Hot Shots

What wins at sporting clays? Gas guns and small gauges.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Maybe it's the NASCAR influence. Half the guns in the rack at any sporting clays tournament these days bear garish hot-rod paint jobs-flames, stars and stripes, and metal-flake finishes. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the time when you brought any old hunting gun to the course is over-at least if you're more interested in prizes than in practice. As sporting clays guns evolve, two trends stand out: the shift to autoloaders and the popularity of small-gauge guns.

Tricked-Out Autos
While elegant o/u's continue to win tournaments, those high-end Perazzis, Krieghoffs, and Berettas increasingly share the winner's circle with autoloaders, primarily the Beretta 391 and the Browning Gold.

Why? Because shooters are discovering that less kick beats two chokes. And because the auto's gas system attenuates recoil, you don't need extra gun weight to absorb kick. Sporting autos weigh half a pound to a pound less than most target-grade o/u's.

The Beretta autos have spawned a cottage industry in aftermarket tune-ups designed to make the guns shoot even softer, pattern better, and function with ever more tedious reliability. Ballistic Specialties (800-276-2550; www.angleport.com), Seminole Gunworks (800-980-3344; www.seminolegun.com), and Briley Manufacturing (800-331-5718; www.briley.com) offer 391s with ported, overbored barrels, lengthened forcing cones, extended choke tubes, tuned gas ports, trigger jobs, and internal polishing (the paint jobs are an option from Ballistic Specialties). All three shops sell slicked-up autos for $1,500 to $1,600.

That said, the 391 and the Gold perform fine right out of the box. The Gold comes with overbored barrels, ports, and HiViz beads. As of this year, Beretta 391s feature factory overboring. Autos may not have the glamour, classic looks, or longevity of a high-end o/u, but they'll break targets all day long without breaking your wallet or your cheekbone.

Smallbore Specials
While the rest of the world shoots sporting clays with 12-gauges, period, we Americans love smallbore shotguns. A number of manufacturers make 20-gauge sporting guns, but 28s and .410s are a little harder to find. This year, however, Browning's new Citori 525 o/u debuts in 28 and .410. The 525, like many 28 and .410 o/u's, consists of smallbore barrels on a 20-gauge frame. We gun writers like to whine that 28s and .410s should be built on true, scaled-down frames, but in practice, long smallbore barrels on a 20-gauge frame are much easier to shoot well than a "true" 28 or .410.

Earlier this year I spent a couple of days as a guest of Remington, helping to shoot up, literally, a pallet-load of target ammo at five-stand and sporting clays. Fortunately, most of the ammo was 28 gauge, shot from the Sporting Clays 1100, an experience so painless that the Remington people had to take the guns away from us at the end of the day, or we'd have kept on shooting in the dark. The Sporting 1100 features a semifancy walnut stock and four extended Rem Chokes for its 25-inch barrel. I'd like to see this gun in a longer-barreled version, but that's a minor quibble.

I should mention that we used the 28s on quail in the mornings. Unlike trap and skeet guns, sporting specials cross over beautifully to the field.