Subgauge Sporting Handicaps

Dear Technoid:

My friend Jack and I shoot sporting clays often. He usually uses a .410 Browning Superposed. His face lit up when he saw your two articles on sub-guage sporting clays; He loved it! What we would like to know is your method of handicapping the sub guages.

Thank you in advance.


Dear John:

If he shoots sporting with a .410, he is just as dumb as I am! I alternate between using a special tubed Fabrique Nacional Browning and a first year production Winchester M-42. Humble pie is never very far away.

Some time ago, I worked out a handicap system for subgauge sporting clays at the monthly Connecticut Travelers (CTs) shoots. I fine tuned it for about half a year and then finally settled on the numbers.

12 gauge is scratch, 16 gauge +3, 20 gauge +5, 28 gauge +10 and .410 bore is +20. Pumps and SxS guns get an additional 5 targets, i.e. the Winchester M42 .410 pump gun would get 20+5=25 targets. The amount of shot permitted in the subgauge guns is the same as it is in NSSA skeet. The 16 gets one ounce.

Having said this, as I understand it, the handicap is no longer in place for the 20 gauge and larger. It seems that shooters were getting pretty proficient with their 20 gauges, and with the handicap, they were winning a disproportionate number of shoots.

Does it work? Sort of. Connecticut Travelers (CTs) pride themselves on shooting very difficult contest courses. The quality of the contestant ranges from master class shooters and local British instructors to rank beginners. Our scores are so out of synch with the SCA classification system that I developed an entirely new class system. Our top class starts at 75.

The fact that CTs shoot such difficult courses does not encourage subgauge use. If you are shooting a 60 with the 12 gauge, you are not going to want to give it much of a try with the .410. The .410 is hardly ideal for the 40 yard battue, the 50 yard teal or the 30 yard edge-on rabbit.

The best that I ever did with my M-42 was second over all at the CTs club championship. They happened to have set a generally shorter course and the long shots were tough enough so that not many people hit them anyway. On our average course, the .410 is just futile.

The subgauge handicap system generates much more interest on the shorter courses. CTs did have a relatively short course shoot per year and encouraged people to try subgauge. Most of the shots are kept at 35 yards or under.

If you read the SHOTGUN REPORT’s Technoid’s columns on “The Answer,” you will know that I attempted to make the ultimate subgauge sporting clays gun. I felt that regular skeet guns with tubes needed wheels on the front. Four barrel sets were generally not screw choked and were not available in barrel lengths over 28″. I wanted a subgauge gun that looked, handled and felt exactly like a standard 30″ sporter.

After doing a bunch of calculations, I sent one of my 30″ Fabrique Nacional B-25 Brownings down to Briley and had him enlarge the bores from .723″ to .765″. This removed 12 ounces of weight. Briley than made a set of 12 ounce matched weight skeet tubes (with screw chokes) for the gun. Voila! A three gauge screw choke 30″ tube set that felt like a real gun. Briley said that he had done a lot of back boring and carrier barrel work before, but that he had never made a zero weight gain tube set before. This was his first.

The downside is obvious.

1) it is fairly expensive and

2) the gun cannot be used as a 12 gauge.

On the other hand, I now have a properly balanced 30″ subgauge sporter built on the highest quality action. I selected screw choke constrictions of .005″ and .015″ across the board and this has proven to be spot on.

I go through all of this because I want you to know that I have gone to some effort to reduce the subgauge variables to just the differences in the shells and not the differences in the guns. So often what makes shooting a subgauge hard is the fact that you are shooting a different gun from your usual one.

I know that I have taken up a fair amount of space here, but this is a subject close to my heart. I hope that you and your friend found it interesting.

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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1 Response to Subgauge Sporting Handicaps

  1. Jeff Hunter says:

    About 4 or 5 years ago the majority of CT Travelers shoots were being won by someone with a sub-gauge pump. Usually the gun was a 28 or .410 with all the features of a modern sporting gun. At the next annual meeting, Club President Al Anglace, proposed the current plan that put the kibosh on stacking the handicaps and adjusted the handicaps. That change effectively killed sub-gauge sporting at CT Traveler’s events other than the Small Gauge Championships.


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