Can high pheasants be killed with a 28 bore?
Is it really wrong to shoot high pheasants with a 28 bore? Bob Cieslukowski shares his thoughts.
Over the past few years there have been a number of very good articles published on the subject of shooting high pheasants, especially extreme birds over 50 yards.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding technique, guns, cartridges and if it is possible to consistently kill pheasants cleanly at extreme distances. However, one article in particular caught my attention. In describing an outing at one of the wellknown West Country shoots, the author mentioned a member of the team was shooting a 28 bore and struggling with the task. The author made the remark: “Unless your name is Digweed or Goschen, leave the little guns at home.”
Ten years ago, I made a decision to switch to 28 bore guns for grouse and partridges. At first that decision was based on the challenge of the smaller bore, but I also found that the lighter guns were faster and easier to handle which made up for the loss of upper body strength and dexterity that comes with getting older. I believe the lighter guns are handled more quickly and actually have made me a better Shot.
Six years ago, I was shooting on a moor in Derbyshire on a particularly vile day. Being reluctant to expose a pair of Purdeys to a serious soaking, I told my loader to break out a pair of 12 bore guns
I acquired many years ago for wet weather duty. Having not used those guns for a few years, they felt totally foreign to me and I shot very poorly. It then dawned on me that I should acquire a pair of less expensive guns as foul weather guns. I purchased a pair of Browning over-unders, which fit the bill. These happened to be the first 28 bores I owned which had screw-in choke tubes. I was struck with an idea – could I get these guns set up to shoot serious pheasants?
The experts seem to agree that there are three key elements to shooting extreme birds. First is the right gun set up with cartridges that perform well at extreme ranges. Second, practice and more practice – if you can’t consistently break clays from the highest tower you can find, you’ll never hit the extreme birds. Three is experience. Shooting extreme birds only once or twice a season won’t cut it. It takes a keen eye and plenty of experience to read the curl, speed, and trajectory of a tall bird. A clay will not give you that experience.
For this discussion I will focus on the gun, and my first step was to order a set of tubes for each gun bored extra-full. This gives the guns reasonable results out to 35/40 yards. However, beyond 40 yards it was clear these were not extreme killers. I wanted performance that resulted in the bird being killed outright or cleanly missed.
After a lot of researching and talking with people I consider to be very knowledgeable on high bird shooting, I decided on the Perazzi MX-28 over-under with 32" barrels. My old friend Tony Kennedy was able to order the guns bored full and full with the tightest chokes that Perazzi’s custom shop could produce. I had the guns stocked to match a 12 bore over-under that killed a lot of very tall birds for me in the past.
I wanted to use the classic 28 bore load of ¾oz of lead, and patterned over 20 different brands of cartridge as well as different loads and shot sizes. The best performing cartridge was the Federal Premium ¾oz (21g) of US No. 6 shot (UK No. 5). It has long been the opinion of serious 28 bore shooters that the ¾oz load patterns more uniformly than 1oz loads. This was borne out by my tests.
Next came the most important step. I sent the guns to Jimmy Eyster of Heritage Gunsmiths in Centerburg, Ohio. Jimmy’s Dad, Kenny is widely considered to have been the world’s foremost expert on shotgun bores, chokes and barrels. Sadly, Kenny passed away several years ago but Jimmy has carried on in his father’s footsteps. Jimmy explains that his goal is to optimise the efficiency of a shotgun to meet the expectations of his clients. He starts by confirming the point of impact and changing if necessary. Next he works to produce a barrel that will perform with optimum centre densities at the ranges that the client desires.
He explains that an efficient pattern – that is a centre-dense pattern that will perform over a greater distance – is a function of high-quality ammunition in conjunction with certain characteristics of the interior of the shotgun’s barrel. Some of these characteristics include the bore size and finish, the shape of the forcing cone with particular attention to the transition between the forcing cone and bore, the choke angle and finish, the amount of choke constriction and the length of the parallel section after the choke angle.
Once these characteristics are achieved, the gun is tested to affirm the desired result. If the performance is still unsatisfactory, certain steps may be performed again or other measures may be taken to achieve the goal. All this work is done with the selected cartridges. The guns were returned with a note that they were so good that even he was impressed.
However, all the testing had been done patterning the guns in the horizontal plane. I tried to find a way to pattern the guns in the vertical plane but could not come up with a practical method. In the end, I decided that performance in the field mattered most, not punching holes in paper.
Last December I was shooting with a group at Murton Grange and asked the headkeeper which drive would produce the highest birds. He suggested a drive called Limperdale. In order to test the guns and not my 78-year-old limitations, I turned them over to Simon Ward to put them to the test. Simon proceeded to kill 40 birds with 48 cartridges, 30 of which were stone-dead head shots. The birds were all at a range of between 50–55 yards. This proved the guns could do the job, but what about a mere mortal?
On the next drive I killed the best bird of my career. It was a cock bird at a range of over 55 yards with a head shot – stone dead. Over six days of very high North Yorkshire birds, my kill ratio was give or take 7:1. The most satisfying part was the majority of birds hit were killed, not pricked. I am pleased to declare this experiment a success. It can be done.
Shooting extreme birds with a 28 bore is not for everyone. If you can’t hit them with a 12 bore, don’t bother with a 20 or 28. You also may not want to go to the expense of building a special-purpose gun nor spend time honing your technique, but if you love a challenge and enjoy stretching the limits, go for it.
The author is the owner of the award-winning Snilesworth grouse moor, and its accompanying highly-rated partridge and pheasant shoot.