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Goose Guns by L.P. Brezny

The Beretta Xtrema2 3½" 12 gauge is a prime example of a modern-day, effective goose-harvesting system. It is well-designed, has good handling and is very reliable.

t’s not your daddy’s goose gun, my friends. Fifteen years ago, it would have been difficult to even imagine some of the guns and loads put up against tough, big, gray geese and high-flying snows today. There was a time not so very long ago a goose gun was considered to be one with a very long barrel, up to 36", and, in many cases, a 10-gauge chambering. The 3½" 2¼ ounce 10 gauge was king of the hill and, at best, a 3" 12 gauge pushing about 1-7/8 ounces of lead/copper BBs was the limit in firepower regarding smaller-gauge options.

When steel shot came into the picture, it all got even more size-directed. Big gray or white birds required massive amounts of kinetic energy with flat-out killing power to bring them down. Again, the 10 gauge stood tall among goose hunters as the gun of choice across the American midwest goose range. The big 10-gauge hull could hold large numbers of big, iron shot and still produce workable patterns afield. I remember in 1972 I owned no less than three of the super smoothbores, including a Richland side-by-side and a couple stackbarrels built by American Arms.

With the development of modern shotshell components and more advanced pattern-control systems, things started to change toward setting aside the big 10-bore guns and moving into more flexible use of the 12 gauge as a dedicated goose gun. Add the fact the 3½" round had been developed by Federal and Mossberg, and the 12 gauge was only a step away from the performance of the mighty 10-bore shoulder cannon. The 12 gauge was gaining ground fast as a do-it-all, one-gun, goose-hunting system.

When big shot — T, TT, F or No. 3 iron buckshot — was applied to the 3½" 12 gauge, geese fell out at the 65-yard range when they found themselves caught up in air space covered by a pass shooter’s shotgun. Decoy hunters made progress with less in terms of shot size but were firing loads that housed more high-speed pellets and developed dense, effective patterns at the same time. The days of putting down 12-bore steel-shot loads as ineffective were becoming history.

A Modern Approach

A classic example of perfect balance between target type and range versus gun and load took place during the late fall of 2008. For about a year, I had been hooking up with pro hunter Tyson Keller, a top field man with Avery Outdoors. Tyson hunted geese exclusively (that is, unless I could get him into the turkey woods every now and again). As a dedicated goose hunter, Tyson had spent a good deal of time analyzing hunting the big birds and, as part of that, exactly what was required in both guns and loads to get the job done with deadly effectiveness.

Geese coming in over gun barrels.

Geese coming in over gun barrels. BBs in 3" 12-gauge loads can get the job done.

Tyson never left anything he had any control over to chance. His decoys were the best Avery had to offer in full-body motion types, and his layout blinds were again state-of-the-art. In terms of setting up decoys, his often numbered several hundred in a spread. He devoted days to scouting when the actual hunt may be over in less than a two-day period. In most cases, Tyson’s personal choice when gunning over decoys, his signature method of hunting, is a Beretta 391 chambering standard 3" 12-gauge 1¼-ounce BB steel-shot loads. In most cases, Kent Cartridge Fasteel BBs tend to be all he requires. Range estimation is everything if you want to minimize cripples, and dead-on accuracy with a limited number of rounds when harvesting a limit of big, gray geese is also desirable. Tyson and his guys drop geese with less rounds than any outfit I’ve hunted with.

Right up front, I can say it is not necessarily the amount of gun/load you’re using but how it is being employed in the field. Goose guns today don’t need to be the massive cannons once prevalent on pass-gunning lines and marshes in the early 1960s. Because we now have better loads, even in common iron shot, and guns that make use of specialized choke systems, today’s stock-and-trade 12 bore is well ahead of its predecessors.

Just how good are the newer guns and loads when taking on big, tough Canadas? Using nine guns and some newer designs in layout blinds, Tyson set up in a cut cornfield on the wide-open flats on the east side of the Missouri River in central South Dakota with about 300 decoys and blinds blended so well they became completely invisible to the naked eye, and the team set to calling on their short reed calls. We were working birds that, by this time in the late season, had been only moving late in the day and making one trip to feed.

We had a mix of Benelli Super Black Eagles, Beretta 391s, a Browning Gold and an 870 or two. The first flock was stacked up with feet down about 30 yards above the decoy spread when Tyson gave the order to “Take them!” At the command, a quick hiss of fast-moving steel-shot BBs hit the air, and almost in an instant 11 geese rolled over in mid-air and came down like sacks of wet grain. In a flash, half the day’s limits had been achieved, and in one more single pass there only remained two birds to take. Neat, effective and very, very efficient.

A good deal of those results were due to the guns and loads being pressed into service. The almost-prehistoric twist-wrap wad, No. 1 steel and poor powders developed by the very first goose-load builder, Remington, coupled with fixed choke systems on long-barreled goose guns would have given quite a different outcome. Those guns and loads were ineffective enough to cause many hunters to give up the sport rather than see countless numbers of birds wounded while trying to obtain a few birds for table fare. The new-era guns and loads are much more efficient.

Today’s Guns

The Beretta/Benelli family of guns is currently at the top in the field. Another top goose killer is the Winchester Super X2 and Super X3 and the Browning BPS pump gun is another contender. All manufacturers are now producing waterfowl models in 3½" chambers applied to the 12 gauge. Your choice depends on available funds, proper fit, gun weight or, in the case of older hunters, upper-body strength.

