barrel, the quieter, but that also depends on the shell being used. You will notice that some shells, normally those of higher velocity, are louder than slower and lighter loads. This is due, not only to the quantity of powder used, but also due to the burn rate. Slow burners burn further down the barrel and produce more muzzle blast. Obviously, you don’t want any ported barrels either.

I don’t know what your hearing doctor said when you were tested to assess your permanent hearing loss. I don’t know what your loss involves. Generally, ear plugs alone don’t protect against concussive hearing loss from shock transmitted through the thin bones behind the ear. That could be an issue. That’s why muffs are better. The best muffs I’ve used are the big non-electronic “Peltor Ultimate 10”.

The Peltor 10s are very thick muffs, but they use the same cushion size as other muffs. Cushion size is what determines how low the muffs sit and whether they hit the stock for some people. Thickness has nothing to do with it. Thin muffs are just a marketing ploy. If you hit your stock on the lower edge of your muffs. you should tinker with your gun mount and head position a bit. I’ve noticed that experienced shooters seldom have a muff interference problem. It’s usually the newer shooters who haven’t finalized their gun mount and head position yet.

In addition to the muffs, continue to wear ear plugs. I’ve found that the simple foam plugs do just as good a job, or better, than the carefully molded plugs. The foam plug always expands for a perfect fit. The molded plug can lose it’s fit if your ear canal changes size over time. I’ve never used molded electronic plugs, just the non-electric molded ones so I can’t comment on molded electronic versions.

I’ve tried a couple of pairs of electronic muffs, but the particular brands I used didn’t give nearly as good hearing protection as my big non-electric Peltor 10s. I still prefer the non-electrics. The whole point to electronic muffs and plugs is that you can carry on normal conversation while you are waiting for your turn to shoot. This is a nice feature. I can hear conversations fairly well through muffs. I get zapped when I lift the one muff up to hear a little better and then someone decides to test fire his ten gauge at that point. That’s where muffs and plugs make sense.

Perhaps the ideal combination would be to use good electronic molded plugs and electronic muffs. You’d certainly keep the battery makers happy. Perhaps an even better way would be electronic molded plugs and then the non-electronic Peltor 10s. You’d wear the molded plugs when you are near people who are shooting, but add the muffs when you are actually shooting for an extra layer of protection. Certainly for rough hunting, when you are walking about a great deal, electronic molded plugs would be a great benefit. As a New England grouse hunter, I can attest that it certainly is nice to hear that bird when it gets up right behind you. In the uplands I use the Silencio ear plugs with the little valve. They do a fair job of cutting out the worst of the noise while still allowing me some hearing. It does seem that I lose some directional hearing though. Still, they are a compromise and my hearing is not all that sensitive (which ought to tell me something). For other types of hunting, I don’t think that the ability to hear is as important. I use standard hearing protection when I hunt dove and pigeon. I always wear regular muffs in the duck blind and goose pit because I’m relying on visuals not the audio. Besides, the guy next to you is always shooting 3-1/2″ Roman candles.

Again, talk to your audiologist and get his recommendations on how to protect your hearing. On the shotgun side, get which ever gun you prefer. There’s no difference in noise attributable to the gun alone. Just pick your shells carefully. Winchester makes a subsonic “feather” load that is extremely quiet. You might try a case of those.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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All Purpose 3-1/2″ Benelli SBE

Dear Technoid,

I enjoy your website and the advice you and your readers contribute. Good to learn from others since I do not have the time nor inclination to learn everything solo. Keep up the good work. I hope your readers continue to advise you when you wonder off into the “often in error” zone.

I read your reports on the inability of 3-1/2″ 12 gauge shotguns (Browning, Benelli, and Remington) to perform effectively on target loads. You also stated several times you do not like the Benelli as a sporting clays (SC) gun because of its stock fit, higher recoil vs. gas autos and inability to shoot SC loads. On several occasions I thought about writing you about this, but never did. Well, I just read the “Correction on Steel” and decided enough is enough. I do not know if your experience with the Benelli SBE is as extensive as your experience with Beretta, but my experience with the SBE is different.

Issue #1 : 3 1/2 ” guns do not function properly with standard target loads. Below is your quote from the “Correction on Steel” update.

“My biggest complaint about the 3-1/2″ guns I’ve seen so far has been that they don’t function properly with standard target loads. I’m a big believer in practicing on clays with my hunting guns in the off season and would really rather not practice with magnum shells just to make the gun work. Though I haven’t shot one yet, perhaps the new 3-1/2″ Beretta Xtrema may be able to deal with a broader range of shells than the efforts from Browning, Benelli and Remington. We’ll see.”


