3" vs 3.5" chamber, is it worth it?


February 18, 2010, 09:26 PM
Hi, thinking about getting a shotgun (500, 590, or 870) for ultility use being mostly deer and HD.

So here is my question, is getting a 3.5" chambered 870 going to make that much of a difference then a 3" 500 or 590?

Just like the idea of a 3.5" for more power.

So is it worth it?


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February 18, 2010, 09:44 PM
For deer and HD, NO, it is not needed. 3.5" shines for waterfowl (with steel shot) and turkey. If the 3.5" is the same price buy it, it will handle anything from a 2.75" AA trap load to a 3.5" super turkey (2.25 oz).
I got a super deal on a Mossberg 835 waterfowl/turkey combo, so it bought it. Would a 3" 870 or 500 done as well? probably, but I like the option of the heavier shell. If it is legal to use buckshot for deer in you state then maybe it makes sense.
BTW, I patterned the gun with 3.5" buckshot with the intention of coyote hunting in low light. They kicked like a mule!! - I was able to throw a killing pattern for a coyote to 50 yards.

Fred Fuller
February 18, 2010, 11:42 PM
Probably not, given your stated uses.


February 19, 2010, 12:10 AM
I had a 870 Super Magnum Express that I used for deer hunting with buckshot. I didn't like it at all. When I tried to take it skeet shooting I noticed sometimes the pump would get stuck after shooting and wouldn't come back. I even took it back to where it came from and they couldn't find anything wrong. Finally I read to polish the chamber and that fixed that problem. However, it always just jammed more than it should. Even when it wasn't doing the pump sticking thing which it didn't do with buckshot it would have random jams like trying to send two shells into the chamber at the same time, not catching onto the old shell to pull it out after firing, stove piping, etc. If in 50 rounds you only had a couple jams you were doing good.

As for the 3.5" shells I can't say if they were worth it or not. I used them some but most of the time I used 3" shells. I found that it seemed to prefer 3" Winchester 000 buckshot. It patterened the best out of the many shells I tried. Since they don't make 3.5" 000 buckshot that I know of I couldn't try it. I also tried the Federal Flight Wad stuff which I liked but it also only came in 3". Since these shells were what it liked I used them. The 3.5" patterened decently especailly at close ranges but the 3" 000 buckshot paterned a lot better for me.

I will say the 3.5" shells really hurt to shoot. I hunt with a couple guys that have 3.5" guns and use 3.5" shells but quite a few of them only have 3" guns and kill just as many or more deer than the guys with 3.5" ones.

I honestly would go with something more like a 1100 Magnum or Benelli Super Black Eagle II or Browning Gold. Most guys I hunt with seem to think the 1100 Magnum with the 30" barrel is about the best buckshot gun out there and I can't say I disagree. A lot of guys also like 11-87's but a buddy I hunt with has one of those and his seems to have some issues jamming too. Not as bad as mine was but it still jams more than I like to see. I've seen it hang up probably at least once a year on him. Maybe not every year but most and sometimes more than once. I got the 870 as I figured a pump would be more reliable and I didn't want to deal with jamming. Mine never was more reliable so I realized I'd rather just have a semi auto like I preferred in the first place if both might jam. I don't know that the 11-87 is a bad gun and I think he likes his decently it's just not really the gun for me.

February 19, 2010, 12:39 AM
Well, I should have said this first, I will be putting a 20" barrel on the shotgun or cutting it regardless of make.

The ONLY 2 reasons the 3.5" is looking good is because I can run whatever 12ga. in it and it can throw more shot downrange.

I don't hunt any kind of bird, although I'd like to try someday.

I will not always be using 3.5" shells, I'll be using the cheapest stuff I can come across about 70% of the time, so I really don't know if I can even take full
advantage of a 3.5" (kinda like buying a 30-06 and only loading it to your average .308).

Oh yea, this shotgun needs to have aftermarket support for just in case.

I am trying not to go over $500, because in my opinion, shotguns are 100 yards firearms and nothing more, and unless they are finely engraved with precious stone enlays (read O/U, SxS) should cost no more than $500.

Thanks, and please keep up the advice,

February 19, 2010, 12:53 AM
I was breaking pidgeons, of the clay breed, with a 2.75 inch single shot 20ga back when I was a kid. I wasn't great, but that was me.. not the shotgun. A 3" chamber should be all you need in 12ga. IF you need a 3.5", you are reaching out there a ways.

You lose the benefit of denser shot patters with more shot in a 3.5 when you cut the barrel down. See if you can find a 20" barrel that is threaded for chokes, especially if you plan on shoot buck shot out of it...

February 19, 2010, 12:59 AM
I'd go 3".

February 19, 2010, 01:45 AM
I use a 3.5" 870 for turkeys and I like it and if I need a brush gun for deer I have several boxs of #4 buckshot, I figure with 54 pelets I gotta hit something! Or is it 57?


