For new hunters, buying the right shotgun can be a challenge. There are so many platforms to choose from—gas- and inertia-driven semi-autos, pumps, over/unders, side-by-sides, and single-shots. Then, once you decide on a platform, there are an endless number of models.
The reality is, it can take years to find a shotgun that fits your body type and shooting style (unless you have the money to purchase a bespoke shotgun). It’s a lengthy process we all go through as hunters, so don’t get frustrated by it. For beginners, the key is to start with a shotgun that you can shoot well. Some models are simply a better fit for a wider swath of shooters. So, we assembled a list of six shotguns that many new hunters will be able to shoot accurately right out of the box.
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Before you buy a shotgun, think about what you are going to use it for. If you’re a waterfowl hunter, semi-autos and pumps are an ideal choice because they are easier to load and unload in a blind and they also give you the option of having a third shot. Upland hunters traditionally shoot side-by-sides or over/unders. If you pursue whitetails and turkeys, a single-shot can be the ideal platform.
The gauge of the shotgun is also important. The largest legal bore diameter is the 10-gauge, followed by the 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410-bore (the equivalent of a 67-gauge). Typically, waterfowl and turkey hunters are the only folks still shooting the 10-gauge. Most hunters opt for the 12 because it’s more versatile. You can hunt just about anything with a 12-gauge; plus, it makes a fine home-defense gun. But shotshell technology—the advancement of bismuth and tungsten— has made the sub-gauges (anything below a 12) much more capable. You just have to set stricter limits on effective shooting distances.
You also need to consider the quality of the shotgun relative to its cost. There are many serviceable shotguns on the market with a price tag below $1,000 (which is what we recommend spending for a first shotgun). But there are also some lemons lurking on gun store shelves. The easiest way to tell if a shotgun is worth the money is by examining its fit and finish. Do the stock, action, and fore-end seamlessly transition into one another? If it’s a break-action shotgun, do the barrels slide with ease into the receiver and provide a tight lock-up? If not, it’s a safe bet you’re holding a clunker that won’t shoot for long… if at all.
Jump to: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS
Remington 870 Wingmaster
Franchi Instinct L
CZ Bobwhite G2
Henry Single Shot
Weatherby SA-08 Compact
|Platform||Semi-Auto||Pump||Over / Under||Side-by-Side||Single-Shot||Semi-Auto|
|Weight||7 lbs||7 lbs||6.6 lbs||6.5 lbs||6.62 lbs||5.75 lbs|
|Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes|
Make sure not to be impulsive about buying a new shotgun. If you have the option, try to shoot as many shotguns as you can before settling on one. Some manufacturers and local gun shops hold range days so shooters can get a feel for their firearms. Check with a nearby gun club to see if they host these events.
It’s also a smart move to contact a shooting range and find out if they employ trained shooting instructors. These folks are adept at fitting shooters to guns, and can offer insights and recommendations, so you can make the most informed decision possible. If you pick a shotgun that doesn’t fit your shooting style, don’t fret. You can always trade that gun in (just like a car) and use its value to help defer some of the cost of your next shotgun.
The gas-driven Super X platform has been in production since the mid-1970s. It’s a proven, soft-shooting system that’s ideal for new hunters because it's simple to use and versatile. To load the Winchester SX4, you pull the bolt backwards, drop a shotshell in the 3½-inch chamber, and press the bolt-release button on the right side of the receiver to send the shell into battery. Some shotguns have a button on the underside of the carrier or next to the trigger that you must press to open the bolt. Winchester removed that extra step in the process with the SX4 design.
Because the SX4 is a gas gun, it mitigates felt recoil better than an inertia-driven auto-loader that requires recoil to function properly. That makes shooting heavy 2-ounce turkey loads more manageable for hunters of all sizes. Gas guns often cycle lighter loads more reliably as well, so if you want to use the SX4 for clay shooting, it will have no issues running through 1- or ⅞-ounce target loads.
You can use the 12-gauge variant for almost any type of hunting pursuit in North America outside of western big game. There is also a 20-gauge model, and Winchester made a left-handed option for southpaws.
If you’re going to buy a pump-action shotgun, it’s tough to find one more reliable than the Remington 870 Wingmaster. This gun, the new FieldMaster, and the now discontinued Express model, are some of the most purchased shotguns in American history—Remington has sold over 11 million 870s since the Wingmaster debuted in 1950. The repeater is available in every gauge from 12 to .410-bore. There are over 15 different variations of the 870, including rifled deer barrels that can be swapped out for your smoothbore during whitetail gun seasons.
Dual action bars work the bolt when you slide the fore-end to load and eject shells. The bars are nearly indestructible, though they can bend or warp over time. That isn’t much of an issue because replacement parts are easy to come by.
