Waterfowl Shotguns 101...


Dave McCracken
February 1, 2004, 08:49 PM
They rode the wind down from Canada,an Alberta Clipper cradled them and carried them hundreds of miles in a day. The big goose leading the V had made this trip before, keeping the routes and stops in her memory. She used a long string of landmarks to bring her group safe to the winter grounds. Now they lowered into a field she has fed in before, seeing geese on the ground and hearing their calls.

Under hat brims pulled low to hide the shine of our foreheads we watched the geese set their wings for the long glide into the empty spot in the midst of the decoys. Sleet stung our faces but the shivering came more from excitement than the cold. At the proper time we rose to make thunder, and memories...

Americans have been hunting waterfowl for thousands of years, though success rates stayed low until firearms entered the scene. Decoys made over 2000 years ago have been found in dry caves near Tule Lake Ca.

Muzzleloading arms,including the trusty musket that hung over the fireplace, accounted for tons of waterfowl.To our ancestors, the term Waterfowl included herons,cranes and swans as well as more mundane geese and ducks.

Big birds, big payloads. When Fred Kimble, a market hunter in Illinois, decided to make himself a new shotgun, it was a 6 gauge. He found that if the muzzle was a little smaller than the bore, it killed distant mallards better than before. This is now called choke.

Those with some money to spend bought the big doubles from LC Smith, Ithaca, Parker, or the imports like Greener to use on the rivers and bays. 8 and 10 gauges were common, 12s were regarded are a little light, and many tons of lead went back to the earth in wet places an ounce or two at a time.

Nowadays the ten gauge is as large as one can go by law for waterfowl. Repeaters are limited to three shots, and lead's prohibited in the US. The non toxic loads meant to replace lead started off as a very poor substitute, but 20 years plus of R&D have improved things greatly. Bismuth, alloys of Tungsten, steel(actually iron) and other metals are loaded into shells these days and they all have their fans.

Now the guns....

There's no great shortgage of good waterfowling guns. As a rule, they're 12 gauges or 10s. The smaller gauges really do not have enough room to pack in sufficient amounts of non-tox shot, though this will probably change soon. I'm no Magnumista, but this is the place for long hulls and heavy shot charges. A 3" capability is darn near mandatory.

And, since the loads run to the heavy side, the shotguns should be heavier also. That Rule Of 96 again. While I think the upper limit of an upland shotgun is about 7 lbs, anything I fire goose loads through should be at least that, and 8's probably better yet. My current goose load is 1 3/8 oz of shot at 1400 FPS in a 3 inch case. That packs about 3 times the free recoil of my trap load, if my mental figuring is correct.

If I were using 3 1/2" shells in a 12 gauge, I'd want at least another lb of weight to mild the kick a bit.

If I were using the big 10 gauge, make that at least 10 lbs and make it a gas auto. Things like detached retinas and arthritis happen to those who go too light in the shotgun and too heavy in the load.

As for fit and setup, a generous butt with a top quality pad is recommended. LOP a bit shorter than you would use otherwise. Often these are used while one's wearing many layers of warm clothing and wishing for more. A POI of 50/50 to 60/40 works, but experiment a bit for your style and conditions. Shoot some practice rounds with your hunting clothes on, it's amazing how much difference a quarter inch of wool and polypro make.

Chokes should run to the tight side, though Full is no longer automatically the best choice. Pattern with Light Modified up, and go with whatever gives the best 24-28" spread.No holes, no clumped shot.

Gas autos have less kick than other action types, including the recoil operated Benellis and the old A-5 Browning. Pumps, quite reliable and relatively cheap, oft are found giving good service decades after first use.

Holding my 870 tightly, I rose to meet the geese,performing an old art to get meat. The big goose in front dropped,the rest learned something and left. I thanked the Creator of All, turned my head, and it wasn't just the wind that made my eyes water....

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February 1, 2004, 09:00 PM
I think my waterfowling days are probably over ....... and I don't have a suitable dedicated gun either.

