Quail, woodcock, and snipe can be harvested with any gauge. Lighter loads make the difference. (Tom Keer/)
In my younger days, my buddies and I always went to a bar after work. Every now and then we’d get into arguments with a bar fly—from politics to our favorite bird gun—and suddenly were all in a fight. If none of us got thrown out, then we’d all shake hands, pull up a chair, and have another drink. These days, those fights still happen, but they’re on social media—and they never seem to end well. Last fall, I saw a basic question go sideways. Someone asked, “What gauge shotgun should you use on grouse and woodcock?”
The initial responses were mundane, and tame. Some suggested a 20-gauge, others a 28 or even .410. Things heated up when someone chimed in about a 16-gauge, but heavens to Betsey did it pour over when someone mentioned they shot a 12: “How can anyone use a 12-gauge cannon for a such a small bird?” Venom spewed, and everyone got hacked off.
The truth is that the gauge of the gun you are shooting doesn’t make a difference. Shot size, the charge weight of the shotshell you are shooting, and how the shotgun is choked are what matter. This is going to get technical—and won’t have much application for a bird hunter who just wants to buy a box of upland shells off the shelf and get on with his life—buy I’ve been hand-loading my own shells for years and can tell you that shooting a grouse or woodcock with a 12-gauge is fine, as long as it is loaded with the proper ammo.
Although different gauges, these loads are all the same and deliver 307 pellets of #8 shot. (Tom Keer/)
Do the Math, with Help from Reloaders
You can shoot woodcock with a 12-gauge and wild turkeys with a 28-gauge if you use the correct load. A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the accompanying photo above of a box of 12-, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge shells. Though their gauges are different, their payloads (the number of pellets in each shell) are identical. Here’s why.