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By John Barsness, GUNS Magazine

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Half a aeon ago, aback a Montana kid aloof started hunting, 20-gauge shotguns were advised adapted for women and kids. Developed men primarily acclimated 12 gauges, because “everybody” knew any shotgun with a abate aperture in the cage wasn’t abundant for tougher altitude birds such as pheasants or any array of waterfowl. And if some smart-mouthed kid asked why, he ability be a it was—because the 12-gauge captivated added shot­­—and ability additionally be told acclaimed facts shouldn’t be challenged by smart-mouth kids.

The 1960’s was a decade of accelerated change, with shotshells and their ballistics amid the changes, primarily due to the artificial revolution. Remington was allegedly the aboriginal American aggregation to acquaint artificial shells and shot-cups, but added companies bound followed, because the advantages were so obvious.

The agenda shells acclimated afore the ’60’s weren’t waterproof and sometimes swelled so circuit couldn’t be chambered. Duds or “bloopers” additionally occurred occasionally, partly because the wads, allegedly sealing the bore adjoin crumb gas, were fabricated of agenda and felt. The archaic abounding didn’t assure attempt from abrading adjoin the bore, consistent in patterns with attenuate edges, abnormally from abate bores absolute a college allotment of pellets on the alfresco of the attempt column.

A acceptable 20-gauge usually weighs 6 pounds or less. This trio––a Browning BL-3 (top), Ithaca 37 and Remington 17––took the appendage accoutrement in the ceramic pheasant, from ruffed bickering to turkeys.

One of Eileen Clarke’s favorites amid her half-dozen 20-gauge shotguns is a Browning BL-3, with custom chokes and backfire pad installed by Briley.

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This was additionally aback the allegedly “new and revolutionary” 3-inch 20-gauge magnum appeared, acceptance the use of what was again advised the accepted 12-gauge “duck load” of 1-1/4 ounces of shot. New and advocate are in quotations marks because 3-inch 20-gauge shells weren’t absolutely alien afore 1960. For example, the 1916 Winer Repeating Arms Co. archive listed 20-gauge “empty agenda shotshells” in bristles lengths up to 3 inches. However, no loaded 20-gauge ammo with 3-inch shells was listed, so acutely the 3-inch empties were for custom shotguns. This wasn’t aberrant aback then, because the Antic Arms and Armament Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) wasn’t organized until over a decade later, bringing some adjustment to the anarchy of assorted ammo and firearm companies, anniversary chief on their own armament and alcove dimensions.

In 1916, the “standard” 20-gauge amount acclimated a 2-1/2-inch carapace loaded with 7/8 ounces of shot. Alike aback SAAMI connected the 20-gauge alcove breadth at 2-3/4 inches, the attempt allegation alone added to an ounce, not abundant to advance all-embracing achievement with “drop” (soft) advance attempt loaded in agenda shells with acquainted and agenda wads.

This was the 20-gauge annular hunters knew aback the 3-inch 20-gauge appeared, and the acumen best advised it acceptable alone for moderate-range altitude birds. But the 3-inch 20-gauge magnum was loaded with up to 20 percent added shot, and the attempt was generally harder—sometimes alike copper-plated—and captivated in a careful artificial cup. As a result, the 3-inch 20-gauge put appreciably added attempt into all-embracing patterns, and the harder attempt penetrated deeper.

Like best humans, abounding shooters are apathetic to acquire abstruse change. Alike afore this new technology, best shooters advised “shot-killing power” by the gauge. But as Dr. George C. Oberfell and Charles E. Thompson of Oklahoma State University durably declared in their baby but absolutely researched book Mysteries of Shotgun Patterns, appear in 1957, “It is the attempt amount that kills, not the gauge.” The 3-inch 20-gauge dead at atomic as able-bodied as the adept accepted 12-gauge avoid amount application bendable attempt in agenda shells.

Once in a while Eileen lets John borrow her 20 for “field-testing,” pictured here with a brace of white-fronted geese taken with Hevi-Shot handloads.

The “modern” 20-gauge is added of an all-around shotgun, acclimated abundant like a traditional 12-gauge on annihilation from altitude birds to waterfowl. With a 3-inch chamber, it weighs only a little more. Nice ones accommodate (from left) the Browning Gold, Ruger Red Label and Mossberg SA-20.

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Luck Or Skill?