But just wondering with respect to gun weight and heavy loads ....... is there a case here for one of the recoil control devices. I am thinking mainly I guess, of the mercury based insert unit.

It's not just an age thing .. I do like to reduce or at least ''make more comfortable'' recoil on most of my longarms .... the first expedient is invariably a 1/2" recoil pad ... slip-on for convenience ... this gives me the oft needed butt extension to assist with fit .. and secondarily, it does up the comfort level. With rifles I am sure it helps make sure I am not flinching either.

When I was fowling ... all I had was my trusty old Spanish O/U .. pretty heavily choked on bottom barrel .... and with 3" shells, had quite a good reach ... still lead in them days!

February 1, 2004, 09:48 PM
My experience with the mercury recoil reducers [Dead Mule] is the balance of the gun changes a bit. since I prefer a "tad" more weight ahead of hands this requires a weighted extension that replaces /acts as the magazine cap.

I played with them...( and a bunch of other stuff shotgun related in my T&E and infamous R&D days...umm ok that didn't work...what else can I tear up? :p )

I'm a hopeless relic. Oh I miss the non-toxic days, My old plain bbl fixed modified choke 870 ...well never would ever win a "nice gun" comment on looks ... despite the "rode hard and put up wet look" patterened deadly. Oh yeah, I've only owned 2 3/4" chambers in 12 bore.

Felled many a duck with 20 ga. and even had a spl hunt invite similar to Bing Crosby's deal...yep 28 ga and 2 greenhead limit. I always like that hunt.

Old 870 still the favorite...

Grumble, grumble... non-toxic shot ...and well I'll be...that old gun still out patterned the high dollar guns...See though "marked" MOD it actually threw IC+ with lead...with steel it threw Imp Mod ...I was set .

Yes I have used the 3" and 3.5" Semi's, and pumps. The extra weight is needed to offset the payload. [Rule of 96]

sigh...I grab my SX1 forget to change out the .735 choke which is steel shot approved, and using Win XSM12 in #2, #1 or BB...I may have stacked , I just shoot the darn thing like I always have. "Splat"

I can do this being in flooded timber, done it with 1100s, 303s, 1300s 870s, 37s...2 3/4" shells and let 'em come to me. Oh thank goodness we have some fellas that can call...oops we have ladies as well. Ladies world Champion caller...hey the runner ups been out with us too.

If it were me Chris, I'd get a SX2 in 3.5" and get with HSMITH...hint, he - like me gonna say use the red shells.

If I recommend an all around semi including being a duck hunt gun...SX2 with the shorter chamber.

Given on the pump choice ...Get a 3" 870 and pattern that sucker. I'll be the relic shooting 2 3/4"...then again I may just stand there and take it all in and not shoot. It's a good hunt either way for me.

February 2, 2004, 02:14 AM
Are detached retinas truely possible with heavy recoiling guns? I've heard this, but do any of you actually know people who have gotten this by shooting? (I'm curious, since I'll be trying out some VERY heavy recoiling items in the near future...)

I'm wondering how a 10 gauge in a 9 pound gun will recoil compared to, say, a .458 Lott in a 9 pound rifle or one of those Marlin Guide Guns in .45-70 with Buffalo Bore or Garrett heavy loads.

I've just never read of detached retinas actually being caused by this, but would sure like to know.


Dave McCracken
February 2, 2004, 07:06 AM
Thanks, folks....

P95, I thought mine were over. One time I was wrong and glad of it. I caught myself looking through the catalogs at geese decoys yesterday. Waterfowling is harder to get out of the blood than Hep C.

Recoil reducers do have the downside of more weight, all in one place. Try adding a few oz under the pad and see how it works for you before plunking down all that cash for a Defunct Equine.

sm, considering almost all of maybe 100 Canada geese in my past were taken with 2 3/4" loads and lead, I find the mandated non toxics kinda anemic. The exception is Hevi Shot. Too bad it's so costly.

