View Full Version : Upland shotguns....

Dave McC
September 17, 2002, 06:24 AM
I was asked via E mail to post some thoughts on what constitutes a good upland shotgun, so here goes...

Ask 10 upland hunters what makes a good upland shotgun and you'll get at least 10 opinions. And a Southern quail hunter will have different needs than a NoDak Ringneck fanatic. By and large,those differences will be based on game,range, choke and load.

In the long gone days of my youth, the epitome of upland guns among my friends and I was a long bbled, tightly choked, 12 gauge repeater. The cheap shells we used gave more open patterns, and we used them on everything from squirrels to wood ducks. The few times I used an SKB 20 gauge O/U, my father's last shotgun, it was regarded as a specialized tool and not ideal. Actually, it was close to ideal.

One common attribute of upland guns is portability. These are carried for miles every hunt, thus requiring a bit less weight for most people than a pure waterfowling shotgun. While people vary, a loose rule of thumb here is that an upland shotgun should run less than 7 lbs or so.

Naturally, a behemoth like me will be able to carry more weight than a pixie,but the difference may be less than one would think. Here's why....

The old Rule of 96 applies best to upland guns. This states that the shotgun should come in weighing about 96X the shot weight. IE, an oz of shot requires a 6 lb (96 oz) shotgun for best results.More weight means less portability, less weight means more kick.

The trouble is, shotguns of about 6 lbs and a little can be harder to keep swinging than a 7 lb gun. Balance affects this, of course, but in the main lighter shotguns demand more focus on swinging the thing.Keeping the swing going is more important than lighter weight or "Fast handling". Good shooting beats good carrying.

Even a Southern Quail hunter with a short bbl'd open choked small gauge needs to keep the swing going, tho one hears paeans to the Poke and Pull philosophy. Many praising these little beauties are hitting less than folks I've known who hunt with A-5s with Polychokes, the ultimate bbl heavy shotgun. Obviously,it's the gunner and not the gun.

Still, while it's a personal choice, here's some ideas on what constitutes a good upland gun.

Weight: 6-7 lbs.

Length: Less than 4 feet, but this is flexible.

Balance: Muzzle light,neutral or very slightly muzzle heavy. Personal preferences rule.

Action type: Any,tho SxS shooters have a good point, the SxS is often found in the hands of the best shots.And two triggers give instant choke selection w/o glitches. Anyone who can select the proper bbl in the heat of a covey flush has my admiration.

Gauge, any from 28 to 12, depending on range, game and level of expertise. The 410 is not a good choice unless you're an expert and shooting quail and rails at close range.OTOH, the best upland gauge is probably the 16. It shoots an oz of shot that seems adequate for everything smaller than ringnecks,and is oft a 1/2 lb lighter than a similar 12.

Of course, the number of less than 7 lb 12 gauge repeaters is limited. But the Model 37 comes to mind, and the alloy framed pumps like the 500 and 1300 should make the cut also.So do riot bbled 870s, tho they're a bit more muzzle light than most prefer. If I were going to set up the perfect (For me) repeater, it'd probably be a 23-26" bbled
870 with choke tubes in 12 gauge so I could use trap loads. if possible, I'd have it without a rib to save a little weight. Few upland guns are shot fast enough that heat mirage is a problem. And it could be a little light for the Rule of 96, an uplander is carried much, and shot little. Besides, people rarely feel the kick shooting at live game.

Choke: Here's where a tubed gun really shines.Any choke, any range. any game bird.

If using a fixed choke double,having one bbl open and the other tight(like Cylinder/Mod or IC/Full) and load selection will give you versatility up the wazoo.

A repeater without tubes probably should be choked IC in the East,and Modified for the plains. YMMV.

So what's your choice?....

September 17, 2002, 08:15 AM
The choice of an upland game pretty much needs to be tailored to the game, type and style of hunting. In my case, I hunt grouse in the Northeast, pheasants at a private preserve and will take a trip to the west to hunt pheasants and prairie birds every couple of years.

Grouse hunting is close work in heavy brush with most birds being taken at 15 to 20 yards. They are also easy birds to drop so just about any load of 7.5 shot, from 3/4's of an ounce in 28 on up, going through an open choke (cyl-IC) will get the job done. The gun needs to be fast handling and light enough to be carried all day.

