Weighing in at a standard 3/4 oz. of lead shot
and standing 2 3/4 inches tall, the 28 gauge is the smallest of the shotgun gauge
s in mainstream production today. To avoid confusion, there is a smaller shotgun cartridge
- the .410 bore
, but it cannot rightly be called a "gauge" because the bore diameter is not measured in the same manner as the rest of modern day shotguns. Hence, the .410 bore is simply that- a shotgun with a nominal bore diameter of .410 inches. The 28 gauge, on the other hand, is measured in the same fashion as its cousins; that is to say, it is measured by the amount of lead balls that fit into the diameter of the bore stacked one upon another that equals one pound in weight. The nominal diameter of the bore is .550 inches, thus, it would take 28 lead balls the size of the barrel
diameter to equal one pound.
The 28 gauge is used for small game hunting; in particular, the 28 gauge is used for quail hunting. In south Georgia, for instance, it is the gauge. The culture of hunting wild quail in south Georgia is exemplified in Tom Wolfe's book A Man in Full. Hunting quail with a 28 gauge is a borderline religion, much like hunting ducks in Stuttgart, Arkansas. It is not unheard of to hear about someone who was invited to a plantation, usually owned by a family for the singular purpose of hunting quail, and bringing a 12 gauge instead of a 28. Such a guest is either given another gun to use or not allowed to shoot. It other words, it would be like being one of the dogmatic faithful to a religion but not owning the requisite holy book.
The 28 gauge is a low recoiling cartridge that has swooned many hunters. Where it really shines is (and mostly used) in the sport of skeet shooting. In fact, it is skeet shooting that has kept the little cartridge from falling into obscurity. The game of skeet is shot with different gauges- the 12, 20, 28 and .410 bore. By establishing a class of competition in which the 28 gauge would be shot, the cartridge has continued to exist. If it wasn't for skeet, the 28 gauge would have much the same status as the 16 gauge.
No one really understands the reason why the 28 gauge works as well as it does for such an otherwise diminutive cartridge. A typical load of 3/4 oz. of lead shot is really paltry compared to the 12 gauge and its standard 1 1/8 oz. load. The reason it performs so well is most likely related to the diameter of the shot column in conjunction with the diameter of the bore; but in ballistics, we can not directly observe what is truly going on during the firing sequence and so any claims made regarding this relationship should be considered non-canon. Nevertheless, the 28 gauge patterns very well and is deadly on both small game birds and clay pigeons.
Higher internal pressures are the result of smaller size of the shell, and as a result, make reloading of the 28 gauge slightly more difficult. Powder selection is key; the burn rate can neither be too fast or too slow. Good powders for reloading the 28 gauge shells are Alliant Powder Company's Unique and Hodgdon Powder Company's Universal Clays. Case life with the 28 gauge is, with match grade hulls, spotty at best. For Remington Premier cases, expect 3 to 5 reloads and for the Winchester AA cases, expect 5 to 7 reloads. Compared with the 12 and 20 gauge cases which can exceed 10 reloads each, the 28 gauge shells suffer from burning twice as bright but only living half as long.
While the big three (Federal Cartridge Company, Remington, Winchester) American ammunition manufacturers produce 28 gauge shells, the choice is sparse &mdash you either use the target loads with typically 7.5, 8, 8.5 or 9 sized shot, or the field loads with either 6 or 7.5 sized shot.
Not really a niche shotgun gauge, but certainly not as popular as the 12 and 20 gauge, the 28 gauge has its place in the hunting field or the skeet field.