Cult Gauges: Reloading 12- and 28-Gauge Shotshells
May 03, 2015
Both the 16 and 28 gauge seem to experience a meteoric resurgence about once a decade, then fade into semi-obsolescence for a time, only to later rise again in popularity. Thankfully, we appear to be in one of the mini-booms, with several new shotguns available for both gauges.
For preparing ammo for either gauge, I used a pair of MEC loaders that I've had for many years. Winchester and Remington offer one-piece plastic 16- and 28-gauge wads, and Ballistic Products Inc. is an excellent mail-order source. In addition to these brands, BP has an extensive line of specialty 16- and 28-gauge wads for other than the traditional charge weights and offers loading manuals for both gauges.
Prepare your test loads just as if you were developing a new elk load. Weigh each powder and shot charge. Shoot (at least) a five-round sample, and record your data. Then chronograph your ammo to see how it compares with your favorite factory fodder. Strive for uniformity (i.e. a low SD). After you select a load, install an adjustable bar in your loader, and use the scale to set the powder and shot weights.
There is only so much volume in a shotshell, so components have to be selected for optimum fit and good crimps. For most loads, a one-piece plastic wad is just the ticket for traditional shot weights. For light loads, old-fashioned card wads can be used as filler to take up space in the shot cup. Use 28-gauge card wads for the 16 and .410-bore wads for the 28. In addition, for some 16-gauge loads, a 16-gauge card wad can be placed under the plastic wad column to raise it up, and, if necessary, a 28-gauge card can be placed in the shot cup to bring the shot level up to the top of the cup. Several of the loads shown in the nearby tables were put together using these techniques, and they work just fine. (Check the BP manuals for more details.)
The 16 gauge is designed around one- and 1â…›-ounce loads, but a couple of lightweights offer a step down in recoil. A charge of ¾ or â…ž ounce of shot at a nominal 1,135 to 1,200 fps will break clays and bust birds with authority, and it won't kick off your boots. Good powders for such loads are Nitro 100, IMR-PB and Winchester Super Field. Here we can use over-powder and under-shot card wads to good effect.
The traditional 16-gauge one-ounce field load is easy to duplicate. Velocities vary from 1,023 fps with 26.0 grains of HS-7 to 1,212 fps over 21.0 grains of Herco. A great all-around load is 20.0 grains of Universal at 1,160 fps. This almost exactly duplicates the velocity of one-ounce factory loads.
Although not widely publicized, a shot weight of 1â‚â‚† ounces of shot makes a fine balanced load for the 16. My pick is 22.5 grains of SR-7625 for a speed of 1,178 fps. Patterns are great; recoil is modest.
Field loads of 1â…› ounces of shot are the most popular, and component fit is perfect with most plastic wads. Green Dot is a traditional powder for the 16 gauge, and a charge of 18.6 grains with a Remington SP-16 wad duplicates the factory load at 1,183 fps. Unique and HS-7 are also fine for this shot weight. Finally, there is the "magnum" load of 1¼ ounces of shot for the 16. The one load shown is a good one, but at 1,208 fps, recoil could be a bit grim in a light gun.
The 28 gauge has much to offer with handloads. The load with â… ounce of shot may raise some eyebrows, but it is perfect for white-tailed ptarmigan or blue grouse in the black timber. No. 4s or 5s are perfect for these birds, as all you have to do is hit 'em with a couple of pellets. A charge of â… ounce of this large shot usually fills the shot cup, but for smaller shot sizes, just place a .410-bore card wad — or two — under the shot, if necessary, for a good fit.
I've shot thousands of 28-gauge reloads with ¾ ounce of 9s at skeet, and I've settled on a load that duplicates Winchester's AA. A charge of 17.0 grains of Winchester 540 (or Hodgdon HS-6) gives a velocity of 1,188 fps, and no clay bird could escape as long as I pointed the M-101 right. It's also a great dove and quail load with 8s or 7½s.
The â‚â‚†- and â‚â‚†-ounce loads are also delightful to shoot. These shot charges fit nicely in most cases with the standard Remington PT28 and Winchester AA wads with Universal, HS-6 or HS-7 powder.
The heaviest practical shot weight in the 28 is â…ž ounce. Dense, spherical powders such as Longshot, Lil'Gun and HS-7 are perfect for conserving space for the shot charge, and velocities are right at 1,200 fps.
Older manuals list data for one-ounce loads for the 28, but these are less than optimum. It's almost impossible to get powder and shot in a case with a one-piece plastic wad and get a good crimp. Card and fiber wads can be used, but with no plastic to protect the shot, patterns suffer. Also, the observed velocities of one-ounce 28-gauge loads barely break 1,000 fps; this is also the case with factory one-ounce loads.
The 16 and 28 gauges date from the turn of the century. They may not be as popular as the 12 and 20 these days, but like a lot of old-timers, they're good to have around.