View Full Version : How much should a shotgun weigh?....

Dave McC
February 26, 2002, 09:33 PM
This came up on another thread, and we haven't kicked this one around for a while, so...

Here's my biased and non scientific opinions. I will certainly get some dissent, and maybe some new ideas. Thanks in advance...

Back in the days when there was a good nickel cigar, well off shotgunners often owned two doubles.

One was a heavy 12,10 or 8 gauge of ponderous swing,used for waterfowl and heavy buck loads for deer, bear and hogs. Most of these ran 8 to 12 lbs.

The other was often a 16 gauge, sometimes a light 12,sometimes a 20, for upland game. It was light, swung like Zorro's rapier, and used 7/8 to 1 1/8 oz of shot. In the Deep South, it was more often a 20 and sometimes a 28 for quail.

The difference was in mission.The goose howitzers shot up to 1 3/4 oz or so of big shot,got carried little, and shot a lot in those golden times. Limits were often what the boat or wagon would hold.

OTOH,upland guns were toted hither and yon, often through thick brush, and were shot relatively little for each mile of travel. And, their chosen quarry didn't need a teacup full of 2s to fold them.

So the dichotomy started, and has gotten worse with time.

Today, it's not so clear cut. Many times the modern shotgunner has ONE shotgun, and expects it to do the full gamut of what a shotgun can do.And, like any other compromise, it won't do any specialized job as well as a dedicated tool will.

So here's my opinions on how much a shotgun should weigh when used for a particular purpose, which often means when used with a particular load.

And, I'll TRY to keep it objective. So here goes...

Going from lightest to heaviest.

The lightest shotguns are the subgauges, and larger bore single shots. These can be a joy to tote, pure H*ll to shoot, and hard to shoot well.

The little 410 and 28 gauges can be had in nice shotguns that weigh 4-5 lbs. These tote like walking sticks, have little kick, but are hard to keep moving when swung.

A friend had a 28 gauge H&H that cost more than my newest vehicle, was a joy to behold, and took work to make it work. He also had a 20 gauge Darne
that weighed well under 6 lbs, and often said that he shot them well only when he shot them only. Going to a heavier gun meant missing behind with the little ones for lack of inertia. When we hear the small bores called "Expert's" shotguns, this is why.

The big bore singles carry well, but can be gross violations of the Rule of 96. The Brits thought this one up, and it means that a shotgun should weigh 96 times the charge weight.IOW, a shotgun using a 1 oz charge should weigh 96 oz, or 6 lbs.

More than that, you're carrying excess weight. Much less, you've getting pounded with too much kick.

By and large, it's a good rule of thumb. Choose the right load for the mission, then pick a shotgun of appropriate weight.

The big bore singles often run way less than 96:1, and can kick like heck.Son's NEF runs 5 lbs, 9 oz, and yes, it has a 3 inch chamber.3" Mags? Not on a bet...

The H&R 16 that was both Pop's and my first shotgun was similar to that NEF, but had a more sensible 2 3/4" chamber. It still killed at one end and crippled at the other, and I had a flinch by my 14th B-day.

The good news is that these singles carry like a dream, and when used properly with good form, are deadly in experienced hands.

Next up, upland doubles and repeaters. Since there's little in the uplands that 1 1/4 oz won't crumple when placed correctly(and often an oz will do just as well) an upland shotgun of no more than 7 lbs is quite acceptable. And, this weight can be carried quite a ways by most folks w/o taking a beating each shot. Something like a Mossie 500 will work very well, with its alloy receiver keeping the weight down a hair.
Remington's Special Field 870s and 1100s are an attempt to duplicate the weight of a good upland double. They still run close to the limit, tho. An Ithaca 37 comes closer to this ideal.

Except for active and fit individuals who are stronger than average, a good practical limit for an upland gun is about 7 lbs. Minimum weight, SWEG, 6 lbs before getting into recoil issues and inertia.

