10 gauge
The author and his 10-gauge shotgun, plus a limit of geese. Phil Bourjaily

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If there is a brother — and sister — hood of the 10 gauge, it doesn’t have many members left. I belatedly joined it myself this year. The gun in the picture is a 10 gauge BPS, one of only two 10s left on the market, the other also being a Browning, the Gold 10 semiauto. Remington’s very soft-shooting SPS 10, which for a long time was the third remaining 10 in production, was unfortunately discontinued a few years ago.

Almost 30 years ago, steel shot became law, and the 10 gauge was poised to take over waterfowling. The 10 is, of course, the largest legal gauge in the U.S. The need to shoot bigger pellets made the 10’s large case capacity attractive and there was a brief flurry of interest in the big gun. The 10 gauge magnum, always a bit player, was ready for its star turn . . . until the new 3 ½ inch 12 came along and shoved the 10 out of the spotlight. Spec-ed to higher pressures (1400 psi for the 3 ½ inch 12 vs 1100 psi for the 10), the 3 1/2 -inch 12 can shoot the same payloads at higher velocities than the 10 and still shoot 2 ¾ and 3-inch 12 gauge shells.

Yet still the 10 gauge hangs on, mostly in the hands of goose hunters. Ten gauges tend to pattern large pellets very well. A few years ago I had the Federal engineers compare a 10 vs a 3 1/2-inch 12 head to head in their test tunnel for me, and the computer analysis gave the 10 a slight, but definite edge with factory loads and the shot strings were shorter, too. My gun, with a Rob Roberts T2 (Light Modified) choke, shoots great 75% patterns at 40 yards with big shot, and I have no doubt I could tighten them significantly with a tighter choke if I wanted to. Handloaders, especially those who push the envelope, are the ones who get the most from the 10.

Besides patterning, 10 gauges have weight on their side. At a time when waterfowl guns keep getting lighter, which I believe is a mistake, shooting a 10 gauge is an act of protest. Mine weighs 9 pounds, 10 ounces with its 24-inch barrel. It’s a chunk of a gun, but surprisingly easy to shoot and handle in a layout blind. All that weight soaks up recoil, too, and that’s in a pump. Get a hold of a 10 gauge semiauto and you can sling large payloads of pellets skyward and scarcely feel a thing. And, honestly, it’s enjoyable sometimes to shoot something specialized and different. Would the duck and geese I shot the other day have fallen any less dead to a 12? Probably not, but shooting the 10 made the hunt more fun for me, and that’s supposed to be why we go.