Which barrels for clays or gameshooting?

In this article we look at the most suitable barrel lengths for shooting different types of clay target and live quarry, and how the appropriate choice can help or, indeed, hinder a shooter.

This is intended to be a guide for newcomers to the sport, who often struggle to understand all the options available. Fashion and trends play a part and these days most people favour longer barrels and would not be seen with a 28in, which is what I started with.

Barrel lengths for shooting game and live quarry

Rough and walked-up shoots

In the field, barrel length is a more important matter. Rough shooting and walked-up days can be tiring, especially with a heavy gun and longer barrels.

Such a gun can be cumbersome and unwieldy, making for poor mounting, sloppy shots and a lot of missing.

Almost everyone does better with shorter barrels, which offer faster handling and reduced weight. Some prefer to use a 20-bore for that reason.

Pheasant shoots

On the majority of driven pheasant shoots the Guns will carry their gun in a slip, taking it out when they get on their peg and are ready for the drive. This practice removes the need to lug a gun around unsleeved and getting aching arms into the bargain.

As for length in this situation, and given average height birds, 30in is fine and probably the most popular length, although shooters will have their own preferences.

high bird shooting

Try longer barrels on high bird days

High bird shoots

On high bird shoots my preference is for longer 32in barrels. They offer a much steadier, smoother swing, which in turn helps with taller birds. The last thing I want in these situations is a ‘slashy’, reckless, fast-handling gun.

Partridge shoots

Driven partridge shoots are structured in the same way as most driven shoots and allow shooters to carry their guns in slips, only taking them out when they get on their 
pegs. They are usually lower birds and 28in or 30in is my recommendation for newcomers in this situation.

Duck shoots

When duck shooting, I would use the same 32in gun as I would for pheasants. However, in accordance with the law I’d use non-toxic steel shot.


Use an average barrel length for most clay days

Barrel lengths for clayshooting

There are many different forms of clayshooting and, as a rule, the newcomer would do well to use an average barrel length for a lot, perhaps most, types of target they are likely to encounter. Newcomers tend to start shooting Sporting as this is the most common discipline and one that many grounds tend to favour.

Sporting layouts

A great place to start for Sporting layouts is with 30in barrels. Some shoots tend to offer longer targets and in that case 32in may be more suitable, given the shooter is ‘used’ to this length. Others will tend to offer closer targets and a newcomer would do well with 30in in this case.


In most cases these targets tend to be more distant and for the more experienced shooter. As such, most shooters use longer barrels, which they will most likely be comfortable and adept with.

Sportrap and Compak Sporting

Sportrap and Compak targets will usually be reminiscent of targets found out on the Sporting layout and thus 30in will suit most shooters, especially to start with.


Skeet targets are very close and should be 22yd at stand 4. Typically and quite understandably shorter barrels suit this discipline as they have faster handling characteristics, which make it easier for the newcomer to ‘get onto’. When I started, 26in were all the rage and anything longer was thought to be a disadvantage. Not so these days. My 32in gun has such sweet and fast handling characteristics but I wouldn’t recommend a new shooter to buy or use long barrels to begin with.

barrel lengths for shooting

If shooting DTL, opt for a 30-32in barrel length

Down the Line (DTL) and Ball Trap

I have found 30in to be the best length 
for most trap disciplines. I acknowledge that many shooters prefer 32in but for 
me 30in wins for a balance between speed and steadiness.

Hold Position

The correct hold position can make all the difference to your shooting. If you have this it will help you to achieve a relaxed and well-timed shot rather than a rushed or lingering one, waiting for the target to arrive or struggling to catch up with it.

Verdict – the most useful barrel length is 30in

In conclusion, I would say that on average the most useful and versatile length of barrel is 30in, and that is what I would recommend a new shooter to use.