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Shotgun Ammo: The 28 Gauge Mystique

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April 04, 2013

Shotgun Ammo: The 28 Gauge Mystique

By Phil Bourjaily

The “Pheasants: When Your Hunting Truck is a Plane” post led to some discussion of the effectiveness and mystique of the 28 gauge. I became a 28 gauge believer when I shot my first-ever straight at skeet years ago with a 28 gauge BPS. The heavy (7 pound) pump didn’t kick at all even as the ¾ ounce payloads crushed targets.

Since then, though, I’ve changed my view a little: there is nothing magic about the 28 gauge. It is a very effective smallbore within its limitations. Its combination of low recoil and target-breaking, bird-folding efficiency makes it fun to shoot. However I don’t think it necessarily “hits harder than it should,” as many believe. If anything I think the 28’s reputation for ballistic overachievement stems from the fact that it is often compared to the .410, which underperforms miserably with its skinny bore and light payloads.

In fact, the 28 gauge’s .550 bore is much closer in size to the 20 gauge’s .615 than it is to the .410” diameter of the—duh—.410, which would be a 67.5 gauge.  The 28 patterns its ¾ ounce shot charge well and if you stick with small shot – sizes 7 ½ through 9 – it has adequate pattern density for birds and targets. 

I shoot so much non-toxic shot now that I don’t shoot 28s anymore, but I used to hunt both wild and preserve pheasants with a 28 and ¾ of an ounce of high quality 7 ½ shot and had no problem killing them at all. There are 263 pellets in a 28 gauge load of 7 ½, more than enough to knock a rooster flat. Likewise, ¾ ounce of 9 shot contains 439 pellets, more than enough to break any target on the skeet field, which is why so many skeet shooters carry much higher averages with the 28 than they do with the .410. Years ago there was a special 28 gauge exhibition trap event at the Grand American, if memory serves, and shooters made some very good scores with the 28 from the 16 yard line.

What I have seen in shooting 28s and also ¾ ounce loads in my 12s is that the pattern core remains dense enough to smash targets and puff feathers but it is not as big as the “hot center” of a 12 gauge pattern, nor does it have as many pellets to spare for the pattern fringes.

You have to put that pattern center on target. For many people, that’s easier to do with the mild recoil of a 28 gauge load which, I would submit, is the only magic thing about it.

Comments (16)

Top Rated
All Comments
from etexan wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

Good article, Phil. The question left unasked is why was the 28 gauge so unappreciated and rare in light of it's superior performance over the ubiquitous 410.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I own a trim, attractive Remington 1100 in 28 gauge which have not dug out in years. Used to use it quite a bit on quail. Think there was a bit of snob appeal when I got it out of the car trunk, and was a conversation piece breaking the ice with new comers. At 75 years of age am more of a curmudgeon so do not care about verbal impressions, but need all the help I can get hitting targets, so go with a larger gauge.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

Joking aside, would not trade it for anything, and my eleven year old Granddaughter loves it. The price of store bought ammo can be startling.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I don't believe there's any difference between 20 and 28 breaking skeet targets. Hunting-wise I shoot 1-oz WW loads. It's easy to hand load 7/8 oz hunting loads. 3/4 oz loads don't hack it hunting pheasants IMO.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have a pair of 28's, one is my previously spoken of SKB 500 which possesses the finest South America Pisselm
fence post grade wood and a better looking Citori. Both of these O/U's have provided me hours of delight in the field for decades. Light weight guns and shells make for a happier day afield. Having shot them at everything from gentleman Bobs to rooster pheasants I have never been dis-satisfied with the performance of the diminutive gun although often I am not especially rejoicing about my personal performance regardless of gauge. Great combination for upland with the only drawback being what Happy mentioned regarding the extraordinarily high cost of the store bought ammunition.
Is it preferable to a twenty? Probably not.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from voiceofreasoncny wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have a pair of 28 ga Ruger Red Labels, 26" barreled short stock for my wife and mine has 28" barrels and a much longer stock. I agree with Mr. Bourjaily that you have to practice enough with a 28 ga to consistently hit targets with the center of its light pattern. The good news is that when you practice enough to get good with the 28, you can really crush targets with your 20 and 12 ga guns. Yes factory ammo is pricey, but, reloading is pretty affordable (about $3.50 a box, until I have to buy lead again, at $40.00 or more for 25 Lb). We got Mongolian pheasants this past fall that are huge (skinned and gutted birds weighed 2 1/2 to 3 pounds). We still killed them with 28's, just had to go to bigger shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cubdrvr wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have both the 20 and 28 O/U. Using 2 3/4" shells comparable for both gauges the 28,IMO, will outperform the 20. It patterns better at 30-35 yds, has a shorter shot string, and the overall thrill of shouldering the light 28 puts me on target more so than the 20. Now, if ya wanna put more game on the ground, a 12 ga. 3" Benelli
Auto might do it. But that aint huntin', that's shootin'.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from haverodwilltravel wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have two 28's. A SXS RBL and a O/U Beretta. The RBL is a great little woodcock gun and the Beretta O/U is a grandkid trainer.

