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December 05, 2008

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Bourjaily: Why I am a Girlie-Man

It’s a bad bird year around here, so people I know have been traveling for their pheasants. A friend of mine just came back from northwest Iowa, impressed by the numbers of birds but bemused at his reception by the locals. “They called me a girlie- man hunter because I shoot a 12 gauge,” Cody reported. “They said real men shoot 20 gauges.”

Me, I own guns of other gauges, but the half dozen I actually take out of the cabinet to hunt and shoot with are all 12s. Admittedly, one of the reasons I only shoot 12s is simple-minded:  I don’t want to get to the field only to find I’ve brought the wrong gauge ammunition.

Of course, all my ammunition would fit all my guns if I shot only 16s or only 20s, but I don’t. No other gauge comes close to being as versatile as the 12. Mine range from a double weighing less than most 20 gauges to a near 9-pound target gun with 32 inch barrels, and I shoot loads from 3/ 4 of an ounce (targets) up to 1 3/ 4 ounces (turkeys) out of them. The big bore of the 12 gauge helps it pattern well with a wide variety of payloads. If you shoot steel shot, it takes a hull the size of a 12 gauge’s to hold enough of the light pellets to kill a duck or a goose. And, as much fun as light, skinny small bores are to handle, I believe it’s easier to shoot well with a gun that’s a little more substantial and hand-filling.

All of the above seem like logical reasons to shoot 12s to me. Still, the idea persists among some hunters that small gauge guns are somehow more sporting and more manly because they give the birds “a chance” (A chance to fly off and die crippled maybe). Me, I will stick to my 12 gauges. Just today I had a shot at a rooster with a 25 mph north wind under his tail. By the time I got the gun up he was 35-40 yards out and quartering away. If I had brought a small gauge gun like the 28 my partner was shooting, I don’t know what would have happened, but when I shot my 12 gauge at the rooster, it crashed to the ground dead. If that makes me a girlie-man, I’m okay with it.


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I say to each their own. I've used 12's, 16's and 20's and like them all.

Quite frankly, I see the bigger problem in bird hunting being the loss of good bird habitat throughout the country than choosing what shotgun to use.

Even the fanciest of shotguns (in any gauge) does you little good with no birds to hunt.



I am a big fan of the 20 guage for upland-bird hunting here in Wisconsin. While a 12 gauge works well for pheasant and ruffed grouse, a close direct hit with one can be disastrous on a woodcock or mourning dove. Your dog will be sniffing the pile of feather slowly floating to the ground.


I must affirm Phil’s basic position on 12-ga use and opinions. Using a 12-ga makes Upland Life easier IF:

The 12-ga is light weight for the Uplands. E.g. Close to or under 7-lbs. Since I passed on my Beretta 686 EL to my son I’m using an 1100 12-ga for pheasants. This 1100’s heavy and is considerably slow to get on target for ruffed grouse. The small gauges have their position for the Uplands…..particularly in since I’ll be looking at the wrong side of 60 in a few days.

It’s been my experience and observation as a minimum 1-oz shot loads and IC Choke are needed for Upland success. I can find this criteria in 12, 16, 20, and 28, and if I can handle the shotgun well I’m very confident of dispatching any Upland game bird in a reasonable hunting situation.


It's more important to shoot the gauge you are confident in, rather than choosing a smaller gauge (or in some instances a larger one) to appease the crowd.


"Bigger is better" seems to be the most logical reasoning for a hunting rifle or shotgun. I've never heard anyone suggest a .223 is adequate for elk; sure, it would work, but why try? The 12 gauge just makes sense. An expert might make a 20 or 28 (or even a .410) work in most situations, but a 12 gives the largest margin of error.

WA Mtnhunter

Just another fine example of "expert" hunters attempting to spread their gospel of using the lightest possible caliber/gauge for taking game. Insisting that a 20 GA is best for all upland gunning is as ridiculous as using a .243 or .257 as the ideal, or even adequate, elk cartridge.

Have these morons tried matching the 12 GA load (of which there are many) to the game at hand? You don't have to re-zero your shotgun!

