Pondering Shotgun Barrel Length

By Randy Wakeman

A common shotgun question is, "What is the best barrel length?" There is no correct answer, as we use a system of stock, action and barrel. There cannot possibly be a correct barrel length, anymore than there could be a correct stock length or a correct action length. Small wonder that it is a confusing topic, as “sighting planes” are discussed in ad-copy. Yet, shotguns are not sighted and no shotgun has more than one sighting plane, including side-by-sides.

If a gun fits you perfectly, sighting plane is tantamount to nonsense. The same goes with rib width. If you eyes are not on your target, but focused on the rib, you've got some problems. If you are using a plain-barreled A-5 or even a “Senza Rib” style of European autoloader, no full-length rib can possibly be used, for there is none. As a generalization a rib, whether solid or ventilated, often helps in preventing you from canting the gun, as a soft-focus reference point, but little else. Wide ribs were tried on the Superposed, the 5/8" Broadway rib that won few people over. (Actually, I liked it! -Editor.) Even today, one of the ways to call a shotgun “sporting” is to pop a wider rib on it. This adds some weight, but does little else.

Barrel length adds weight. That may be a good thing, or it may not be. (Certainly, it reduces recoil and smooths the gun's swing, while making the gun heavier to carry and slower to mount. -Editor.) Perhaps there are a few folks longing for the return of the 36 inch barreled Marlin Goose Gun, but I'm not one of those people.

I've always found the plain-barreled Belgium Browning A-5 Light Twelve, with a 28 inch barrel, to be a well-balanced gun (if not exactly lightweight). Yet, a Miroku Light Twelve with a 28 inch barrel is comparatively nose-heavy. There are several reasons for this: the Miroku barrels are heavier, the vent rib adds weight and the Miroku forearms are heavier. The "28 inch" Belgian A-5 normally isn't; the barrels were in metric lengths, the so-called 28 inch barrel is actually about 27-1/2 inches. If you compare the two side by side, the difference is instantly noticeable. If you've ever shot a 32 inch Ruger Red Label O/U, then you're familiar with the type of slothful, ponderously swinging shotgun to which I am personally allergic. Hanging sixty-four inches of excessively heavy pipe off of a shotgun receiver isn't my idea of a good thing. With a substantially lighter barrel set, it's a different story.

If the sighting plane theory made much difference, we'd all throw away our O/Us and take the wondrous advantage gifted to us by the new A5 equipped with a 30 inch barrel, which should stun the clay-breaking world with its 38 inch sight plane. However, I'm not anticipating that happening anytime soon. Like stock length, barrel weight, action type and action type, barrel length alone doesn't define your personal preference, or what type of shotgun swinging dynamics you prefer. It is just one component of many, although I'll happily admit that a two inch longer barrel does get you two inches closer to your bird.

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Copyright 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.