The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Which gun’s best for wildfowling?

Which gun’s best for wildfowling?

– Semi auto – Winchester SX3 12 bore 28in barrel *
3 ½in chamber
GOOSE AMMO: Kent Tungsten Matrix 2 1/8oz size 1 shot
– Gamebore Mammoth Steel 42gram size 1 or 3 shot
DUCK AMMO: Gamebore Mammoth Steel 36gram size 3 shot

– Cheaper loads.
– Better choice of cartridges.
– Greater versatility – can be used for most other kinds of shooting too.
– Lighter and easier to carry long distances on the foreshore
– More affordable.

– Side by side – E.M. Reilly ten bore 32in barrels 3½in chamber
– Semi auto, Ithaca Mag 10-bore 30in barrel 3½in chamber
GOOSE AMMO: Home loaded 2oz Tungsten Matrix size 1 shot
– Home loaded 1½ oz Steel BBB
– Remington Sportsman Steel 1 3/8 oz size BB
DUCK AMMO: Home load Steel 1 ¼oz size 2 or 4 shot

– A lot easier on the shoulder.
– Handles a wider range of heavier loads.
– Throws better patterns – especially at longer ranges.
– Its greater weight is an aid to good shooting.
– Like for like, cost of factory loaded cartridges is actually not hugely different.
– Long distances on the foreshore.
– More affordable.

In the right hands a 10-bore can be a deadly weapon on the foreshore, but is it really necessary, asks Jack?

With the arrival of the 12-bore 3.1/2in magnum the big old ten could arguably be now pushed to the back of the cabinet.

That’s because 12-bore factory loads for tungsten matrix nudging over the two ounce mark are now a near match for it.

Similar or identical loads for both guns are almost always less expensive for 12-bores – and the good news is that the choice of loads, velocity and shot materials for the 12 is growing thanks to American cartridge makers.

The relatively high cost and specialist market for magnum non-toxic cartridges for all shotguns limits the stock our UK suppliers have to offer, and the situation’s even worse where ten bore loads is concerned.

Home loading is an option but by the time you’ve sourced and bought all the kit as well as the raw materials such as shot, wads, cases and primers, there is little in the way of financial gain.

Consequently the payback would take many seasons to achieve and even then you would have to fire a hell of a lot of shells to justify taking this route.

A magnum 12-bore though satisfies most shooting requirements.

After a morning goose flight, the same gun with different ammunition can be used to shoot a round of clays, woodpigeons over decoys or a flight at duck.

In fact, a double-barrelled magnum would be quite acceptable for formal game or rough shooting, as long as you don’t mind a little extra weight.

Furthermore the ability to change between goose and duck loads is invaluable for many wildfowling situations – especially when you have no idea what might appear next!

From a cost perspective many wildfowlers are unable to justify the cost of a 10-bore for the odd occasions it will be used.

Constantly swapping and changing guns throughout the season is rarely good for your shooting.

As far as handling is concerned, a 12-bore has the edge over the 10 in terms of swing and manoeuvrability, and when it comes to semi autos and pump actions there’s usually a 2-3lb weight difference between the two.

True, the added weight of the ten bore helps absorb slightly more recoil generated by larger cartridges but the difference is now negligible thanks to recent advancements in technology and new recoil reduction systems.

But there’s more: a 10’s extra weight is an unnecessary burden if your walk to the marsh is measured in miles rather than yards and the 12’s abundance and popularity means replacement parts and accessories are readily available should the need arise.

Due to decades of development and quality mass production in the USA and Italy, the 12-bore magnum auto has become a well established, much cherished, reliable, affordable tool for the job – one that’s undeniably ‘fit for purpose’.

Forget your cartridge belt? Don’t worry, chances are the bloke in the next gutter over will have a 12 too – if he is kind enough to loan you some of his shells!

The lovely 10-bore seems to be regarded as a fierce fire breather with untamable recoil among shooters who have ‘had a go’ with a friend’s ten – firing it into fresh air and feeling its punch.

