12-Bore or 20-Bore ?

We have all heard it said: “Isn’t that a lady’s gun?”

But the truth is, 20-bores and indeed other ‘small bore’ shot guns have become more and more fashionable in recent times. I have frequented many driven shoots where only the minority are shooting a 12-bore, but equally, I know some top lady shots who seriously disagree with the above anecdote, who shoot nothing but a 12-bore.

A fact that many sporting folks are unaware of, is that the ‘12’ in 12-bore is actually a division of weight, rather than a unit of length. The ‘12’ in 12-bore refers to the diameter of a sphere of lead, generated by a 12th of a pound of lead, and the ‘20’ in 20-bore refers to the diameter of a sphere of lead generated by a 20th of a pound of lead, and so on. This explains why the barrel diameter of a 20-bore is smaller than a 12-bore impacting the weight and manoeuvrability.

In days gone by, the immediate choice for young shots, or the ladies who required something lighter and more manoeuvrable than a 12-bore, may have been a 20-bore, 28-bore or even a .410.

However, advances in modern cartridge technology, the introduction of smaller loads and a broader range of 12-bores with the likes of Beretta and Browning’s ‘Vittoria’ or ‘Liberty Light’ models has caused a significant downward shift in this trend.

This is not to say small bores do have their advantages. For avid game shooters, or those who embark on many a walked-up day, having a 20-bore broken over the arm is particularly less tiresome than lugging around its 12-bore cousin. Performance wise, many advocate that the killing capability of a 20-bore with the correct load on a high pheasant day, and of course an effective marksman will be equally as effective as a 12-bore.

Transitioning from a 12-bore onto a 20-bore has also become a rite of passage, as well as a status simple for a shot who consider themself effective enough to move down to a smaller calibre. I myself have recently purchased by first 20-bore, after over 15 years using a 12-bore – although I must confess, I don’t consider myself to be particularly effective with either.

So, which one is it?

For many, and myself included personal preference comes to mind – it is very much a ‘horses for courses’ matter. For competitive clay shooting, broad consensus is that a 12-bore would be the appropriate tool, as it may be for pursuits particularly large loads are required.

However, for those who have not shot a smaller bore before, I would encourage you try your hand, as it can be a refreshing change, as well as rather rewarding – many often find they shoot better and wish they had changed many moons ago!

Words by Jack Gifford


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