18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Discussion of the Remington 870 for hunting.
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gritz
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18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Post by gritz » Wed May 20, 2015 2:44 pm

I have been using my 870 express for squirrel hunting many times. Recently started loading my hunting loads with 7/8 oz 6 shot up to 1 oz of 5 shot. Seems to match my standard ammo fairly well. I had been using the standard field barrel in, I think 26 inch for 20g but the overall gun was a bit long and heavy for my squirrel outings. I usually stalk all day through thick cover with a backpack, lunch, camp equipment, etc... So I found a nice field barrel (ribbed with removable chokes) and went extreme (18.5 inch) I really like the barrel and how it handles while carrying. I usually carry it the same as my long barrel, meaning I have modified choke. Last season I couldn't wait to hit some squirrels and a worst case scenario came up. I had a nice shot at a squirrel but it was at the far end of my range (about 60 yards) and up a tree. I shot, the squirrel did not fall. I shot again. Squirrel ran. Shot two more times and lost site of the thing. I creeped up to the tree assuming the squirrel was somewhere close and got some spots of blood but no squirrel. So I really got hit with a confidence busting smack in the face. I really love the set up but there were so many variables to consider that I hunted the rest of the year with my 12 gauge just because I did not and do not have time to test all the things involved to see what could be the problem. Could be: weak powder, over extended the range, short barrel spread too much, short barrel didn't burn the powder (WIN 540), the short barrel patterned off of the bead (the bead at 18 inches looks much bigger than at 26 inches of barrel, and the list goes on.
So with all that I have here, I could spend days and weeks trying to sneak out and test but I really just would like to hear what anyone would say about performance out of an 18 inch barrel versus a 26 inch barrel for hunting (given everything else is the same). I was under the assumption that most shotgun powders gain maximum velocity from payloads around 10 to 12 inches down the barrel. So the difference in power should have been negligible. Please send me some insights if there is any to be had. I hate having to admit to anyone I missed a squirrel with a shotgun and I hate to admit to myself that I smacked a squirrel and did not recover it. I realize it could have just been a damned fluke too but with two little kids at home I rarely get out these days to hunt and I want to make every minute out there count. Let me know what you think.

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Synchronizor
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Re: 18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Post by Synchronizor » Thu May 21, 2015 8:04 am

One of my reloading manuals gives some rule-of-thumb estimates for how velocity changes with barrel length. It says that for 20ga barrels between 20" and 30", shot loads can be expected to gain or lose about 7.5 FPS per inch of barrel. Stretching that to 18.5", you're probably looking at about 55 - 60 FPS less out of your 18.5" barrel than you'd get out of your 26" barrel. If your shells are rated at ~1200 FPS from a 26" barrel, that velocity loss equates to roughly 10% less energy at the muzzle and (even more roughly) 5-6% less energy at 60 yards. Again, these are just estimates, but they should at least be in the ballpark for 7/8 or 1 oz loads with Win 540.

By the way, barrel length doesn't really affect the size of the pattern. The idea that a shorter barrel produces a wider pattern is largely due to the fact that for a long time, nearly all shotguns with short barrels were riot guns that had little or no choke, while guns with the longest barrels were intended for things like waterfowl hunting, and had very tight chokes. With the same modified choke tube, I would expect your 18.5" barrel to pattern much like your 26" barrel. It might even be a little tighter due to the slightly decreased muzzle velocity. Have you tried setting up some big sheets of cardboard or paper to test and compare your ammo/choke/barrel combinations at the ranges you shoot at?

If I had to guess, I'd say your lost squirrel was just a combination of bad luck, a different/unfamiliar gun setup, and trying to stretch a light payload too far. That last part especially; 1 oz of #5 and 7/8 oz of #6 would both give you less than 200 pellets to work with, and with a Modified choke at 60 yards, that doesn't make for the densest pattern. Not to mention that #6 & #5 pellets can lose close to half their velocity and 3/4 of their kinetic energy out at 60 yards. Maybe it would pay to keep some 3" shells with heavier payloads or larger shot handy in your pocket for those longer shots.

gritz
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Re: 18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Post by gritz » Mon Nov 16, 2015 1:25 am

Just wanted to update if anyone happened to cross this post again. This season I used my 18 inch barrel with a mod choke, 7/8 and 1 oz loads of number 6. Smacked every squirrel I shot at and hit them good from 5 feet to about 40 yards. I had lost a little confidence in this set up because of the lost squirrel the first time I took the shorter barrel out. But it was pretty much a fluke. I did use my 12 gauge a few hunts and had success but I was using 1 1/4 oz of 5 shot because I have a surplus of WIN 540 that needs to be used and that was the load weight I could find for it. Not bad but mangled a few quarters on some squirrels up close and the weight of any 12 gauge can't compare with the rem 870 20 gauge with synthetic stocks and an 18 inch barrel. This gun just simply rocks as a squirrel getter...as long as you get within 35 or 40 yards.
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Synchronizor
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Re: 18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Post by Synchronizor » Fri Nov 20, 2015 8:51 am

Thanks for the update. That sure looks like a handy little package, glad you've got it working for you.

efriedrich
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Re: 18 inch barrel performance for hunting

Post by efriedrich » Fri Aug 10, 2018 1:07 pm

Use deer slugs they are cheap and effective.

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