Solving The “One Gun” Riddle

Dear Technoid

After 15 years away from clay shooting, I’m getting back into the sport (and enjoying myself immensely, I might add). When I was a teenager, I shot Trap with my father and used a classic Remington 870 Wingmaster. While I love the gun (it’s perhaps the best Duck gun I’ve ever used), I’m not that enthusiastic about using it to shoot Sporting Clays, or even Skeet.

I’ve only recently gotten into Sporting Clays (I don’t think it was around at my old shooting range). I’ve haven’t EVER shot Skeet. Two major clubs in my area offer all 3 clay sports, and I’m interested in participating more in Sporting Clays, and even trying out Skeet.

BUT, I only want to buy one gun…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Beretta 391, and really like what I read. But I haven’t found anything about whether to buy a Sporting gun for Trap (and Skeet) shooting, or a Trap gun for all 3 or what…

So, my question:

Should I buy a Sporting gun to shoot all 3 clay sports, a Trap gun, or a Skeet gun? Which gun type will give me the LEAST problems in the off-design shooting?

About me and my needs:

I’m a fairly experienced Trap shooter, but 15 years’ worth of time off means I’ve got some practicing to do. I’m an enthusiastic Sporting shooter, but have only shot a couple hundred rounds. I’m a total novice Skeet shooter, but willing to learn. I’m also a fairly experienced Quail, Grouse, and Pheasant hunter, as well as lots of experience shooting at Ducks. I want ONE gun for all three clay sports, and I want to spend about $2000.

Thanks for any input you have, or links you can point me to.



“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice Doggie,’ whilst you find a rock” – Talleyrand

Dear Sam,

(Did Tallyrand really say “nice doggie”? I always liked his “America has thirty-two religions and only one dish.”)

One gun? Great minds think alike. I’ve been through this one myself and have answered many similar questions from readers. I’ll post this one in the updates just to keep things current.

One gun for everything! Ah, the Holy Grail. And for under $2000! Actually, that part’s not too hard.

Due to my general lack of concentration and short attention span, I end up shooting just about all the clay target games. Though I have my days, I’m generally not a threat to walk to the front of the room after a competition any more. When you shoot ’em all, you usually don’t shoot any single event at the very top level. But you do have more fun. This stuff is a game, after all. Game = fun. If not, find another game.

The problem with the “one gun” deal is always with the trap side of the equation, but it’s not insurmountable. ATA trap shooting and most trap guns built for ATA trap have little in common with skeet or clays or hunting or anything else. Trap is a specialized game of specialized skills. To get good at ATA trap, you have to train yourself to do things that will absolutely kill you in the other shotgun sports. It’s a tribute to the quality of trap shooters that so many of them are so versatile in spite of this.

Most ATA trap shooters set their guns up to shoot fairly high with firm cheek pressure. The premounted gun lets them tuck in nice and tight, while the predictably rising target makes a high shooting gun suitable. Most trap shooters like to “float” their birds a bit. Unfortunately, over half of the sporting clays shots you will see are falling targets. Aye, there’s the rub.

I shoot much more Olympic and wobble trap than ATA trap. At those games the bird is just as likely to come out flat as rising. Guns for these games tend to be set up to shoot 50/50 or flat. Birds are covered as you shoot, not floated as much as they are at ATA trap.

You can shoot very nice ATA trap with a flat gun. It will just take a bit of getting used to if your current style is to float the bird. You’ll cover the birds as you shoot. IF (big IF) you can do that, THEN you can indeed use the same gun for everything. Sporting clays and skeet respond very nicely to flat shooting guns. If your trap gun is already set up to shoot flat, then it will all be a piece of cake.

That’s the route I’ve gone. My “one gun for everything” (I own several different candidates in this category) is set up to shoot flat 50/50. When I shoot the gun on the pattern plate, the shot surrounds the aiming point. I’m used to covering my straight always as I pull the trigger.

OK, so now we’ve decided that your “one gun” must shoot flat or nearly so. Next, it must obviously be capable of firing two shots. In sporting clays two barrels allow two different chokes. That is a slight plus, but not a major factor. You can do a great deal of “choke changing” with shell selection. Newer shooters tend to overestimate the advantages of two chokes because they aren’t as experienced with how well spreader loads can work. Polywad’s Spred-R inserts can open a choke two full degrees.

