It all depends on the quarry species
In this article I give overview of the most appropriate cartridge loads for differing quarry types.
Ease of movement with 20-bore
The most significant handling characteristic of a 20-bore shotgun is ease of movement, making the gun far easier to swing and helping to get ‘through’ and in front of targets, particularly faster birds, thus improving hit rates. This quickly lifts confidence levels and we know we are shooting well when we are congratulated by our fellow Guns. So it’s easy to use and swing, easy on your shoulder, lighter to carry over your arm let alone in a slip, and you will most likely be on target more.
Don’t use a heavy load
In so many cases shooters seem to think the more lead they put in the sky the more they’re going to hit. Wrong! ‘Punchy’ loads can be detrimental to your shooting regardless of whether your gun is a 12- or a 20-bore. This causes all sorts of unconscious and unhelpful habits such as stopping to fire, jerking or giving a little push, or flinching.
I have taught hundreds of shooters over the years, both new and experienced, and seen many examples of how excessive recoil can adversely affect some people. In a lot cases — particularly with long-term shooters — this can be overlooked and become accepted as a trade-off for hard-hitting cartridges to ‘do the job’, at the expense of performance and poor results. This is as true for 20-bores as much as for any other calibre.
When we teach women and younger Shots we use lighter loads to try to minimise recoil and help them have a good experience, particularly first-timers. There is also a case to support the cartridge-to-gun weight ratio, which can play a part. The lighter the gun the more you will notice recoil. This is very true when it comes to 20-bores, which are usually about 25% lighter than a 12. Thus, if we were to use the same shot load the recoil would be greater.
20-bore loads for differing quarries
You may think that there’s not a lot of difference between the loads and the benefits very marginal, but please remember; light gun, light load.
Partridge is probably my favourite quarry and most suitable for the use of a 20 bore. They are generally lower and faster than their cumbersome cousins. The redleg is the usual quarry on most driven shoots. The 20-bore is great for for these birds and very much in-kilter with that whole shoot experience.
I’m not going recommend a brand but most UK-based cartridge manufactures have a wide range of loads and shot sizes. I would tend to use and recommend a 25 or 26gm in a No6 shot size through an-over and-under shotgun and 25gm through a 20-bore side by side, as they are usually lighter.
For most average Pheasant shoots I would use a 26 or 28gm No6 shot cartridge, depending on the topography. On most lowland shoots I would tend to go for the lighter of the those two options, but I do try to standardise on 26gm No6 for all my driven game shooting, through a 30in over-and-under.
Pigeon decoying is another great place for a 20-bore.We can often fire many many more cartridges on a good day decoying than we would on a day’s driven partridge or pheasant shoot, so would most likely be glad of a lighter, faster handling gun with less recoil.
I use my 20-bore semi-auto for all my decoying with 28gm No6’s or No7’s. This is a much more pleasurable experience shooting big bags, when I would typically fire 200 to 300 shots. The recycling and reloading action of a semi-auto reduces recoil significantly. With this, a slightly heavier 28gm load can feel more like a 21gm and I hardly notice any recoil at all.
I would invariably use a 21gm load for a standard round of Sporting clays. I have found this load to be a delight to shoot and usually very effective. It has very low recoil and is, on the whole, the best load for beginners, women or young people. I also use this load in a 12-bore and I hardly feel any recoil.
So don’t buy a 20-bore then use heavier loads, as you will find the experience unpleasant and detrimental to your shooting performance. Please remember, less is more.