Barrel Length 101....


Dave McCracken
April 26, 2004, 04:26 PM
Ask ten shotgunners the ideal barrel length for any aspect of shotgunning and you'll get at least eleven opinions. Here's a couple of mine....

The barrels here on and for sundry 870s start at 18" and a hair. There's two at 20", another two nominally 21", then we jump to one that's 26", then there's three 30" jobs ranging in age from 1955 to 2003.

The shorter versions are a mix between "Serious"/slug barrels and youth models. Frankenstein's Turkey barrel completes that end. The 26" is This Old Barrel told about in other threads. The long ones get used for hunting and clays.

But, I've taken more winged game with Frankenstein's bunty 21" barrel than the others. A short barreled repeater has lots of utility for hunting. The longer barrels do swing "better" due to inertia, and few of us hunt the thick stuff all the time. But, one can raise some eyebrows when hunting with a shotgun seemingly better suited for guarding prisoners than taking bobwhite over a leggy pointer.

Both long barrels and shorter ones have upsides and downsides, Let's compare and contrast....

Shorter ones can be used in tighter circumstances, whether it's HD in a hallway or hunting woodcock in an alder swamp.

Shorter ones make a shotgun balance a little further back, all else equal. This speeds employment a bit, but the downside is that such are easier to both start and stop. We all have troubles sometimes with stopping the swing, a short barrel will add to that.

Firing off barnburner loads in short barrels can be impressive in low light under normal conditions, and blinding in a crisis. This can be offset by load selection, but even the difference between my 18" and 20" barrelled "Serious" shotguns can be seen when using 00.

The Estate SWAT stuff, BTW, has less flash than most I've tried.

And the BIG reason "Turkey" barrels are short is not portability nor quickness. A shorter barrel's movement occurs in a smaller and less visible arc. When trying to kill birds with enormous powers of vision like a turkey, that's more important than one might think.

The blast of some of the heavy stuff out of those barrels wll give you a fast headache. That will clear up well before we get our birds back to the truck.

Long barrels, naturally, are the reverse. For those sensitive to kick and blast,having the muzzle another 8-10" further away can be helpful. Clay shooters like long barrels for a plethora of reasons. This is not last on the list.

The extra weight out front can also reduce muzzle rise, another event that the brain can interpret as kick and pain.

If you backed me into a corner so I couldn't retreat and asked what barrel length to get if all we could have was ONE repeater with ONE barrel, I'd probably say something between 20 and 23". But like all compromises, it'd not be as good at a particular mission as a dedicated barrel of appropriate length.

For clays or the stuff where we can use longer barrels advantageously, we can screw in those ubiquitous extended choke tubes and add both length and weight.

Remember that an 18" barreled 870 runs about the same length as a double with 27" barrels.

Doubles other than the coach guns run 26 to 32" barrel lengths, with the longer more oft used for clays and the shorter ones in the field.

Every now and then I get asked something like," Will a ____ length barrel work for _____?".


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Fred Fuller
April 26, 2004, 06:37 PM
One more chapter topic for that book, Dave. Hope you're compiling these and expanding them to chapter length in your spare time... ;^)


April 26, 2004, 09:46 PM
Very much appreciated, thanks.

April 27, 2004, 12:41 AM
Thanks for another great post on yet another great topic often misunderstood and argued about.

Dave McCracken
April 27, 2004, 04:58 AM
Thanks, folks.

Lee, what spare time? Last week I put in 71 hours on the job. With luck this week, only 40. As to whether this needs expanding to chapter length, some of Shotgun 101's chapters will be quite terse.

Mayhap the shorter ones should be called "Chaptoids"...

April 27, 2004, 10:47 AM
As always, many thanks Dave.

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