Jason Norris

The same as with rifles, shotgun shooters need to be proficient with their weapon before heading into the field.
The few hunters I get to guide still cant hit a 20 yard pheasant over my pointer regardless of the gauge. Majority of the reasons are mounting the gun badly or not following thru on the shots.


Girlie man or not... I'll take a 12 any day when pheasant hunting behind flushing dogs because of your afore mentioned reasons.

If I'm following a pointer my lightening fast 20 ga over & under will be in my hands.

WA Mtnhunter


I hear you, man!

But at my age, not much is lightning fast!


I generally use a SxS 12 for grouse here in Wisconsin. I've found over the years that how well a gun handles can be crucial to success on these birds. I use a Bennelli Ultraight 12 semi-auto that weighs 6 lbs that I use for pheasants and geese (it's a 3 inch mag) but in a pinch I'm sure it would be quite suitable for grouse. For grouse late in the season the 12 has the pattern and carries the lead needed for the long shots which for me are frequently obstructed by brush. I have nothing against the smaller gauges but I'm about as light in weight in using a twelve as I want to be in a shotgun. (I would like a 28 ga though just for the heck of it).


This is the same trend that lead the fishing fraternity to the ultra-light tackle trend... and in my opinion it's a misguided and ethically poor direction for hunting.

In fishing, a broken line is the typical result of going too light. The fish will usually (but not always) swim off and throw the hook or the hook will corrode and the fish will be no worse for wear... again, usually. (In the extreme cases, as fishermen are learning, ultra-light tackle results in overfighting the fish and killing it... but most catch and release discussions tend to gloss that over and that's another topic for another place anyway.)

When it comes to hunting, though, going too light will too often result in a wounded animal that may or may not survive. What would often be a quick kill with adequate caliber will be a slow death when underpowered, and will often result in a lost animal because there are far too many hunters who couldn't follow a cable car on its own track.

With birds, you don't even get to track them. Most of the time you'll never know they're crippled.

Know the limitations of your chosen weapon and don't exceed them... there's nothing "sporting" about crippling game.


Last year, I needed to get my business rolling so made some hard choices. Decided to sell all my shotguns except my grandfather's Damascus double (which only sees black powder loads) and my dad's Model 12 ... in 12ga, with a fixed modified choke. So, right now, it's what I use for everything - turkey, grouse, woodcock, pheasant, squirrel, waterfowl, and clays. That's what my dad used it for. Most folk in his era had only one shotgun, which got used for everything.

I do miss the responsiveness of my expensive small bore side by sides on upland birds, and I miss the feel of my Superposed swinging on pheasant and clays, and I miss the flexibility and durability of my SBE. I hope to replace them someday. But I make do with the fixed bore 12ga. One ounce spreader reloads work fine for upland. The birds are actually more of a challenge and I haven't spoiled that much meat.

Also sold all my rifles except a .22 for small game and plinking, my dad's Model 94 .32WS, and my old Remington 760 .35Whelen. Some might say that it is overkill to use a .35Whelen for whitetail, but I have one scoped rifle right now and it is also going elk hunting next week.

Perhaps God should bless the elitists and the narrow-minded with similar circumstances. It's heartbreaking and humbling taking a nice gun collection down to hunting basics. Calling others girlie-men ... trade guns with them and let them know they are using less than square loads. They might want their guns back.


I shot doves in Argentina in April and used nothing by a 20ga Benelli auto. Another shooter used a 12ga 870 and he needed shoulder therapy for a week! I shot WILD pheasants in ND in October and used nothing by my 12ga Citori with 30" bbl. My feelling is that it is just as important to match the gun to the game when shooting winged game as it is to do so when shooting big game from deer to elephant.
We had two windy days in ND(imagine that). One of those days I was posting a large combination patch of cover and trees. Flushed birds had to immediately clear the treetops, then they turned downwind. When they reached me they were both high and going like hell. A 20ga, even in expert hands, would not have been adequate, but I killed birds regularly with my 12ga. On the other hand, shooting pointed pheasants in good cover where they flush at less than 20 yds makes a 20 pretty effective - especially if you have a very good retriever. I think, to some extent, there is the macho factor (hunters do have some of that) involved with using smaller guns. Both shotgun and rifle.


