My definition of ultralights
...for fun hunting
by Bill Byrd

When I first began to hunt with a shotgun, I shot the normal 12 gauge. I had a pump or two, an autoloader or two and a couple of side-by-sides. I even had an old bolt action clip loading full choke .410 "squirrel" gun that my wife's grandfather had owned -- which I shot for a few years.

Because I was never taught HOW to shoot a shotgun, and I became tired of wasting shells, I finally picked up the definitive book Shotgunning: The art and science about 1975 and taught myself how to shoot. It made a huge difference. I was shooting a 12 gauge Ithaca SKB 700 customized skeet gun, and reloading and shooting 12 boxes of shells a week until I could really hit. That changed my whole shotgunning experience. Generally now if I can see it I can hit it.

I may be the only person on the planet who carries a sit down skeet thrower and some clay targets constantly in his vehicle prior and during hunting season. When I get the chance I go pop some skeet. I am fortunate to have access to family private property where I can shoot without the usual adjacent noise and witnesses. Standard range skeet shooting isn't the best hunting simulation for hunting so normally I shoot on private property in a pine thicket edge and throw the skeet just through the tops of the brush. Sound familiar? It simulates real hunting conditions and makes me a much better shooter and hunter.

What I didn't realize in my early adult days was that in my early retirement years -- TODAY -- I would concentrate on light gauge shotguns as the most comfortable and most sporting shotguns to shoot. It is all about knowledge and experience. Now even shooting target loads I can very effectively get the game I am seeking with these wonderful light gauges.

My current hunting preference is to go afield for birds with one of my 20, 28, or .410 gauge shotguns to shoot skeet or to hunt over some beautiful highly trained dogs for quail, doves, chukar partridges, Hungarian partridges, and pheasants in Georgia. If I can arrange it, I'll hunt rabbits with a brace of beagles, too. I'll probably throw in a deer hunt day or two this season.

How did I conclude lighter is better? Over the past 53 years as I spoke with very experienced shotgunners I realized that the majority of them consider a 28 gauge to be a prime gauge to shoot in small game pursuits. However with the proper shooting load I find a high quality .410 is hard to beat. So this is how I unscientifically decided that the light/ultralight shotgun includes the 20 gauge, 28, gauge, and .410. The 20 and 28 gauges are the light and the .410 is the ultralight. Does it really matter? NO. If you enjoy what you are shooting and you hit your target -- that is what matters!

For my money the 12 gauge is probably the most versatile gauge, with the greatest variety of loads for it commercially manufactured, and selling inexpensively. Next I rate the 20 gauge. Given the proper loads and charge a 20 gauge can be quite the hunting tool, so long as you know its limitations. 20 gauge, and certainly 28 and .410 gauge are much more expensive if you can find them ammunition available. I wouldn't shoot long range ducks and geese with a 20 gauge, 28 gauge, or .410., but small game and game birds at under 30 yards I find the light gauges on target, and a lot more fun to carry in the field. Consistency in field loads and shooting are VERY important when shooting these gauges.

Based on the advice of a hunting guide friend I began to shoot #6 loads even in these light gauges. They carry better, hold the pattern fine, let me mount and shoot faster, and bring down the game. Number 6 shot also have a tendency to pass through so your birds aren't full of bbs.

If you haven't discovered the world of light/ultralight shotgunning -- try it. It can be awesome!

If you think mostly I fish light / ultralight you are right. I incorporate the same concepts in hunting as in fishing. Why shoot an 10 gauge shoulder crippler when a 28 gauge or .410 will add to the sport, drop the game, and be orthopedically smarter. As always, match the gear to the hatch or hunt and enjoy yourself more!

Bill Byrd