28 Gauge For Hunting

Dear Technoid,

Field and Stream had a great article recommending the 28 ga as a field gun if you bought a long enough barrel and used the right loads. Do you have a gun recommendation for 28 ga shotguns? As I remember the article there were only a couple the writer considered well made guns from a ballistics point of view.

I want to buy a good gun.


Dear Bob,

I shoot a lot of 28 gauge and I mean a lot. I use a Browning BPS 28 and a zero weight gain tubed FN. The ONLY gauge my wife shoots ever (in trap, skeet, sporting and field) is the 28 in her Beretta 687.

That said, I don’t think that the 28 is a great field gauge.

In my sporting clays tube set I have the opportunity to directly compare a 410, 28 and 20 all in the same 7-3/4# 30″ O/U. We have a great new sporting course near us and have the opportunity to practice on a lot of targets in the 35 to 50 yard range. Yes, ballistically the 28 is good. No, ballistically it is not as good as the 20. That 1/8 oz of shot DOES make a difference when there aren’t that many eighths to play with.

In a hunting situation the 28 does even worse.

The 20 is also much more versatile as a hunting gun. A 3″ 20 can handle 1-1/4 oz of shot if you absolutely have to. The most I have seen in a 28 in a commercial load is one oz, but it didn’t pattern all that well. The fact is that the 28 really does best with its original 3/4 oz load, while you can happily load the 20 up to one oz with good ballistics.

So, the 20 is now a gun of equal or lighter weight with 33% more shot when compared to the 28.

Now as to those “magic” 28 gauge patterns: I do have to admit that it has been easier for me to build a good patterning 28 gauge load than it has been to find a good one in 20. For some reason the 20 is fussy. Not impossible mind you, just fussy. Just about all the combinations I tried in the 28, except for the blue PC wad, patterned well. One small step for the 28.

Even given that, once you do find a proper recipe for the 20 (try Green Dot or Super Field and all factory components), you can use that 1/8 to 1/4 oz more shot to good advantage in the field. A good example is that a one oz 20 can handle #5 lead for pheasants quite nicely. #5s just don’t work well in my 28s, so I have to use #6s and pass up the longer shots.

Now, since I am setting up straw men anyway, what about the argument that some people use that the 28 is more “sporting” on game than the 20? If sporting means wounding more animals, then the 28 is more sporting than the 20 indeed. As a hunter, I firmly believe that it is my duty to kill the bird dead in the air with the first shot if it is at all possible. This doesn’t mean that I hunt with an anti-aircraft gun. I do try to balance taking the game humanely with leaving it in good enough condition to be fine table fare. It is just that I don’t think that it is necessary to prove my hunting prowess by using a minimal gun at the expense of wounding more animals.

Don’t get me wrong and think that there is no situation where the 28 is a good hunting gun. If you have a particular 28 that you shoot better than a 20 that you have, then by all means use the 28. We very often shoot one gun so much better than another that a sacrifice in shot capacity doesn’t really matter. But if you are going to buy a gun new for use in hunting and can choose between identical guns separated only by bore size, pick the 20.

Now I would be a liar if I didn’t confess that the 28 is a mighty nice quail gun. I have shot a bunch of quail with my Parker Repro 28 and have watched my wife go 12 for 12 with her Beretta 28.

If she were writing this, she would want me to add that she prefers the 28 to the 20 because there is less recoil. She is a slight woman (iron will, iron fist, iron head, but small stature) and found the recoil of the Beretta 686 20 oppressive compared to her Beretta 28. I have noticed the same when comparing the Berettas in 28 and 20. A light weight 20 can be a kicker. The 28s never are. That is one of the major attractions of the 28.

Still, in a hunting situation (other than high volume dove) recoil really isn’t much of a factor. I would still recommend the 20 over the 28.

So, there it is. Another long, rambling Technoid screed fueled by 100% Colombian early morning coffee. If you are wise, ignore what I have said and buy the 28 anyway. Even if it is ballistically not the equal of the 20, everyone ought to have one or two 28s in the gun cabinet. It is a neat gauge.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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2 Responses to 28 Gauge For Hunting

  1. James Jones says:

    Bruce is right, as always (usually, mostly, sometimes?) When there are doves everywhere there is no sweeter gun than the 28.


  2. Bill E. says:

    Excellent analysis of the 28’s capabilities where too often they are far over stated.


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