Ask Phil: The Best Guns and Loads for North American Wingshooting

best shotguns

Photograph by John Hafner

So here's the first question. It's liable to have a very long answer so you might consider responding to it in installments.

Shotguns are the weapon of choice (often by necessity) for a large variety of winged game. But winged game can mean anything from twenty pound wild turkeys to tiny bobwhite quail. Like the birds, the guns and ammo used to hunt them will usually be quite variable. Leaving brand names aside, can you tell me what type equipment you think best fits each kind of bird? Specifically, I would be interested in your choice of shotgun style (e.g. pump, auto, etc.), gauge, and ammo. And, of course, the reasons why. (Perhaps a spread sheet would be useful?) Here's the list:

1. Turkeys (obviously in a class of their own)
2. Doves
3. Uplands
a. Pheasants
b. Huns
c. Prairie Chickens
d. Sage Hens
e. Sharptailed Grouse
f. Chukar
g. Quail
i. Bobwhite
ii. Valley Quail
iii. Mearns Quail
iv. Scaled Quail
v. Mountain Quail
h. Mountain Grouse
i. Ruff Grouse
ii. Franklin Grouse
iii. Blue Grouse
iv. Ptarmigan
4. Waterfowl
a. Freshwater divers
b. Sea ducks
c. Teal
d. Puddle ducks
e. Geese
i. Honkers
ii. Snow/Blues/Cacklers
iii. Brant
f. Swans
g. Sandhill Cranes
h. Miscellaneous (coots, etc.)

_There! That should keep you busy for a while! _

Anonymous in Canada

Thank you for the that question. It is way longer than my answer, which is depressingly simple: a 3-inch, 12 gauge gas gun with an alloy receiver and a 26-inch barrel and choke tubes will work for every bird in North America. It will be light enough to carry, hit hard enough for the biggest of birds, possess the ability to be loaded down to 28-gauge levels, and the gas system will reduce recoil.

The shorter barrel length (I prefer 28 inches on my semiautos) is a concession to the need for a slightly shorter, lighter gun for upland and turkey hunting in the woods. Throw in a slug barrel and you can shoot deer and pigs with it, too.

I'll even name names: Browning Maxus, Winchester SX3, Beretta A400 Action, Remington V3.
For those who prefer inertia and the tradeoff is better function in harsh conditions vs more felt recoil, I'll add the Benelli M2 or Montefeltro, along with the Franchi Affinity and the new Browning A5.

On to ammo, and while I can’t recommend one all-purpose load for everything, we’ll get it done with six loads for our one gun.

1 1/8 ounces of lead 7 1/2s at 1200 fps for almost every upland bird save pheasants and sage grouse, who get 1 ¼ ounces of 5 or 6 shot at 1300.

One ounce of steel 6s at 1300 fps if you hunt doves, snipe, rails etc and non-toxic shot is required, plus all teal hunting.

For all other non-toxic upland shooting and most waterfowling, 1 ¼ ounces of steel 2 (maybe 3) shot at 1450-1500 fps.

For geese, swans, cranes, 1 ¼ ounces of steel BBs at 1450-1500, or HeviMetal BBs.

For turkeys, 1 ¾ ounces of 5 shot at 1250 fps or so, and make it Winchester Long Beard.

That answer is the truth, but I wouldn’t be much of a gun nut if I let it be the last word. Therefore, the upcoming Installment two will suggest a five-gun battery for North American wingshooting.