Upland Shotguns, by Dave McCracken
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 barreled open choked small gauge needs to keep the swing going, although 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 barrel 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, although 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 without 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. On the other hand, 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 barreled 870s, 'though 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" barreled> 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. Your mileage may vary.
So what's your choice?....
Dave McCracken is a corrections officer, and has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.