I can assure all those who have tried it, a 12-bore magnum with a heavy load will do exactly the same!

As a single purpose wildfowling gun a 3.1/2in magnum 10-bore is hard to beat. I have been wildfowling ever since I could handle a 12-bore magnum, but as soon as I could manage the old 10, it has become my gun of choice.

A modern 10-bore with 3.1/2in chambers was never designed to shoot smaller cartridges, and why should it?

Its whole purpose is to throw the heaviest shot payload the farthest distance!

Even going back to the days of 2.7/8 inch chambers the 10 has always had one over on the 12-bore.

True, since its arrival the 3.1/2in magnum 12-bore has been flying off gundealers’ shelves.

In fact I’ve got two of my own, but I still feel they lack the patterning efficiency of the 10-bore – particularly when dealing with foreshore duck and geese that often flight over on the edge of range.

Then there’s the question of weight.

Today there seems to be an ever-growing demand for lighter guns but when it comes to foreshore geese weight plays a big part – and I maintain the heavier the better!

I use two 10-bores, an E. M. Reilly double hammer underlever which weighs 14lb, and a new addition to the cabinet, an Ithaca MAG-10 semi-auto which weighs in at 11lb.

Both guns take some extra effort to lug around on long foreshore walks, but if we get lucky with a couple of geese do we moan about carrying the extra weight? I doubt it!

A pink foot goose in flight can reach astounding speeds, and that’s before we add in the gale force wind that wildfowlers love to go out in.

To the untrained eye, geese appear to be moving much slower than they actually are, hence the majority are missed way behind.

Using a heavy gun helps because the swing is more consistent and harder to stop, giving a far better follow through.

I remain at a distinct advantage as a 10-bore shooter because I can reload most of my own cartridges. Even good factory loads (especially steel) can be picked up for only a couple of pounds per box more than the equivalent magnum 12-bore.

For me, home loading opens up the possibility to load high-density steel, tungsten matrix, Hevi-shot and Bismuth which can all be tailor-made to suit individual guns.

These loads can then be patterned and velocity checked.

My own 2oz tungsten matrix loads have been used to great effect on more than one occasion.

Heavier loads can be made with data even available for an astounding 2.1/2oz load (equivalent to most eight bores) but tungsten matrix is not cheap, and 2oz works just fine for me!

You might be thinking: “Yes but what about duck shooting?” Well another advantage of loading my own means if I am specifically after the ducks, I can knock out a lighter 1¼oz steel load of No.2 or No.4 shot.

Believe me, this high velocity, nearly recoilless load reaches out with a better pattern than any 12-bore ever could.

The scientific reasoning behind this is that the 10-bore has a shorter shot column than the 12, putting fewer pellets in contact with the barrel thus reducing overall pellet deformation.

I am fortunate to squeeze in a good number of flights each week throughout the season and for that reason most people could see why I am a fan of the 10-bore.

I get enough use from it to become consistent shot with one.

For the sportsmen who only manage a handful of goose or wildfowling flights a year, to buy a separate gun that doesn’t get much use will most likely leave you with an empty game bag and wallet.

But for me, as the weather becomes wilder and the magical sound of geese echoes over the shoreline, the 10-bore will always be my first choice.

MIKE GEORGE – Technical editor
From the jungles and plains of the British Empire, through Europe, and all the way to the Wild West, the 10-bore has a long and honourable history.

There were flintlock and percussion muzzle loaders, and pinfires, before the centre-fire shotgun cartridge as we know it today came along.

And even then development didn’t stop. In the early days a smoothbored 10, firing a solid ball, was considered quite a serious gun for dangerous game, until the advent of the express rifle signalled its demise, but it was as a shotgun it really came into its own.

Wildfowlers appreciated the fact that, although not much heavier than a 12, it could be loaded with enough big shot to present a better pattern.

In the USA, a 10-bore side-by-side became the weapon of choice for the hardy souls who rode shotgun for Wells Fargo for the same reason – it put a lot of lead in the air.