I have considerable experience with SBE (1995 vintage) on light loads and do consider it suitable for all applications. My SBE reliably cycles everything from 24 gram loads ( just under 7/8 oz ) up 2-1/4 oz turkey loads. That’s a 1.4 oz load range. Not sure why anyone needs a wider load range for any shooting situation. I routinely use light loads (usually 1or 1-1/8 oz) for SC’s. Practicing with the same gun I use for hunting is a big plus.

I never experienced a problem with the SBE on light loads, even with a fairly dirty gun. One key is using powder loads above 2.5 drams equiv. (low recoil stuff). 2 3/4 drams equiv. or greater powder charges cycles loads less than 1-1/8 oz in my SBE. 7/8 and 1 oz loads do not eject hulls far from the gun, but always eject reliably. Hull retrievers will appreciate hulls falling close. No need to walk 10 feet which can place hulls in shrubs and weeds on SC courses and out of sight in hunting situations. Hunters should make a reasonable effort to retrieve hulls even if they do not reload.

I had a delightful experience on an Argentina Dove Hunt with sub 1 oz loads. I requested the outfitter to provide me 1-1/8 oz loads as a precautionary measure. The outfitter’s normal load was 24 gram low recoil Fiocchi shells. I knew I would be doing a lot of shooting and did not know if the SBE would function on ultra light loads, especially in the latter part of a heavy shooting day.

When I arrived in he field and unpacked my gear, I realized the outfitter provided me the 24 gram loads. I had never tried a load lighter than 1oz. Well, what is one to do when doves by the hundreds fly by continuously? I started the SBE on a continuos diet of the light Fiocchi loads to determine how many rounds, if any, the SBE could digest before dirt accumulation stopped the ultra light loads from cycling. I hoped the answer was long enough for the outfitter to get me the correct ammo. I did not think about it at the time, but this was the perfect test since the SBE was cleaned thoroughly before the trip. To my delight the SBE worked flawlessly all morning and consumed over 15 boxes. I shot about 40 boxes (1000 rounds) in 3 hours that morning. The SBE digested 15+ boxes of the 24 grams loads.

After lunch I decided to not clean my guns for the afternoon hunt. Partially because I was interested how long the SBE would function on light loads, but mostly because I was tired after 3 hours of continuous shooting. A new experience for me. I decided to stay with the sub 1oz loads since they were a pleasure to shoot and the SBE worked so well with them. These loads work well on doves. Low recoil is a good thing when shooting over 2,000 rounds per day.

All the gas gun shooters cleaned their guns for the afternoon hunt for concern their guns would not take another session like the morning. A few Beretta shooters experienced cycling problems towards the end of the morning hunt. Other gas autos experienced more problems. I sat in the shade relaxing, sipping a cold drink and watched those tired hunters going through the drudgery of cleaning their gas guns. At that moment I really appreciated the SBE’s functionality and reliability. I was subject to a few harsh comments for not cleaning my guns (recoil operated). Feeling rather confident, I said real hunting guns do not need to be cleaned during the middle of a hunt. I knew then I would be subject to harsh treatment if I experienced gun problems.

To my amazement the SBE performed flawlessly the rest of the day AND the entire second day on the ultra light loads. The only exception was one round on the second day that I contributed to be either undercharged powder or shot.

I did NOT even perform a complete gun cleaning after the first day hunt unlike the gas auto shooters. My confidence in my SBE was high, but the real reason was I was extremely tired after shooting 8 cases (2000 rounds) in 6 hours. That’s right, my averaged ammo consumption rate was one case every 45 minutes and that included a 5-10 minute rest every about every hour.

I performed a partial cleaning that included cleaning the chamber to remove plastic accumulation, wiping the 2 bolt rails in the receiver with a Q -Tip (3 seconds each) and applying a little high tech oil to the bolt rails with a Q-Tip (another 3 seconds each). I did not clean the bolt internals, barrel, trigger, or remove the considerable powder residue accumulated near the stock recoil spring and throughout the receiver.

The SBE is the easiest auto to clean. The receiver is extremely accessible and has very few moving parts. If there is an easier auto to clean, then I have not found it. I understand the new Beretta can be broken down fast, but you still have to deal with the gas system.

The 24 grams ultra light loads had very little felt recoil and made the SBE a pleasure to shoot all day. I used a magazine extension tube that increased magazine capacity to 8 shells. I am sure the added weight from the extra shells helped felt recoil. In my opinion the SBE has considerably less felt recoil than the Benelli Sport during side by side comparison tests. Not sure how much is related to weight difference or the SBE having a higher cycle force requirement. I prefer shooting the SBE over the Sport.

