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Steve Comus – GUN TALK

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018
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Smaller can be better when it comes to shotguns!
In recent times, I have found myself shooting the 20-gauge for late season waterfowling more and more often. There has been no particular plan — it just worked out that way.

Many folks suggest that I have things backward — that late season waterfowling calls for heavy artillery with ammo in the 3-inch or even 3½-inch category. I won’t argue over such thought patterns. Nothing wrong with big guns.

A NICE REDHEAD fell to author’s 20-gauge Benelli Ethos semi-auto on a December hunt.

Oddly, not only have some of my late season 20-gauge waterfowling safaris involved the smaller bore, but also the ammo has been 23/4-inch rather than 3-inch. Again, no particular plan or thought of proving anything. Just worked out that way.

Two hunts come to mind. One was a year or so ago in Nebraska where everything was cold. The array of ducks was typical, with many beautiful, big birds. There was even a wide-bodied Canada goose brought to bag on that hunt, as well. Ammo was 23/4-inch loads of No.4 steel shot.

I was using my nice little Beretta 686 over/under 20-gauge gun — the one I usually would use for upland bird hunting. But, what the heck, I wanted to see how it would do on ducks.

At first, I limited shots to when the birds were coming into the close decoys. No problem. When I did my job, birds splashed down. As the hunt went on, I began stretching the shots. A beautiful, big pintail dropped at 30 yards. That’s about as good as I can do with any gauge and steel shot.

Then there was another hunt recently when I was using a 20-gauge Benelli Ethos semi-auto. Nice gun. Again, No. 4 shot in 23/4-inch shells and again, birds coming into the decoys dropped. And again, I began to stretch the distance out to the 30-yard mark.

Those ducks included a nice mix, including pintail, redheads and the like. So, what’s the story? There really is no mystery. It all boils down to a fact we’ve all known forever: It is not a question of how much payload you shoot at birds, but how much of the payload actually hits the birds.

THE AUTHOR SHOWS a duck taken with a 20-gauge Beretta 686 over/under on a late season hunt.

This reality has been driven home countless times on dove and upland game hunts when I have used both 28-gauge and .410 bore guns. When using the .410, I shoot half-ounce loads in 2½-inch shells and the birds drop dead even a bit beyond the 30-yard line.

When using smaller gauges for any form of hunting, often it is necessary to choke down a notch or so. This is to deliver a denser pattern with the lighter shot payload. Whether it is upland birding or waterfowling, smaller gauge guns usually need at least modified chokes (for steel) or full chokes (for lead).

Bottom line is that several pellets in the right spot do the trick. When the bird is centered in the pattern, nice things happen.

I’ll not suggest that the 20-gauge is a prime pick for most late season waterfowling. Nor will I suggest that it is a bad idea to use the bigger 12- and 10-gauge guns during the late season. What I will witness, however, is that there is nothing wrong with taking a 20-gauge gun to the blind this time of year.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

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