The Long and Short of Shotgun Barrels

Shotgun barrel length is always interesting, but usually not critical.

In shotguns, barrels have more to do with pointability, swing and follow through than power or reach.

Long shotgun barrels do not shoot appreciably farther or harder than short ones, but they're easier to keep moving. If you plan to pass-shoot fast-flying waterfowl or doves, a 30- or 32-inch barrel would be a good option. Once you get it moving, it tends to continue moving. The choke constriction handles reach. Tight chokes throw denser patterns at all ranges, regardless of barrel length.

Short barrels are handy in brush, quick to maneuver and quick to point. A 24-inch barrel can work well for turkey hunting and snap shooting at ruffed grouse, woodcock or any flushing birds in heavy cover, but you need a heavy barrel or lightened stock to prevent imbalance with too much weight in the rear. While a butt-heavy gun aids mounting speed, it disrupts swing and follow through. The light muzzle too easily bounces around rather than hanging on target.

Most shotgun barrels are 26- or 28-inches long, good compromises for all-around use. When selecting between these, go with the 28 if the majority of your shooting is at 30 yards and beyond. This usually means you'll be targeting faster flying birds such as waterfowl, doves and upland birds that have gotten up a head of steam. If most of your birds will be taken inside of 30 yards, you're probably hunting upland birds that flush close and quick, calling for snap shots where the shorter barrel will get on point more quickly.

Regardless of barrel length, you can temporarily modify shotgun balance by adding or subtracting weight from the butt or barrel. A strip of lead taped to your barrel near the muzzle might not look classy, but it sure could shoot that way.

As for shot shell performance, magnum loads will achieve full power better in long barrels than short because heavy payloads (magnum charges of shot) are propelled by slower burning powders which need more barrel length to fully burn and gradually accelerate the charge. Lighter loads work well in all barrel lengths. But don't base your choice in barrel length on that. Choose, instead, on your need for a long, smooth follow-through on passing targets or quick pointing for fast flushing targets.

Be sure to visit Sportsman's Guide for a selection of barrels.

<Image of Ron Spomer>

A long barrel puts weight toward the muzzle, making it easier to maintain swing and follow through when targeting fast flying birds at longer ranges.