Barrel length? 30″ in either an O/U or an auto is a pretty safe choice. It’s by far the most popular length for sporting, gaining popularity in skeet and is very useful at trap. 32″ will work in some guns if they are light barreled enough, but most aren’t. 30″ wins here.

Rib: many trap guns come with stepped ribs that are higher at the rear than at the front. This is so that the gun will shoot a bit higher than normal when the shooter has a standard rib view. I just hate stepped ribs. If I set a stepped rib gun up so that I look flat down the rib to make the gun shoot close to 50/50, the slightest extra cheek pressure (as you would use on a dropping target) will put your eye below the rib and you are blind. Beretta found this out when they introduced the 390 sporter with a stepped rib. Shooter hated it and flocked to Seminole and Ballistics to buy converted flat rib 303 trap barrels and retrofit them to the 390. Later in the 390 run, Beretta went back to the flat rib and has retained it for the 391. Other people aren’t bothered as much by stepped ribs. Good for them.

Stock configuration: Just get one that feels right. Don’t worry about the “trap” or “sporting” or “skeet” label on the gun. That’s just marketing. I like trap stocks because they tend to be a bit flatter on top, with less drop from nose to heel. I’m not talking height here. I’m talking slope of the comb. The more the stocks slopes down from nose to heel, the more flexible it is. Unfortunately, the more it slopes down, the more face slap you get too. Pick your poison. Field guns tend to slope down a lot, 1″ full inch of drop being common on a standard 1-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ stock. Trap stocks are parallel or closer to parallel. Parallel combs are all the rage in sporting this minute, but they take their toll on extremely high or low sporting birds. I’ve written about this elsewhere. That’s why no field stock has a parallel comb. I’ve settled on a nose/heel slope of about 1/2″ to 1/4″. Works for me.

I set up my “one gun” length so that I have about 1-1/2″ of space between my shooting glasses and the heel of my thumb when the gun is quickly mounted. I use very little pitch on my guns and no cast off at all. That is personal preference, but I’ve found that any deviation of the stock from totally “straight” (slope at comb, pitch, cast) increases face slap. Some shooters need slope/pitch/cast to accommodate their shooting style, so it’s all a compromise.

So now we have the “one gun” being a 30″ gun that is flat shooting, has a flat rib and a stock without too much slope. So, what kind of gun?

Enter the $2000 factor. Exit just about all O/Us. Remember, this gun must be suitable for mega-rounds of clays, not the occasional hunting foray.

The modern gas gun is what’s left. That’s not bad at all. Of the three “majors” on the market at this very moment, my clear favorite is the Beretta A400. The Remington 1100 target gun is a nice gun, but it just hasn’t kept up. It’s soft shooting and, depending on the variation, can handle very well, but it’s decidedly “old tech”. The Browning Gold gas auto and its sibling the Winchester Super X2, are decent modern guns, but they don’t have the target track record of the Beretta’s. In today’s market, if you are a serious target shooter and you are using a gas gun, chances are very high it will be a Beretta. There’s a reason. Just because everyone else picks one, doesn’t mean they are wrong. The guns handle well and are surprisingly durable considering the demands of clay target shooting. I have an old 303 with about 80,000 rounds through it. My backup 303 is still new in the box. I’ve never needed it. At 80K my 1100 was a flounder weight and so was my backup 1100.

Which A400? For me it would be the A400 Xcel 30″ flat rib sporting clays model. You might find that the A400 sporter stock suits you just fine. You can shim adjust it a fair amount.

My “one gas gun for everything” is a 30″ Beretta 303 trap gun with the stock very slightly shimmed down. I get the flat rib I like and yet also the trap-style stock that fits me best.

A A400 sporter or trap gun should come in under $1850. It’s a superlative gun and I highly recommend it. It will handle every possible clay target game with aplomb.

Now, if I just knew what “aplomb” meant.

Best regards,

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

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1 Response to Solving The “One Gun” Riddle

  1. Rrusse11 says:

    Aplomb is bigger than a cherry.


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