View Full Version : Good all-around barrel length?

August 9, 2008, 06:31 PM
I enjoy certain things that contain a wide variety of practical applications in one jack-of-all-trades package.

My next gun purchase will probably be a shotgun. I'm curious about barrel lengths. The local Gander Mountain has a Remington 870 Express 12ga with a 21" barrel. I like the short barrel for home defensive purposes, but clearly the shorter barrel would be less effective than the 26" barrel that Remington offers. The 26" would provide much better patterning for hunting fowl.

Is the 21" barrel a realistic game length for birds? How about its accuracy with rifled slugs?

I know that I could simply buy a longer barrel if I wanted to go hunting and swap between the two barrels depending on the purpose, but I'm more interested right now in being able to buy one gun without purchasing additional accessories for it.

August 9, 2008, 07:26 PM
Barrel length has nothing to do with patterning. What it will do is change the balance and swing of the gun. A shorter barrel will be more whippy than a longer barrel with more weight out front. Choke (constriction at the end of the barrel) will determine how a gun patterns.

Why not consider a combo package that has a 28" field barrel and a shorter home defense barrel so you don't have to buy additional barrels later.

I don't hunt so I can't really speak about hunting with the shorter barrel, but it would seem less than ideal for me on the clay ranges. I would try to handle and shoot a few different barrel lengths to see what works best for you.

August 9, 2008, 07:30 PM
the 21" is most likely the turkey model 870. i would grab that and fast. the 21" barrel is not available loose from remington or other places. i'm trying to find one myself been looking for a year and a half. the 21" barrel should be fine for birds, rabbits,deer. waterfowl maybe not. may want atleast a 28" barrel for that. the shorter barrel is much easier to swing and carry in thick cover. as far as slugs you have to fire some with it and see where they go. with only a bead who knows. shot some from my 28" barrel at 25 yards. at a pizza box,2 out of 3 shots made it in. way low and left. depending on game laws you may need sights or a scope on the shotgun to even posses slugs in the field. the shorter barrel should not affect pattern. but definetly pattern the shotgun.

Scattergun Bob
August 9, 2008, 09:04 PM
You did not say what type of hunting you do?

For upland game, and dove I use a 21" barrel with interchangeable chokes. It points well, and moves quickly with the bird.

I agree with dalecooper51, enough said there.

Talk to me about what you hunt the most frequently and maybe we can zero in!:)

Good Luck & Be Safe

August 10, 2008, 08:44 AM
The 21" barrel is not long enough to be a good all around choice. As others have said it is not because of patterns but balance and swing. They are not common but if I absolutely had to use only 1 barrel length I could make do with a 24" barrel. I have one on a Benelli M-1 and I have a Wingmaster that I had the barrel shortened to 24" and re-threaded for choke tubes. For turkey hunting and snap shots at quail they are about perfect. They are a little short for ducks and dove but I can make them work. A little longer than I would want for home defense, but once again I can make them work better than a 28" barrel.

August 10, 2008, 09:36 AM
My favorite length is 24" though I use 22" for deer and turkey. I have several with longer barrels but no longer use them. The short barrels are so handy, especially in a blind. A 22" barrel with a Polychoke II is my all time favorite. Good for every kind of hunting, clays, etc. Extremely versatile and no dirty screw-ins to fool with. My older guns have Polychokes. I started using them 40-50 years ago. Absolutely the best invention ever for shooting sports.

August 10, 2008, 11:19 AM
Thanks for the replies so far.

At the moment I don't do any hunting whatsoever. I tagged along with my dad for grouse when I was a kid in Wyoming, but between me and our rambunctious white lab he never was able to bag anything. He always got a few when I stayed home for whatever that's worth. :o

Anyway, as I get older I feel more and more drawn to hunting. I have the options of quail and dove hunts on a ranch owned by one of our company owners in west Texas somewhere. I'm not sure what other fowl is available in the area. Are there grouse in Texas? I would also like the option of using slugs for wild hogs, and of course the gun would also serve home defense purposes and shooting clays at the gun range.

I know sometimes I ask for too much when I'm looking at a new gun, but I'm intrigued by this 21" 12ga.

Several of you have said that the length of barrel doesn't affect patterning. Maybe I'm using the wrong terminology. Perhaps what I'm thinking of is "spread". Wouldn't the shorter barrel cause the shot to spread faster and decrease the effective range when hunting fowl? What exactly is the difference between "pattern" and "spread"? What makes the shorter barrel less effective for ducks?