So Technoid, I wonder why are our experiences are so different for the same model gun. Are SBE’s (post 1995) different or are you doing something different? Well, the answer might be related to how my SBE was conditioned and my maintenance program. If other SBE owners experience your problem, then they may want to consider trying the following.

First, I conditioned my SBE over duck and goose season and used magnum 2-3/4 to 3.5″ shells the entire season. The first 2 cases fed through the SBE were magnum hunting loads. I did not shoot a light load for the first four months and honestly do not know if my new SBE would cycle light loads. Based on comments from other SBE owners, I believe new SBE’s may experience trouble cycling loads below 1-1/8 oz until properly conditioned.

New Benelli autos have tight clearances which cause greater static and dynamic frictional drag forces, especially if all metal to metal contacting parts are not properly lubricated. The total force required to cycle the bolt is the force to overcome inertia (which really just delays cycling until the wad clears the muzzle) plus the recoil spring compression force plus the trigger spring force required to cock the trigger plus all frictional forces (static and dynamic). Frictional forces on new SBEs can be considerable. So maybe a partial answer is just keep feeding more heavy loads through the gun and periodically try light loads until they work. Light loads should work.

Secondly and I believe more important, proper gun lubrication is required for reliable light load operation. I used a high tech lubricant from day one on all metal to metal moving contact surfaces to minimize static and dynamic frictional forces. I never used Benelli oil. I performed a thorough lubrication, more than indicated by the owners manual, prior to firing the first round. This included all bolt moving parts, bolt rails, ejection pin (including the inside surface that contacts the receiver) and the recoil spring plunger. The last is important and from my experience many people ignore it.

During compression, the plunger spring rubs against the tube housing which causes frictional drag. High frictional drag causes spring noise and requires more force to cycle properly. Every notice how new Benelli’s, at least the older versions, tend to have that irritating spring noise during cycles. I hate it. Sounds somewhat like a squeaky bed. Almost as irritating as the 391’s prominent gas valve metal slap noise after every cycle. I apply a high tech lubricant on the tube inside walls and cycled the plunger fully about 50 times to assure even distribution. The result is a noticeably smoother (easier) cycle and a dramatically quieter spring. I have used this method for 6 years without a problem.

I use a spray solvent degreaser to clean the trigger assembly and apply small amounts of Remington Rem Oil and high tech lubricant to critical locations. Use sparingly to minimize dirt and grit accumulation.

Hand cycling the bolt on my SBE dramatically shows the difference, especially compared to new SBE’s or older SBE’s maintained differently. Other SBE owners are amazed how smooth and easy my SBE cycles. No grabs or hitches (i.e. low static friction) when pulling the bolt back very slowly. Just a smooth, constant force (i.e. low dynamic friction) through the entire cycle. In a ideal world with no friction, the only resistance force would be the plunger spring which is not very strong. Anyone trying this should do it with the trigger in the cocked position to eliminate the trigger spring force.

Bottom line is the SBE can handle everything from at least 1 oz loads (24 grams in my case) to the heaviest turkey loads and is the “all purpose” utility shotgun. The SBE is not perfect, but in my opinion it is currently the best utility shotgun (period). I have not tested the Beretta 3.5 inch yet and hope it is more reliable than its cousins. A waterfowl gun must work in foul weather including heavy rains, heavy field grit, or after being dropped in a muddy field, ditch, pond or whatever. The SBE will! Will the new Beretta?
Issue #2 : Benelli’s are not a good sporting clay gun because of higher recoil and stock fit.

I agree with your observations that the Benelli short stock fit is less than desirable for target shooting (especially for tall shooters) and the gun has more felt recoil vs. gas autos. While the weight of the SBE is ideal for hunting, in my opinion it is too light for SC. These are subjective items that each shooter needs to evaluate. However, I discovered the SBE fit, felt recoil and weight can be easy improved to make the SBE a better SC gun.

I like the fit of the 391 for SC so I performed side by side SC shooting tests with the SBE and the 391 to understand the differences in fit and recoil and how they impact my score. A key fit difference (for me) is the SBE length-of-pull (LOP) is shorter than the 391 (14.24 vs. 14.875 inches). I think the extra 0.5 inch improves the 391 fit and swing dramatically for SC’s. However, I prefer a shorter LOP for cold weather shooting when wearing a heavy coat or close up fast action hunting like quail. I rarely use a coat for SC’s.

I discovered the SBE fit can be dramatically improved by using a simple slip on stock recoil pad. I use a type with a velcro lock and a sorbathane recoil pad. The resulting LOP is very close to the 391 and more importantly the gun fit feels much closer to the 391. The 391 still fits me slightly better for SC, but the difference is small. Other benefits include a noticeable recoil reduction from the sorbathane pad and the slip on pad can be easily removed for convenient flexibility. I have not figured out how to rapidly shorten the LOP on a 391 without cutting off the stock. It is easier to add length with a pad than remove stock.