IMO, 20 gauge is borderline. OK for close shots over dekes, in timber, anyplace where 35 yards is close to max range. When pass shooting, it's time for the cannons.

Steve, one veteran shooter I know is post op for a detached retina. He claims shooting was the culprit, and is only shooting 410s and 22s.

FYI, I owned and shot a Marlin LA in 45-70. Using 405 gr factory loads, it made shooting field and duck loads from an 870 seem mild. 300 gr handloads were somewhat better.

Brister described shooting a 10 gauge other than the Ithaca Mag 10 as like being in a car wreck. Besides the gas action reduction, the thing weighs nearly 11 lbs.

February 2, 2004, 07:20 AM
In my experience (mitigated by the fact that I haven't waterfowled for 20+ years) a 20ga shooting 3" is plenty for puddle ducks over decoys. A 20 loaded with 3" will also reliably put geese on the ground over decoys if you do your part. Pass shooting or open water hunting require a 12ga again with 3" loads. I have no experience with nonlead shot so I may be all wet about the 20 given today's regulations. Wouldn't be the first time - after all, opinions are like a**h****, we all have them and they all stink.

Back in the day as my son says, one of my hunting buddys had a 10ga double barrel and I asked to try it one time. All I can say, is that if I had to use that Marquis de Sade contraption on a routine basis I would definitely be antigun. I still flinch thinking about it.

February 2, 2004, 09:43 AM
Dave, and others.

To Clarify most of my waterfowling is flooded timber , greenheads are the fare for the day. Agree the 2 3/4" is anemic in comparison to load - I'm able to still be effective and ethical with the short chambers.

I quit hunting many years ago with a group due to unsafe gun handling, alcohol in the blinds...and the spot-lighting of deer en-route to blinds. Sad because one area of the farm was a haven for teal, another was blinds in flooded ponds/resevoirs. for ducks..yet another Geese be it pit blinds or a huge body of water at the edge of field. Geese I took using lead...later I literally had them come to almost on top of me - short chamber and steel would work quite well. MY health, ethics and principles are not worth associating with these folks. I don't.

Skybusting I never had to do. Heck just being out was the thrill, taking game a bonus. Many times I didn't / don't take limits.

I haven't been able to waterfowl as I once did. There was a time I was out most everyday of the season. I f I were to get more serious about geese, I would do some real serious testing of the Bismuth loads.

I don't know what anyone else's experience or thoughts are, I would be interested. I had one old lead load I reloaded consisting of 1 3/8 oz of #5 for duck, #2 for geese.

2 ¾
1 3/8 Oz.
This interests me, If I had the time I would be prone to investigate buying and reloading my own Bismuth loads...I would have to check any Regulations as I have not at this time.

Yes I know persons whom have detached retinas. Trap shooters moreso than skeet shooters. Attributed to many years of shooting. Many shots fired before more light loads were introduced. Not always, but add the all the hunting loads, lots of waterfowl loads.

This is the reason they now shoot 28 ga for doves, skeet and 5 stand, and a spl game of Trap. Actually they shoot .410s and the 28 ga is left for birds, the games are for practice, or for those whom "think" they may be best slowing down for preventative sake.

Two fella not only detached retina, but suffered injuries to neck. NO Shotguns, No longguns. Well they do shoot rimfire handgun and rifles, mostly handgun.

MY close friend and former shooting partener uses the 835 Ultra Mag. Yep like a friggin train wreck. He shoots 7/8 oz loads for skeet and trap with this gun. [ an old pump gunner -shoot one gun and know it type] . He doves hunts and quil hunts with it as well, using 7/8 oz, maybe up to 1 1/8 oz. Pheasants he increases the load again, Ducks, he uses the load needed not excessive. Geese, depending again, but theonly time he goes full bore with the loads.

My friend is preaching what Dave and others have for years. Learn and shoot light loads, pattern loads for task at hand. Use the load for task needed. This does not mean use whomper-stomper for everything.

