“I’m a new shooter. I’m fairly athletic and shoot almost entirely American skeet. What barrel length should I buy for my next gun? 26, 28 or 30 inches? How do you choose?”
Although you are a skeet shooter, I am often asked this question by sporting clays shooters. There are three big factors I takeinto account before recommending a barrel length. First, I need to know the discipline you shoot. For walk-up hunting, skeet, or any other discipline that requires a lot of horizontal gun movement, I recommend a relatively shorter barrel (relative to the second consideration, below). In general terms, a shorter barrel, such as a 28-inch, is more conducive to easier lateral movement. A longer barrel, such as a 32-inch, can produce more stability for targets or birds that are more predictable orare at greater distances. For shooting high driven pheasant, for example, shooters will of- ten opt for a longer barrel than they would for quail hunting.
The second consideration is the balance and proportionality of the shotgun. Your physical height and your proper length of pull (LOP) are informative here. A short-barreled shotgun with a long LOP or a long-barreled shotgun with a short LOP tend to produce a shotgun that is either back-heavy and “whippy” or barrel-heavy and sluggish.
If you are 5’5” and shoot- ing a 13¾-inch-LOP shotgun, it will be difficult to produce a well-balanced shotgun with 32-inch barrels unless you add weight tothe back of the stock. For the 5’5” shooter, a shorter barrel length is probably better. On the other hand, for the 6’3” shooter with a 15½-inch LOP, a 32- or even a 34-inch barrel might be prudent.
Then there is the consideration of personal preference. Some shooters prefer a barrel-heavy shotgun. Others prefer a more nimble feel at the front end. Most prefer a maneuverable shotgun that is balanced between the hands. In short, the three considerations for determining barrel length are 1) the preferred balance or “feel” of the shot- gun, 2) the proportionality of the shotgun, and 3) the primary shooting discipline for which the shotgun will be used.
Don Currie is NSCA’s Chief Instructor, an Orvis Wingshooting School instructor, and Master Class competitor. To get free shooting tips and videos, sign up for his monthly newsletter. You can also see more tips from Currie at www.doncurrie.com.