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Barrel length: Shorter or Longer?

If you were buying a new over/under competition gun would you choose 30” or 32” barrels? Why?

I get this question a lot and usually during a custom gun fitting and the answer has more to do with individual preference.  There are so many other factors that are more impactful to your shotgun’s performance than a 2” or 4″ variation in barrel length.  From a shotgun ballistics standpoint, there is no appreciable difference between 30” and 32” barrel or even between 28″ and 32″ barrels for that matter.  The powder burns, and pressure builds, for a bit longer before the wad and shot are expelled, but the slightly incremental gain in barrel pressure is likely offset by the incremental friction in the additional two inches of barrel.  Either way, the difference is negligible.  More or less weight at the front end of a gun, however, will affect weight, balance and the “dynamics” of a gun in a shooter’s hands.  The dynamics, or “nimbleness,” of a particular shotgun in the hands of a particular shooter is unique. Generally, when your gun is properly fitted, you want to have the weight of the gun distributed as evenly as possible between both hands.   This maximizes the shooter’s ability to efficiently move and point the gun to break targets.  A 5’8” shooter might not handle a 32” gun as comfortably as he/she would a gun with 30” barrels because of the gun’s added inertia, or weight forward.  It’s also likely that the 5’8” shooter would require some shortening of the stock from the norm of 14-1/2” thus removing weight from the back of the gun and creating an even more front-heavy shotgun.  Adding weight up front can help with follow-though and reduce “whippiness” of the barrel.  The downside is that the gun will have more inertia: it will take more energy to start the gun moving as well as to slow the gun once it’s in motion which can be important when transitioning from the first to the second target of a true pair. For the 6’2” shooter, I would likely recommend 32” barrels simply because the stock would most likely have to be lengthened from the standard.  A longer barrel would offset the additional weight on the back of the gun and be better proportioned to this taller shooter. For a shooter measuring between 5’8” and 6’1” it is more a matter of preference, feel and balance. Some shooters prefer a gun with a bit more weight forward to reduce “whippiness” of the barrel.  Others shooters, particularly in skeet, prefer a lighter front-end to generate greater gun speed when moving to a target.

While barrel length doesn’t matter ballistically speaking, changing the barrel length of your shotgun can throw you off your game a bit, if only temporarily.  Even though we don’t visually align the barrel with the target when shooting moving objects with a shotgun, we do have a subconscious perception of the barrel and the barrel-target relationship.  We capture this subconscious sight picture in our peripheral vision. We sometimes refer to this as a shooter’s subconscious barrel-target awareness. If you were to switch guns, from a 28″ barrel to a 32″ barrel for example, you would see a slightly different barrel-target relationship in your peripheral field. While this would not be, and should not be, a conscious awareness, it may nevertheless have an effect on how your subconscious “measures” the correct location of the barrel in relationship to the target. The bottom line is that dramatically changing barrel length may take a bit of adjustment but most shooters subconsciously adjust pretty quickly.

Hopefully, that explains some of the thought process I go through as I recommend a certain barrel length to a client during a gun fitting.

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