This smart-mouth kid was already semi-informed on this point, acknowledgment to advertisement by assorted authors in American Rifleman and Outdoor Life, the two magazines he’d subscribed to with paper-route money back age 12. He bought his aboriginal 3-inch 20-gauge magnum 4 years later. One evening, while hunting ducks in a bounded accoutrements with two developed men armed with “proper” avoid accoutrements (including a 10-gauge), he dead the alone avoid that flew over, a mallard that alone abundantly to a aerial aerial shot, amazing the two men. (Of course, some luck was involved, in accurate the luck of actuality adolescent and conceivably a little too confident.)

Because of artificial and best shells, by the 1970’s, the 20-gauge had become the second-most accepted barometer in America, appropriate abaft the 12, with some hunters alike application 20’s on geese. However, 20-gauge shotguns additionally started to change because best shooters now capital the magnum chamber.

Before the 3-inch magnum appeared, 20-gauge shotguns had been appealing light, abounding (if not most) belief beneath than 6 pounds. At first, shotgun manufacturers artlessly diffuse the accommodation on their 20-gauge shotguns, but anon abounding shooters rediscovered Newton’s third law of physics: that for every activity there’s an according and adverse reaction. Ablaze 20-gauge shotguns application 3-inch shells loaded with 12-gauge attempt accuse kicked like ablaze 12-gauges.

As a result, abounding American 20-gauge shotguns started growing heavier, because they were actuality acclimated as all-around hunting guns, aloof like earlier 12-gauge shotguns with 2-3/4-inch chambers. This was partly because 12’s had additionally gotten too abundant for abounding hunters to like lugging them about the countryside all day. This was additionally due to added hunters application harder-kicking 12-gauge ammunition, including high-velocity steel-shot ammo. (About 15 years ago, a aloft accoutrements aggregation alien a new 12-gauge “field” over/under at the anniversary SHOT Show, proudly apparent during the ambit day captivated for associates of the antic press. Afterward, aloof out of ear’s ambit of the company’s rep, a shotgun biographer said, “Just what the apple needs, addition 8-pound 12-gauge.”)

But the 20-gauge started accident arena as an all-around barometer in the 1980’s, aback non-toxic attempt started acceptable binding for afoot waterfowl. Alike the 3-inch 20-gauge carapace couldn’t authority abundant ablaze animate attempt to be consistently able on ducks at 40 yards, admitting central 40 it still formed far bigger than abounding steel-haters would admit—something I alone apparent while hunting pheasants forth baby creeks area mallards ability acceleration from a abysmal bend.

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Fast-forward addition few years, and added able non-toxic attempt appeared. Best had the about ballistic characteristics of advance shot, but some were alike denser, able of killing at alike best ranges. New non-toxic attempt still appears from time to time, while added varieties disappear, but all “designer” non-toxics are meant to advance on the achievement of steel––which agency they accomplish the 20-gauge accomplish aloft its acceptable role.

I generally field-test new shotgun loads, sometimes with my wife, Eileen Clarke, who may be alike added of a shotgun bedlam than I––especially about the 20-gauge. She owns six 20’s and uses them for aggregate from baby altitude birds to turkeys and geese. Her favorites are a Browning Gold semi-auto, a Beretta BL-3 with screw-in chokes and actual bendable Gooey backfire pad (both installed by Briley) and an old Remington Model 17 pump with a Poly-Choke, best up cheaply at a bounded antic appurtenances store.

The Remington and Browning counterbalance hardly beneath than 6 pounds, which one she uses depends on several factors. She dead a big Montana Merriam’s turkey with the Remington afterwards arena with the Poly-Choke to actuate the tightest ambience for 2-3/4-inch endless of 5’s. (She additionally owns three nice British side-by-sides––though none a 20-gauge––but acutely isn’t bossy about pumpguns and “dial-a-ducks.”) Over the years, Eileen’s taken a cardinal of gobblers with the 20. If you anytime run into an old video from Stoney-Wolf Productions about turkey hunting in Montana, you’ll see her bead addition Montana crammer with a 20-gauge side-by-side.

The Browning Gold is her latest waterfowl gun. Afterwards years of hunting ducks and geese with a 12, she eventually begin the backfire too abundant alike in an 8-pound, gas-operated auto. The Gold weighs aloof beneath 7 pounds loaded, and on its aboriginal waterfowl coursing alone a brace of Canada geese with Eileen’s aboriginal two shots, application 3-inch endless fabricated by Rio, loaded with No. 4 bismuth shot, forth with a agglomeration of fine-tasting white-fronted geese and several breed of ducks.Eileen additionally brought the Browning BL-3 as a back-up––and for me to “borrow” to acreage analysis some 3-inch handloads application No. 6 Hevi-Shot, put calm with apparatus from Ballistic Products application abstracts from their latest Advantages Manual. The little Browning additionally alone a brace of geese with its aboriginal two shots, white-fronts that fell aloof as absolutely as with animate 12-gauge magnums.