There may be no more durable shotgun than the 870. You can literally submerge this gun in water, load it, and fire rounds without issue. You might have to field strip it and wipe the gun down if the 870’s action bars and chamber become coated in mud, but the pump will function with a quick cleaning.
The 870 can be used as a home-defense option as well. In fact, the U.S. military employed this shotgun during the Vietnam War and other foreign conflicts. Police forces across the country have also relied on the 870 for decades.
Franchi falls under the Benelli canopy of brands, which also includes Uberti, Stoeger, and Chapius. It's considered their mid-level shotgun-maker, but you get more than you pay for with just about any Franchi model, including the Instinct L. Available in 12- and 20-gauge, the monobloc barrel design is formed from a single piece of steel, which gives the over/under the added strength. This is critical to the functionality of the gun because it is under such duress when a shotshell is fired. The barrels fit snugly into the trunnion of the action, offering superb lockup when the over/under is loaded and closed.
It’s a light gun for a walnut and steel over/under—the 20-gauge weighs only 6.4 pounds. That makes the Instinct L an easy carry afield. The Prince of Wales pistol grip stock and fore-end are checkered, so the gun is less likely to slip from your hands in inclement weather. Barrels come in 26- or 28-inch lengths with a vent rib and red fiber-optic front sight. The receiver is case-hardened, auto-ejectors kick out spent hulls, and the single-selective safety allows you to choose which barrel you want to shoot first. Once you fire a shell and open the action, the gun automatically goes back on safe, a handy feature for beginners.
Side-by-sides were once the predominant choice of shotgun in America. But with the advancement in pump-action shotguns and John Browning’s Auto-5, U.S. hunters began to gravitate towards repeaters. There has been a renaissance for double guns over the last decade though, and some of them—like the CZ Bobwhite G2—are quite affordable. Offered in 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge (left-handed models are available too), the Bobwhite G2 uses double triggers (one to fire each barrel). Don’t let this classic design scare you off. It’s easy to operate. You simply pull the front trigger first, and if you need a second shot, move on to the rear trigger.
The straight English stock is more in line with the way old double guns were built. Many modern shotguns, particularly autos and pumps, use a pistol grip stock. You shouldn’t notice much of a difference afield. Five flush-fitting chokes (C, IC, M, IM, and F) are included with the G2, allowing you to shoot the Bobwhite on wild birds and clays. There are no auto-ejectors like you will find in the Franchi, only extractors so you can pull spent hulls from the chamber, which is beneficial if you reload shotshells. The rib along the 26- or 28-inch barrel is flat, slightly different from other shotgun platforms that typically use a ventilated rib. This setup lets you see more of the gun when it is mounted. It takes some adjustment if you have only shot vent-rib shotguns.
Many young hunters grew up with a single-shot hammer gun in their hands like this one from Henry. They are simple—thus safer—to operate, a sensible choice for someone without much shooting experience. To load the Henry Single-Shot, you push the lever located on the tang of the shotgun, so the action opens. Slide in a shotshell, close the breach, and the gun is on safe until you cock the hammer. When you’re ready to fire, pull the hammer back and press the trigger. If the shotgun is cocked and you have not fired, just pull the hammer back, gently press the trigger, and ease the hammer forward. Don’t go too fast or the firing pin will strike the primer and detonate the shotshell.
The walnut pistol grip stock and fore-end are checkered. A thick rubber recoil pad is affixed to the buttstock so heavy turkey loads and deer slugs don’t pound your shoulder. The 26-inch blued steel barrel has a flat rib that leads into a standard brass bead at the muzzle. This model is available in 12- and 20-gauge, plus .410-bore. It is an ideal rabbit or squirrel shotgun and can also be used for turkeys, deer, and bird hunting. And because you only get one shell, single shots teach new shooters to take their time, and acquire the target before firing.
Soft-shooting 20-gauge gas-operated shotguns are ideal for young or small shooters because they produce little felt recoil and have the capability to deliver a higher percentage of pellets on target than a 28-gauge or .410-bore. Weatherby’s SA-08 Synthetic Compact is one of my favorite guns that falls into this category. It runs on a dual-valve system, has a short 12½-inch length of pull, and 24-inch barrel. The 3-inch gun weighs just under 6 pounds due to an aircraft-grade aluminum receiver.
If you’re looking for a dual-purpose shotgun you can share with a son or daughter, the Compact makes a great turkey gun for adults because of its short stock and barrelI. I shot the 12-gauge Deluxe variant of this shotgun on small game and clays for years. It was a wonderfully accurate shotgun that only failed to cycle when extremely dirty. That version has been discontinued, but the Compact is the next best option.