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“Sweet 20”


Red Label 20 gauge O/U

Red Label 20 gauge O/U


When I was a kid, I used to hear people talk about their “sweet 16’s”. All gun manufacturers made 16gauge shotguns and they were not only lighter than a 12 gauge, but they were sleek and packed almost the same punch. They were somehow given the designation of being tough yet delicate and just as reliable for most types of hunting requiring a shotgun. Twenty gauges were considered too light for pheasants and generally thought of as a kid’s or “little ladies” gun. Today, with the modern loads, a 20 gauge is as effective as a 16, and in most cases, a 12 gauge.

Though 16 gauge shotguns were common, it was the Browning 16 gauge that was most often referred to as the “sweet 16.”

Unlike the days when one gun was considered enough for all types of hunting, today, most people have several ….and I’m no exception. I’m reluctant to admit to exactly how many shotguns I own – no sense worrying “She Who Must Be Obeyed” – but suffice it to say, I’m not shotgun poor. Having said that and despite occasionally cleaning and admiring my collection, when it comes right down to it, I use one gun almost exclusively. My Ruger Red Label 20 gauge is my gun of choice and accompanies me both in the field as well as on the skeet range despite the barrels being improved cylinder and modified.

A few years ago I was invited to a wild game dinner at the local country club and bought a few tickets for a raffle of several nice guns. Luck was in my pocket that night and I won a beautiful Franchi over and under20 gauge with gold inlays. Holding that gun by its fine European walnut stock lets the workmanship shines through both in the engraving and the checkering of the stock. I’ve owned this gun now for a few years and have yet to fire one shell through it – it hasn’t even had a shell in the chamber. There are other guns too, 12’s, a “sweet 16”, 20’s of all types, but the Red Label is what you’ll find me with afield.

I read once where the writer found himself in the same dilemma as me who said the best thing you can do to avoid not using a fine shotgun, is to take it out and let it get that little scratch only you can see, and from then on, you won’t think of it other than being something made to hunt with.

I think we have that same mentality about other things too. Take a four wheel drive vehicle. A Jeep used to have the connotation of an off read vehicle -that’s what the four wheel drive was built for – but the original Jeep has been reinvented and takes on the appearance of a family sedan not meant to be scratched let alone drive through terrain it was originally built for. Part of the reason is these things cost so much more today and are made to look more like a luxury vehicle than a car to explore the back roads of rural wooded country.

Getting back to the 20 gauge, I don’t think – with the exception of duck hunting – that there is a game bird I can’t hunt with the Red Label. The modern loads are so much better than they were 35 years ago, I can reach and deliver punch almost as far as with a 12. The big difference, of course, is the pattern density. But with practice and an understanding of the different chokes, even that can be overcome.

The new problem we shot gunners have is how to afford the ammunition. It’s not cheap to go through a box or two of shells. Even sales by the case for cheap loads are twice the price they were a couple of years ago. The answer for me is to load my own.

Loading your own is not only less expensive than buying premium loads, it allows you to tune the load to your shotgun or as my friend Jack Gumbetter said, “Once you know how your shotgun spits them out, you can load to your guns preference.”…..and that can make the difference between breaking 23 or 25.

As far as I’m concerned, the 20 gage is the just right gauge for upland birds; all it needs is the proper ammunition and care and lots of use. … Seamus thinks to too.



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