When I first started shooting skeet 40 years ago everyone shot a 26” barrel. Now 28”, 30”, 32” and even 34” are the popular lengths. My Sporting Clay guns are 28” and 30”. What is the difference in breaking targets? My 28” will reach out as far needed for standard targets. Is the sighting plane or lead different with a longer barrel?
Ballistically speaking, there is no difference in shooting a shotgun with a 28” barrel length versus a 34” barrel except that the wad and shot exit the barrel 6” earlier. The decision on barrel length is situational and should be based on three factors in order of descending importance: 1) Proportionality and balance of your shotgun. Balance is important because it determines how your shotgun moves. A properly balanced shotgun puts the shotgun’s center of gravity between your hands, usually at the hinge pin. Shooting with a well-balanced shotgun will enable you to move the gun more naturally and efficiently to the target with less physical effort.
2) Your chosen shooting discipline. If you are more of a skeet shooter or quail hunter, you may want to consider shorter barrels (28” for example). A shorter barrel is slightly easier to swing for closer or less predictable targets. Barrel lengths tend to be longer in sporting clays, driven bird, duck and goose hunting than in skeet or quail hunting for example.
3) What you are accustomed to. Here is where the discussion of “sight plane” and “sight picture” arises. Even though we don’t look at the rib or consciously aim our shotgun at moving targets, every shooter has a subconscious sight picture; the brain’s subconscious view of the barrel-target relationship.
Throughout our years of shooting a shotgun at moving targets, our brain amasses a “subconscious database” of images with different barrel-target relationships at different target speeds and distances. If you decide to change shotguns or barrel length, you will need to allow your brain time to adapt. So, increase your practice time and shoot lots of targets for the first couple of months after changing guns or barrel length.