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from buckstopper wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I would like to get a Benelli Legacy in 28ga for my battery. The word is SAVE UP!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 1 week ago

While I don't currently have one, I have in the past and the 28 worked well. I don't use Non-tox loads unless I have to. Why would I? They cost a lot more and I'm not made of money. Lead works!

MG

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have owned a red label 28 that seemed to be a magic death want for birds. Alas it began to fail firing the 2d barrel so took it back to the gun shop and bought Beretta Silver Pigeon 28. It has been all I shoot for doves and quail. On pheasant it seems to kill them dead as yesterday's news. The MEC 9000G does a wonderfully fast job reloading those little hulls and makes for cheap shooting. Next year think it will be my newest 12 O/U with 7/8 oz loads in the dove field simply because I love that gun.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from springerman3 wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I use a 20 gauge almost all the time, shoot alot of 3/4 oz reloads in it. I have a CZ Redhead 28 o/u that comes out ever so often. It usually does the job as long as I do mine. I picked up some 1 oz # 6 a few years ago, they do a nice job on ditch parrots ! I have harvested some grouse & woodcock as well which was alot of fun ! Hard to compare the 28 to the 410 ballistically plus it is so much more versatile.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HogBlog wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Phil,

I've seen you mention a few times that you're shooting primarily non-toxic shot. I'm curious (on a couple of levels) to know, is this out of choice/preference, or out of necessity because non-tox is required in your primary hunting grounds? Or is it just because that's what the manufacturers are sending you to test right now?

There's a discussion about non-toxic vs lead ammo that's not really happening in any meaningful way, at least not in the major, outdoors media. I know it's a landscape littered with pitfalls and landmines, but it's an important conversation if we can strip away the politics and agendas.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 1 week ago

HogBlog --

Currently non-toxic shot is only required on one large public area I sometimes hunt.

But, ducks, geese and snipe are all in season during our pheasant season. I occasionally get the chance to take one of those three incidentally to upland birds.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HogBlog wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Thanks for the reply, Phil, and it makes good sense.

Always good to plan for those bonus opportunities.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 1 year 1 week ago

The 28 gauge can be thought of as a smaller 20. The .410 is more of a curiosity.

You can buy a 20 that carries and kicks like a 28, with as good or better patterns/loads. There's a big factor for the lack of 28 gauge fans. There used to be few choices for loads within a gauge, so you chose the bore that gave you what you wanted.

"Always good to plan for those bonus opportunities."

There's another factor. Part of the beauty of wingshooting, and shotguns in general, is versatility. Not much of that in a 28 gauge shotgun, especially in the days of steel shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Happy Myles wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

I own a trim, attractive Remington 1100 in 28 gauge which have not dug out in years. Used to use it quite a bit on quail. Think there was a bit of snob appeal when I got it out of the car trunk, and was a conversation piece breaking the ice with new comers. At 75 years of age am more of a curmudgeon so do not care about verbal impressions, but need all the help I can get hitting targets, so go with a larger gauge.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

Joking aside, would not trade it for anything, and my eleven year old Granddaughter loves it. The price of store bought ammo can be startling.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 1 week ago

HogBlog --

Currently non-toxic shot is only required on one large public area I sometimes hunt.