With regard to gun weight, I prefer my SC gun to be slightly heavier than my field gun. I use a 4 shell magazine extension tube for SC’s and some hunting. The weight of the tube improves barrel swing and more importantly improves my SC score. Additional weight can be easily added inside the tube to suit one’s preference.

The bottom line is my SC’s score with the modestly modified SBE is dramatically better, essentially equivalent as my score with the 391. I consider these modification minor and inexpensive compared to some of the high end gadgets and gear I see at the range. I would not use a SBE for SC if I only shot targets. However, it you are looking for a reliable all in one gun for all types of hunting and SC, then I believe the SBE fits that order well with these minor modifications.

I will be the first to admit the appearance of a black synthetic stock SBE with a slip on pad and magazine extension is more tactical than SC, but that does not bother me. I have received a few looks from high end O/U gun owners, but they usually vanish after watching me shoot a few stations. My view is SCs and all shooting sports are better served by shooters being more inclusive.

Reading your reports clearly shows you have a wealth of experience with Beretta autos and know many, maybe all, of the tricks and tips to get the most from them. I am sure you would have discovered these simple Benelli tricks if you had focused as much attention on the SBE. Hopefully you will include this information on you website so you and your readers can test and judge for themselves. That way we can all learn from each others experiences.

I encourage you to try these suggestions. Go out and shoot the SBE on 1 oz loads or lighter until it stops working. I never reached that point in Argentina so I am interested in knowing just how many light load shells the SBE will consume before cleaning is required. You may need to reserve several days for this test. Better yet, go to Argentina and repeat my test.


Dear Jeff,

Thanks so much for your comments. I always appreciate getting feedback from readers.

It sounds as though you have found the secret to keeping that SBE running on target loads. Trust me, you’re one of the few people who has. Your extensive break-in period may have helped. When I reviewed the 3″ Benelli “Sport” it would handle 1-1/8 3 dram target loads just fine, but it would not reliably cycle 1 oz Fiocchi “Lights”. This was a new gun so perhaps further break-in would have helped. Warm weather also would have helped more than winter weather. When functionality is “on the edge”, temperature really counts. Still, the SBEs I’ve observed in the hands of the average guy, do not prosper on one ounce loads.

The clay target shooters have certainly voted on the issue. Go to any good sized trap, skeet, sporting match and compare the number of Benellis to the gas operated Berettas, Remingtons and Brownings. Heck, just compare them to the number of Beretta 390s and 391s. It’s not even close. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a ranked clay shooter use a Benelli unless she was paid to do so. Yes, you an shoot a Benelli at sporting once you get things adjusted properly, but all those other shooters out there have sent their money elsewhere for a reason.

I’m not against the Benellis in any way. I think that they are marvelous field guns in hunting applications where the auto is appropriate. They certainly shoot clean and are quite reliable. They break parts just like anything else does, but certainly not more than other good guns. They will also work when soaking dripping wet. That’s a big plus over the Beretta gas gun. The Beretta can take some water, but when it gets really thoroughly soaked, you’ll have some occasional problems. The Benelli could care less.

The one big area where the Benelli loses for many people is recoil. Its fast recoil operated action seems to transmit just as much recoil as an O/U. I liken it to a hard hit cueball striking another ball dead on. The cueball stops dead, but the object ball seems to move away with exactly the same energy and speed that the cueball had. It’s as if there were a 100% transference of energy with no reduction of time or friction. Take one of the new gas operated Beretta Xtrema 3-1/2″ guns and shoot it alongside the Benelli SBE and you’ll see what I mean when you start launching those 3-1/2″ Roman candles.

Your experience with Benelli recoil was different from mine. Opinion seems to be about 50/50 on Benelli recoil. That’s not unusual. Felt recoil is a surprisingly subjective thing. One thing that can’t be argued is that the Benellis faster cycle time creates a more peaked recoil time line than the slower gas action time line. Whether the difference is enough to notice depends on the shooter. I’ve run blind tests with groups of shooters using equivalent speed loads of fast and slow powders. Some shooters claimed they could tell the difference. Others couldn’t.