Now we're getting into the high end when it comes to weight. Here are the gamer guns, the heavy upland "North Dakota/Spooky wild Ringneck/ Full Choke" guns and the waterfowlers. If you're wondering why I split the weights this way, you've probably never seen a wild ringneck slammed with a full 1 1/4 oz of 4s hard enough to puff lots of feathers, drop in front of a good running pointer and still get lost. Ringnecks in the wild can soak up hits like Marciano and run like the wind. A wild ringneck is to a preserve pheasant as a Tom Turkey with a 9 inch beard is to a Thanksgiving dinner. They share some DNA but that's about all they do.

As for the gamer guns, dedicated clay shooters of any persuasion go for over 8 lb guns for the most part. Light loads are the rule, but these shooters shoot a lot, up to a coupla hundred rounds a day.

So, a heavier shotgun reduces the FELT recoil, and adds a bit of inertia to the swing.

Next up, the waterfowlers. These have to deliver a massive payload, oft at longer distances, and use the big pellets in max weight and speed.

I'd go with a 7 1/2 lb duck gun, but would prefer 8. For big geese(and bigger loads), add another 8 oz or more.10 gauge, run it up to 10 lbs or even more.

What this means is that those newer 3 1/2 mags are not quite as heavy as they should be.Or, the shells are too big for the gun, you pick.

Special purpose shotguns should run heavy, because they tend to use heavy loads. Minor exception, turkey guns. They get hauled greater distances and are not shot a lot.

"Serious" shotguns should also run heavy, for recoil control and rapid re-acquisition of the target. And by heavy, they still HAVE to be manageable by the smallest adult that may need to use them. And sized to fit. I used my HD 870 with it's close to 9 1/2 lbs weight as a training aid for rookies, the tradeoff of heavier weight for less kick was all some of them needed to get over a mental barrier.Some still had probs with the stock, but some did better.

That's it, hope you wore your hip boots....

February 26, 2002, 10:09 PM
Wow....great Dave.

Half inch wider recoil pad might allow half a pound lighter with same felt recoil.(at the shoulder) Limit to the bulk that can be handled tho.


February 27, 2002, 01:04 AM
Dave I think gun weight is important but in some cases is over stated. It seems there was never a real standard of weight in US guns as you point out light 3" chamber guns that can really bruse are out there .But for the most part I believe the 96 rule still holds up, were upland gunners have changed is we have adopted the english belief that 1oz should be a field load.
if 1-1/8 or 1-1/4 oz load is used in the field ,then a 12 gauge of 7,
7-1/2lb is about right.

I used to think a light bird gun was all I ever needed,but for me personally with less birds to be found ,I've gone back to a more versatile SXS at 7-1/4lbs a 12gauge I can confidently run any modern 2-3/4" cartridge through it for any type bird or game .

Dave McC
February 27, 2002, 06:07 AM
Thanks, guys...

Sam, of course you're right, but the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. And there's givens here, good fit and form.However, many folks could gain from using a good pad, and not trimming it. It'll look strange, but work very well.

Huntsman,balance and swing are just as crucial, we can measure weight but not the others.

The faster handling shotguns are not necessarily the lighter nor shorter ones. How the mass lays in relation to the pivot point and hands determines much of the "Feel".

A friend's SBT Parker is breeched like a cannon. Everyone who sees that thing is amazed at the size of the last few inches of bbl. It's a 9 lb trap gun that swings very well. Much of the weight in that thing is concentrated around the pivot point.

To steal an illustration from an article I read last year on MOI and expand thereon....

Think of three steel bars, six feet long, weighing exactly the same..

The first one is a cylinder.

The second, widest at the ends and narrowest at the middle, like an hourglass.

The third, thickest in the center and tapering to thinner tips.

Grasp each with both hands, say a foot apart, and swing them. Which will be most responsive, and which will not?

Yup, that spindle shaped bar #3 has the edge because of how the mass is arranged.

Now, to carry this a bit further, how about making a fourth bar, shaped like #3, weighing the same, but a foot shorter. How will this handle?
Yup,even better.

To put this into "Serious" shotgunning terms, using a Side Saddle instead of a mag extension or butt cuff(of equal weight) would result in a slightly faster handling shotgun.

Also, these are guidelines and not set in stone. My waterfowler, Frankenstein, weighs a hair over 7 lbs. Yes, recoil from goose and turkey loads are, uh, emphatic. I can handle same, but YMMV.

February 27, 2002, 06:31 AM
22 and a half pounds.

