Types of Hunting Shotguns: Pros and Cons

Types of Hunting Shotguns: Pros and Cons

There are three main types of shotguns that are used in hunting. These three shotguns are the autoloader, the pump-action, and the break-open shotguns.  All of these shotguns are good and in the end it comes down to personal preference, especially when it comes down to the game one is pursuing. Here is an in-depth look at the hunting shotguns pros and cons.

The Autoloader

Sometimes called autoloaders or, incorrectly, automatic shotguns, harness power from the shotshell in order to eject the spent round, reset the firing pin, and load a new round from the magazine. Autoloaders used to have a reputation for malfunctioning and frequent jamming, but newer models are much more reliable.

An autoloading shotgun allows for multiple shots fired in a hurry, with only a minimal amount of adjustment between shots.

Autoloader Pros

  • High Rate of Fire: Every time the trigger is pulled, the gun fires and cycles without the assistance of the operator, most modern semi-auto shotguns will fire as quickly as the shooter is able to pull the trigger.
  • Low Recoil: Because of gas- or inertia-powered cycling systems that harness some of the recoil energy, the felt recoil of the semi-auto shotgun is less than that of pumps and break-opens.
  • Ease of Follow Up Shots: Because the semi-auto shotgun cycles without the aid of the shooter, follow up shots can be made more efficiently due to the lack of operator movement during shooting.

Autoloader Cons

  • Versatility: Due to the various cycling systems in semi-auto shotguns, adjustments must be made to most models when switching between various loads and shell lengths.
  • Safety: Due to the tension of the recoil spring, a shooter can injure themselves when closing the bolt; also, unintentional shots can be made if the shooter is unfamiliar with the mechanics of the firearm.
  • Difficulty of maintenance and assembly: With the various cycling systems available in semi-auto shotguns, the operator must be familiar with all of the internal workings of the weapon when performing basic assembly and disassembly, making the weapons less user friendly than pump and break-opens.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Pump-action shotguns, sometimes known as slide-action shotguns, are operated by a manually sliding forearm that ejects the spent shell, cocks the firing pin, and loads a new shell from the magazine. The number-one selling shotgun of all time is the Remington 870, a pump-action shotgun.

Pump-action Pros

  • Inexpensive: You can get a new pump shotgun that will last your whole life for a few hundred dollars.
  • High Versatility: Pumps are manually operated, so as long as the shell is the proper gauge and length, the gun will be able to cycle ammunition from the lightest target and specialty loads to the heaviest buckshot or slug loads. And popular models of pump shotguns are easily modified, with literally thousands of available components for customization.
  • Capacity: Most pump-action shotguns have a magazine capacity of 5 shells, plus 1 in the chamber.

Pump-Action Cons

  • Slower rate of fire: Because the operator must manually cycle the weapon, follow-up shots from a pump take longer than with break-open and autoloading shotguns, particularly with inexperienced shooters.
  • Slower aiming for follow-up shots: Cycling a pump shotgun throws off the shooter’s aim, so follow-up shots need to be consciously realigned.
  • Short-strokers beware: First-time users of pump-action shotguns are often guilty of short-stroking, or not working the slide through it’s entire cycle. Though easily rectified with practice or proper instruction, this can cause jams and misfires.

Break-Open Shotguns

Also called break-action, shotguns have a barrel or barrels set on a hinge so that gun literally breaks open at the receiver to enable the manual loading of shotshells. Some break-opens have only a single-barrel, though those are generally regarded as beginner-level shotguns for kids.

Most serious hunting shotguns are fitted with two barrels, mounted either horizontally or vertically. Shotguns with horizontally paired barrels are called side-by-side or double-barrel shotguns, and shotguns with vertically paired barrels are called over/under shotguns. While there is a lot to be said for the old-timey look and feel of a double-barrel shotgun, functional differences between the two are really quite small. It should be said, however, that most serious wingshooters who use break-open shotguns stick to the over/under configuration.

Break-Open Pros

  • Easy Handling: Break-open shotguns are generally lightweight and compact. This makes them easier to carry on long walks and easier/faster to handle and shoot in thick brush.
  • Mechanically simple: This isn’t to say that they are impervious to things such as dirt and ice, but the relative lack of internal moving parts makes them easy to clean and also easy to troubleshoot when you’re having problems.
  • Safe: Break-open shotguns are a favorite for parents of young shooters, because kids can be instructed to “break open” the action of the shotgun whenever they are not actually shooting. This way, the guardian can tell at a glance, regardless of distance, that the firearm is in a safe position.

Break-Open Cons

  • Capacity: Break-open shotguns limit the shooter to only one or two shots.
  • Expensive: Break-open shotguns tend to be costlier than pump-action shotguns.
  • Limited versatility: Break-open shotguns are much more difficult to accessorize than pumps and automatics and are therefore less versatile.

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