12 Or 20 For Game

Dear Technoid:

I have been a clay shooter for years and have only shot live birds a dozen times. I recently decided to give live birds a try and went searching for a field gun. Being new to the game I felt that a 20 ga. would be a good first overall gun in that it is lighter than a 12 ga. and my clay averages are about the same in 12 and 20ga. I plan to shoot either pen raised Pheasant in the Midwest or Quail in South Carolina.

I have ordered but not received a B. Rizzini 20 ga. w/28″ barrels. I was very impressed with the feel, fit and finish of the gun when I first saw it and felt that it appeared to be a good value. I am now second guessing the 20 ga. and wonder if I should have ordered a 12 ga. instead. From your perspective which gauge would be better suited for my needs?

The second question I have is that if you were to recommend another ga. for Upland hunting what ga. would be your second gun?? 12 or 28?? Would you recommend purchasing the same manufacturer……..so you are always shooting a similar gun?
Thanks in Advance for Your Opinion,


Dear Bill,

A 20 gauge gun is just fine for pen raised pheasant and quail. You don’t need any more. I’ve tested a B.Rizzini sporter and felt that it was very well made. I can’t tell how well it will hold up over time as no test goes for much more than 1,000 rounds, but it looked strong and well put together.

Nothing wrong with a 12 either, but you will end up carrying about 3/4 lb. to 1 lb. more. In certain types of hunting that really matters. In other types it doesn’t. Depends on how much walking is involved. The 20 is surely the classic quail gun. Preserve pheasants are slower and softer than wild birds. Your shots will be within 30 yards or so. I think that a 20 with IC/Mod screwed in shooting one ounce of #5s will kill any pheasant you will run across. Remember, the pellets from a 20 go just as fast as those from a 12. There just aren’t as many of them.

What is my recommendation for a second upland gun? It might be better to wait until you have gotten the first and see how you like it. Still, I feel that one of your field guns should always be a 12 no matter what. A 12 gauge gun is never wrong, if you can deal with the weight.

As to the 28, I just love them but it’s often hard to find the shot size and loads that you want for the 28. If you reload, that’s no problem, but if you buy new it could be. For me a 28 is the THIRD field gun, not the second.

I’ll probably catch flak for saying this, but I don’t really think that shooting a lighter gauge gun is more “sporting” when used on birds. If you are going to put pellets in a bird, you owe it to the game to kill that bird dead as quickly as possible. “Sporting” in making the game harder to hit is one thing. “Sporting” in making the game suffer longer before dying is quite another. As a sportsman, we owe it to ourselves, our brother sportsmen and the game we hunt, to kill that bird clean and sure as best we can. Lowering the gauge just to make it more challenging for the hunter, and more suffering for the bird, is hardly sporting.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many cases in which a subgauge gun is lighter and will help you shoot better at the end of a long day. 12 gauge isn’t always more efficient. There’s a balance. You will know what works best for you in the particular type of hunting that you do. Just make sure to always use enough gun to quickly and humanely dispatch your birds. We owe it to them.

That’s my problem with the 28 in the field. I just love the gauge for fooling around with clays. But in the field, most 28s weigh the same (or slightly more) then the equivalent 20 gauge. They both usually share the same frame in a modern mass-produced O/U. Since they are basically being shot from the same gun, the only advantage the 28 has is slightly less recoil. In return, the 20 offers a far wider selection of payloads. For most hunters, the 20 is a far more efficient and humane gun than the 28.

My wife looks at it the other way. She shoots ONLY a 28 at all manner of clay and feathered targets. She is absolutely deadly with her 28. She has faith in the 28 and likes its low level of recoil. For this reason, she shoots it better than anything else. For her, it is the most humane and efficient gun for upland shooting. For me, it is not the most efficient gun as I can handle a bit more recoil from the 20, or carry a bit more weight with the 12. As I said, the best gauge is subjective.

Bottom line: For the live birds you are considering shooting, a 20 should be just fine because the distances are short. The additional payload of the 12 wouldn’t really matter much at the distances preserve pheasant and preserve quail are normally taken. Your 20 gauge Rizzini will be a delight to carry, pleasant to shoot and will leave you feeling fresh at the end of the hunt. It’s a great choice and I envy you.

Best regards,

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

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