Grousing With A 28


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.

Thanks, Leif

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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1 Response to Grousing With A 28

  1. Dale W. Arenz says:

    Hi Bruce – couple comments: I have hunted grouse for 65 years and have always used #9 shot in the right barrel and 8 in the left and later season 8 and 7 respectively. It doesn’t take much to kill those beautiful ruffed grouse my loads are more than adequate. Also Dickinson makes 28s on 28 gauge frames – beautiful, excellent guns – take a look at ’em on Google.


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