February 19, 2010, 02:30 AM
Honestly, If you don't want a semi auto I'd probably get a double barrel. If you really don't want that my choice for a pump would be the Benelli Super Nova. You should be able to get one around your price range.

February 19, 2010, 07:13 AM
I have a supernova and it has the 3 1/2 chamber. It wasn't a factor in buying it but it is nice that you can shoot any 12 guage shell. I have to admit when you put that 3 1/2 next to a 2 3/4 it looks pretty cool

February 19, 2010, 07:51 AM
I have found hardly a use for 3" let alone 3 1/2". I tend to think the majority of the 3 1/2" crowd never use it or use it when it is not needed. Maybe trying to compensate for bad shooting too.

Al LaVodka
February 19, 2010, 08:22 AM

A 3" Mag will be striving to reach 50% more energy (than a standard 2.75" shotgun buckshot shell). A 3.5" Mag can give you 100% more energy, but who the heck wants, needs, or can manage it!? The particular advantage of the latter is there is less degredation of velocity despite the bigger payloads. But you are gonna pay for it in every way...


February 19, 2010, 08:33 AM
I am an avid waterfowl hunter, and 3" is generally all that I need. That being said, I can see that a 3 1/2" could be nice on geese a little further out than I can reach, but that is not a huge handicap. While not a turkey hunter, I can see the increased payload being useful for turkeys as well. But those are the only two scenarios that I (and Me alone, not speaking for anyone else) would want or need the 3 1/2".

February 19, 2010, 09:38 AM
After shooting plenty of everything at waterfowl, I found 3" of hevi-shot was a far better performer than 3.5" of steel. I still have a few boxes of 3.5 steel around but I will give them away before I shoot them. (At 6'2 and 245lbs, I'm not at all recoil sensitive.)
for me... The percieved advantage of more shot payload is more than canceled by the recoil generated by trying to get all that shot to the same speed and by the cost at the time of purchase. I can cover everything with 2.75 and 3" and step up to hevi-shot when I want just a little more performance on big birds at longer distances.

February 19, 2010, 10:07 AM
All very good points. I see what you mean by the loss of velocity with a 20" barrel, I quess thats like a 300WM out of a 20". Sorry I make mos pf my comparisons in life related to rifles.

Hmm, I just need to think about it.

An 870 Wingmaster or something like that is around $350 with a 3.5". A 500 is about $350 with a 3". I'd have to add the cost of getting the barrel cut on the 870. And I'd like a wood stock.

Is there a 20", woodstocked, 3" chambered 500?


February 19, 2010, 10:08 AM
I'm not sure about the Remington. I know the 835 Mossberg ultimag has a "backbored" barrel, meaning it's oversize for better patterns. A slug would wobble down the bore, lose pressure, be lucky to hit paper at 25 yards through such a barrel.

Hevi shot is good on geese, but steel T shot kills 'em just as dead just as far away and costs one HELL of a lot less for those of us on a tight budget. If you can afford hevi shot in any quantity, I envy you, must be one of those greedy wallstreeters I read about. :D Of course, I'm shooting 'em out of a 10 gauge that patterns over 90 percent at 40 yards. Best patterning gun I've ever owned. The thing is just plain deadly on high flying snows and specs.

February 19, 2010, 10:23 AM
You will not get a new Wingmaster for $350, you would be getting an Express. Cottonmouth please tell me you were not serious about using #4 buckshot for deer.

February 19, 2010, 10:52 AM
I've found that the 3.5" does have a place in my fiream stable. It is good for shooting large steel shot at Geese. Particularly T-Shot. Other than that, you are probably wasting your money for your intent and purpose.

February 19, 2010, 11:08 AM
Ok, can someone explain to me the difference in shot number. Really I have no clue what the difference is in #6, #4, #9?

And for deer I will probally just use slugs, so I need something accurate with a 20" barrel out to 100 yards, 50 yards being 85% of the time. For HD it'll be 00 or 000 buckshot.

Thanks, that 3" chamber is looking more better.

I'm sorry I knew that it was either a Wingmaster or Express.


February 19, 2010, 11:14 AM
No such thing as a 590 with a 3.5" chamber anyhow.

That should tell you something.

February 19, 2010, 11:32 AM
Shot size starts with the smallest in size having the larger number.

Here's a chart showing the sizes for lead shot:


February 19, 2010, 11:35 AM
Yea, that the military dosen't have a use for 3.5" shells. My use is a bit different seeing as how the primary duty of a 590 will be used to breach doors, used with a PGO, and a breaching device on the end of the barrel, will have a holster for it and is used as an auxilliary weapon

Mine will have a wooden or laminate stock, baisic barrel, bead sight, and mabey a flashlight, and be used primarily on deer. This will be a primary weapon carried by a cheap sling.


