The 28 Gauge: Serious Gun or Toy?

June 14th, 2012

Let me say at the outset that for the most part I am no devotee of the 28 gauge. Most 28 gauge guns are far too light for serious shooting. The Benelli Legacy, for example, weighs a puny 4.9 pounds, and most other 28’s weigh about 5 ½ pounds. When you swing such a gun, the barrel or barrels virtually scribble in the sky and there is not sufficient weight to carry the gun through to the completion of the swing. A delight to admire and mount and swing in the gun room, but a disaster in the field. Again, I make the distinction between guns for carrying and guns for shooting. The 28 is most definitely in the former category.  You pay a price for the ease and comfort of carrying such a light gun afield, and that price is greatly reduced shooting and killing efficiency.

28 ga. guns are a vogue affected by gentlemanly shooters who also affect waxed cotton shooting jackets and tailored tweed shooting outfits and single-malt Scotch whiskey, and who carry wispy little side-by-side guns with the handling qualities of a fly rod.

With its standard payload of ¾ oz of shot at 1300 fps, or the considerably slower (1200 fps) 1 oz. load you have a gun that is adequate for pen-raised quail and close-range doves, and that is about it. Neither is it sufficient gun for pen-raised pheasants, because the typical shot presented by those birds is a going-away shot, which means that you have to drive the shot charge through the back and the intestines and a lot of feathers to reach vital areas. I am not saying that the 28 will not kill pen-raised pheasants because it has certainly killed many, but it has wounded and lost entirely too many. Nor is the 28 a gun for wild pheasants. I know of some pheasant=hunting operations in South Dakota that expressly forbid the use of 28 ga. guns, and with good reason.

The 28 is essentially a skeet gun. American skeet is a game where the targets are slow and the shots are close and precisely repeatable from station to station, unlike field shooting, where every shot is different. Moreover, many serious skeet shooters add weight to their guns to make them swing more smoothly and track more efficiently clear through the completion of the swing.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not making a blanket condemnation of the 28 as a game gun. There are some people—but very few—-who can do deadly work with it, but they are the rare exceptions. I will give you some examples.

Back in 1993 or 1994—I forget which—I had the pleasure of shooting quail and chukars and Hungarian partridges and pheasants over pointing dogs in Idaho with General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of US forces in Desert Storm. Gen. Schwarzkopf was known to be an excellent sporting clays shooter, but I was soon to see that he was also an excellent game shooter too, and with the 28 gauge, moreover. We shot a lot of birds in two days time, mostly at close ranges, and all pointed by very stylish, elegant dogs. Using a sleek high-grade Beretta over-under, General Schwarzkopf put down virtually every bird he shot at.

Here’s another example which I mentioned in a previous blog, namely, Serge Dompierre, a very successful Canadian businessman who used to own Los Chanares, the finest dove-shooting lodge in Argentina. Serge had a pair of Perazzi over-unders made up with 32” barrels bored full and extra full. Then he added weights in the buttstocks and forearms to bring the weight of the guns up to a perfectly balanced 8 pounds. He fired only Winchester 1 0z. loads in these guns. (He imported a shipping container of these loads!!) I observed him on many occasions doing some devastating shooting with these guns. As well he should! He used to shoot at least 10 boxes of shells at doves every day, day after day, week after week, year after year. On many an occasion I have seen him bring down high ducks that many men with 12 ga. guns would pass on.

My next example is Luis Brown. Luis is the scion of a wealthy Brazilian/American family who has been operating high-quality shoots for ducks, doves, decoyed pigeons, and partridges in Uruguay and Argentina for years. He is the first outfitter to start baiting for ducks in Argentina, and quickly earned the nickname, “The Master Baiter.” Luis is a devotee of fine British shotguns. He regularly attends gun auctions in London and at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. At one of those auctions he fell in love with a terrific little Boss 28 ga. over-under, one of only about a half-dozen ever made. It was stocked with high-contrast Turkish walnut and impeccably engraved, and it just filled Luis with the lust of possession. He had to outbid a Saudi sheik to the tune of 75,000 pounds sterling to take home the gun.

He and I used to wander across the pampas for many an hour behind his elegant little Brittanies in quest of perdiz, or partridge, and he did deadly execution on those birds with that little gun. Then someone made him an offer for the gun that he couldn’t refuse, and that was the end of that.

Finally, I mention Skip Hoagland, an American who organizes high-quality duck and dove and pigeon shoots in Argentina, and who has a specially weighted long-barrel over-under Beretta with extended choke tubes. He has done an awful lot of shooting with that gun, and can in a duck blind outshoot most me who are using a 12.

So there. The 28 ga. can do deadly work, but it has to be the right gun in the hands of the right man.



Stuart Williams holds degrees from Yale and the University of California at Berkeley. He has made over 250 international big game and bird-hunting expeditions in more than 40 countries. .

14 thoughts on “The 28 Gauge: Serious Gun or Toy?

  1. 28 ga 1 0z 1300 fps made by rst shotshell it is a piegon load 7.5 or 8 shot try em then u will rewrite this article ant throw your 20 ga away. Try loading your 3/4 oz loads up to 1400 with copperplated shot

  2. An article most definetly written by someone who is either 1) inexperienced with a 28 or 2) can’t shoot well with a 28.
    I shoot an O/U with 7.5’s in the first barrel and 6’s in the next. Federal Premiums, in my opinion, are the only shell to use.
    The 28 gauge is deadlier than my 20. Shorter shot string and better pattern.
    Just back from hunting SD wild birds. Killed 15 of 19 and only one cripple. This gun is a joy to shoot and is plenty capable of shooting pheasants if you know your range limitations – 35-40 yds. max.
    The author, as alluded, is no fan of 28’s. It’s a personal choice, but don’t shy away from this gun because the author says 28’s only work in the hands of rare individuals. My dog and I have bigger smiles at day’s end than we ever did with my 12 ga.