He has ( like many of us) runs thousands upon thousands of rounds per year. I know we both ran 25k rds of 12 ga alone together for years...then add the other gauges.

Being a Dr., he knows and sees the effects. Admonishes and teaches others. He wants to continue shooting for a while yet. He too is interested in the Bismuth idea. Neither of us have the time to T&E as we once did. Ok I did most of it, but he was involved.

I have a number of folks that went to Gas guns simply to hedge any physical problems.

My interest also falls to those shooting over dekes at close range for ducks. Gas guns in 20 ga and bismuth might be the ticket. Granted not the allure of big ducks, or even geese...maybe jsut allow a few to enjoy the sport a bit longer. Pixies may be able to share a moment with granparent.

Just a thought, I'm curious.

Dave McCracken
February 2, 2004, 12:28 PM
308, the 20 will work on ducks,IMO,if shots are kept inside that 35 yard point I keep talking about. The thing is, the 12 also works and has goose capability to boot.

sm, no hunting is worth putting up with unethical and unsafe folks. Life's too short as it is.

I'm not ready to retire my 12 gauges, but working down loads to 7/8 oz means I shouldn't have to for a while.

February 2, 2004, 05:53 PM
Just a plain 12 gauge Mossy for me. My targets are usually jumping ducks and geese out of a canoe. Simulate by doing this at the trap range: Sit down, lay your shotgun across two pieces of wood-precariously balanced. Then hold a canoe paddle. On the command, drop your paddle, grab the shotgun, mount it over a Class III PFD, and fire. If you can take one inside 25 yds, you're a better man than me :)

February 2, 2004, 06:15 PM
Can anyone explain what exactly is a detached reticle?


Dave McCracken
February 2, 2004, 06:27 PM
PS, used to do combined squirrel and duck drifts on various branches of the upper Patuxent. Fun indeed.

Steve, as I understand it, a detached retina is when the back wall of the eyeball kinda delaminates. Not good.

February 2, 2004, 06:40 PM
Can anyone explain what exactly is a detached reticle?

What you get when you put a $39.95 Simmons on a .338 Lapua.

August 19, 2005, 02:17 PM
[Steve: "Can anyone explain what exactly is a detached reticle?"

Dave McC: " Steve, as I understand it, a detached retina is when the back wall of the eyeball kinda delaminates. Not good."

I realize this is a thread that ended a long time ago, but I'll add a post to it just for the archives. (I found this thread while searching archives for this very topic.)

I'm a biologist who has taught anatomy and physiology classes in the past, so let me clarify the terms retina & detached retina.

The retina is a layer of millions of specialized nerve cells, called rods & cones, that exist as the inner layer of a human (or other vertebrate animal) eye. The retina is the "business end" of the eye as it is what transduces the light "carrying" the image into the electrical signals that travel to your brain, resulting in the emergence of a visual image. That is, the retina intercepts the light rays (photons), which cause the retinal cells (rods & cones) to create an electrical impulse that travels via your optic nerve to your brain.

The retina is the inner layer of your eyeball, covering the back and sides. The ONLY thing that holds it against the back wall of your eye is a jelly-like material called the vitreous body. The vitreous body presses against the retina, holding it in place.

As we get older, the vitreous body begins to shrink, allowing the retina to detach from the wall of the eye. If enough of it detaches, loss of vision can occur. When a piece of the retina detaches, you'll wind up with a "hole" in your visual field. Of course, complete detachment leads to total blindness in that eye.

In those cases where detachment is possible, serious shocks - like gun recoil - to the head can exacerbate detachment.

In most cases, if you've got the money & catch the problem in time, retinas can be surgically reattached.


Dave McCracken
August 19, 2005, 03:09 PM
Thanks for that info, Nema. Nice to get an informed opinion....