During the 1800s the usual chamber length was 2.5/8 in, but this grew to 2.7/8 in the early 1900s.

The 3.1/2in ten-bore magnum is of American origin, credited by some to the influence of John Olin, Winchester’s boss in the 1930s.

Rival US company, Ithaca, were making a Mag 10 side-by-side by 1932, and it was they who, in the late 1970s, developed the semi-auto which formed the basis of the modern Remington SP10.

Under US regulations, the 10-bore is the biggest gun you can use to shoot migrating wildfowl.

Nowadays, if you want to shoot a 10, you have a few choices. You can buy a second-hand side-by-side of classic design, like a Rigby, Tolley, Bonehill or Wesley Richards, or a more modern sbs like an AYA Matador or a Zabala.

There are also a few Lincoln 10-bore O/Us around, although they don’t appear in current catalogues.

However, the chances are you will have to use one of the softer lead substitutes such as tungsten polymer or bismuth, because I can’t find one listed as having steel shot proof.

Also note that the old chamber lengths of 2.5/8in and 2.7/8 in are now officially classified as obsolete calibres, for which no ammunition is available.

The other way is to find a modern semi-auto or pump 10, which should accept the 3.1/2in cartridge and have steel shot proof.

The 3.1/2in 12-bore Super Magnum has a much more recent history.

It goes back to the late 1980s, and the development of the cartridge is generally credited to the Federal loading plant in America.

Very much a child of the steel shot age, it was developed so that loaders, both professional and amateur, could pack in enough of the lighter pellets to shoot good, lethal patterns at maximum sporting range.

For this reason you won’t find any sbs classics chambered for the cartridge.

And, although there are modern O/Us, like the Browning B425 Waterfowl, this is – thanks to the American influence – generally semi-auto and pump action country.

Would I pick a ten or a 3.1/2in 12 for fowling?

My heart says a 10, but my head dictates a 12 because of its adaptability and cheaper ammo, so the choice is up to you!

Now let’s have a look at some of the choices in the marketplace, with some sample prices.

Note that all prices are approximate, and are based in most cases on current advertising.

Winchester Super X3 shotgun
– Mossy Oak or composite stock, 28 or 30in barrel. From about £900.

Browning Maxus shotgun
– Mossy Oak, composite or standard stock, 26, 28 or 30in barrel, about £1,200; Phoenix Special Canard, 28 or 30in barrel, £760. Gold Hunter (no longer made, but a few new guns around) 28 or 30in barrels, £1,495.

Hatsan Escort shotgun
– 3.1/2in Mag, 24, 26, 28 and 30in barrels. Approx £450.

Benelli Super Black Eagle shotgun
– 26 or 28in barrel, £1,700 importer’s recommended price. Also watch out for the new Super Vinci, due to be available in the UK this Autumn. (These guns are inertia-fed, others listed are gas-fed).

Beretta A400 Xplor shotgun
– 26, 28 and 30in barrels, available with or without Kick-Off anti-recoil system. Prices from £1,615 (importer’s recommended price).

Browning B425 Waterfowl shotgun
– Wood stock £1,408; camouflage finish £1,446. Both with 30in barrels.

Mossberg 535 Waterfowl shotgun
– £429 or Winchester Super X3 Pump, 26, 28 and 30in barrels, from £870.

Remington 870 shotgun
– Hard to find, but there might be a few around with 3.1/2in. New price around the £500+ mark.

Remington SP10 shotgun
– (not in current catalogues, but a few new guns available) £1,495.

– (not currently imported, but a few available second hand) approx £795.

– Barrels up to 32in. Good second-hand examples around £950.

– No 10-bores in current catalogue. Good used examples around £400.

– No 10-bores in current catalogue. Barrels up to 32in, around £560 second hand.

-(second hand) generally £750 to £800.

If you are going to shoot steel or Hevishot fowling loads, always make sure the gun has steel shot Proof. And don’t shoot a cartridge longer than the chamber, or the bang could be bigger than you had bargained for!

Read more gun reviews!