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Are Smallbore calibres overlooked in the UK

Home » Are Smallbore calibres overlooked in the UK

We are a very traditional bunch in the UK, traditionally we graduate from 20 bore to 12 bore and stick with it forever. A few years ago some of us flirted with the 16 bore but it didn’t seem to stick. However, more recently we’ve been hankering for something lighter. This has been something we’ve discussed in the office a few times and since last season each of us has tried something smaller than our usual 12 bores. This has been a welcome surprise for most of us who are now looking to shoot a smallbore more regularly.

Learning curve

The 12 bore is a fantastic calibre and incredibly versatile across all types of shooting. Providing you have the chambers for it, cartridges can be easily had from 21 to 63 grams. This means you can shoot subsonic light rounds in the morning and goose loads in the evening. This versatility isn’t quite mirrored in smaller bores and nore is the pattern density. To start with, you’ll find yourself concentrating a lot more for each shot you make but quickly you double down on your fundamentals.

The pattern size of a 12 bore is rather forgiving, whether on clays or game we’ve hit targets with the edge of the pattern. The same shot with a smaller bore you wouldn’t see a chipped clay or a bird changing direction you’d see nothing at all. At first this can be incredibly disheartening but the pattern is absolutely there you just have to find it. With a smaller bore you lose pattern density which means you shot placement has to be much improved. Smallbore calibers pattern fantastically there’s just less shot to make up the pattern.

Pros and Cons of smallbore shooting

The obvious pro’s are lighter guns, less recoil* and prettier actions. While each of these can be had in part in larger bores, they all culminate in smallerbore guns. The light guns are perfect for walked up shooting whilst holding their own on the peg. With the lighter loads, the guns can be slimmer and more delicate creating a prettier silhouette. While the reduced recoil is the result of the lighter loads but obviously this doesn’t translate if you increase the load size. Trying to shoot your 12 bore load in a 20 bore frame is going to give you major headaches. When you do connect with your target you make just the same impact on the target as you would with a larger bore.

The draw backs we have touched on in part earlier. The amount of lead in the air is greatly diminished making your effective pattern smaller. This can be frustrating especially for those just starting out. A .410’s pattern even with a full choke runs out of puff at around 30 yards. This range is further with a 28 and further still with a 20 but you’ll struggle to go toe to toe with a 12 bore. While smaller, the cartridges for a smallbore will likely cost you more than a comparative 12 bore due to economies of scale.

Smallbore cartridges compared to 12 bore

Smallbore performance on game

Shooting a smallbore on driven game is a surprising amount of fun. While you have to coach yourself out of your birds you’re used to hitting you’ll find a rhythm. Like we mentioned, everyone in the office has now tried a days driven shooting with a smallbore. The 20 bore is what we’ve found to be a happy middle ground for us. I dug out my first gun which was a fixed choke 20 bore Beretta and it felt strangely familiar. The weight was refreshing at more than 2 lbs lighter than my current gun. In the field this translated into some much snappier shooting. Getting on the birds was swift and getting on line was quick but not smooth. It felt immediately obvious that the gun would stop on a sixpence.

While there was a concerted effort to stay on line, it was easier to make quick adjustments. This made follow up shots or left and right opportunities quite comfortable. Partnered with Hull’s High Pheasant 25g 5 shot contact was solid and the birds came down as expected. The noticeable difference was the feeling of having an extra second or so due to the speed of target acquisition. While there was an element of feeling undergunned in some instances it wasn’t constant. Anything within 50 yards felt like an achievable bird and I was more than happy with that.

The key thing to remember with Smallbore cartridges is that you aren’t lacking range you’re just lacking pattern. Compared to my preferred 12 bore load I was missing roughly 20% of the shot I’d usually have. This may sound like a lot but this only seemed to matter on shots where I was really testing myself and the gun. The loss in shot volume is a tradeoff willing to make with the extra time you have to make the shot.

Peg dog waiting Smallbore 20 bore
The Shoot App founder with a 20 bore in the field

Dave Carrie with the 28 Bore

If you’re not convinced about the strength of a smallbore then you might have to look at this video. Dave Carrie is notorious with his 12 bore and as he says the 28 bore is new to him. Down roughly 25% in his shot count in a different calibre would be a huge shock to the system. As you can see, the lack of gunfit and pattern challenged him initially. Shots that would have connected with his 12 bore weren’t there with the 28. However, this doesn’t last very long and as you can see with some gun swapping the 28 comes into its own. There’s a huge noticeable difference in the way he handles the recoil while the birds come down just the same.


Smallbore calibres are incredibly capable guns and in the right hands will do exactly what you need them too. If you were shooting the same weight of Cartridge lets say 21g 7.5’s in a 12 then a 20 bore; There would be no dicernable difference in pattern and range. Smallbore’s come into their own when you don’t need the full potential off your 12 bore. If you’re shooting a walked up day then most your shots will be withing 40 yards. At this range, a 20 bore to a 28 bore would be perfectly capable of taking birds at this range.

If you can, try and get to a clay pigeon ground to give each one a go then you’ll be able to make the best decision. With this in mind though you have to consider what your intended target will be. If you only intend on shooting clays then its whatever you like the most. However, if you want to shoot game you must remember your have to take ethical shots every time. We’d recommend starting with a 20 bore and see how you get on, you can always move to a smaller bore late on. For the Blaser fans out there, the F3 action is available with interchangeable barrels from 12 to 28 bore configurations.

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