August 19, 2005, 04:16 PM
thread hijack in progress...A friend of mine had it happen while we were out flying RC sailplanes recently. His eye began watering heavily, and his vision field began going away on the left side.
He got to the vision specialist, and they do a technique where they pierce your eyeball with, what he described as a 'knitting needle' and prop up your retina with it, as they spotweld your retina with a laser. He says the laser feels cold and gave him an icecream headache. The surgery failed, and now hes having major surgery where they replace the vitreous humor with silicone(?) as the eye heals. All in all something I DONT want to experience.

August 19, 2005, 04:17 PM

Likewise - thanks for the info. I wonder at what point recoil becomes problematic, leading to this condition? There are evidently variables, but it would be nice to know some rough comcepts.


August 19, 2005, 05:28 PM
wow, i got shivers just reading slopemeno's post. I want no needles in my eye propping up my retina while they weld it back on :eek:

I'm actually glad to see this thread reborn for another go at this. I considered posting a new thread either in shotguns, rifles or just general gun discussions about retinal detachment, and may do so yet, but for now, as long as we're here...

I've been researching HD shotguns for about a month. In the process, I've surfed in several shotgun threads, even started one (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=150273) , gotten some good advice about it from Dave McC, Lee Lapin, and numerous others. (Thanks). I've finally identified the one I want (Remington 870P, order #4403), and located a source (which turned out to be remarkably difficult).

But then, yesterday, I ran across some post, I think one of Dave McC's, that mentioned the danger of retinal detachment as a result of shooting.

Well, darn, I hadn't thought of that before, and it's somewhat relevant to me. I'm 55, and retinal problems run in my family. A grandfather and two aunts went blind from macular degeneration, another separate but related retina disease. I've always had "floaters" - little shadowy "rag-like" threads in my visual field, most people have them to one degree or another - but they've increased in number in recent years and are an indicator (if I understand correctly) of a deteorating vitreous body.

About three years ago, I started occasionally (once per week to several per day) experiencing little flashes of light in my peripheral (side) vision, so I went to an opthamologist who did an eye exam. I told him that I'm fairly active athletically (I'm a mad dancer, dancing very hard to some pretty hard driving elecrtronic music, and can keep up with or outdance people 30 years younger than me :cool: ), and so was concerned that hard dancing might rip a retina. I wasn't shooting at the time, and hadn't shot a shotgun in, say, 30 years.

His assessment then: yes, there is some degradation of my vitreous body, but no ostensible sign of retinal detachment. When I asked him about dancing he said, (exact quote which i remember to this day), "Oh don't worry, go ahead and dance. If it comes off, we'll just put it back on." Small comfort. :scrutiny:

So then yesterday, I read this comment about shotguns & retinal detachment. I've spent some time this morning searching the archives (keyword: retina, retinal detachment). I've found a few threads that address it in the three forums mentioned above, but nothing conclusive. The best advice I found was, talk with your eye doctor.

So, I called my opthamology clinic (a medical consortium specializing in eye care).

I asked if any of the doctors there had experience shooting guns of any kind, in particular was familiar with the recoil of a 12 ga. One apparently is, and said: 1) if I had had an "official" detachment, and especially surgery to repair it, they would recommend strongly not shooting; but 2) since I haven't had an "official", diagnosed problem, that he would see no problem with me shooting, but 3) they can't and won't make any more recommendation until the do an official eye exam. For me, that's $185 and I have no insurance.

Hmmm. The price of that 870 just went up at least $185. And if it did cause a retinal problem, it could be much more expensive.

So, my current strategy:
1) eye exam in next couple of weeks
2) try to attract the attention of an opthamologist(s) on THR to make a comment about this. (Anybody know any that are on the list or at least shooters?)
3) ask myself a hard question: how bad do I need a shotgun for HD? Will my Kahr K9 suffice, or maybe supplement it with a larger caliber, and use the K9 for carry?

Darn. I had my mouth all set for a shotgun, but I'm going to think this one through very carefully, because shooting a shotgun (or anything else) is not an option for a partially blind person. :uhoh:

<sigh> :banghead: <-- PS: that can't be good for retinas. :D

Any thoughts? Anybody know any physicians, especially opthamologists, on THR?


