The 28 Gauge and Square Loads

The 28 gauge patterns efficiently because its ¾-ounce payload is “square” (inasmuch as anything packed in a cylinder can be square), according to conventional shotgunning wisdom. The 28 has a bore diameter of .55 inches and a shot column that’s about an inch in height, and “volume of black powder” isn’t a useful metric anymore. And, given improvements in shot that resist deformation and wads that cushion shot and protect it from scrubbing by the gun barrel, the idea of a square load may not matter as much as it used to. Squareness aside, a lot of people are convinced the 28 gauge is magic anyway. To way over-simplify their findings: The bigger the bore, the better it patterned, and we could discern no magic .55 inch, ¾ ounce payload relationship. Shot strings weren’t any shorter, either. Years ago, I was invited to shoot with a bunch of top DNR officials and the governor at a preserve near Des Moines. For some reason, the big shots went home shortly after I arrived, leaving me alone and all dressed up in the new brush pants I had splurged on for the occasion. Loading the 28 up to an ounce offends 28-gauge purists. It’s even less square and therefore not as efficient as a ¾-ounce load, but it still will put more pellets on target than a ¾-ounce load will.
quail hunting with 28 gauge and franchi shotgun
Upping a 28-gauge load to 1 ounce might offend purists—but it will put more pellets on your target.

The 28 gauge patterns efficiently because its ¾-ounce payload is “square” (inasmuch as anything packed in a cylinder can be square), according to conventional shotgunning wisdom. Theoretically, the 28’s squareness results in less-deformed shot, because as the payload accelerates, there’s less weight on the pellets at the bottom of the stack, so they stay round and pattern well.

Except it isn’t square. “Square” means the shot column inside the hull is as wide as it is tall. Or, if you’re talking about blackpowder, it means equal volumes of powder and shot. Under neither of those definitions is the 28 gauge is square.

The 28 has a bore diameter of .55 inches and a shot column that’s about an inch in height, and “volume of black powder” isn’t a useful metric anymore. The 28 is a rectangular load, if there is such a thing. And, given improvements in shot that resist deformation and wads that cushion shot and protect it from scrubbing by the gun barrel, the idea of a square load may not matter as much as it used to.

Squareness aside, a lot of people are convinced the 28 gauge is magic anyway. That includes plenty of experts, lots…

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