Is The 20 Gauge Unappreciated?
By Skip Hutchison
What is it about the twenty gauge that makes it superior to all of the other gauges? Absolutely nothing. However, there are factors far more important than superiority when it comes to determining what is and what isn't an attribute of a good bird gun. Otherwise we could just all get ten gauge guns and be done with it. Unashamedly I can say that the twenty gauge is my favorite choice for the task of effectively and efficiently dispatching snipe. And if limited to just one gun for all of my snipe hunting, there is no doubt that it would be a twenty gauge. When built to the median size and weight I believe it makes for the best compromise between size, weight, and firepower to be found in guns suitable for snipe and similar sized birds.
If the twenty gauge has all of that going for it why does it appear to be less popular than other smallbore guns like the twenty-eight gauge or the resurgent sixteen gauge? Actually the twenty gauge is far more popular and for good reason. In spite of the perception someone might get based on internet discussion boards there are far more people using a twenty gauge than either of those other two gauges that are currently "fashionable". If you contact the ammunition manufacturers they will tell you that their ammunition sales for the twenty-eight gauge and sixteen gauge combined don't amount to a fraction of the twenty gauge ammunition they sell. Like the vaunted twelve gauge the twenty does what it does very well and it does so quietly. It needs nobody to pump it up, no secret society, or anything else. Just a little respect like it is getting here will do just fine, thank you.
Excepting the twelve gauge, one substantial advantage the twenty gauge has over all others is availability. In this regard I am talking about both guns and ammunition. If a maker builds a particular gun in only two gauges one of them is going be the twenty. If they make them in more than two gauges one will also be the twenty. The same is true for every ammunition manufacturer that sells their product in the United States. Yes, I can find ammunition for any gauge under the sun, but except for the twelve gauge I will find more variety for the twenty gauge and if offered in any of the other gauges it will cost more for the same product in those other gauges. It's as simple as supply and demand, which in this case is a testament to just how popular the twenty gauge really is.
This first pair of guns was built under the Classic Doubles name at the Olin factory in Kodensha, Japan. The top one is a model 201 and it does its best to imitate a Winchester 21 with frame styling and the checkering pattern. It is hard to find out much about those guns because they were only made for a short time. Internally it bears some resemblance to and shares some of the same parts with the Parker Reproduction, another gun being produced at the same factory at the same time. The bottom gun is the model 101. It has the exact same model number as the gun that Winchester stamped their name on and it is indeed the same gun. The only differences are aesthetics. It was the first shotgun I owned that wasn't a pump and when I got it I thought I had the ultimate snipe gun. That was in the late 1980's. Today I rarely use it but when considering all variables it is the most versatile 20 gauge gun I have if for no other reason than by virtue of having choke tubes. It is also the only twenty gauge gun I own whose manufacturer would approve its use with steel shot.
This next pair of guns is from Spain. These have a bit more handwork than the first pair and while neither is as strong as the Japanese guns above they are lighter in weight and have more dynamic handling qualities in my opinion. They also have the potential to be less reliable but that is a stigma (and justly deserved) of Spanish guns. Many people tend to attribute poor tempering or finishing of parts to Spanish guns of a couple of decades ago but the truth is even today far too many guns coming out of that country have trigger or firing pin problems. At what the new boxlocks and particularly the sidelocks sell for that is unacceptable. The gun on top was made by Jose Uriguen in the early 70's. Unfortunately it has a problem with firing pins sticking that is so common with guns made in Spain. By using certain brands of primers and avoiding others I have been able to avoid the problem of firing pins sticking in primiers and rendering the gun difficult to open after firing. The bottom gun is a Grulla made in the mid-90's. It has nice fit and finish to all interior and exterior parts. It is a copy of a Holland & Holland gun, right down to the engraving style and hand detachable sideplates. Mechanically it is one of the best guns I own.
This last pair is from the good old U.S.A. They are the bookends, representing both my first shotgun and my most recent acquisition. Anyone can recognize the first one, the renowned Remington 870. It is a "magnum" model, meaning that it was chambered for the 3" shell when Remington also made a standard model that didn't. It was a Christmas present from my parents when I was fourteen years old. I wish I could say that it was the gun I killed my first snipe with but it wasn't. That privilege goes to a twenty gauge Winchester 37 single-shot. However, for thirteen or fourteen years it was the only snipe gun I owned and many snipe were shot during those years with it. Without question it is the last gun I would ever part with. Last but not least is an A. H. Fox Sterlingworth, made in one of the last few years those guns were made in Philadelphia prior to the company being sold to Savage Arms Company. It is a lightweight gun, having 28" barrels and a long stock with a recoil pad and still weighing an even six pounds. I have only used it infrequently as of writing this but so far I have enjoyed carrying and shooting it. At some point I might consider having custom work done to a gun including restocking and engraving which will include both my dog and a snipe motif. This Fox is on the short list of guns I would consider for that.
So, are you also convinced that their isn't a better gauge suited for shooting snipe than the twenty gauge? If not, you need to get out there and shoot one (or more) until you are. After doing it long enough there is a good chance that you will come to the same conclusion that I have.
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