April 19, 2022
By Matt Zvolanek
The 28-gauge shotgun. Once thought only appropriate for close-up quail and small-bodied shooters, these tiny shotguns have surged in popularity in recent years within the waterfowl hunting community. With the advent of modern non-toxic ammunition and an aptitude for working birds close, the 28-gauge is finding itself the preferred option in many duck hunter’s blinds.
Watch the video below to see the 28-Gauge in Action!!
The Road to the 28-Gauge Shotgun
My first experience with the tiny 28 was nearly two decades ago in a duck blind with a close family friend. He told me stories of harsh weather, mallards backpedaling over the decoys, and picking them off with his own 28-gauge. That story stuck with me over the years and when the opportunity to purchase my own 28-gauge presented itself, I jumped at it. It was a Tristar Viper G2 semiautomatic. Lightweight and quick to shoulder, it wasn’t long before I was bagging everything from ducks and geese to turkeys and rabbits with it. Midway through last season, I upgraded to a Benelli Ethos SuperSport and didn’t miss a beat (but maybe a few ducks) with it.
For those curious about picking up one of these little guns, the most important thing I can tell you is this: waterfowl hunting with a 28-gauge is all about shot selection and working birds in close. It’s not for everyone. For example, my own preferred shot distance for ducks is 30 yards and closer. For geese that distance is 25 yards and in. I’ve exceeded that a handful of times but generally I try to stick within those ranges. I run a modified choke in both my 28s except when I think geese may be a strong possibility and switch to a full choke. My preferred ammunition choice is 2 ¾-inch (only a handful of 28s shoot 3-inch shells) BOSS (copper-plated bismuth) #5 for ducks and #4 for geese. Be sure to check with all your online and in-store ammo suppliers for other 28-gauge shell offerings from companies like Winchester, Kent, HEVI-Shot, Apex, Federal, and Fiocchi.
Best Ammo for 2022
28-Gauge Shotgun Advantages
- The first of which is how lightweight they and their shells are. For example, the Tristar Viper G2 weighs 5.8 lbs and the Benelli Ethos SuperSport comes in at a whopping 5.4 lbs. That means less weight for those long packs into the marsh. The shells also take up less room in a blind bag, leaving more room for snacks or other blind essentials.
- Another advantage, is that the 28-gauge is less noisy than its bigger counterparts. Listen to shot comparisons between the different gauges and it becomes apparent. The sound from a 28-gauge carries less discouraging those that might try to hone on secret honey holes by “sound scouting.” It also spooks birds less, once again because of the sound of the shot dissipating quicker.
- Yet another advantage is generally less recoil. This makes the 28-gauge great for kids, new shooters, and those with shoulder injuries.
- Finally, the 28-gauge allows the shooter to get on target faster. Quick to shoulder and quick to swing makes it perfect for those birds that just show up out of nowhere.
28-Gauge Shotgun Disadvantages
- Shell availability for the 28-gauge can be limited, especially in big box stores such as Walmart. Specialty stores, such as Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Scheels, can have them but still not in great supply. Custom ordering shells from places such as BOSS Shotshells can make finding 28-gauge ammunition a little easier.
- Along with shell availability is limited shot size availability. The biggest of which I’ve seen is #6 shot in steel and #4 shot and #3/#5 mix shot in bismuth. With the increased knockdown power of bismuth, one can get by with using #4 or #5 shot on waterfowl. For those that like their BBs, it’s simply not feasible to create 28-gauge loads of that size.
- Expense of shells is another disadvantage to the 28-gauge. Bismuth and tungsten are more expensive than steel shells. And the steel shells in 28 can be more expensive than the bigger gauges. Reloading may be one way to cut down on the expense, though I cannot personally attest to it.
- Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the 28-gauge and the one that will turn some people off to it, is the limited effective range. Less pellets in a shell means less pattern density which means getting birds close is the name of the game. Once again, my recommended ranges are 30 yards for ducks and 25 yards for geese with bismuth ammunition. This obviously can change with the experience and skill of the shooter.
Ultimately it comes down to getting the pellets you do have on target. So, if you have a propensity for working birds in tight over the decoys, picking up one of these little guns may be for you.