The 28 Gauge: The Little Shell That Could

By Chuck Hawks

The highly respected American firm of Parker Bros. introduced the 28 gauge back in 1903. The nominal bore diameter of the 28 gauge is .550 inch; not much compared to the .729 bore of a 12 gauge. But, perhaps surprisingly, it has proven to be quite effective on both upland game and clay targets.

The small bore skeet class, for which the 28 gauge is legal, has played a major role in keeping the 28 alive for the past century. In recent years the little gauge has become increasingly popular with upland hunters, who appreciate the 28 gauge gun's light weight and fast handling characteristics.

28 gauge guns typically have light recoil, pattern well, and point like a dream. They are lightweight, easy to handle guns. They are far more effective than their small bore might suggest, patterning much like a 20 gauge. The selection of guns made in 28 gauge is somewhat limited. Perhaps the most common 28 gauge guns in North America are the Browning BPS and Remington 870 pump shotguns. Browning, Charles Daly, Ruger, and Weatherby O/U field guns are also available in 28 gauge, and while certainly not inexpensive they are more affordable than most 28 gauge doubles. For the shooter of means, most of the bespoke side by side doubles can be ordered in 28 gauge.

All 28 gauge shells are 2 3/4 inches in length. The selection of shot shells in 28 gauge is pretty limited, and all are loaded with lead shot. I will cover them individually below. Price can also be a problem, as 28 gauge shells are not widely distributed and are seldom found in discount stores. Most fans of the 28 probably reload the bulk of their ammunition.

The 28 is not the gauge for large size shot, as a limited number of pellets can be accommodated in the standard 3/4 ounce load. Like the .410, the 28 is probably at its best with #7 1/2, 8, and 9 size shot. #7 1/2 is probably a pretty good compromise for shooting most upland game and #9 gives the pattern density to break clay targets at reasonable ranges.

For years Federal offered a 1 ounce magnum load in 28 gauge. I have not seen it listed in recent Federal catalogs, but it has been picked-up by Winchester in the form of a Super-X High Brass load with a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1205 fps. Shot sizes are 6, 7 1/2, and 8. The one ounce load allows efficient use of shot as large as #6, which number 225 to the ounce. Winchester offers no other 28 gauge hunting load.

Remington also offers exactly one hunting load in 28 gauge. This is a high brass Express Extra Long Range load with 3/4 ounce of #6 or #7 1/2 shot at a MV of 1295 fps. There are 262 #7 1/2 shot in a 3/4 ounce load, but only 169 #6 pellets.

Federal's single 28 gauge offering for the hunter is a Premier high brass 3/4 ounce load at a MV of 1295 fps. Shot sizes 6, 7 1/2, and 8 are the choices. There are 307 #8 shot in a 3/4 ounce load, which makes for pleasantly dense patterns.

The most common 28 gauge shell is the target load, available from all three of the big ammo companies at a MV of 1200-1230 fps. These are skeet or sporting clays loads containing 3/4 ounce of #8, 8 1/2, or 9 shot. Size 8 and 9 shot are offered by Remington and Winchester; Federal offers 8 1/2 and 9. The somewhat unusual #8 1/2 size shot has a pellet count of 373 in a 3/4 ounce load.

There is no law against using #8 target loads on the smaller species of upland birds at moderate range, where they have proven quite effective. Target loads have the singular virtue of reduced recoil compared to the higher velocity hunting loads. The 3/4 ounce target load at 1200 fps generates 12.8 ft. lbs. of recoil according to my Shotgun Recoil Table.

The 28 gauge is the little shell that could. It can dominate small bore skeet, it's effective on upland birds, and it makes a light yet low recoiling gun for beginner or expert alike. All it lacks is the public acceptance that would bring with it a larger assortment of guns and ammunition at reasonable prices, and that may be coming.

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Copyright 2002, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.