Bill DeShivs
August 10, 2008, 01:17 PM
Spread and pattern are very nearly the same thing. Barrel length has nothing to do with either. Choke does. Even a cylinder bore (no choke) gun will work well for short range birds. If you learn to shoot the gun, without thinking of the short barrel as a handicap, you should do well. A cylinder bore barrel is good for slugs and home defense.

August 10, 2008, 03:53 PM
Damn you all. I curse your names. A pox and you and your kin!

You forced me to buy another gun. Twisted my arm. Held a gun to my head. What kind of unlawful society is this?


So yeah, I gave into weakness and bought the damn thing. Rem870Hunter, you were correct: It is in fact an Express Turkey model. Laminate stock, nothing fancy, but it looks decently nice for the price. Came with a screw-in full choke. I'll leave the choke out for home duties. The price tag said $379 which was more than I wanted to spend but didn't feel like it was a rip-off. However, when the guy scanned it it came up as $299! I feel like I struck gold. For the gun, ten shells of Remington 2.75" 00 buck and five shells of Federal Premium Vital Shok 2.75" slugs with the Barnes Expander, and tax, I was out the door for $349. That's thirty dollars less than the tag price, not to mention tax on the tag price.

Down the road I will pick up a mag extension for home use and a set of different chokes for field and game.

I'd really like a Wingmaster with the slick action, nicely blued steel and polished wood. I'll probably pick up a nice one in the future with the 26" barrel. For now, this Express will fit my one-shotgun needs.

My first shotgun! My basic gun collection is now complete: I have one handgun (S&W 686P 4"), one rifle/carbine (Marline 1894CB .357), one shotgun (870 Express 12ga 21") and one .22lr (Ruger Charger). Now I can start collecting and hoarding!

August 10, 2008, 05:05 PM
If your shotgun has choke tubes, DO NOT leave it out for home defense.

Shooting a shotgun with the choke tube removed is a sure way to bugger that barrel.

Buy another choke tube for it. An improved cylinder rem choke will be under $20.

Your express will smooth out, just run a few thousand shells through it.

Here's a thread by Dave McC about breaking in a pump gun.


Scattergun Bob
August 10, 2008, 06:36 PM
Sorry we held a gun to your head and forced you to buy a new scattergun, what I want to tell you is IT WASN'T REALLY LOADED:).

I always like new guns in my hands, there is unlimited potential there, Congrads on the new Express, my wish to you is as always with a new shotgun "that it will shoot to where you look every time you choose."

PS Keep plenty of rust proof on that express, the finishes are an issue for me.

Good Luck & Be Safe

August 11, 2008, 05:49 PM
Congratulations on your new gun - and I'm sure you'll get a lot of use out of it.

You got a lot of opinions on barrel length - and not to confuse you a little more, but in a pump gun or a semi-auto I like at least a 28" or even a 30" barrel and I use it for clays or all kinds of game in the field. For many years "bird" or field guns were commonly sold or were fairly standard at least in the US with 28" barrels. Today, I see more and more guys going to 30" barrels because it gives them a little longer sight plane - and on a traditionally light gun / the length of the barrel adds to the overall weight helping the follow thru in the field a little - especially on a semi-auto.

It gets a little heavier to carry in the field all day - and you don't have a 3rd shell, but I like shooting an over under in the field as well - especially in a 20 or 28ga on grouse, quail, etc - and with about an O/U at about 8 1/2 lbs, I stick with 30" barrels again. I really like the way a 30" barrel O/U swings in the field. I'm a big guy / and have fairly long arms - and that's probably a factor as well - but the trend these days on field guns is longer not shorter. Defensive or tactical shotgun trends are different of course and that's where you'll find a number of shorter barrels / but just my opinion of course. Have fun with the new gun ......

August 11, 2008, 09:26 PM
congrats wayward son, get a few more choke tubes and you'll be fine. get a mod. and an imp. cyl. tube. i'm not sure if ebay/fleabay sells tubes anymore. i got a full and imp. cyl. off there. brand new in package paid no more than $15 apiece w/ shipping.

August 11, 2008, 10:24 PM
your doin fine,I've had an express turkey 21" since they were introduced I absolutly love it and have hunted all types of upland game and waterfowl.I've even shot bowling pins and a couple 3 gun matches with it.

August 13, 2008, 08:42 AM
I switch bbls, the 18.5 is for "home work" and the adj. choke 26'' is for hunting and trap, oh, its a Mossberg 500 and have had it for years

August 13, 2008, 08:37 PM
As I've done more shotgun research in the past few days, I've realized a few things.

