Years ago, standard skeet guns were 26″ long, with some people using 28″ barrels. Now, 28″ seems to be “standard” with many shooters even moving to 30″ barrels.
Like skeet (at least as it was originally conceived), sporting clays and FITASC emulates field shooting. But as I look at the big names in those sports, very un-field-like 32″ barrels tend to predominate (although 30″ still seems to be most popular with the average shooter).
As in most matters of choice, I’m sure personal taste, physiognomy, and typical course layouts will dictate an individual’s barrel length. But do you consider longer barrels to be the starting point for a serious sporting gun, or are they best left to the experts? Is 32″ already standard for the UK, and is the US yet to catch up? Do any of the top shots still use 30″ or shorter barrels?
By “sporting gun” I am going to assume that you mean “sporting clays”. Sporting clays may have started out as emulating the field sports, as did skeet, but like skeet it has become an end in itself and, for better or worse, proper field guns have little place in advanced sporting. My advice to sporting clays shooters, indeed to all shooters in whatever sport, is to shoot the longest barrel that you are comfortable with. “Comfortable”, ay, there’s the rub. That depends both on the shooters physical makeup and shooting style, as well as the game being shot.
If we consider the Brits to be the paragon in sporting, we could follow them as they have gone from 30″ to 32″ (for many, but by no means all) and now rumor has it back to 30″. I have always recommended 30″ as the starting point for a sporting clays gun, though I have shot some 32″ guns that felt very nice. Andy Duffy’s 32″ Browning B25 is nicely balanced, but the 32″ Perazzi of Stuart Clarke that I tried was far too barrel LIGHT (as opposed to our nose-heavy trap-oriented Perazzis sold in the US). Remember, it is a combination of length and weight, not just length.
Many of the mass produced, but in no way mechanically inferior, guns from Browning Japan and Beretta, carry a lot of barrel weight due to those screw chokes. Browning in particular, due to those massive Invector Plus chokes. A 32″ Japanese Browning can be a real handful with a very, very different feel than one of Andrew Litt’s 32″ Belgian or MIroku solid choke sporters. It isn’t just length.
Over here, many of the advanced sporting clays shooters seem to have embraced the Beretta 390 gas gun. With very few exceptions, the 30″ version is selected, often with some sort of aftermarket extended choke adding another 1″. Due to the extra 3-1/2″ of the automatic’s receiver, these guns are the equivalent of a 34-1/2″ O/U! Yet, the American’s scores are slowly catching up to the English and a visiting Brit is no longer assured of winning everything he enters (except George Digweed who wins everything on both sides of the Atlantic).
What does length, in and of itself, do for you? Basically it permits more precise pointing, especially on long targets. This is why handicap trap shooters have long preferred long single barrel guns. Handicap trap is a pointing/aiming sport and long, thin barrels mean precision.
In sporting, due to the wide variety of shots, a gun has to be more general purpose. Still, the general opinion at the top is that long barrels give a bit more of an edge on the long targets and don’t really hurt much on the short stuff. The good guys feel that they will hit the short stuff with anything and want something precise for those long bird shoot-offs. The advanced shooters also know where to start their barrels, so they can keep movement down to a minimum if they want to. This makes it easier to handle extra barrel length.
Ballistically, with modern fast burning target loads, there is very little velocity difference between barrel lengths. The figure of 15 fps per 1″ of length is often used, but I wonder if it is even that much sometimes.
Bottom line: use what you are comfortable with and balances well in the particular gun you are choosing. 30″ is the “standard”, but if a certain 28″ or 32″ gun feels better to you, go that way.
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error, never in doubt.)