Pheasants are another matter. Unlike some commercial hunting operations, the preserve where I hunt makes the effort to closely replicate a wild bird hunt. Later in the season, the birds get tougher and the shots get longer. You need larger shot, more shot, tighter chokes and a gun that swings smoothly enough for longer, more deliberate shots.

I've hunted with just about every configuration of gun and any one gun I choose will be a compromise. What I settled on was a sxs, double trigger, 28" barrels with fixed chokes of .005" and .015" -- or skeet and light modified. I also tailor my ammunition choices using 1 ounce soft lead game loads for grouse and go to heavier payloads of #6 Federal Premium for the larger birds. The harder shot serves to tighten up my patterns at least one constriction and patterns acceptably for pheasants at 40 yards.


Dave R
September 17, 2002, 04:40 PM
I used to have two pumps--an 835 and an 870. I sold the 835 and bought a SXS for upland hunting. Very glad I did.

My not be for everyone, but I have really grown to appreciate the virtues of the "two-shooter".

I frequently hunt where there are both doves and hungarian partridge. Keeping some 8's or 7.5s in the "open" tube, and some 6's in the "tight" tube gives great flexibility. Choosing between two chokes or two loads at the time the bird flushes seems to be a tactical advantage...

About the 4th time I hunted with the SXS I took a hungarian at around 40 yards--because I made the "right" choice and shot it with the "tight" barrel. Its not that hard to choose...and its a lot faster than switching screw-in chokes ;-)

Its also much easier to switch loads with a double than with a repeater. Open, replace, close, vs. cycle X 3, pick up the shells that fell on the ground, etc. If we decdie to chase a flock of huns--the 6's go in both barrels. If the dove are thick, maybe its 8's in both barrels.

Now, if I could just find an affordable O/U with good regulation and two triggers...

Dave McC
September 17, 2002, 05:32 PM
Thanks, folks. I was sure the SxS fans would check in here, and they should.

There's a lot going for a SxS, assuming it's not a total POS, the bbls shoot to the same point, etc. The little French/Belgian Didier that I has was enough to make all but the most blase of us drool.

Boxlock, auto ejectors that could be turned into extractors as a moment's notice, pretty wood and English grip, it had 27 1/2" bbls choked .008 and 015, a swamped rib, articulated rear trigger and decent engraving. Oh yes, 6 lbs, 5 oz.

While the stock was a bit short at about 14 1/2" LOP, it was a superb close range, small bird, small shot masterpiece of lethal art. And, it did quite well on woodcock and quail.Alas, a friend offered me more money than I had in it at tuition time, and I hope he's having fun with it right now.

I've shot a few other SxSs of varied quality and purpose, they did the job also, tho not with such elan.

Let's hear from some more viewpoints,there's someone out there who can tell us how it is with them....

September 17, 2002, 05:58 PM
A good field gun should, before anything, do two things:
1] Come to the shoulder well and "fit" you.
2] Point and swing like an extention of your body. because

You've got to get it to your shoulder and then lead, not follow your game.;)

I used to upland hunt with a Browning BPS Field 12 with a 28" bbl. It was a good gun, but the length was just too much for my body as I am 5'8". A buddy lent me his, of all things, a Stoeger Condor O/U. This gun was like an epiphany! the shorter[24"] bbl. and length of pull fit like it was custom made for me. I went out and bought one --right quick!!! [a bargain at $379 nib]

I think the type of shotgun, meaning the action, is less important than the fit.!!


September 17, 2002, 10:02 PM
The autumns of my youth were spent chasing wild ringnecks and the occasional covey of quail with the family and cousins in both Nebraska and Illinois.
The Ithica mod 37 was always popular in both 20 and 12g. light to carry and I don't ever remember recoil being an issue. loads were whatever we could find in the toolbox or under the seat. sometimes we handloaded and sometimes they worked.
My Dad loved his "sweet 16" auto 5. I have it now and I've tried, but I could never shoot it or love it as he did.
My #1 choice for the past 20 years has been the Browning SxS (model BSS) in 12g with 26" tubes fixed Mod/IC. main reason? it fits me jus right and don't miss, ejects and reloads quickly. the single trigger is non-select on this one which suits me fine.
in more recent years, later in the season I find myself switching to a semi auto 12 with choke tubes and stoked with Fiocci "Golden Pheasant" nickel plated #5. Seems to have something to do with longer birds and faster dogs and a slower hunter.