I’ve had the opportunity to shoot both 12 and 20 gauge Berettas and Benellis during a couple of trips for dove and duck to Entre Rios province in Argentina. I felt that the difference in recoil in the 12s was significant, but not so much in the 20s. Your comment about the Benelli stock length possibly contributing to the recoil is well taken. The guns I used were “off the rack” and I didn’t use my usual slip-on pad. That could have contributed to some of the difference in recoil, but I don’t think it would have accounted for all of it. It’s also interesting to note that of the four guns, only the Benelli 20 broke. Of course, that’s just luck and I have no idea of how much usage the particular guns had previously, but it’s worth a mention. Nothing’s bullet-proof.

Still, you’ve had good experience with your Benelli SBE, so I’ll pass it along. We can all learn from it. You’ve certainly been detailed in your explanation. I think that your comments on cleaning and lubing are particularly important. The Benellis appear to shoot so clean that most people don’t go to the extra effort to clean and lube that you do. You may have discovered the secret and I thank you for your input. I hope that it will keep me out of my “often in error” zone.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Added Choke Weight

Dear Bruce,

Having read and respected your opinions for some years now, I may have “mis-remembered” one of your proclamations of wisdom. Years ago I shot a friend’s Browning BSS 12 gauge that had after market choke tubes installed in the 26″ barrels. It swung like a slug; of course, the gun is chunky in the first place. Now I am being attacked by the guys over at the Shooting Sportsman Web Site for suggesting that even the Briley Thin Wall tubes add weight where you do not want it. I suggested that spreader shells be used to open the rather tight IC/MOD chokes, if needed. I have been sternly told that after market choke tubes add nothing, as the heavy metal taken out equals that of the lighter weight tubes.

So all knowing Technoid, what is the skinny? Please know you will be quoted if you agree with me and ignored if you do not.

Thanks in advance,

Rossville, TN

Dear Neil,

Well, I’m prepared to be ignored. I know what it’s like to be ignored. My dog won’t even come when I call.

The installation of Briley “Thinwall” chokes in a previously fixed choke gun will not increase muzzle weight. The Thinwall chokes merely replace the metal removed from the fixed chokes. Sorry, but that’s the fact. The only possible exception is if you install Thinwalls with an extended collar. Obviously, the weight will be increased by the extended collars.

Not all after-market chokes are Briley Thinwalls. Briley, and everyone else, also sell standard factory replacement chokes that weigh just as much as the factory chokes or more if the replacement is an extended choke. It really all depends on whether the gun was initially a fixed choke gun or was originally a factory screw choked gun with a jugged barrel built to take “steel-proof” chokes.

Changing the subject slightly, the reason that so many of the modern screw choked guns “swing like slugs” is because the makers install the chokes in the cheapest/strongest way, not the lightest one. Companies like Miroku (Browning Japan) jug the barrels and then add huge flounderweight Invector Plus chokes suitable for steel shot or depleted uranium. If you remove these chokes and put them in your pocket, the gun will usually balance properly (but you won’t). Of course, then you are “shooting threads” and you really don’t want to do that.

At one time Remington was even worse and cheaper. Rather than jug the muzzle to accept the huge chokes, on some of the early 1100 screw choke guns they simply clapped on a thicker barrel and used conventional threading on this sewer pipe. The brute weighed a jillion tons. Waddamess. Their newer “Light Contour” barrels are nicely balanced, which shows what you can do with a conventional thick replacement choke and jugged barrel if you thin the rest of the barrel down enough.

Today, some of the companies are coming around with their screw chokes to make better balanced barrels. Beretta’s Optima Bore barrels on the 682 Gold “E” are very nicely done and have a lively feel. Their older “Mobil Choke” barrels tend to be sluggish in the longer barreled O/U models. Perazzi hasn’t caught on though. Their screw chokes are still something to be avoided. Ditto Browning Japan, SKB and anything that uses an Invector Plus choke. I’ve seen sash weights that weigh less.

Loady chokes aren’t always bad. The balance of short, whippy guns may actually benefit from them. It’s the currently popular long barreled guns that often suffer the excess avoirdupois. A lot of it is personal preference and shooting style. A guy shooting a 34″ trap gun or a ten pound skeet tube set is looking for a much different feeling gun than a hunter or sporting clays shooter. Many new shooters have recently come into the sport knowing only muzzle heavy guns, so that’s what they get used to and that’s what they want. If you don’t know different, you don’t want different.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Reload Preferences

Dear Technoid,

Hi –

I have not shot shotguns in about 30 years and am starting in with Trap Shooting. I have a Browning Gold Sporting Clays in 12 gauge and would like to know your recommendations for powder, wads and hulls that would be best suited to Trap. Is there a good powder that would not clog the gas port and delay the accumulation of gunk on the piston? Also, if I transition to Skeet or Sporting Clays, what would you suggest for powder and wads.

Thanks a lot for your time. ….


