Particularly among the hunting crowd, who like to pit their wingshooting skills against those gray ghosts of fall — darting and diving aerobatic mourning doves and their white-winged cousins — more and more 28s are replacing their larger 20- and 12-gauge cousins. There is still a time and a place for big guns, but a growing number of hunters and clay target shooters are finding out that a smaller gauge can mean more shooting with less punishment.
One veteran outdoor observer, Foard Houston of the Sandy Oaks Ranch Hunting Lodge and Resort near Devine, Texas, is an unwavering 28-gauge convert. After putting hundreds of hunters each year on thousands of dove and quail, he has yet to find a shotgunner returning to a 12-gauge thunder boomer after trying out a 28.
With less weight and less recoil to their credit, the 28-gauge shotguns can get the job done while being a pleasure to handle. Putting the question in highway lingo: “Why drive a massive tractor-trailer rig when you can get from here to there behind the wheel of a sleek sports car?”
Seasoned outdoor enthusiasts point out that the 28s are also a good idea for both youngsters and women, who can be recoil sensitive, and provide nearly identical knock-down power as a 12 on most birds and targets. The tiny scatterguns might even keep shooters from becoming sky blasters, throwing shot at targets well out of range.
To check out their popularity, Gun Tests Magazine put a quality 28-gauge over and under in the hands of its shotgun test crew —the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon (No. L87958B), manufactured in Italy and imported by Beretta USA and available in the price range of about $2,000 for those looking to upgrade their scattergun collection.
Here’s what they found:
Displaying the quality of a fine firearm worthy of the extensive product line manufactured in Italy and imported by Beretta USA, the Model 686 Silver Pigeon is a classic small-gauge shotgun. Available for about $2,000, the 26-inch barrel and sleek lines of this older-model 28 gauge shotgun offers a feel of class from the first time it hits your shoulder.
A trip to a sporting-clays course helped us examine the handling and target-breaking capabilities of the shotgun. The course featured a variety of clay targets, with quite a few small specialty targets, minis and midis, tossed in among standard-size targets to really test the clay-busting ability of the tiny 28.
Shooting side by side with veteran competitors swinging custom 12-gauge shotguns, the field testers were not handicapped on any of the stations despite using a small-gauge gun.
Ammunition used in the test included the new Winchester AA HS Super Sport Sporting Clays loads in 2.75 inch shells with three-quarters of an ounce of No. 7 1/2 shot. In addition, we tried out the Baschieri & Pellagri (B&P) Extra Rossa 2.75-inch shells, also with 3/4s of an ounce of No. 7 1/2 shot. Both shells have a velocity of about 1,300 fps, although recoil was not a factor with the shotgun.
With its 26-inch barrels and diminutive profile, this 28 gauge just looks like it should be the firearm of choice for the upper-crust sportsmen or sportswomen spending a morning of fine wingshooting over a brace of English pointers.
“Quick handling” and “easy to bring to the shoulder” were two of the most common observations from our field testers as they hefted the 6-pound scattergun and put it through its shooting paces.
More at home in the field than at a clays course, the Beretta was slightly more whippy than some heavier guns. However, reaching out and touching targets with the small-gauge shotgun did not seem to be a problem for any of our shooters.
The overall length of the Beretta was 43.75 inches, with a length of pull of 14.4 inches. The drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and drop at the heel of 2.75 inches. Both barrels of the Beretta fired after a crisp trigger pull of 4 pounds. The rib on the barrel was one quarter of an inch wide, providing a fairly narrow sighting ramp, and the front sight was a single silver bead.
Despite its lighter weight, the Silver Pigeon was also a pleasure to shoot. The solid rubber, three-eighths-inch thick recoil pad is also rounded at the top to allow quick mounting of the gun. The shotgun’s oil finish and hand checkering on the forearm and thin pistol grip allowed for sure control of the firearm and a comfortable feel.
Slightly more pleasing to the eye because of its attractively engraved nickel receiver, trigger guard and cocking lever, the Silver Pigeon won the beauty contest between the two 28s. On the downside, the Beretta features an automatic safety on the tang, meaning each time the shotgun is opened, the safety returns to the safe position. This feature is desired in field shooting conditions, but not on clay target courses where the firearm is only loaded when the competitor is in the shooting position.
The safety also controls which barrel fires first. Exposing the single red dot will allow the bottom barrel to fire first, while exposing the two red dots will allow the top barrel to fire first. This is a simple, time-tested system that is easy to use and understand.
Mechanically, the Silver Pigeon worked flawlessly during all of the testing. There were no misfires and all the fired shells ejected as they should.
This shotgun was obviously well made and shows the results of many decades of firearm manufacturing experience by Beretta.
Gun Tests Recommends: Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon 28 Gauge, $2,000. Buy It. The only slightly negative comments about this fine wingshooting piece were concerning its automatic safety (a pain on the clay target course) and 26-inch barrels, which caused the shotgun to be a little more whippy than longer-barreled shotguns. Longer barrels (28 or 30 inch) would give this shotgun a little more heft and help with its performance on the clay target fields.