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The Joy of the 28 Gauge

by Bill Hanus

Please meet the darling of the grouse covert -- the elegant lady of the woodland and feisty daughter of the 16 gauge.
Please meet the darling of the grouse covert -- the elegant lady of the woodland and feisty daughter of the 16 gauge.

Although not viewed by all as a Restorative for Youthful Abuses in the Aged, the 28 gauge does provide the necessary nutrients and supplements to make you feel younger, walk taller, range farther, see clearer and shoot better. Your taste and good judgment is self-evident. Dogs work better when shot over by a 28. Grouse, woodcock, quail and pheasants happily submit to their destinies when taken with a 28. And what happier measure of immortality can befall a hunter than the epitaph -- HE SHOT HIS 28 GAUGE WELL.

Mindful of their responsibilities to your psychological well-being, in addition to their own bottom lines, shotgun makers have, in recent years, brought forth well-considered 28 gauge guns, built on 28 gauge frames, for your approbation and appreciation: Lovely 28 gauge Parker Reproductions, Browning’s copy of the Winchester Model 12 and the NEW Bill HANUS BIRDGUN BY AYA, Merkel’s 147, Ruger’s Red Label over/under, Remington’s 1100 and 870’ ar Franchi’s 5.4 pound AL 28 semi-auto and Veloce o/u. There is absolutely no excuse to enter grouse territory without the extra spring in your step that a 28 gauge insures.

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On two different occasions recently when I have been waxing poetic on the many virtues of the 28 gauge shell -- the merits of hard (high antimony content) shot, its "square" ballistics, hence shorter shot string of the 3/4 oz. target load, blah, blah, blah -- when my reverie was rudely interrupted and I learned that the callers were using Winchester’s 1-oz. load and were killing birds dead-in-the-air! I was mortified. Then I tried a box of Sellier & Bellot 1 oz. loads and discovered the same thing! Bad news for bigger western birds. Baschieri & Pellagri’s new low pressure 28 gauge 7/8 oz. load patterns beautifully. Will any of these new loads challenge Federal’s copper-plated Premium as the king of the 28 gauge -- or the Remington-Federal-Winchester target loads as the royal court -- or Fiocchi’s Hi-Vel as the lower-cost crown prince? What a delicious dilemma in which to find one’s self.


Just like the product reviews of the old Datsun 2402, any shortcomings of the 28 gauge are "hardly worth mentioning." Bird hunting -- which relies in large measure upon instinctive shooting -- makes special demands on the hunter’s hardware. In brief, the gun must come to the target without conscious search for the sight plane. This usually requires a bit of cast-off for the right-handed shooter with a dominant right eye. Without cast-off the shooter will often "instinctively" shoot high and to the left. This is especially true if the individual is round-faced and/or the comb of the shotgun is fat.

Most shotgun manufacturers produce shotguns that are cast-neutral -- which puts both left-handed and right-handed shooters at an equal disadvantage. Not much of a problem on pheasant, duck or quail which present relatively long, leisurely sighting opportunities; but an involuntary contribution to game conservation on right-breaking birds.


Eye-balling the cast on a gun is as easy as resting the heel on the floor and sighting down the underside of the barrel and over the trigger guard. If the toe is to the right of your line of sight, you have cast-off, to the left, cast-on. And cast-neutral if all three sighting points are in a straight line.

Post-purchase cast adjustments may include: (1) professional stock bending to obtain the desired amount of cast and drop, or; (2) the whisper of a wood rasp to remove some wood from the 10:30 position (if you think of the butt plate as an oval clock face). A 1/16" change will move the point of impact a foot at grouse and quail ranges, so a deft touch and frequent testing on clay targets is required lest you achieve over-perfection.

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The world offers few pleasures greater than watching a close-working dog at work. . . but the grace and style of a 28 gauge -- slender as a girl at the wrist; quick to the cheek without thought -- which gives purpose to the moment and defines perfection. . . comes close. It is probably true that ordinary mortals have memories of glorious fall days in the woods or afield that will live forever. However, I have it on good authority that 28 gauge bird hunters have more such memories -- and in Technicolor too!

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