Numerous factors come into play when choosing a shotgun.
By Kevin Madison, WHJ Shooting Editor
What shotgun you choose to hunt waterfowl with comes down to a personal or situational choice. You may hunt ducks at a public wildlife area which sometimes calls for long shots, thus a longer barrel. Should you hunt ducks and geese at a club you might find that a shotgun with a 26-inch barrel would suffice. Or you might be someone who likes to jumpshoot ducks, which would mean you will shoot an entirely different gun that someone who hunts from a blind. You might even shoot left-handed.
When choosing a new shotgun, it’s smart to determine what situations you’ll encounter before making a purchase. Of course that speaks nothing to the determing factor that usually drives most shotgun sales: simply, you like what you like and you’ll make it work no matter the situation especially if the shotgun fits you just right. All shotguns fit differently and some are more adjustable than others, and speaking from experience, I know when one just feels right for me, I’ll be more likely to make it work regardless of the situation I’ll be hunting in. Regardless of what motivates you, here are five shotguns that should be on your shotgun radar, and each one is intriguing for different reasons.
Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus
The Beretta booth at the 2018 SHOT Show earlier this year was quite abuzz with their launch of the new A400 Xtreme Plus semi-auto shotgun. Built on Beretta’s established Unico platform, design changes will further help it function in the worst environmental conditions waterfowlers face as well as reducing felt recoil at the same time. An enlarged loading port and charging handle and a longer bolt release make handling this Xtreme Plus easier when cold, wet weather dictates wearing gloves. A new Steelium Plus barrel design with a 14-inch forcing cone for improved shot pattern consistency and accuracy as well as greater recoil reduction are new features. As well, Beretta ensures even greater felt recoil reduction by combining a Soft-Comb stock with two Kick-Off areas, one at the front of the stock and one in the pistol grip, making the new Xtreme Plus into what they claim as the softest shooting waterfowl gun on the market.
Winchester Waterfowl Hunter SX4
Winchester’s Super X3 has proven to be reliable semi-auto for waterfowlers for quite a while now. The latest edition of the popular Winchester SX series of shotguns brings noticeable ergonomic improvements to its already very comfortable line. Released last year, the Super X4 does not drastically deviate from the proven X3 platform, continuing with some proven dependable technologies like the Active Valve gas system while making noticeable improvements on some ergonomic features. The balance point of the shotgun has moved forward some, bringing it well into the forearm and controls such as the trigger, safety, bolt handle, and bolt release have all been enlarged, making them easier to locate and operate in the heat of the moment and with gloved up fingers as waterfowlers often find themselves with. The weight of the gun has also been reduced by about four ounces, potentially allowing hunters to move up to a 28-inch barrel and be at the same weight as a SX3 in a 26-inch barrel. A TruGlo Long Bead fiber-optic front sight also now comes standard to make target alignment quicker and easier and the barrel comes with three Invector Plus choke tubes (full, modified, and improved cylinder). Unlike the SX3 that is available in both 12 and 20 gauge models, the SX4 is currently only offered in 12 gauge.
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Left Hand
In 2017 when Benelli introduced the then new Super Black Eagle 3, they did what most consider difficult to do — improve on what had already become the standard by which most waterfowl guns are judged. So how does a company then improve on a classic? Well, by introducing a left-handed model for those lefty shooters that all too often are overlooked. This southpaw version includes all the same great features of the SBE3. It handles light field loads and magnums up to 3 ½ inches, comes with oversized bolt handles, bolt releases, and safeties, which make for ease of operation when your hands are cold or you’re wearing gloves. Benelli’s Inertia-Driven Action fires and cycles consistently and has reduced recoil thanks to the ComfortTech stock, and ComboTech cheek pad. Benelli took no shortcuts on this gun. It is a mirror image of the original. The SBE3 can be purchased with a 28-inch barrel and either black or Realtree MAX-5 camo finish. Comes with flush Crio chokes, a shim kit and its own case.
Mossberg SA-20 Youth Bantam All Purpose Field Shotgun
When thinking about starting a youth into hunting waterfowl, a semi-auto 20 gauge is a very smart choice for a first gun due to the reduced weight and recoil compared to its 12 gauge big brother. The SA-20 Youth Bantam from Mossberg, a company long known for producing durable and affordable guns, fits this bill well with its lightweight, easy handling, and soft-recoiling design. New for 2018, the SA-20 comes with a shortened length of pull of 13 inches (compared to 14 inches) on the standard SA-20 and a barrel length of 24 inches. It is equipped with Mossberg’s smooth cycling gas operated system, delivering reliable consistency. The overall weight finishes at a very comfortable 6 ¼ pounds and can handle 2 ¾- and 3-inch shells. The included Sport Set of 5 choke options should fill any needs from the smallest of upland birds to the biggest of waterfowl.
Franchi 16-Gauge SL Over/Under
The 16 gauge has often been considered the ideal compromise between the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge, and while this primarily holds true in the upland world, the 16 has plenty of power to make it a worthy waterfowl tool as well. Considering the improved handling that comes with this new Franchi offering compared to a larger 12 gauge and you’ll likely not be giving up anything in overall total performance. When Franchi introduced the SL over and under 12-gauge a few years ago with auto ejectors, the barrel selector located on the top tang safety, a 28-inch barrel, and three choke options (improved, modified, and full), they had an instant hit on their hands. Now filling a niche with this new 16 gauge, sportsmen who enjoy shooting an over/under shotgun are offered a rare combination of old style and new.