Pro Tips: 3 Ways for Aging Hunters to Lighten their Load

Written By: George Wakeman

From left to right: a 12-gauge, 16-gauge, 20-gauge, and-28 gauge shell. The differences in size and weight do not really come through as clearly as they do when you have 10-20 rounds in your vest pockets.
All photos by George Wakeman

If you’ve noticed that advancing age is starting to limit the location and duration of your hunts, then consider lightening your load by reducing the size of your gun and/or ammo. Carrying less weight will boost your walking pace, and help you to be more sure-footed when traversing obstacles such as downed trees or thick brush. In my experience, lighter loads and smaller gauges are still more than enough–as long as the shot is accurate–so they don’t really present much of a handicap. Here are three ways to lighten up your gear to help make hunting more enjoyable, and hopefully prolong the number of days and seasons you can get out and participate.

1. Use a Smaller Gauge

Your first consideration, particularly for upland hunters, should be going to a smaller gauge. Remember that this alone doesn’t necessarily confer a disadvantage: there are 1-ounce loads for 20-gauge shotguns (which are great for pheasant by the way) and 7/8-ounce loads for 12-gauges, just for example. But reducing the gauge almost always reduces the weight of both the gun and ammo, particularly when dropping down to 20-gauge or 28-gauge. You’ll be able to mount and swing the gun more efficiently later in the day, possibly translating to more birds in the bag.

A 28-gauge AYA side-by-side (above) compared to a Remington 1100 auto loader (below).

2. Use a Two-Shot Gun

Over-unders and side-by-sides are lighter than semi-autos and pumps, so investing in one of these configurations may lighten your load by up to a full pound or more. And in the tight cover typically favored by many upland bird species, the likelihood of needing more than 2 shots is low, so being limited to only two shots isn’t usually much of a disadvantage, if any. Once again, the lighter gun will reduce fatigue over a day of walking, and therefore permit quicker mounting and swinging on a departing bird later in the hunt.

Reducing your carry weight will leave you less exhausted at the end of a long hunt.

3. Use Lighter Loads

Some game birds, such as grouse, woodcock, and quail, do not require a lot of pellets to bring down, so if you’re stuck on using a 12-gauge for the time being, you can still use lighter loads. In my experience, even ⅞ ounce loads–which are only designed to travel around 1,200 feet per second–are more than adequate. They’re still fast enough to hit sporting clays that leave the trap at 45 miles per hour, and birds leaving the ground don’t reach anywhere near those speeds. There are also a number of articles, written by people with experience and technical backgrounds far above my pay grade, which contend that higher speeds cause pattern density and consistency to deteriorate, leaving holes and gaps that can result in missed or wounded birds.

George Wakeman is a guest columnist.

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