Shotguns & Shooting  |  09/14/2018

Pheasants Forever 2018 Shotgun Showcase: Small-Gauge Guns

By Larry Brown

In the Fall issue of Pheasants Forever Journal, we left Northbrook Sports Club in suburban Chicago where a couple dozen shooter-reviewers had run a number of 12-gauge shotguns through their paces. This time around, we’ll look at the smaller-gauge guns they shot and evaluated — everything from a 16 down to a .410.

These guns, lighter in weight and generally easier on the shooter in terms of recoil, would be particularly appropriate for birds such as quail, ruffed grouse, woodcock and doves. But plenty of hunters go afield with a 20 or a 16 in pursuit of pheasants as well. Even the “pipsqueak” .410 and 28-gauge can stop a cackler — as long as you exercise some restraint and only pull the trigger on the closer birds.

20-  AND 28-GAUGE

Because these two guns have exactly the same specifications (other than gauge, weight and price), I’ll discuss them together to avoid repetition.

The Drake smallbores have been selected by PF/QF as their guns of the year. CZ tells potential customers that these guns are “the best bang for the buck going when it comes to over-under shotguns.” With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $629 for the 20-gauge and $679 for the 28-gauge, you won’t find much to compete in terms of cost in today’s shotgun market.

On the Drakes, CZ has cut out some of the frills while leaving the essentials. For example, the Drake has extractors rather than automatic ejectors. But many environmentally-conscious hunters would rather remove their shells by hand anyhow, making it easier to leave the wild places where we hunt birds uncluttered with plastic hulls.

The Drake is equipped with a single selective trigger, and it features laser-cut checkering. You also get five choke tubes, while many other doubles (including some that are much more expensive) only give you three.
The Drake’s 28-inch barrels (with a vent rib) are mounted on a black chrome receiver. Although they’re smallbores, they have an adult-sized stock with a length of pull (LOP) of 14½-inches. The safety is manual.
The 20-gauge hits the scales at 6½ pounds, while the 28 weighs a half-pound less. For smallbore fans, this is an important point.

Many manufacturers cut costs on their 28-gauge guns by building them on 20-gauge frames. In order to make those barrels fit an oversized frame, more metal around the chamber is required — a small hole surrounded by a lot of steel, which equals extra ounces. The result is a 28-gauge that outweighs the same gun in 20-gauge. And that makes no sense, assuming you choose a 28 because you want a lighter gun. But CZ gives you a 28 built on a frame scaled to the gun. Result: it feels and handles the way a 28-gauge should.
How did our shooters like the two Drakes?

“Nice gun for grouse and quail that you could feel comfortable with in the briars and brush,” commented Dave Grass, Winnebago PF Chapter member. And while some might hesitate to tote a gun costing $2,000 or more in the places we hunt those birds, they’d likely be less concerned about nicking the finish on a Drake.

“Not fancy but solid,” wrote Brian Wynn of Thrivent Financial. Tallgrass PF Chapter member Scott Krneta said the Drake is “a nice entry-level gun.”

Brush gun, nothing fancy, entry level. That’s the market CZ is targeting with its Drake 20- and 28-gauge OU’s. And they hit the mark.


Now we move up to the big boy in the “everything but 12s” group — although the Instinct SL weighs only 5.8 pounds, which makes it a very slim and trim 16 indeed. It’s also a pretty fancy gun, stocked in AA-grade satin walnut with a classic round knob pistol grip as well as an MSRP of $1729.

The 28-inch barrels are fitted with automatic ejectors and three extended choke tubes. Other standard features are a single selective trigger and an automatic safety. The whole package is delivered in a nice hard case.  

If you’re not a 16-gauge fan, you may very well have failed to notice that there aren’t many OUs made in that gauge. Browning has occasionally made limited runs of Citori 16s. But other than that, a new 16-gauge over and under is a pretty rare bird. And that’s unfortunate, because one like the Instinct SL — given its light weight and other features — comes darned close to being the one gun you could use for just about any variety of upland hunting. And with Bismuth loads in 16-gauge now available, you even have some better choices for ducks — or to hunt pheasants and other upland birds where nontoxic shot is required.
Several of our shooters were impressed with the Instinct.

Chapter youth coordinator Gary Krukar wrote: “Very nice weight for carry in the field, low recoil and all the power of a 12 in a 16.” The 16-gauge fan’s traditional expression of “carries like a 20, hits like a 12” isn’t far off — at least not until you start talking about 12-gauge magnums.

“Nice overall feel, shooting,” commented Roy Ames of NAVHDA.  Eric Schenck, executive director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation, added an exclamation point to “Great in 16-gauge!” The oft-forgotten gauge — and this little 5.8-pound Franchi — had some real fans in our group.


Have you ever shot a three-barreled gun?  You may have seen a German drilling somewhere — a gun with two shotgun barrels and a rifle barrel underneath. But the Triple Crown has three shotgun barrels: two side-by-side and third one on top.

It was certainly a new experience for those who showed up for the Shotgun Showcase at Northbrook!
Although it carries the Charles Daly name, the Triple Crown is imported by Chiappa Firearms. MSRP is $1929. The same gun is also available in 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge.

The barrels are 26 inches long with a vent rib. They have plain extractors rather than automatic ejectors. Five Remchokes are standard. Weight is 6.8 pounds. The walnut stock and forend are fitted with sling studs.
We were shooting 2½-inch .410 target loads (half an ounce of shot) in the Triple Crown. I think I once owned a very light .22 that kicked harder. Other shooters agreed. “No recoil at all,” one commented.

Some reacted to the oddity of the gun: “3 barrels — crazy!” Another wrote, “Fun gun!” But Dave Grass wrote: “Very unique gun, enjoyed shooting it.  This would be a neat quail gun.” Another suggested it would be a good dove gun.



As with the CZ Drake 20 and 28, we’re reviewing these two guns together because of their many similarities.
The two guns are twins in just about all respects other than gauge and MSRP.  They’re  autoloaders built specifically for young shooters, and at a reasonable price. 

The walnut version (new in 20-gauge this year) has an MSRP of $654, as does the same gun in 28-gauge. In black synthetic (new in both gauges for 2018), both go for $570. Both the 20 and the 28 in walnut weigh 6¼ pounds, while the synthetic versions of both gauges are lighter, at 5½ pounds. All the youth models come with 24-inch barrels and five chokes, and have an LOP of 12.5 inches. The 20s have 3-inch chambers.
The Mossberg autos received generally good reviews from our shooters.

“Has a nice balance and swing. Nice basic gun,” wrote Claudia Boothe, Illinois Learn to Hunt graduate, about the 20-gauge. Illinois DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal evaluated it as a good gun for youth. “Easy to use and shoots very smooth,” said Jared Wiklund, PF public relations manager.

Kristen Black from the Illinois Natural History Survey had a one-word comment on the 28-gauge: “Love!” Eric Schenck had similar feelings, along with: “As a youth, I would have been pretty excited to find this under the Christmas tree.”

Several shooters mentioned difficulties loading the third shell into the 28-gauge. That can be an issue, especially for those with large fingers or wearing gloves. It might go better for young shooters with smaller hands.
Larry Brown can’t decide what he likes best — shotguns, pointing dogs or hunting — so we let him write about all three for PF and QF. He headed up the review crew at this year’s Shotgun Showcase.