  3. The pompousness and arrogance to which Mr. Williams quickly dismisses the 28 gauge as a “toy” only goes to show that degrees from prestigious universities are not always an indication of intelligence. I find it amusing that the references he has to point to as “capable” of handling such a fine gauge shotgun are in essence the same people he makes light of with tweed shooting outfits enjoying single-malt scotch. I am neither. I’m just a hard working man who enjoys getting out with his bird dog whenever possible in pursuit of upland birds. While the gun is part of the equation, it’s the man behind the trigger that makes the gun shine or not Mr. Williams. Case in point- while hunting last fall in North Dakota with two friends who toted two 12 gauges for a week straight, one an A-5, the other an 1100 (both very heavy, well swinging guns you would say, right Stuart?) couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with the doors closed, totaled 7 wild roosters and one Hun out of hundreds flushed. Mea

  4. Con’t: Meanwhile, lowly old working man here totaled my limit of 12 roosters and Huns with 4 sharp-tails thrown in for good measure with two different 28 gauge shotguns. One a Franchi 48-AL, the other a Traditions by Fausti over/under. Why, you might ask? Because I practice Mr. Williams. A lot! In fact on one rooster I made such a clean head shot at 15 yards, I removed it. Speed and shot placement kill birds cleanly and effectively Stuart, not the gauge. And let me re-emphasis that Mr. Williams. Good, CLEAN head shots will bring down the toughest of birds, like pheasants or even turkey, wouldn’t you say? Number 5 or 6 shot traveling out of a muzzle at 1,300 fps retain the same devastating energy to kill cleanly, whether they are fired from a 12, 20 or 28 gauge shotgun. In fact, the squareness of the standard 3/4 oz 28 ga payload has a better pattern then most high velocity 12 or 20 gauges. Perhaps you should spend more time at the range with a 28 gauge instead of traveling so much to e

  5. Con’t: exotic lands to hunt and practice, practice, practice. Maybe then, you might find that the 28 gauge is MORE then capable of doing the job on all game birds. As for pointing out places in South Dakota that flat out refuse to allow 28 gauges on their ranches- I’m sure if most of their clients went out to the skeet field before the hunt with their 12 and 20 gauges, they wouldn’t let them carry those shotguns either after witnessing their poor performance. Taking your 12 or 20 gauge out of the safe for a few days of hunting a year doesn’t make you an accomplished hunter or shooter, practice does. And if you’d like to see how an average working man can handle the light, nimble 28 gauge with precision, I’ll gladly join you on one of your many world hunts and show you how it’s done. That is, if you can keep up with me after your arms are long tired from lugging around that heavy shotgun all day.

  6. There’s something odd about this article, It’s almost as if advertising the people this writer hangs out with, to prove greatness and importance. Nice article if you graduated from Yale or own a hunting camp in South America or have a name that starts with General… oh, yeah, and then you can say what ever gauge you don’t shoot smells awful.

  7. I don’t think the author has even seen a 28 gauge, much less shot one. If he did, his article would have been more educated on the capabilities and pure utilitarian aspects of the 28 Gauge.

  8. This article conveys an often misunderstood aspect of shotgunning. It goes without saying that specific gauges are better suited to their application. That said, technology will not provide you with the shooting form required to be competent – regardless of gauge. A good shot-gunner is just as effective with a 28 gauge as he/she is with a 12, understanding of application and effectiveness.

  9. I too agree with WC. The author of this article is making statements as if they were fact about the 28 gauge when they are nothing more than his opinion. To say the 28 gauge is simply a skeet gun and not really effective for much else shows the mans ignorance. Now I know the 28 has its limits but there isn’t much it can’t handle when compared with a 20 or even a 12. The right choke and shot size make all the difference.

  10. Absolute rubbish! I shoot 23s, 24s and straights all day long on FITASC Sporting or Compak ranges with a 28 gauge. Start your article with the sentence… ” I cant’ shoot a shotgun well enough, but in my opinion…” I also hunt a range of game birds and waterfowl with the 28 and .410 without a problem. I guess knowing what you’re doing and shooting in the correct distance range makes a difference.

  11. WOW ! Guess I should give up hunting with 28 ! Ive killed more birds wild or pen raised with 28 than I ever have with a 12.Yale must not have classes on external ballistics same bbs same velocities just smaller pattern nitwit.

  12. Awe gee-wiz, Yale has created another 28 hater… seriously? C’mon Williams! Here in Texas, the 28 gauge is used to kill any and every bird that legally flies (preserve or wild) – I have traveled this country with a 28 gauge – ably shooting and killing pheasants, chukar, quail varieties, doves and huns… never felt like I needed a 20 or a 12. Never. I have three sons that shoot a 28 gauge – all deadly with their ballistically disadvantaged little pee-shooters. I recommend you take some serious shooting lessons – everything a man can do with a 12 gauge – he can do with a 28 gauge… PERIOD.

  13. The 28 gauge is now my gun of choice hunting Ruffed Grouse in the thick north woods. After hunting with a 20 gauge over/under and a 16 gauge side by side, I much prefer the light weight and fast handling of the 28 gauge when hunting in the dense cover of the grouse woods. And every few ounces of weight saved is converted to more miles I can tramp through that kind of cover. I hunt over a pointing dog and most shots are close. Tough to get a second shot on those birds anyway. I am going to use it this season on preserve pheasant and chukar and bring it along on some Kansas wild birds, too. If your dog is working good and holding birds, I see no problems with the 28 gauge.

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