A Shotgun Approach

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

hunt squirrels or rabbits, a single-shot will work fine. It will not be sufficient, however, for waterfowl, dove or upland bird hunting. Even the most experienced turkey hunters wouldn’t feel comfortable being limited to just one shot. You also wouldn’t be able to use it for skeet, trap or sporting clays.

A pump or semi-automatic shotgun will suffice for every application. For easy shooting, the semi-auto may be the right choice, but a double-barrel is hard to beat for sheer enjoyment.

Busting doubles with a pump gun on a clays range or in the field is the ultimate shooting experience. There’s no other feeling like it.

What Gauge Do I Need?

The 12- and 20-gauge are the most popular and most widely available shotguns in America. Of the two, the 12-gauge is more powerful and more versatile. You can use it to hunt almost anything, including white-tailed deer, and for all of the recreational shooting sports.

Keep in mind that the 12-gauge cartridge is available in three different lengths; 2 3/4 inches, 3 inches and 3 1/2 inches. Some guns fire only 2 3/4-inch shells, and some fire two or more interchangeably. Know exactly what your gun will handle, and never feed it a cartridge it isn’t designed to handle. Firing a 3-inch shell from a gun chambered only for 2 3/4-inch will probably destroy your gun, and it could kill or injure you.

A 2 3/4-inch cartridge is fine for almost every situation. A 3-inch cartridge gives you a little more firepower, and the 3 1/2-inch cartridge comes close to equaling the firepower of a 10-gauge. For waterfowl and turkey, you might want the extra versatility that the larger loads provide.

For upland bird hunting and recreational shooting, the 20-gauge is an excellent choice. Its recoil is lighter than that of a 12-gauge, and the guns are lighter, too. You sacrifice firepower, however, as the heaviest 20-gauge loads are weaker than the lightest 12-gauge loads.

The 20-gauge is available in two lengths; 2 3/4 inch and 3 inch. Many pump guns handle them interchangeably, but look closely for this option if you choose a semi-auto, because many are chambered only for 2 3/4.

The 16-gauge is a good compromise selection for both hunting and recreational shooting. It combines all the best traits of the 12- and 20-gauge in firepower, weight and handling. Unfortunately, the 16-gauge has fallen out of favor in the United States, and they are relatively

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