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Ever Wonder What Your Small Bore Shotgun Gauge of Choice Says About You?

More than just a tool, our shotgun carries with it an influence on our identity.

Ever Wonder What Your Small Bore Shotgun Gauge of Choice Says About You?

If you're still stuck on which small bore shotgun to select, here's your gauge guide to getting it right. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

You’ve come to the point in your wingshooting career—a place we all hit at some time, or multiple times along the way—when you think your superb shotgunning ability has far outperformed the gun you currently carry. You likely came into this bird hunting business with a rugged 12-gauge gun that has seriously sored your shoulder over the years. Truth be told, hauling that hulky, seven-pound, hand-me-down heirloom has undoubtedly left you in the best shape of your life. But now you’ve resolved to abandoning that bruising ironclad plank of a shotgun for a smaller and superior sub-gauge shooter, to lighten your load, and perhaps, more appropriately match your modern-day, ultra-progressive upland persona. 

The 16-Gauge Shotgun

You must think a 16-gauge shoots like a 12 but carries like a 20, right? You’ll keep shooting 3 ½-inch super-mag shells for maximum pellet patterning and bulk density damage. You believe in sending an excessive, inescapable shot squadron to wallop wings at long ranges, so you’ll feel right at home running down roosters and grabbing grouse out of the sky with the sleek and snappy 16-gauge gun.

The sweet sixteen is also the hipster hunter’s dream. A perfect complement to your faded flannel outfit and ethereal woodland wandering ethos. You’ll likely end up shooting a vintage European side-by-side, as it’s the perfect prop for your Insta-influential identity. 

pheasant hunter shooting shotgun in field
The sweet and stylish 16-gauge shotgun still packs a punch for long range feather dusting. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The 20-Gauge Shotgun

You are the optimal opportunist. The 20-gauge lets you cut down on gun weight while retaining a proper pellet pattern and decent down-range destruction. You’re a no-bull realist and a true meat hunter. You could care less for that captivating cerebral crap that your counterparts carry on with. You’re a blue-collar bird hunter who enjoys busting brush and finds utility in a shotgun, not identity. 


The 20-gauge armament is also the ideal option for the wandering wingshooter and weekend warrior. There’s nothing you can’t do and nowhere you can’t go with a 20-gauge shotgun. It’ll take on double duty in the duck blind and is equally fit to perform across every upland cover you’ll encounter. And lucky for you, the 20’s come with no judgement on your action type—stackbarrels, side-by-sides, semi-autos, and pumps are all welcome here.

grouse hunter carrying shotgun in woods
The 20-gauge shotgun just might be one gun to do-it-all for the meat hunter. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The 28-Gauge Shotgun

You’re either a pattern perfectionist, a ravenous reloader, or someone who has already shot down the the sub-gauge slide. You’re confident and comfortable snap-shooting on the wing, you clean up where others miss, and you consistently break 24/25 at the clays course. You’re fully committed for the next challenge and ready to put your wingshooting proficiency to the ultimate test. 

You also may be a bit of a gun geek and nerd out with the ballistic statistics of the tight-shooting 28-gauge. Often promoted as producing a perfectly square shot string—still somewhat debated—there’s no doubt the big, little, light, and nimble 28-gauge is incredibly advantageous for the sharpshooting uplander looking to level up their gunning game.

stevens 555 28-gauge shotgun with woodcock
The tight-shooting 28-gauge has quickly become my go-to shotgun for upland bird and small game pursuits. (Photo By: Chris Ingram)

The .410 Bore

You’ve made your way down the small-bore scale and have graduated to shotgunning greatness. You’re a glutton for glory and unfazed facing reduced pellet counts, petite patterns, and limited shotshell selections. You’re out to defy the laws of probability and bust the myths of bird hunting ballistics by going away from gauges altogether and into a class of one—the .410 bore. 

You’re going for grandeur and so set on stepping out that you’ll probably even pick up a single-shot to master wingshooting wizardry. By this point you’re equally overconfident in your bird dog’s ability to work close enough to pin down birds within gun range for your small-bore sorcery.


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