Ok, so I'm a wimp where recoil is concerned.

Seriously, my first (and last for quite a few years) experience with a shotgun was using a fairly lightweight single shot H&R in 12 ga. I used it to hunt pheasant and rabbits with some friends. Using high brass #5's, even with the help of a padded vest and heavy coat over it, shooting was nothing short of a dismal pain filled ordeal. It turned me off of shotguns for years. :( My next foray into scatter guns came when I bought a 12 ga Stoeger Coach gun. Shooting that was more of the same, only double since it has 2 barrels. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I finally went back, bought a Rem 870 AND tried some light target loads that it became fun. At the time I bought the 870, I was still a bit unsure,,,so,,,being a lefty, I passed on the left hand model and bought a right hand model,,my thinking was that if I didn't like it, the right hand would be easier to dump. Turns out, the 870 has a better fit and my concerns didn't materialize. When I bought the 870, I also picked up a used BPS in 20 ga. Both have turned out to be fairly comfortable to shoot, even with heavier loads.
Happy ending: :)
The real sleeper has turned out to be,,,,of all things,,,a Rossi Coach gun! Given my bad experience with the Stoeger, you'd think I would have learned my lesson. Thankfully, I took a chance on the Rossi, figuring if I didn't like it, at least it would make a super wal hanger what with the exposed hammers and short barrels. The Rossi has turned out to be a very pleasant shooting gun. It must be that it's just an excellent fit for me and/or it has a better drop or cant to it.

I'm wondering if maybe fit has more to do with it than weight? The Rossi and the 870 appear to be close to the same weight, but even without a pad on the stock, the Rossi is almost as comfortable to shoot as the 870. I've seriously considered trying a round of Sporting Clays using the Rossi.

February 27, 2002, 08:22 AM
"...I'm wondering if maybe fit has more to do with it than weight? ..."
Fit is very very important. Bout five years ago I loaned my Higgins beater to a non shot shooter. Adjusted the fit before she shot it. Extremely steep learning curve, in the 20s first day. Shooter keeps beater for a few weeks, embarrassed by it's uglyness. Shooter buys a $1,200 trap gun of nearly same weight. After only a hundred birds her face looked like she had pissed off Rocky Marciano. End of trap carrear. Sad.

Regrettably, I wasn't there for the new gun try or the buy.


February 27, 2002, 08:32 AM
RAE fit is more important than just weight, and stock design and engineering can make the gun fit and work like it's suposed to.I think you also learned the secret to buying shotguns they can vary from style to style but they also vary in fit in the same style, and the sad truth is a gun that fits you well at 18 my not be the fit you need at forty. But as a general rule light loads will make most guns feel like it fits better when just plinking around.

February 27, 2002, 09:46 AM
As heavy as you can handle especially when you start stacking stuff on it (reason I don't favor extended mags). Use the Jeff Cooper test.

Work out with your weapon, curls, reverse curls, sit-ups, pulls, etc. and dry fire, of course. Your weapon will be lighter.

Dave R
February 27, 2002, 05:30 PM
Odd recoil pad phenomenon...

I once got one of those cheap recoil pad kits with several thicknesses of pads. I thought heck, the more the merrier and put 1" worth of closed-cell foam in between the end of the stock and my shoulder.

When I shot the thing, it nearly ruined the middle finger of my trigger hand.

The shoulder would give so much, it transferred the recoil to my trigger hand via the trigger guard.

So much for that experiment.

Went back to a normal recoil pad. Much happier, now.

Dave McC
February 27, 2002, 09:11 PM
Thanks, folks. Fit is a given, but it varies not only from person to person but mission to mission.
A trap gun is stocked differently than a quail gun, etc.

I deally, a dove gun will be stocked a bit longer than a goose gun, dove seasons are warm, goose seasons require thicker clothes.

Since "Serious" shotguns are shot more like rifles, stocking them like rifles makes sense, using a shorter LOP and less drop.

Also, the more ancient I get, the more I like using the light stuff when the heavy stuff is more than needed. Last heavy load I used was the KO slug invested in venison futures last gun season.

Meanwhile I've gone through maybeso 1K of trap losds w/o a tremor.