Small-bore guns have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, with 20-bores in particular becoming an object of desire for sportsmen up and down the country, no matter what the quarry.
The fashion now seems to be moving towards even smaller bores, with 28-bore shotguns becoming very popular for partridge shooting.
There is even a small but militant band of .410 aficionados who mostly shoot brilliantly, but I would urge extreme caution before following in their footsteps.
It’s almost a case of ‘don’t try this at home’.
I have heard it said that a 28-bore shotgun with the right load and the right chokes is the perfect gun.
Of course, whether or not this is true is down to your individual needs and fitting, but most sportsmen will tell you how pleasurable it is to shoot smaller-bore guns.
They tend to be a lot lighter and therefore faster and easier to mount and move, and also produce far less recoil on standard loads.
And there is an aesthetic appeal, with smaller bore guns having smaller actions, lending the guns a certain elegance.
LONGER BARRELS ESSENTIAL
Visual appeal is important on the peg, but some have argued that smaller bore guns are less effective on high driven birds due to their light weight, encouraging an overly aggressive swing.
To counter this you will often see longer barrel on these guns, with 28″ and 30″ being the most popular.
This gives a slightly weightier feel and pushes the balance of the gun more towards the muzzle end, making them very pointable and stopping you swinging through too hard or stopping and attempting to ambush the bird.
As well as making your swing smoother, longer barrels will help those who use maintained lead (as many do for partridge shooting) keep the momentum of the gun up.
As with any gun, cartridge selection is important, but getting it right is essential on small-bore guns.
I would recommend picking the best cartridges you can afford with 28-bores.
What load you choose is, of course, a personal preference but for partridge many make the mistake of going for a heavy load of 24gram.
I would stick with 21gram, and early in the season I would even go as low as 16gram.
I would use No.7 shot, which when used with the right choke (my preference would be cylinder and improved) would provide a shot pattern and density good enough to kill driven partridges consistently
AYA Number Two shotgun
If you?re after a small bore side-by-side shotgun then Spanish made guns from Arrieta or AYA are your best bet.
My personal preference would be the AYA Number Two round action.
This gun comes with 30″ barrels as standard, which is excellent for those intending to shoot driven birds, and has a well figured 15″ stock and matching pushrod fore-end.
The gun has lovely engraving with a delightful colour-hardened finish.
The action is an exact copy of the nine pin London sidelock with intercepting sears and disc set strikers, and like all AYA guns it has a very good Southgate ejector mechanism which really is second to none for turning out cartridges.
In this bore, this model of gun weighs approximately 6lbs, which is on the heavy side for a 28-bore. But those who shoot 28-bores regularly will tell you this weight and barrel length is required for a good, even and accurate swing to be maintained.
This also pushes the balance slightly forward of the hinge pin to provide positive handling.
The trigger pulls are crisp and the gun can be regulated easily if need be.
These guns are relatively expensive, certainly the most expensive of my selections this month, but with an AYA you are paying for a reliable and desirable gun.
Beretta Silver Pigeon S shotgun
The Silver Pigeon range of guns from Beretta offer probably the best value for money of any gun you can buy today.
They are attractive, well built, shoot exceptionally well, are extremely reliable and are quite cheap.
These guns come with 28″ multi-choke barrels, pistol grip and single selective triggers.
Like the side-by-side AYA, these guns weigh between 6-6¼lbs.
The stock measures up at just over 14½” but these guns come with spare butt pads so you can easily alter the length.
This means you can use the gun comfortably throughout the season, for example allowing for a slightly longer stock when shooting in warmer September weather when you will be wearing lighter clothing.
This will mean the mounting of the gun will be consistent, keeping your sight pictures the same.
The only slight criticism is of the ejector system, where the springs are behind the extractors.
This is fairly common in Italian guns, but it means the cartridges are pushed out rather than ?kicked? out as in more conventional over-under actions from the likes of Browning and Miroku.
This can be a particular problem with 28-bore guns, as some loads can swell on the extractor causing the cartridges to stick in the barrels.
Any such problems with ejection can be overcome by asking your gunsmith to fit more powerful springs if need be, or by selecting a cartridge to suit the gun.
Rizzini Round Body Classic shotgun
These wonderful guns from Italian gunmaker B. Rizzini are now being imported and distributed by Suffolk based ASI. Rizzini have been making shotguns for 40 years in Val Trompia, and combine the latest technologies along with superb craftsmanship.
For a slightly different looking gun you would not go far wrong with the beautiful Round Body Classic.
As the name would suggest, this gun has a colour hardened rounded action, making it extremely elegant.
It has a push-rod fore-end, and rounded semi-pistol grip and the selection of the wood is second to none at this price point, punching well above its weight with a grain which would not disgrace a London gun.
This gun is available with 32″ barrels for an extra £253, which would make it very interesting to use on partridges.
You should certainly be able to build up good momentum for taking on higher birds.
The gun also comes with long fit multi-chokes, so it would certainly perform well on higher birds, though you will most likely want a heavier load.
These guns are extremely well built, with excellent wood to metal fit and excellent finishing.
This, coupled with their looks and relative scarcity, means one of these guns would almost certainly be a topic of conversation in the field.