Grousing With A 28 Gauge


Do you think that the 28 gauge is humane for use on Ruffed Grouse?

This question is theoretical, as I almost always miss anyway. I was stricken with “La Grippe” by a used 28 gauge Ruger with 26″ barrels, choke tubes, and an English stock. I do not know anyone who hunts grouse with a 28 gauge, but I read that William Harden Foster used one.

Is the 28 Guage too much of a handicap for lousy shots like me? I know the short answer is probably “Yes”, and that the barrels are too short… Please help me “snap” out of this, or at least make see some sense (a new gun is not going to make a magic fabled shot out of me). I am only intend to use this shotgun on grouse in the green jungles of thorn that I seem to frequent.



Dear Lief,

28 for ruffs? Well, I dunno. They are easy birds to kill, but sure are hard to hit. Where I hunt in Kingston, Ontario, we probably average 3 flushes per hour (three hunters). Of the three flushes, I probably see one of those birds and shoot at every other one of those I see. If I hit one out of three that I shoot at, then (lemme see…) that’s 6 hours hunting per day, see six birds, shoot at three, kill one. That’s about right, maybe I’m a little less than that as I don’t always get a grouse in a day. Every now and then I get two, but not often. A lot more days I don’t get anything. Foster had a lot more birds to shoot at than we do.

So…. when those little suckers get up, I want a gun that can whack them! I know I won’t get very many chances and I don’t want to waste the chances I do get. My favorite ruffed grouse gun is a 2-1/2″ 6-1/4# Webley & Scott 500 SxS tossing one ounce of shot. I use #7s (true #7s) in the cylinder bore first barrel and #6s in the .018″ light mod second barrel. I also have a 20 gauge FN O/U at the same 6-1/4#, choked .005″ skeet and .015″ modified. I use the same one ounce #7s and #6s in that gun, but I shoot the SxS a bit better on close stuff in heavy cover. The ounce of shot from the 12 seems to work better than the same ounce from the 20. And yes, lots of people think I’m a Neanderthal for using #6s on grouse, but over thirty years of fooling with them, I’ve learned.

To me the ONLY reason to carry a subgauge gun hunting is to have a gun of lighter weight. I know that a lot of people feel that a subgauge hunting gun is somehow more “sporting”. What they are really saying is that it is harder to hit or kill the bird with the little guns. That means more wounded birds, fewer killed ones. Not sporting at all. If you are going to put a pellet into a bird, it is your duty as a sportsman to kill it dead. The most sporting hunting gun is the one that best ensures a quick, clean kill.

I have no argument with people who say that they shoot a certain subgauge gun better than their larger guns and are thus more humane. Many people do just that. Sometimes the speed and light weight of the little guns more than makes up for their smaller shotloads. Grouse hunting is a physical game. If you are fresher at the end of the day carrying a little gun, then you will be more lethal with it. If that’s the case, the lighter, smaller gun is the more sporting gun in the right sense.

The trouble that I have with the 28 is that most of them are built on 20 gauge frames. They offer no weight savings over a 20 from the same maker. In fact, most 28s are a little bit heavier than the corresponding 20 because the 28s often have slightly thicker barrels in order to use the same firing pin centers as the 20. So what you get is MORE weight and LESS shot than a 20. Browning is a perfect example of this.

This may not be the case with your Ruger 28. I honestly don’t remember whether Ruger makes their 28 on a 20 gauge frame or whether they did it on a proper 28 gauge frame. I seem to recall that Ruger did actually make a 28 frame. Ruger’s 20 is far heavier than it should be for a 20 anyway.

If it would make you feel better, you can get one ounce loads (Winchester makes them) for the 28. You might buy a box and just try them out on the patterning board. Before you knock them as just being overstuffed sausages, compare their patterns directly to a conventional 28 gauge 3/4 oz load with the SAME size shot. Remember, every one ounce 28 gauge load has a 3/4 oz load riding on the front end. I think that you will find that one ounce in the 28 does not equal one ounce in the 20 does not equal one ounce in the 12, but I’ve seen a one ounce 28 in action on walked up Scottish red grouse and it was impressive. It’s worth a look anyway.

Bottom line: Unless you are getting a weight savings in the shotgun, it doesn’t make practical sense to pick a 28 over a 20.