Dave McC
September 18, 2002, 05:04 AM
Hhmmm, one vote for an O/U, another for a SxS. And a kind word for an auto.

Chris,good fit is crucial. Action style isn't, so you're right.

A note about that Condor....

Like many inexpensive guns, it will not hold up under heavy use. However, upland hunting, even with a few dove shoots per year on the agenda, isn't heavy use. Lots of upland guns get less than 50 rounds yearly through them. With light use, that Condor will last longer than we will.

KC, Gene Hill wrote something about older hunters needing a bit more choke due to slower reaction time. While I treasure his writings, I must disagree a bit on this. I'll be 56 next month, and if anything I'm faster than ever on game. Maybe I'm not old enough....

September 18, 2002, 08:44 AM
I get your point and I agree if you shoot regularly you can keep the reflexes tuned up.
I doubt if I'm really slower as much as my style has changed. I hunt with a flushing retriever and I like to savor the moment a little.
I grew up hunting with my cousins and I was always the youngest of the bunch. I learned that if you weren't pulling the trigger as the rooster cleared the top of the milo, you didn't get any shooting. It was snap shooting or no shooting and we usually didn't have a huntin dog so shots were often close. It was so bad that when Dad's generation hunted with us, we weren't allowed to have one in the chamber- not for safety but so that the older guys could maybe get a shot off.
I like an upland gun with not too much barrel. My BSS is heavier than most classic SxS but the short tubes and center balance point seem to work for me and the IC/mod (had that reversed in other post) is a good choice for choke.
A pump 20g with about 26" barrel and up to a 3" chamber would just about cover everything nicely but I don't own one at this time. Hmmm......

Dave McC
September 19, 2002, 04:49 AM
It was the other way around for me growing up. Both the H&R 16 and my first 870 were Full Choke, Pop had good dogs, so I learned to wait things out a bit. Speed was not an issue on upland stuff, and I was fast enough on waterfowl.

The first quail hunt with a riot bbled 870 was a geniune Satori. It was fastnclose, and all of a audden I realized I could take them closer w/o grinding them to bits. Live and learn.

September 19, 2002, 05:58 AM

I will beg to differ with you on the ability of my Stoeger to "hold up".... as of last week i believe that the last count of # of shells to pass thru my "cheap" shotgun was 5560. ( aint it funny what gun people keep track of!)
I shoot skeets or clays of some capacity every weekend. Whether for fun or Light competitetion, and of course hunting birds in the NE, this little gun has performed and doen what ever I have asked of it. If anything, it's gotten better.
Yes, it's not a Browning or Ruger, but like the saying goes, If it works just don't F*&$ with it! I have often thought of upgrading to "better", but just can't justify the cost. Even thought of sending the BBl. out to have tubes installed to make it more versitile, but the combination of IC/M work well for me so far...
Quality, well I bought it back then to be a beater if you will, not having to worry 'bout busting bushes to help the dog. The reciever of this gun is like a tank, and the yearly checks by my gunsmith confirm that. Many guns of old were not "show guns", but just look at how they too are still around... She may not be an LC Smith, but she works for me.


Dave McC
September 20, 2002, 05:05 AM
I'm happy for you, Chris. Enjoy your Condor.
Consider this...

5500 rounds is less than I put through my 870TB in the last calender year. I expect to do more or less that much each tear for a total of maybe 50K before it needs much shop time to get rebuilt. And 50 K may be overly pessimistic. I've seen/heard lots of testimonial and anecdotal evidence of 870s, 12s, A-5s, etc going 100 K w/o shooting themselves into junk.

OTOH, you've got maybe $400 tied up in a shotgun you like and shoot well. Let's say that it holds up to 20K of light target and upland loads before it needs tightening. Let's also say that after 30K rounds, it's too loose and fragile to further use, so it's retired. You spend another whopping $400 on another Condor vs getting a used B-gun O/U for 3 times that.

The big issue is, you like it. That means you hit well with it, and all other points in this debate are of secondary importance. Enjoy...