A classic example of exactly what I have been talking about is the Browning Maxus. This is a very new state-of-the-art waterfowl gun first tested by this writer on – what else – geese. The Maxus is very lightweight, slim in forend design and points like a sporting clays shotgun. The gun can shoot 3½", if required, but I don’t know exactly where that would be, except long-range turkeys. In some very poor weather, an autoload gas-system barrel and choke can deliver with deadly effectiveness.

Fancy wood, detailed engraving and other lavish appointments don’t count for a whole lot when the birds show up and it’s time to get the job done. The geese just don’t care, even if you do. Goose guns need flat-coat finishes that won’t reflect sunlight, dull stocks that can take a beating (i.e., synthetic materials) and, if you like, a nice camo pattern in about any configuration. Slings are nice for field carry when you’re packing a couple big bags of decoys. When it comes to actions, that is a personal choice. Autos require more maintenance than a pump gun, and doubles are easy to keep clean in dusty, early-season field conditions. The most important element of all is having a shotgun that fits. Poor fit means poor shooting will soon follow.

Here are some great choices in modern goose guns.

Winchester Super X3. This gun has some added weight compared to several other models. Very well-built, shoots true, with a clean sight line. Comes up fast, with a solid, natural fit and, as an autoloader, is very dependable shot-to-shot. Cost: High. (See review in November 2007 Shotgun Sports.)

Benelli Super Black Eagle. Nice, easy-to-maintain action. Fast to the shoulder, even from a layout blind. Works well in adverse field conditions. Cost: High.

Beretta 391 Xtrema2. Very well-made. Smooth sighting and swing. Clean lines that are functional. Solid and effective gas-gun action. Cost: High. (See review of Xtrema 3.5 in March 2003.)

Browning Maxus. Solid gas-gun design. Fast to swing and get moving from a blind. Points quickly on closing birds. Cost: High. (See review in December 2008 issue.)

Browning BPS. Tough-as-nails pump gun. Bank-vault action. Dependable. Harder to maintain than some of the others (i.e., takedown). (See review in April 2009 issue.)

Remington 870/887. Both guns are very solid mechanically. Weight is workable, and these pump guns point well. Priced in a market anyone can afford. Will outlast the hunter. (See 887 review in March 2009 issue.)

Mossberg 935. Solid gas auto that functions well. Many extras, as in camo patterns, etc. Solid field gun that can take a beating day after day. Priced affordably.

Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag. Solid pump gun designed to take a pounding in the field. Very good pricing for what the hunter gets (great bang for the buck).

Modern day goose guns

From left to right: Browning Gold, Winchester Super X3 and a pair of Beretta Xtrema2s. These are great examples of upper-end, modern-day goose guns.

What are the best loads to use today on geese? If you are gunning over decoys and can maintain good, solid range discipline, a standard 3" 1¼-ounce load of steel BBs will do the job every time. You just don’t need much more firepower over decoy blocks. Here are my recommendations.

Kent Fasteel 3" 1¼ ounces of BBs. A very good value with a solid performance record.

Winchester Xpert 3" 1¼ ounces of BBs. Good price for the solid performance. Good over decoys under controlled gunning conditions.

Wolf 3" 1¼ ounces of BBs. Very good value. Solid-performing.

When back-shooting decoys from a fence-line hide or pass shooting from static locations, a move up in load energy is required. Here are some good choices.

Federal Black Cloud BBB steel. Medium-priced, with solid performance on long-range targets.

Federal Premium Heavyweight Waterfowl 1¼ ounces of No. 2s. Very high energy retention. Priced on the high end.

Environmetal, Inc. Hevi-Shot BBs. Deadly to extreme range limits, but hard on the wallet.

Remington HD BBs. Very effective pass loads, but high-priced.

Federal Premium T steel 12-gauge 1-3/8 ounce 3½" or 1¼-ounce 3" loads. Both are solid and very effective to 65 yards. Price is affordable.

Winchester Xtended Range HD. A hard-hitting, tungsten-based, ultra long-range product. Cost per round is high.

These and many other great-shooting loads with larger pellet sizes in steel and tungsten can get the job done when pass shooting. Current tungsten-based pass loads will outgun any lead-shot load developed in years past. If your load is not listed here, remember space limitations in a magazine mean not everything that is a good product can be put on the list. This list is a good place to start, however, when seeking a load for today’s goose hunting. As of this writing, several new loads were being tested for fall 2009. Some will retain both steel and tungsten, but prices will probably not be at an affordable level in the beginning.

The gun/load combinations today are very different than those 15-20 years ago. If you haven’t upgraded your goose-hunting equipment in awhile, you might want to look at the new designs that take a new approach to goose harvesting. The 10 gauge is no longer king of the hill, and the 12 gauge with new, high-speed steel and tungsten long-range loads is becoming the choice of successful goose hunters.

L.P. Brezny has worked in research and development in the shooting industry for 19 years. He developed and marketed the first sub-sonic shotgun and shotshell — The Hastings Metro Gun™ System — and was the first to measure shotshell pellets in real time at target distances, building ballistic tables demonstrating shotshell load performance and chronographing systems. He also developed the Dead Ringer® high-performance waterfowl/upland choke-tube system. L.P. has been writing for various shooting publications for over 20 years.