Really bottom line: There are some things you just can’t be too practical about. I just LOVE the 28. It always seems to work better for me than it should (out to about 35 yards max). If my FN 20 were in 28 gauge, I’d do a little dance and think of all sorts of reasons to use it. Yes, like the two-faced Janus, I speak out of both sides of my mouth. 28 gauge will make you do that. The 20 makes more sense, but the 28 really creates gun lust.

Don’t listen to my practical side. Use the 28 on grouse and see what happens. Usually, when I miss my grouse I miss them by a bunch anyway. A ten gauge wouldn’t help. You may find that you get just as many grouse with your 28. But maybe not. It depends. Keep your 12 in the car just in case.

Best regards,

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

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4 Responses to Grousing With A 28 Gauge

  1. Jack R Huffman says:

    My name Jack R Huffman
    I live in Wellston, Ohio
    I have hunted grouse for over 40 years
    I have 9 English Settlers
    I hunt Ohio and I spend 35-40 days on my annual Wisconsin Ruff Grouse Hunt
    I kill 5 Grouse everyday – the daily limit-
    I shoot a 28 ga Fox- Ithaca- 21 WINCHESTER CSMC- and a Francotte-
    All 28ga with 25″ barrels choked cyl-skeet
    I shoot either AA 9 shot or WINCHESTER Soirting Clay load 81/2 shot
    The 28 ga is more then enough gun for Grouse
    90% of the Ruff Grouse you shoot and kill are under 25 yards!!!!
    My Grouse Train Setters are very happy I shoot a 28 ga
    If you have any questions about shooting a 28 ga for Ruff Grouse call me at 740-418-7357
    Or email


  2. Jason Storey says:

    My father and I have been hunting grouse exclusively with a 28 gauge for over 20 years. My little IGA(Stoeger) Uplander side by side with 28″ bbls choked IMP Cyl and Mod is almost as light as an HR Topper single (which my wife uses, in 28 gauge), and better balanced for wing shooting. I am a snap shooter, trained and forged in thick grouse woods, and this little gun excels despite it’s $500 purchase price when new. A shame this gun/gauge is no longer offered.

    Just yesterday we shot our limit of 10, no dog. As it is early season in Northern Ontario and the underbrush allows only a few feet of visibility, I allow myself the “luxury” of shooting “roadrunners”. Believe me, shooting a running grouse through thick ferns and brush is often more challenging than a flying bird, and these are not open hardwood lots. My wife shoots the “gimme” sitters, as it is only her third season handling a firearm and hunting. We are currently working on her wing shooting skills. I managed to take three on the wing, and three running full out through our northern jungle.

    Early season when the brush is thick, I like to use 7/8 of an ounce of 8 or 8.5. That’s right, really tiny shot. Shots are sure at 20, and good at 25 if you have clear shooting. The small shot kills VERY impressively, and very few make it into the meat. Not to mention they deal very well with the brush clearing a path for the high pellet count coming in behind the leading pellets. Late season when the grouse may be educated, and the distances longer and the brush thinner, 1 ounce of 6# rule the day. 30-35 yard shots with the modified bbl are consistently clean killers.

    I hate the 410, and don’t even consider it a killer. And maybe the patterns of 1 ounce of #6 are not quite as pretty as those fired from a 20, but don’t tell the hundreds of grouse killed with our 2 guns over the last 20 years…..
    I don’t mean to contradict anyone, but my 28 gauge experiences on grouse are extremely positive with nearly zero lost birds.

    Plus, at the end of the day, I hunt grouse with a double 28 gauge. Now I will go back to sipping my single malt, while enjoying a Cohiba in my smoking room lined with rich mahogany and containing hundreds of leather bound books. Not really, but I do hunt with a 28 double gun…..


    • Wayne M says:

      Hi Jason, It’s a while since you wrote your 28 Ga comments. I’ve had the hots for a 28 for about 10 Years and finally bought a 28 Ga in Ruger Red Label 26″ Bbl. Have a Red Label in 20Ga for 30 Yrs+. I’m in Manitoba and have been hunting Pheasants (over dogs) in South Dakota the past 13 Yrs. Have used the 28 the last 3 Yrs, and love it. Use #6, 3/4 oz as mostly field shots. See your shooting 7/8 oz. What ammo, or are you reloading?? Thanks, Wayne


  3. Dave Cudlip says:

    28 gauge and grouse go together like bread and butter. It has gained popularity the past 20 years and will keep gaining as most gun manufacturers now make some kind of 28 gauge model. It’s light enough to carry all day and those pellets are leaving the barrel just as fast as 12 or 20 gauge pellets. There’s just fewer of them.


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