Many dedicated waterfowl guns are purposely longer and heavier than upland guns. Is that for good reason?
It’s no surprise that many serious duck hunters have specific preferences about their shotgun dimensions, including length of pull, drop at comb and other particulars. But weight and barrel length might be the most hotly debated measurements.
Conventional wisdom holds that heavy shotguns with longer barrels perform better for the extended swings and leads that are common in waterfowling. Heavier shotguns are admittedly more difficult to set into motion — that is, to mount the gun and begin your swing — but advocates say they move smoothly during the critical follow-through.
Similarly, many folks believe that light guns with shorter barrels work best for quick, straightforward shots, like those you’d typically experience when upland-bird hunting. Such guns are deemed “whippy,” meaning you can easily lose or stop your critical momentum during crossing or overhead shots, resulting in misses.
But reality often differs from theory and armchair physics, so the question remains: Are heavier guns with longer barrels — say 28 inches or more — really better for duck and goose hunting?
The unsatisfying answer is that it depends.
I prefer longer barrels and somewhat heavier shotguns because I shoot better with them. I notice a slight drop-off in my duck-shooting performance with lighter guns or shorter barrels. Years ago, I tested this theory to the extreme by fitting a 30-inch barrel on my Remington 11-87 and boosting the gun’s forward weight with a brass plug. That gun weighed 9-plus pounds when loaded. Years later, I started using a massive 10-gauge that weighs about 11 pounds. Nowadays — now that I’m older, weaker and arguably a tad smarter — I’m fine with a moderately heavy (7.5-plus pounds) gun with at least a 28-inch barrel.
But that’s just my unscientific observation, and I’m notoriously fussy about shotgun fit.
I’ve seen some talented wing-shooters perform exceptionally well on waterfowl — or clay targets that approximate ducks or geese — with short, light guns. Maybe those models fit them especially well, or perhaps (spoiler alert) those guys were just much better shots than I am. Whatever the reason, those folks weren’t handicapped by using shorter, lighter guns.
The bottom line? Shotguns are not one-size-fits-all, so you must decide which configuration suits you best. Practice during the off-season with various makes and models, including guns with relatively light, short dimensions and those with longer, heavier specs. Note how each type of gun fits you, and pay close attention to your comfort level and performance when shooting. If a positive trend emerges, you’ve probably identified the style of gun that best fits your body type, hunting style and shooting ability.
This doesn’t mean that you now have to use the same shotgun for all your waterfowl hunts. Far from it. I’ll use lighter, shorter guns when jump-shooting wood ducks or walking near prairie sloughs, where you might be as likely to flush a pheasant as you are a mallard. But when I fire up the diver rig or set full-body honker decoys in a field, I usually defer to the longer, heavier war club. It simply works best for me.
Find your preference. And if it differs from mine, we can have a spirited campfire debate about it.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.