February 19, 2010, 01:37 PM
3 1/2" chambered guns are bigger, longer, and require more slide travel distance to operate them with 2 3/4" or 3" shells.

Why handicap yourself for all your needs if you are not a goose hunter required to use steel shot loads?

I have got by quite nicely for close to 60 years of upland hunting, clay target shooting, turkey hunting, and HD using nothing but 2 3/4" shells in shorter, lighter, and easier to operate guns.

I have never hunted deer with a shotgun, because there is no legal requirement to do so here. But if there was, a 2 3/4" slug would do the job just perfectly fine too, I betcha.


February 19, 2010, 02:51 PM
Also with many magazines you can fit one more round in with 2 3/4" shells. I'm talking HD here.

February 19, 2010, 03:05 PM
If you want to use copper slugs I've read that some, the brenneke in particular are a bit longer than advertised. That would be one reason to use a 3.5, but thats about it as far as I can see.

February 19, 2010, 03:54 PM
3 1/2" chambered guns are bigger, longer, and require more slide travel distance to operate them with 2 3/4" or 3" shells.
I had heard the above statement before and it is not true on the 870 Super-Mag when comparing it to the 870 Express. I laid one of each side by side and operated and measured the reciever length and distances of travel, the measurements were the same. Only the ejection port on the super-mag is longer. That however is not true on the BPS. The measurements were considerably longer on the 3.5" gun vs. the 3 inch gun. I've never messed with the Mossbergs.

February 19, 2010, 03:55 PM
You will not get a new Wingmaster for $350, you would be getting an Express. Cottonmouth please tell me you were not serious about using #4 buckshot for deer.
What is wrong with #4's? It's called buckshot for a reason.


February 19, 2010, 04:32 PM
I did not think that needed to be explained to any sportsman but since you asked. It will not give reliable kills on deer. The term buckshot does not mean it is adequate for deer. It is simply a term given given to that size shot.

February 19, 2010, 04:46 PM
As I only hunt upland game, on private land, with lead shot, I've never seen the need for a 3" gun. Let alone 3 1/2". If I was forced to hunt on State or Federal land or was going to get into waterfowling, I might have to reconsider.


February 19, 2010, 06:27 PM
Thanks, please keep up the advice!!

February 19, 2010, 08:38 PM
If shooting buckshot at deer I doubt you want a 20" barrel. If shooting slugs like you stated you probably want a rifled slug barrel which you shouldn't shoot buckshot through. I really like the 30" barrels for buckshot for deer but haven't used any slugs so can't comment on them.

February 19, 2010, 10:58 PM
Just to clarify, the 835 ultimag is indeed overbored and cannot shoot slugs. For deer you really want to shoot 000 or 00 buckshot, and at a distance in which you can reliably put 3-4 pellets in a 9" circle (the lungs of a buck) about 30 yards for most guns. I use #4 buck for coyotes, or varmints only.

February 19, 2010, 11:41 PM
Ah, the use for deer will be in thick brush, so even a 50 yard shot would be uncommon, with the norm around where I hunt being 25 yards in the wooded areas.

I sure ain't going to tote a long 30" barrel around, heck a 26" bolt gun is too much for where I hunt.


February 20, 2010, 12:10 AM
I did not think that needed to be explained to any sportsman but since you asked. It will not give reliable kills on deer. The term buckshot does not mean it is adequate for deer. It is simply a term given given to that size shot.
Oh, ok. I should have told all the deer I've killed with 'em that. lol


February 20, 2010, 12:17 AM
Most of the guys I hunt with hunt with 28-30" barrels and 45 to 50 yards is about the maximum you can shoot deer with buckshot at this range and expect to kill the deer. A 20" barrel is probably going to let it spread out a lot faster. Now slugs may be a different story but if you plan to shoot a lot of slugs you probably really would want to get a slug barrel.

February 20, 2010, 12:21 AM
Well, it depends on if I get to where I do infact shoot alot of slugs. I doubt that'll happen though considering most of my time is devoted to rifles.

Somethibg to think about though!

February 20, 2010, 12:37 AM
If you doubt you will shoot that many slugs a shotgun with a 30" barrel or 28" would probably be optimal then just get a second barrel that's 20" to use for home defense. That's what I'd do. That way you could do either or.

February 20, 2010, 02:12 AM
I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I will be using a 20" barrel only.

February 20, 2010, 04:59 AM
PB, I suspect hometheaterman is talking about getting two barrels. One for hunting and one for HD. Simply put, those two situations generally have different requirements.

February 20, 2010, 08:50 AM
None of the 3.5" guns come with a 20" barrel so you are looking to have to cut one to get that length. The 870 supermag used to come with a 23" barrel that was threaded for choke tubes. I think they still make it. That is probably as close as you are going to get unless you cut a barrel and have it threaded for tubes.