Dear Ted,

Hodgdon “Clays” is a very clean burning 12 gauge target powder and is quite popular for that reason. I shoot gas guns a great deal and frankly have not had the slightest problem with other “dirtier” (but slightly more economical) powders like Alliant “Red Dot”, Alliant “Promo” and Hodgdon “Titewad”.

As to components, much will depend on what you have access to. There are many recipes. simply pick one from the powder manufacturer’s web site:


The easiest way to start out selecting a recipe is to begin with the hull you want to reload. In 12 gauge, the longest lasting hull is currently the Remington STS. Winchester AA used to be the best, but their hull quality has varied greatly recently. Federal Gold Medal is decent. I like the Remington best. If you have a cheap source of another brand of hull, it would pay to look into recipes for that brand.

It’s never a mistake to use the factory wad that matches the hull you pick. Claybuster makes imitations of the factory wads that cost a little less and I’ve had very good luck with them over the years. Still, in 12 gauge, the factory wads don’t cost very much more at all if you buy in bulk (5,000) so that’s what I use.

Ditto primers. Factory primers mated to the load are never wrong. That said, I’ve always used Winchester AA 209 primers for all my reloading and have not been disappointed.

The key to component selection is to use a recipe that is published by the powder manufacturer. Then you know it has been tested and is safe and efficient. They do the work for you. If a particular combination of components isn’t listed, don’t make up your own recipes. It may or may not be dangerous, but there is also a good chance that your particular recipe was tested and found ballistically lacking in someway. Stick to what’s published. There is plenty to pick from.

A bit more advice on reloading: buy in bulk. Once you decide on the components you want to use, get the industrial strength size. Powder by the pound is very expensive. The same powder in an 8# keg is much less so. You’ll get about 400 reloads from each pound of powder, so it doesn’t take long to go through 8#. The same with wads. They are cheaper in a case of 5000 than in a single bag of 250. Primers are cheaper in sleeves of 5000 too. Shot prices are always a local thing as shipping plays such a big part.

Very often you can share in a big purchase at your local gun club. Someone usually has an FFL (not really needed for reloading components) or can place a big order with a wholesaler. The guys in the club all get together and pool their order to get bulk prices. This can really work when you buy lead by the ton and then divvy it up.

As to particular loads, I really can’t make a recommendation as I bounce around from one to another so often. I probably shouldn’t, but I’m always getting a new powder or wads or something that I have to test. As a general rule, I try to reload ALL my shotgun shells to 1200 fps. That is the one thing I attempt to keep consistent. I’m not a believer in mega-super-astro velocity loads. If I need more pellet energy, I use a bigger pellet.

Also, since you are using a soft shooting gas gun, there is no need to ever use a target shell of less than the full 1-1/8 oz. In the world of shotgunning, less is less. All things being equal, a one ounce shell has a pattern that is more than 10% less efficient. The pattern is either 10% smaller or less dense. Take your pick. People shoot the lighter loads to reduce recoil. Since you don’t need reduced recoil due to your soft gas gun, there’s no need for you to give up pattern. I use a lot of one ounce loads in my O/Us because full loads kick me enough to be tiring after a long day. That does not mean that the one ounce load is superior to the 1-1/8 oz load. It isn’t. It’s inferior. I just do it to have less recoil.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Gun Fit And Adjustment


I’m in the market for a new gun o/u, can a gunsmith add casting to a stock that is straight, if so what would one expect (ball park), to pay. Is this done with shims or do they bend the stock?

Thank you


Dear Eric,

The method for moving a stock sideways (casting) depends on the kind of gun used. There are basically three methods.

1) If more cast is required (the stock moved more to the right for a right handed shooter), you could simply sand the left side of the stock and then refinish. This has obvious drawbacks, but is a possibility.

2) If the gun is a SxS or O/U, the stock is often “bent” using infra red heat, steam, hot oil or some other heat source. The stock is placed in a bending cradle and heated at the wrist while pressure is put on it. The stock is bent past the intended point because it springs back slightly when cooled. It’s more of an art than a science. The bend doesn’t always hold. I’ve had very good luck having a number of my guns bent in this manner. None of mine have ever sprung back, but I’ve heard of others that have. Usually, the stock does not need to be refinished.

3) If the gun is a pump or auto, the stock can be moved somewhat by shimming. Shimming is the placement of a shim between the rear of the receiver and the head of the stock on the side opposite to the direction you want the stock to bend. Some current guns come from the factory with shims (Beretta 391s and some Browning autos) so that you can adjust cast and height to a modest extent. This is a tremendous convenience.

