Barrel Length Field Gun

Dear Technoid,

I am looking to purchase a 20 gauge semi auto shotgun and have noticed that the guns with the choke tubes are now comming in 26 inch barrels. What barrel would you consider better for all around hunting in a 20 guage semi with the changeable choke tubes (26 inch or 28 inch)

thanks. Bob

Dear Bob,

Barrel length on a field gun is a function of two things: Personal preference and the balance qualities of the particular gun in question. On a target gun, length is also a factor in precision on the longer shots, but this really wouldn’t apply to a twenty gauge gun in the field. I’ve covered barrel length and perceived lead in a separate response buried somewhere in the archives.

26″ or 28″ in a semi field gun? Well, it depends. I like a field gun to be relatively quick handling as much of my shooting is poke ‘n hope. I don’t have much experience using an auto for upland birds like grouse, pheasant and woodcock, but I have shot a whole bunch of dove with 20 and 12 autos. My recent trip to Argentina was to “test” a 30″ twenty gauge Beretta 391 on dove, duck and partridge. That’s right, a 30″ 20 gauge gas semi.

Basically, I would pick the barrel length on a pump or auto that feels right to me as to balance. For example: The Remington 1100 20 gauge autos have always felt best to me in 26″ barrel length. They seem to swing best for me in that length as they can be a bit heavy up front with longer barrels. In the Beretta 391 20 gauge, I would probably pick 28″ as the gun is lighter and more responsive than the Remington. Ditto the Benelli. Of course, if I were using the gun for grouse and woodcock, where the cover is really tight, then I’d go with 26″ or even 24″ on an auto.

Remember, an auto has an extra 3?” of receiver length compared to an O/U or SxS. An auto with a 26″ barrel will be the same overall length as an O/U or SxS with a 29?” barrel. A 30″ auto has the same sighting plane as a 33?” O/U!

I very much liked the 30″ Beretta 391 20 on dove. That long barrel allowed me to be a bit more precise on the long shots, while the light weight of the gun made it less tiring to shoot. Remember you can easily shoot 500 shells per hour on dove down there. Do that for a couple of hours and you notice the weight of the gun. I’m sure that I would have hit (or missed) just as many dove with a 28″ barrel.

I once went woodcock hunting in New Brunswick, Canada at the opening of the season September 15. It wasn’t really the ideal time to go. The leaves were still fully green and we hunted covers so tight that it was sometimes difficult to raise any gun. 24″ barrels would not have been too short on an auto. They wouldn’t have the weight to swing very well, but most of that tight cover is snap shooting so swing really isn’t the issue.

So, comparing dove and woodcock, I would have been happy with a 24″ or 30″ barrel. For general shooting, something in between would make sense. As I said above, between 26″ and 28″ I’d pick the barrel length that made the gun feel best in my hands. It gets personal. There’s no realistic ballistic advantage either way.

You should also consider your physical stature. If you are a large man, you will be able to handle a bit more gun. If you are smaller, a shorter gun would be more in proportion.

Or you could just buy whichever length the store carries at that time. That’s like enlisting your eight year-old niece to pick your hunting dog from the litter of puppies. It’s probably just as good as system as all the other methods. Sometimes it is best to have luck decide things.

Best regards,

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

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