August 19, 2005, 06:09 PM
You could post a thread in General Gun Discussions about the problem of retinal detachment in relation to shooting, and ask for input. I'm sure there'll be some responses.

As for the shotgun: remember that 12ga. isn't your only option. I've had two back surgeries over the past 18 months, and a normal 12ga. is now (according to my doctors) a bit too much of a good thing for me. So, I'm trying two things. I've ordered a Knoxx Copstock, and when it arrives, I'm going to see how good it is at recoil reduction. If it is as good as they claim, I'll fit it to all my 12ga. pumps, and that should solve my problem. If it isn't as good, then I'll go down to a 20ga. in a soft-recoiling semi-auto action like the Remington 1100. This should reduce felt recoil by at least a third as compared to a typical 12ga. pump-action shotgun.

There are always options. Being without a shotgun for defensive use is not one of them, as far as I'm concerned!

August 19, 2005, 07:29 PM
There are always options. Being without a shotgun for defensive use is not one of them, as far as I'm concerned! thanks for the reminder, Preacherman. I 'spect you're right.

I'll probably take your suggestion and start a thread on the retinal detachment issue in the GGD forum. Seems appropriate. That way, any one with any recoil producing weapon from 20 ga. to M1 tank can chime in. There's a couple of threads already there that address the issue some, but dated 2004 or before. Sight is an impotant issue for all shooters, so ...

But back to shotgun recoil reduction specifically for a minute. May I ask, please, why did you decide to go with the Copstock and not one of Knoxx's others, like the SpecOps?


I've looked at them a bit on the web (still haven't seen one in real time), and even tried to do a bit of archival research.

The SpecOps is $20 bucks more, but from the images on their site, it seems like it would be more comfortable than the Copstock, unless it's the folding part you're after.

I confess, I'm not fond of the look and I really, really don't want a pistol grip. I'm still relatively speaking sort of "old school", and just like the look and feel of a "traditional" (albeit synthetic) stock. (Maybe I'm not so old school after all. If so, I'd be getting wood furniture. :)


Dave McCracken
August 19, 2005, 08:39 PM
A couple things about eyes and shotguns....

The guy I know with a detached retina is in his mid 60s, and admits he shot over 100K of trap loads when he shot registered. He was also a semi pro football player. That's another detacher there. Rodeo riders and jockeys also have some issues with retinas, I understand.

I had cataract surgery a few years back. No probs to report, I did have to lay off shooting for a month after each surgery.

IMO, use of light loads and subgauges can help even the oldest shotgunners avoid the consequences of too much jolt. My pet load is about half the free recoil of a 1275 FPS, 1 1/8 oz load as oft used for clays and hunting.

A 28 gauge packs more moxie than most handgun rounds, and kick is tiny. A 28 gauge Express would make a nice defensive arm for the elderly, the gimpy, or the smallest of us.

And shooting a 28 is muich fun, which encourages regular practice.

August 20, 2005, 10:41 AM
I'll be following this subject, too. I've had "floaters" in my eyes since childhood and never really knew what caused it.

I'm also interested, because in addition to 12 gauges, I also have 10 gauges, .458 Win Mags, a .458 Lott, .375 H&Hs, .338 Win Mags, .45-70s, etc. I'd like to know at what point in recoil, it can be problematic (recoil over the years certainly contributes, too).

I guess those old punt guns had more benefits than I realized...


August 20, 2005, 10:53 AM
Really heavy recoil guns, 458Win and above have been known to cause a number of problems .It does involve more than just recoil such as age etc. Detached retina, nerve problems in the neck[ the head whips back and forth],muscle and nerve damage in the shoulder. High recoil handguns like the 500 S&W can cause damage to the wrist. Those guns are not for me especially at my age. On the www.accuratereloading.com website there are videos of people shooting high recoil guns .Watch them and ask yourself if you want to shoot them !!!

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