This old Remington Model 17 pump was begin in a bounded antic goods store with a Poly-Choke installed on the beneath and hastaken Montana d birds from Hungarian partridge to Merriam’s turkeys.

Choke Effect

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The specific asphyxiate seems to accept alike added aftereffect on patterns with high-grade attempt in 20-gauge accoutrements than 12’s, no agnosticism due to the abate bore. Forth with arena with the Poly-Choke aback apery copper-plated advance attempt for turkey hunting, we approved assorted screw-in chokes, application the Bismuth and Hevi-Shot. Both accoutrements absolutely adopted added accessible chokes, apery best with constrictions of no added than 0.015 inches.

Right now I alone accept three 20-gauge shotguns, and mostly use two. The bare gun is a Stevens Model 94 “Youth Gun,” a single-shot from the 1960’s, the aboriginal shotgun acceptance to my cousin, Eric, and a absolute archetype of how not to alpha somebody shotgunning. Amid the absolutely abounding asphyxiate and weight of hardly over 5 pounds, it fabricated him avoid and absence a lot, admitting the beneath stock. Eric assuredly gave up and gave it to me. I’ve acclimated the Stevens as a affected gun with ablaze endless on adjacent abundance bickering during big d hunts, but it absolutely isn’t a wingshooter’s delight.

The others are an Ithaca Model 37 Ultra Featherlight with a 24-inch adapted asphyxiate and one of the aboriginal Ruger Red Labels with 28-inch barrels and abounding and “fuller” chokes. A acquaintance in California acclimated the Ithaca on abstract and blanch for decades, but again his bounded bird spots aished into the all-inclusive maw of civilization, and he gave the gun to Eileen. She absolutely admired the ablaze weight of 2 ounces over 5 pounds, but begin it didn’t fit her at all. She angry it over to me, and it’s abundant for abundance grouse.

The Ruger is our heaviest 20-gauge, belief 7 pounds empty, so is about acclimated as a 12-gauge with 3-inch endless on altitude birds on the Montana prairies, abnormally afterwards in the abatement aback they alike added out. (The chokes are too bound for animate or Hevi-Shot. Someday I may get Briley to install screw-in chokes, but maybe not.)

Eileen Clarke’s aboriginal waterfowl coursing with her Browning Gold autoloader was very successful. Actuality she counts white-fronted geese to accomplish abiding she and her hunting ally aren’t over the circadian limit.

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The acceptance of the 20-gauge additionally after-effects in a agglomeration of new models anniversary year. Recently, I’ve been testing a actual applied and affable priced (made in Turkey) Mossberg International SA-20. With a 28-inch ventilated-rib barrel, it weighs 6-1/4 pounds empty. This ability assume too ablaze for a 3-inch 20, but the SA-20 is a gas-operated semi-auto, mitigating acquainted recoil. With the alveolate constructed stock, the weight avalanche appropriate amid the shooter’s hands, an capital allotment of the “magic” antithesis of a accomplished British d gun. It fits me so able-bodied it’s adamantine to accomplish it absence claybirds, and so far it hasn’t malfunctioned alike aback fed a advanced array of ammunition.

Many earlier shotgunners ability not acquisition the SA-20 to their tastes, but best hunters beneath 40 accept developed up with constructed stocks and don’t acquisition them weird, alike on shotguns. The SA-20 is a far bigger amateur for somebody austere about affairs an all-around hunting shotgun than my cousin’s old single-shot, partly because like all avant-garde shotguns it comes with several screw-in chokes––and in a “Bantam” version, with a 13-inch breadth of cull and 24-inch for adolescent shooters.

I admiration how abounding kids accept been angry abroad from wingshooting over the decades because somebody insisted on starting them out with a deeply afraid single-shot .410 or 20. The .410 would accomplish it about absurd to annihilate annihilation cleanly, and the 20 would bang too abundant for a kid, abnormally with 3-inch shells––Eric’s “Youth Gun” has a 3-inch chamber.

There are still a agglomeration of traditional, failing 20’s around, altogether ill-fitted for use as altitude guns. But with avant-garde 2-3/4-inch ammunition, such accoutrements are additionally able to jump up a cleft or two in performance, alike to turkeys at abstinent ranges. And again there are longer, added “modern” 20’s, able of all-around wingshooting achievement as continued as we’re accommodating to augment them the appropriate ammo.

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