Those expensive $4/per Fed Premium sabot slugs are just about worthless in my smooth bore.

I am pretty much good to go if I pick up a few more chokes and select a choke to suit my immediate need. The gun came with an Extra Full choke. I would like to pick up a Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, and Improved Modified to cover most bases. Then again, I may just buy every available Rem Choke and pattern accordingly. :)

Between the chokes and the barrels, this is a customizable platform. I can pick up a fully-rifled deer barrel in 20" or 21" and use it as a "rifle" out to 100 yards with a truckload of punch with slugs. I can buy a 26, 28 or 30" smooth barrel for waterfowl. I can get an 18 or 18.5" barrel for "wet work". Between the additional barrels that install in under a minute and the variety of chokes that also install in under a minute, you can have "one" gun that fulfills a multitude of purposes at various ranges with a few simple changes and appropriate ammunition selection. All of this in a dependable, durable platform such as the Remington 870.

Only problem is that the Remington barrels I see online are $100-200. Criminy, I only paid $299 for the entire gun with stock and action. How much can the barrel alone actually cost?!

August 13, 2008, 09:16 PM
try gunbroker.com and cheaperthandirt.com.

cheaperthandirt.com you can get an 18.5" cyl. bore barrel for under $125.00, a rifle sighted smoothbore fixed choke 20" barrel for under $140.00. there is they also sell a rifle sighted smoothbore barrel 20" that uses choke tubes.

August 14, 2008, 11:11 AM
Only one or two of my guns have barrels longer than 24". My Brwoning has a 22" barrel that is very handy. Long barrels don't set well with me. I have one gun with a 26" barrel. I shoot it maybe once a year to clear out the cobwebs.

For all around use, I love a 22" or 24" barrel. That 22" Browning has put down many a turkey and deer. A long barrel may be OK for most shooters but it is a pain to transport in a vehicle and to use in a blind.

Since no gun resides in my safe without a Polychoke or Poly II, the overall length is close to 2" longer. God save us from the screw-in factory chokes. I have enough aggravation in my life without adding to it with a pocketful of choke tubes.

August 16, 2008, 05:11 PM
Well I took it to the range today.

12 gauge shotguns have some kick! I started off with twenty rounds of this, through an Improved Cylinder choke:


2.75" shell, 1oz rifled slug. Recoil was stout. I'm a small guy: 5'9", 155 lbs. I think a softer recoil pad is in order. Not that it was unbearable, but it definitely lets me know that I'm putting a lot of kinetic energy downrange. I wonder what the 3" 1oz slugs feel like....

Then I shot some clays. I've never hunted fowl or shot clays in my life. I was using a Modified RemChoke. I bought a box of these:


2.75", 1.25oz (I think), 7.5 shot. My friend shot 3 shells at two clays. I shot the other 22 shells. Out of those, I think I hit 16-18, but I was so caught up in the sheer fun of blasting a moving target that I didn't keep an accurate count. I was pleased with my score for my lack of experience. And I had a blast! Shooting clays is way more fun than punching holes in paper. I think I just found a new weekend hobby, and this shotgun just might become my most-used gun.

How does shooting clays compare to shooting birds? The clays mostly went in one direction with a predictable trajectory. Does busting clays translate at all to shooting wild birds that may move in any direction and change vector mid-flight?

Anyway, had a blast with the new gun. It's always nice to make a purchase, get a good deal, and be completely pleased with the product. :cool:

August 17, 2008, 08:21 PM
welcome to the world of clay targets. they sure are a lot of fun to chase and its great practice. consider sporting clays too, lots of variety in the trajectory. good luck

August 17, 2008, 08:47 PM
get yourself some nice soft-shooting target loads....your shoulder will greatly thank you - 1 oz of #8's or even 7/8 will break all clay targets and not beat you up

Dave McC
August 18, 2008, 06:53 AM
Lighter loads are out there, and a 7/8 oz load will break clays all day long.

My 7/8 oz, 1150 FPS reloads, if my math is correct, pack about 60% of a 1 1/8 oz, 1250 FPS load like you probably used.

The lighter the load, the faster some level of proficiency will be reached.

And 16/22 is a great start. Kudoes!!

nutty ned
August 19, 2008, 08:30 PM
Get a 30" if you can find it, otherwise get a 28". If you ever hunt the longer
sight plane will be important.