KJ, your post reminded me of the hard time I'm having finding .223 Federal ammo loaded with the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw (TBBC) bullet. Nine years ago a very young female hunter I tutored dropped a nice cow elk with this bullet. Since then she has graduated to a .243 (numerous kills, no cripples). I hope to take my very elderly (and frail) in-law to a Texas ranch for a deer hunt, and we're thinking the .223 load in TBBC would be ideal for these smallish whitetails. Anyone know where these can be found? We live in central Arizona. Thanks.

Jim in Mo

You better get on the phone now and call every gun shop you can. From what I see on Federals web site all bullets from .30 cal and smaller will be made in Trophy Bonded Tipped. Not as sturdy as the Bear Claw. good luck.

Dr. Ralph

Nice check Show me Jim... I was going to say Federal makes them in Vitalshock ammo no problem.

If being a girlie man means shooting a twelve count me in. With the advent of screw in chokes it makes it the perfect tool for every job... If you want more competion and a better chance for your game you don't need to shoot live animals. Save it for the clays and use .410 over unders. If you mean to kill something to eat do it as humanely as possible and shoot a 12 or better. My children say the Remington 1100 kicks less than any other shotgun we own and that includes 20 gauges and even a teeny weenie Rossi .410 that will jar your fillings loose.

Mike Diehl

12 ga does it all so it is the only shotgun bore size that I use.

WA Mtnhunter


Go to Conley Precision Cartridge on the web at cpcartridge.com and order some 52 grain Barnes TSX.

Try Kesselring's in Burlington WA 360-724-3113.

Clay Cooper

“They called YOU a girlie- man hunter because YOU shoot a 12 gauge AND “They said real men shoot 20 gauges?”

What a bunch of pussies!

Hell, when I was a 13 my right arm was in a full cast so I had to shoot doves left handed with a right handed 410 bolt gun and still out shot a lot of the adults using 12's.

I remember 2 of my friends at Holloman AFB wanted to go up to Cloudcroft NM and go squirrel hunting and didn’t have a single gun. So I let one use my 12 gauge and the other my Remington 22 Nylon 66 while I used my Ruger 22 pistol and shot 9 to their 7 combined.

I’ll still take my 12 gauge despite 20 gauge wimps think!
They have been drinking too much of that coffee derived by some animal dung pile!

Kopi Luwak beans are eaten, then passed, by the cat-like Asian palm civet, and sell for £324 a kilogram.

Jim in Mo

Coop, I've heard about that Luwak coffee. Unless it makes me hallucinate I'm not paying those prices.


Who would be dumb enough to see someone holding a 12 ga, and call that person a "girlie man"?

Jim in Mo

yep, loss of cover eliminated the few pheasants we had down here as the many rabbits we had.


I get tired of the same old phony purist attitudes. Guys try to push their opinions about shotguns, rifles, bows, fishing tackle, and anything else you can think of. I don't care if someone bowhunts with a longbow or a crossbow, fishes with a bamboo flyrod or an ugly stick, or shoots a flintlock or a magnum with a big scope. As long as it's legal and ethical, leave 'em alone. I find a lot of traditional archers and fly fishermen are especialy guilty of this. We need to support each other and save the arguments for the antis.

Matt Penttila

Last time I checked with the guys at the range, a 20 gauge was for ladies, a .410 was for kids, and a 12 was a gentlemen's round. Of course I still use my great grandfather's 12 Gauge Winchester 1887 Lever Action, factory original with steel buttplate to boot. Funny part is when I show up with that, the other guys feel a little intimidated, especially when I can shoot doubles just as fast and well as the guys with the semiautos.
Too bad Winchester can't reintroduce the 1887 again, one heck of a gun.


Well by the same reasoning I guess you should only carry a 22LR for all hunting seasons up to and including Deer, as it's enough to kill a deer is it not?

For those of us who can't afford a battery of shotguns a 12 is THE all-around shotgun, can shoot loads from 3/4 oz up to 2 oz and with slugs can even be used for large game, Deer, Bear, and even Elk hunting can be done with the right load.

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