But, ducks, geese and snipe are all in season during our pheasant season. I occasionally get the chance to take one of those three incidentally to upland birds.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from etexan wrote 1 year 2 weeks ago

Good article, Phil. The question left unasked is why was the 28 gauge so unappreciated and rare in light of it's superior performance over the ubiquitous 410.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I don't believe there's any difference between 20 and 28 breaking skeet targets. Hunting-wise I shoot 1-oz WW loads. It's easy to hand load 7/8 oz hunting loads. 3/4 oz loads don't hack it hunting pheasants IMO.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have a pair of 28's, one is my previously spoken of SKB 500 which possesses the finest South America Pisselm
fence post grade wood and a better looking Citori. Both of these O/U's have provided me hours of delight in the field for decades. Light weight guns and shells make for a happier day afield. Having shot them at everything from gentleman Bobs to rooster pheasants I have never been dis-satisfied with the performance of the diminutive gun although often I am not especially rejoicing about my personal performance regardless of gauge. Great combination for upland with the only drawback being what Happy mentioned regarding the extraordinarily high cost of the store bought ammunition.
Is it preferable to a twenty? Probably not.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from voiceofreasoncny wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have a pair of 28 ga Ruger Red Labels, 26" barreled short stock for my wife and mine has 28" barrels and a much longer stock. I agree with Mr. Bourjaily that you have to practice enough with a 28 ga to consistently hit targets with the center of its light pattern. The good news is that when you practice enough to get good with the 28, you can really crush targets with your 20 and 12 ga guns. Yes factory ammo is pricey, but, reloading is pretty affordable (about $3.50 a box, until I have to buy lead again, at $40.00 or more for 25 Lb). We got Mongolian pheasants this past fall that are huge (skinned and gutted birds weighed 2 1/2 to 3 pounds). We still killed them with 28's, just had to go to bigger shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cubdrvr wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have both the 20 and 28 O/U. Using 2 3/4" shells comparable for both gauges the 28,IMO, will outperform the 20. It patterns better at 30-35 yds, has a shorter shot string, and the overall thrill of shouldering the light 28 puts me on target more so than the 20. Now, if ya wanna put more game on the ground, a 12 ga. 3" Benelli
Auto might do it. But that aint huntin', that's shootin'.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from haverodwilltravel wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have two 28's. A SXS RBL and a O/U Beretta. The RBL is a great little woodcock gun and the Beretta O/U is a grandkid trainer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckstopper wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I would like to get a Benelli Legacy in 28ga for my battery. The word is SAVE UP!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Michigan Gunner wrote 1 year 1 week ago

While I don't currently have one, I have in the past and the 28 worked well. I don't use Non-tox loads unless I have to. Why would I? They cost a lot more and I'm not made of money. Lead works!

MG

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I have owned a red label 28 that seemed to be a magic death want for birds. Alas it began to fail firing the 2d barrel so took it back to the gun shop and bought Beretta Silver Pigeon 28. It has been all I shoot for doves and quail. On pheasant it seems to kill them dead as yesterday's news. The MEC 9000G does a wonderfully fast job reloading those little hulls and makes for cheap shooting. Next year think it will be my newest 12 O/U with 7/8 oz loads in the dove field simply because I love that gun.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from springerman3 wrote 1 year 1 week ago

I use a 20 gauge almost all the time, shoot alot of 3/4 oz reloads in it. I have a CZ Redhead 28 o/u that comes out ever so often. It usually does the job as long as I do mine. I picked up some 1 oz # 6 a few years ago, they do a nice job on ditch parrots ! I have harvested some grouse & woodcock as well which was alot of fun ! Hard to compare the 28 to the 410 ballistically plus it is so much more versatile.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HogBlog wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Phil,

I've seen you mention a few times that you're shooting primarily non-toxic shot. I'm curious (on a couple of levels) to know, is this out of choice/preference, or out of necessity because non-tox is required in your primary hunting grounds? Or is it just because that's what the manufacturers are sending you to test right now?

There's a discussion about non-toxic vs lead ammo that's not really happening in any meaningful way, at least not in the major, outdoors media. I know it's a landscape littered with pitfalls and landmines, but it's an important conversation if we can strip away the politics and agendas.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from HogBlog wrote 1 year 1 week ago

Thanks for the reply, Phil, and it makes good sense.

Always good to plan for those bonus opportunities.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 1 year 1 week ago

The 28 gauge can be thought of as a smaller 20. The .410 is more of a curiosity.

You can buy a 20 that carries and kicks like a 28, with as good or better patterns/loads. There's a big factor for the lack of 28 gauge fans. There used to be few choices for loads within a gauge, so you chose the bore that gave you what you wanted.

"Always good to plan for those bonus opportunities."

There's another factor. Part of the beauty of wingshooting, and shotguns in general, is versatility. Not much of that in a 28 gauge shotgun, especially in the days of steel shot.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment