20 vs 28


Let me start off by saying I love the 28 gauge so do not take anything I say as “anti-28”.

Lately in the popular gun press as well as web forums the 28 gauge has become the “PF Flyers” of the shotgun world. (Remember PF Flyers they were gym shoes that would make you run faster and jump higher, just by wearing them)

I know Brister said the 28 hits harder than it has a right to, due to the short shot string. I noticed that the Travelers handicap system gives the 28 gauge 5 more birds than the 20 gauge. Is it possible that the mighty 28 gives up 5 clays per hundred with just 1/8 less ounce of shot. Does shot string simply not matter as long as you have more shot in the air?

I have also read of people trying to stuff 1oz of shot in a 28 to get extra range. Won’t the additional shot destroy the square shot load theory? A one ounce 28 should string like a 3 inch 20 gauge.

On an altogether different subject. What’s the correct lead hand position on a SxS with a splinter forearm. Assume 12 ga barrels. Should your index finger be under and between the barrels touching the bare metal in front of the forearm.

Thanks Mike

Dear Mike,

Good questions. I very much enjoy shooting the 28. My wife’s only gun is a 28 gauge Beretta O/U. She won or placed high numerous times in the Connecticut Travelers matches with it and it’s ten point handicap. My 28 is a 32″ Perazzi MX-8/20 built on the 20 gauge frame. In the right hands (unfortunately, often not mine), it is simply awesome.

In the 28 vs 20 gauge argument, the 28 doesn’t give up much in registered skeet if you look at the NSSA year book. But it does give up something. And that’s in a game where you can’t give up anything. It is very common for skeet shooters to shoot a tubed O/U 20 in the 12 gauge event and win. None of the major players shoots a tubed 28 O/U in the 12 gauge event and wins. This doesn’t mean that the 20 is as good as the 12 ballistically either. It just means that the consistency one gets from always shooting the same gun (tubed O/U) outweighs the ballistic advantage of shooting the better 12 gauge shell in a different gun, usually a semi-auto.

The ballistic differences between 20 and 28 are only part of the deal. There’s a gun weight difference too when you get into gauge-specific guns vs tube sets. Most 28s are built on a 20 gauge frame, like my Perazzi. That’s because most manufacturers (Rizzini, most Turkish guns and some Berettas excluded), don’t bother to make a true 28 gauge action due to low demand. So what you are usually getting is exactly the same gun, but with a smaller gauge. This isn’t all that bad because many true 28s are often too light for target shooting, though they may be an ideal weight for upland. For me, right around 6# to 6-1/4# is the minimum weight gun I can shoot well. Since you can get all the field grade 20s you want at 6-1/4#, there’s no point in a 28 of that weight from a pure ballistic point of view.

But the 28 is magic, right? Not necessarily. I do admit that it’s easy to get a 28 to pattern well. I have found that it is also often difficult to get the 20 gauge to pattern well. But that doesn’t mean that the 28’s 3/4 oz load will put more pellets into a pattern of “X” size than the 20 ga 7/8 oz load when barrels and chokes are of equal quality. That 20 gauge load is 16% larger. It has 16% more pellets. 16% more chances of hitting the bird. 16% is a lot when you consider that the difference between a Cylinder Bore pattern and a Light Modified pattern is about 15% pellet count. The 20 is also a far more flexible gauge when used for hunting because most 20 gauge guns come with 3″ chambers and can handle 1-1/4 oz loads with moderate efficiency. The one ounce 28s I’ve tried really struggled on the pattern plate. Perhaps if you looked at the 20 as an “overbored” 28, it would start to make sense.

Shot string is like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but very few do anything about it. We can all buy an inexpensive chronograph to test velocity. Pattern paper is cheap for testing two dimensional patterns. But to test shot string you need an advanced impact sensing computer array or a loving wife who will drive a trailer with paper pinned to it past while you shoot at it. That’s far too much trouble for most people, so they just talk about shot string instead.

Shot string matters the most on a 90 degree crosser and not at all on a zero degree going away or incoming bird. In between is in between. Many experiments have shown that selection of superior components will dramatically reduce shotstring. I’ve often used 3″ 20 gauge Remington Nitro Mag buffered #4s in the field and have been very satisfied with them. Few walked up upland birds are shot as crossers. Most are quartering away where shotstring plays less of a role. The comment is always that the 28 has a “square” shot column and this produces short shot strings, while the 20 has a long column and suffers from a long shot string. This really isn’t the case if you look at the measurements of shot column and bore size. It’s awful close between the two. Even so, every 7/8 oz 20 gauge load has a 3/4 oz 28 gauge load riding on the front end out of a larger bore.

Here’s another way of looking at it: If you were offered a million dollars to make one shot certain difficult sporting clays shot and you had the choice of identical guns, one in 28 with 3/4 oz and one in 20 with 7/8, which would you pick?

I think that the main attraction of the 28 is the “look at me” factor. It is sort of a built-in excuse when you miss a bird. A 20 is a “real” gun, everyone has them, and you don’t get much sympathy when you miss. A 28 is viewed as a toy by many so when you actually do hit something with it, you achieve hero status a little more easily and don’t get so much heat when you miss a bird.

From all this it doesn’t sound as though I’m a 28 gauge fan, but I certainly am. I love shooting that 28 gauge Perazzi. When I do hit something, it is so very satisfying. I don’t shoot it nearly as well as I do my B-80 20 gauge auto, but that’s another story. I think that the little 28 is a neat shell too. Unfortunately, you can buy all the cheap factory 20s you want today, but 28s cost a ton. If you shoot a lot, the 28 is pretty much a reloading proposition if you are on a budget. With the 20, you can love ’em and leave ’em.

In the field, there is no comparison. A 3″ 20 is a far, far more versatile gun than the 28. I love the 28 for quail, but I don’t feel any less sporting using a 20 with 7/8 oz. As an aside, I went quail hunting this winter and took one of the new 28 gauge B. Rizzini “Round Body” game guns. It was one of the better balanced 28 field guns I’ve used and I shot it as well as I shoot anything. I also took one of my Winchester Model 42 .410 pump guns. We were shooting plantation quail and we had good dogs, so I felt that the .410 might be appropriate. I ended up killing just as many birds with the .410, but I had to pick my shots more carefully. With the 28, I could shoot just about anything without worry. My partner was a highly skilled quail hunter and used a 20 gauge. From what I saw on plantation quail, not wild ones, the .410 is useful but not very flexible. The 28 was very nice and an excellent sporting gun, but not quite as good as the 20. Of course, a cylinder bore 12 with 1-1/4 oz of #8s would have killed the most birds if you had to feed a village.

There it is: one cup of coffee-worth of rambling about 20 vs 28.

As to where to put your left hand on a SxS, that’s up to you. I’ve seen many Continental shooters run the hand all the way back to the receiver, while many of the Brits seem to be trying to reach up to the muzzle. Just put your hand where it feels best. The forend on a SxS isn’t there to grip the gun with. It’s there to hold the barrels on. Hold your hand where it feels best for the type of shooting you are doing.

Best regards,

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

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