A 20" barrel will shoot buckshot just fine. As long as it has at least some choke to it. You will just have to experinment to see what works best at the range you want to shoot. Just cutting the barrel off and going with a cylinder choke will be great for home defense ranges, but will not be satisfactory for hunting in my opinion.

Just my opinion, but I would forget the 3.5" guns and find a good 3" gun and call it good. The 3.5" guns as a rule have had more issues and other than shooting geese at long range have no useful purpose.

Remington offers a 20" barrel with rifle sights and an IC choke for the 870 that is probably what you want. It only comes in a 3" chamber, but is all you really need anyway. They used to offer that barrel threaded for tubes. My brother has one for his 870. It makes for a very versatile gun. IC tubes for HD, extra full for turkey hunting and modified for everything else in a pinch.

Another option is one of the 21" 870 turkey guns. They come with a turkey tube, but other tubes can be purchased at a good price.

I'm not as familiar with the Mossbergs and others, but I believe the shortest barrels they offer threaded for tubes is 24". If you plan to hunt with the gun using buckshot, make sure you find a way to get some choke in the barrel.

February 20, 2010, 09:42 AM
Ok, what are chokes and what do they do?


Al LaVodka
February 20, 2010, 10:24 AM
May I recommend you find a basic descriptive site that explains shotguns? Or a basic book like the NRA's The Basics of Shotgun Shooting (really thin paperback w/lots of big pictures) -- this is used in the NRA Basic class which I'd recommend.

SHotguns are a different animal. Maybe the exact opposit of a rifle in many respects, but more versatile. I think people here presumed you were more familiar w/them. Barrel length has little to do with things in most respects. Cartridge selection including shot size and choke are much more important.

"Choke" is the funnel at the muzzle. Different, standard named, chokes that constrict the inner diameter of the barrel at the muzzle, can often be replaced just by screwing one size out and another in. They taper in the muzzle and focus the shot into certain size patterns. Its kinda like turning the end of a garden hose -- the spray will become wider or narrower, and go further or not, depending on where you set it. A rule of thumb is that the optimal shot pattern is defined as where 70-75% of the pellets are within a 30" circle and different chokes produce that at different distances (slightly affected by the size of the shot and the pecularities of the shells used). For example, an Improved Modified (which is less common than some others) will give you that 30" pattern with # 7 1/2 shot at approximately 35 yards.

My personal opinion is that as shot size grows to heavy buckshot, and the choke constricts more and more, optimal range eventually meets the effective range of a shotgun at around 50 yards. The maximum range is somewhat further.


February 20, 2010, 10:56 AM
Thanks for the info, I knew thay had something to do with the pattern, but I needed to know more.

Thanks, looks like I need to add one more thing to my requirement!!


February 20, 2010, 10:54 PM
My Mossberg 835 has a 20" turkey barrel with fiberoptic sights. I swap out the turkey choke for full, and have a handy brush gun for buckshot. BTW I've found that barrel length has little to do with pattern size. Choke, shotcup, shot size, and velocity have far more impact IMHO.

February 20, 2010, 11:19 PM
If it was me and I was buying mainly for HD, I would just go around and look and try to find something that me and my significant other would be comfortable with for the right price. With HD, I don't think the shell size really matters as you aren't really trying to "reach out" with it. I find comfort trumps looks, shot, and size. If you get into bird hunting, you either are going to get addicted or not. If not, you're not out spending the extra money for something that is dual purpose. If you do, chances are you will go out and buy a dedicated bird gun. Especially if you end up cutting the barrel anyways. That is my opinion and the reason why I now have more than 1 bird gun...:D

March 7, 2010, 09:17 PM
When I was buying my 870, I was tempted to go with the supermag as well. I ended up going with a 3" Express combo on the advice of a friend who has been shotgunning for well over 50 years. He told me to consider how often I could be using 3 1/2" shells and then consider the fact that whenever I wouldn't be using them, I would have another 1/2" to pump the slide. If your main uses are HD and deer, depending upon whether you use slugs or buckshot, the extra speed for a follow up shot might be important. And I shoot 3" slugs for deer, trust me, there's enough umph there to satisfy your desire for power.

March 8, 2010, 07:06 AM
I wouldn't be using them, I would have another 1/2" to pump the slide.
You shouldn't have been so eager to listen to bad advice. Pumpstroke length on the Supermag and Magnum express's are the same length I've personally measured them. I chose to own the Supermag so the gun would be all shell capable even though I don't often shoot 3.5's. However the BPS pump stroke length on the 3.5 chambering is longer than on their 3 inch model. I've compared those also. I'm not sure about Mossberg, I've never compared them side by side. The only real advantage I see in a 3.5" loading is the use of large steel shot on Geese. For most folks there is no need.

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