I’ve shimmed 1100s and some others without factory shims by just using a bit of plastic. You can get away with moving the stock slightly this way, but if you try to move it too much, you will bend the tube that holds the mainspring and that’s going to cause trouble. The guns with factory shims have enlarged stock holes for the mainspring tubes so they avoid that problem.

In addition to shimming, the stockmaker can reinlet the head of the stock of a pump or auto. A really good stockmaker can reinlet the head of a boxlock SxS or O/U too. But this latter work takes more skill and/or time than most stock makers want to invest in the project. Pumps and autos are much easier to reinlet. Bending SxS and O/U is much faster and therefore cheaper. You usually don’t bend pumps and autos. You generally reinlet or shim them.

Stockmakers prices vary, but expect to pay something around, more or less, sort of $100~$200 for a stock bend. A simple reinletting of a pump or auto ought to be about the same or somewhat less depending on the gun. Shimming you can do yourself if you had a pump/auto instead of your O/U.

In the UK it is quite common for a gunsmith to include a fitting and stock bending when a SxS or O/U gun of intermediate price and up is purchased. Americans generally are willing to try to shoot a gun just as it comes out of the box. The Brits are a bit fussier and often want their guns to actually fit. You always shoot better with a gun that fits than with one that doesn’t. If you know what fits you, money spent altering a gun to make it right is a very good investment.

Human beings are marvelously adaptable and people can often shoot guns fairly well that fit them poorly. But when they get a gun that is a proper fit, they can really excel and reach their true potential. It is as ridiculous to think that one shotgun size fits all any more than one shoe size fits everyone. A shotgun is a dynamic tool and must suit the size AND technique of the person using it. It’s false economy to save money on gun fit. If someone isn’t sure what fits and doesn’t, it’s time for some shooting lessons and a little solidification of the shooter’s style.

As you learn to shoot and your shooting technique improves, your gun fit may change. That’s why it’s important to seek the advice of a pro. If he’s good, he can see “ahead” a bit to how you will be holding the gun when your shooting style matures. Hint: the more you shoot, the longer and higher your stock is going to get.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Stock Height Adjustment

Dear Technoid,

I’ve been frustrated with my .410 skeet shooting. I’ve suspected I may be shooting low. It seemed I was chipping the bottoms off more targets in the 20 gauge than I should. Several other experienced and knowledgeable shooters offered their opinions that I seemed to be shooting low. I would tend to trust these shooters. Would I trust them to do brain surgery on me? No. On my wife? hmmm?

Anyway, I trust them in this matter. So, I added two layers of Walgreen’s Mole Skin Plus to my stock. Geez, I seemed to be shooting better. I had planned on getting the stock bent to match the two layers of Mole Skin, but I decided to give that intended action the ‘common sense test’ first. Gee, that Mole Skin didn’t look very thick. So I measured it. Two layers is 1/16″. That doesn’t seem like very much.

Is this passing the ‘common sense test’? Do you think bending a stock that tiny amount would make any difference?


Dear Tom,

Passing the common sense test? What on earth does common sense have to do with shooting? According to my wife, the phrase “common sense shooting” is an oxymoron.

I prefer to use masking tape instead of moleskin when I am testing height on a stock. The moleskin has a bit of “give” to it and doesn’t give as accurate a reading as the masking tape. People like moleskin because it layers up faster and is more convenient, but if you are serious, use masking tape. And make sure not to fold the tape over the sides of the stock unless you want to alter the cast.

Does 1/16″ of an inch make a difference. It might. The standard measurement system used by Churchill is that 1/16″ of an inch at face equals 1″ pattern movement at 16 yards. At skeet distances, that’s about 1-1/4″. Not all that much if you are getting a 22″ pattern from your 20, but it’s something.

I can’t see how you are setting up your gun, but if that 1/16″ makes a real difference in your scores it could be that your stock setting without the tape was occasionally putting your eye below the rib. That would make you pick your head up and produce inconsistent scores. There could also be a difference if you shoot a pre-mounted gun or shoot low gun. People who shoot pre-mounted can sometimes deal with higher stocks as they often use more cheek pressure.

The point is, just adding 1/16″ to the height of the stock doesn’t tell me much unless I know what sight picture you are starting with, your shooting style and where your gun shoots when you put it on the pattern plate. Nothing in gun fit is ever simple. It’s also important to know what kind of rib you have- raised, step or flat.

If it helps, I generally set my guns up so that I can look flat down the rib when I cheek “into the bone” with 100% pressure. Naturally, I don’t shoot with that much cheek pressure. I use about 75%~80% pressure and that brings me up so that I can see about 1/8″ of rib. I shoot only flat rib guns and avoid guns with ribs that slope down from the breech to muzzle. These are designed to provide built-in vertical lead and would force me to shoot looking flat down the rib rather than seeing a bit of rib. I’ve found that I can shoot the same gun with the same stock equally well in pre-mounted and low gun situations.

