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.