If you get a chance, test your gun on a pattern plate. That will quickly tell you how high it is shooting and how much any particular stock height adjustment effects pattern placement. After you have done your plate work and set your gun up, then go shoot targets to confirm the setting. Not the other way around. Shoot the plate with the same gun mount and style that you shoot targets with.

If the difference is only 1/16″ of an inch and you think it really matters, you have a situation. Most stock benders will only bend within a 1/16″ of an inch. Bent stocks can move a bit and bending isn’t entirely that precise a method. In a typical bending procedure, the stock is bent past the required height and then springs back to remain set, hopefully at the height you want. It’s a real art. The amount of spring back can vary with the density of the wood and some other factors. If you are really fussy about that 1/16″, you may have to end up overbending, giving it a few months to settle, and then sanding down to an exact measurement. One of my local gunsmiths refuses to bend stocks. He says that the wood never holds its bend. That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve had several stocks bent 20 years ago that still seem to fit perfectly. Many gunsmiths bend quite successfully.

The bottom line is that you will have to do extensive testing with added stock height. There is nothing wrong with shooting your gun with tape on the stock for a few months. Add and subtract tape until you get what you think you want and then shoot the gun in that configuration for a good bit. Not just a day or two. Shoot it for a couple of months to make sure. If you find that you do need the extra height, when you are certain of how much additional height you need, mark an “X” on the tape where your cheek goes (usually about 2-1/2″ or so back from the nose of the comb) and take it to the stock bender. Don’t worry about the height at nose and heel on a bent stock. Just get the height right where you put your face on that “X”.

You are the only one who can tell whether or not that 1/16″ additional height matters. It may take a lot of shooting and score comparison (use your log books for this- you do keep log books, right?) to discern if it matters to you. That’s the nice thing about adding tape. You can take your time and get it right. My guess is that if adding 1/16″ moved you up from chipping off the bottom of the target to getting a decent hit, when you plate the gun you will find that you are still in the lower part of your effective pattern and could probably take as much as 1/8″ height addition. Your effective pattern is pretty big in the skeet 20 gauge, so you might as well deal with the center of it. That’s hard to judge by watching how birds break in the air. The pattern plate is better for this.

Take your time. Enjoy the tinkering. There is so much hope in thinking that just one more layer of masking tape will open the door to all those 100 straights.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Balance Point


I have a question about the balance point of 32 in 0/u barrels and a 34 in unsingle barrel. I have a Beretta 687 trap combo. The 32in o/u barrels balance about 3/4 inch in front of the hinge pin. In order to get the 34 in unsingle barrel to have the same balance point, I need quite a bit of lead added near the muzzle. Is this normal and something I just need to get used to or should I figure out a way to permanently affix additional weight?


Dear Frank,

Two barrels heavier than one? Not surprising. When manufacturing barrels for a modestly priced gun, it gets really expensive to radically change barrel wall thickness to accommodate balancing. Of course, the longer single barrel will pick up a little weight due to the added two inches. Ditto the high rib on the unsingle barrel. That ought to be heavier than the low rib on the double barrel. But it still isn’t enough to balance things out and make them both feel the same.

Yes, you could add weight to the unsingle to even things out. But watch it. I’m not an engineer, but it seems to me that if enough weight to balance equally were added at the muzzle of the unsingle, rather than all along the barrel, the gun might balance in the same place with both barrels, but the longer single barrel would “feel” heavier. Maybe not. I don’t actually know and am just guessing. The nice thing about adding weight is that you can experiment to your heart’s content.

I’ve used this analogy before, but this is a good place to try it again. Say that you have a broomstick and two bricks. Pretend that the broomstick is your gun. Put a brick on each end and the “gun” weighs a certain amount and balances in the middle. With the weight at both ends, it has high inertia and is harder to start swinging and harder to stop. Now move those two bricks to the center so that they are just touching. Gun weighs the same. Gun still balances in the middle. But the “handling” is now very different. The gun is quick to start and quick to stop.

So, the balance point matters, but how the weight is distributed along the barrel matters too.

But I’d also ask yourself whether or not this is all necessary. You will probably use the 34″ barrel for singles and the 32″ for doubles. You might be quite happy with them balancing differently for the different events. I don’t know. Reflexively, it would seem that you might want the lighter faster gun for doubles and the heavier barrel for singles, exactly the opposite of what you now have. But that’s up to you.

Bottom line: how you balance your guns is really up to you and your preferences. Try playing with some barrel weighting and see how you like it. You can always take the weights off.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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