Need a new shotgun for hunting? Lucky you! Buying a new shotgun can be a lot of fun. And although there are literally thousands to choose from, these are some of the best shotguns for hunting.
A good shotgun is a long-term investment. I’ve personally been carrying one shotgun, a Remington 1100 Special Field, since the early 1990s, and it’s still going strong with minimal maintenance.
So when you decide to close the deal, you’re cementing a relationship with a tool that you may have for the rest of your life and pass on to your children. No pressure!
Fortunately, shotguns also hold their value fairly well, so trading them out won’t usually break your wallet. But you want to make an informed decision when getting a new shotgun, so we put our years of collective shooting experience together for some recommendations to help guide your purchase. (And it’s worth noting that this article focuses on shotguns you can buy new today.)
We’ll jump right into our favorite shotguns now. But if you want more guidance, hop down to the end of the article, where we discuss the selection of gauge, action, stock materials, chokes, and more.
Best Shotguns for Hunting
If you were to choose one shotgun to do everything in every condition, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better all-arounder than a Remington 870 in 12-gauge.
Remington introduced the 870 in 1950, and with millions produced since then, you can find them in every possible configuration, stock material, and gauge. It’s an icon of the shooting world for good reason: It’s cheap and works very well.
Do some snooping and you might find a brand-new Remington 870 Express at Cabela’s for $350. And for many people, you could buy this single shotgun and hunt everything from South Dakota pheasants and Wisconsin ruffed grouse to Mississippi waterfowl and East Coast deer with it.
The semiautomatic Weatherby SA-08 can be had for right around $500. And at that price, it’s an exceptional value. It offers hunters a light (about 6-pound) gun that can operate 2.75- and 3-inch shells. It’s durable, with a synthetic stock that’s impervious to moisture. The dual-valve, gas-operated system results in light recoil and cycles shells reliably.
Owners really love this Weatherby SA-08. Out of 26 reviewers at Cabela’s, all but rated it at five stars. Many people say that there simply isn’t a better shotgun, even at much higher prices. And at $500, it includes three choke tubes for plenty of versatility to hunt anything a shotgun will hunt.
The Winchester SXP claims to be “the world’s fastest pump-action shotgun.” Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter, as the SXP is a killer value for a well balanced, well-made bird gun.
We shot the standard 28-inch field model and were impressed with the point-ability as well as the smooth action. It comes standard with three chokes, and, at 6 pounds 14 ounces, it was a breeze to carry for consecutive days in the field.
In the world of shotguns, the words “over-under” and “budget” rarely meet. Double barrel shotguns of good quality just tend to be expensive.
One exception is the CZ USA Drake, a legitimate shooter that rings up at a retail price of just $655. CZ USA imports guns from Turkish manufacturer Huglu and has developed a reputation as a darned good gun for the budget shooter.
No, the fit and finish won’t match that of higher-end doubles on this list. But if you’re itching for that classic double-barrel feel and aren’t flush with cash, this is a very good option.
The Drake has extractor operation, a single selectable trigger, mid-rib delete, and laser-cut checkering. You can get one in 12, 20, 28, and .410 with 28-inch barrels.
Amazingly for the price, the Drake ships with a set of five flush interchangeable chokes (except .410, which has fixed IC/MOD). The Drake also comes in the Southpaw, a lefty-friendly variant for the left-handed shooter.
The Benelli Ethos is one beautifully shooting semiauto, particularly for upland hunting. The Ethos uses Benelli’s excellent Inertia Drive system. And while recoil-operated semiautos tend to kick a little more than a gas-driven system, the Ethos has a nicely engineered recoil management system built into the stock.
We’ve hunted with this gun quite a bit and really enjoyed the way it carries in the field. And upon a flush, it points quickly while offering enough barrel weight to swing through well. It’s a real hammer on pheasants and allowed us to even take a few doubles on roosters.
For those looking for a single semiauto shotgun that can do it all and still be light enough to carry all day in the field, it’s hard to top the Ethos.
The Browning Citori is a legendary line of over-under shotguns. It hit the market in 1973 as a more affordable option to the Browning Superposed, which is more or less the grandfather of modern over-under shotguns.
But one criticism of the Citori is its somewhat blocky in shape. Well, the 725 streamlines that classic shape for a slimmer over-under. It also adds a mechanical trigger, which will fire a second barrel even if the first barrel doesn’t shoot.
Straight up, this is my favorite shotgun on the market right now. I recently dropped a big chunk of cash to buy my own after months of researching shotguns online. And after several hundred rounds of breaking clays, I love it.
The crisp trigger pull, lightness in the hands (7.6 pounds for the 12-gauge, just under 7 for the 20-gauge), and quick mounting make it a perfect over-under for the field as long as you can stomach the price tag.
If the Browning isn’t your cup of tea, the Beretta Silver Pigeon is another iconic over-under for the field. The Italian double gun has a reputation as a well balanced, quick-pointing shotgun that is accurate, reliable, and beautiful. It’s also a fairly light gun to carry, weighing in at 6.8 pounds for the 20-gauge.
The design of the 686 uses opposing trunnions (projections) mounted on the receiver walls where the barrels pivot, thus eliminating the need for underhooks to form a hinge. The result is a more compact arrangement that some shooters love for instinctive pointing and a low-profile line of sight. This well-loved classic is a stalwart of the upland fields.
Benelli invented the inertia-drive system of shotguns and thus has earned a reputation for producing the most reliable semiautomatics on the planet. And the Super Black Eagle 3 might be the most reliable of all.
Unlike many shotguns that cycle through the redirection of expanding gases, Benellis use the inertia created by recoil to cycle new shells. It’s a foolproof method that is recently being copied by a lot more brands now that Benelli’s patent on the system has expired.
But still, there’s nothing like the original. The Super Black Eagle 3 is a beast of a shotgun, with the 12-gauge model capable of chambering everything from 2.75- to 3.5-inch rounds. It’s a renowned weapon of waterfowl hunters, but capable of handling light enough loads to tackle upland game.
Now, for the B.E.S.T acronym: It means “Benelli Surface Treatment” and is the brand’s new proprietary finishing technology. The coating protects steel with a tough, impenetrable armor that stops rust and corrosion.
Benelli is so confident the treatment is impervious to the elements, the brand backs parts treated in BE.S.T. with a 25-year warranty. Throw it in a duck boat, drop it in the mud, and shake it off. It will keep on firing and cycling reliably.
But if you can’t quite afford the original, maybe consider this runner-up to the Benelli. Made by a subsidiary of the same company, Franchi offers much the same engineering as its sibling at a more palatable price.
The Affinity series shotguns land right around the $1,000 mark ($850 as shown above if you’re lucky); they’re not cheap, but not particularly expensive in the world of guns. And at that price, they are excellent, reliable tools that are remarkably versatile.
The Affinity 3.5 is the big hammer of the line. Available in several synthetic finishes as well as wood, the Affinity 3.5 can cycle everything from 2.75- to 3.5-inch shells. That makes it a versatile performer for those who want to shoot light ammo for target and smaller quarry, or up-gun to the big 3.5-inch magnums for turkeys and waterfowl.
As the Affinity uses an Inertia Drive system very similar to that of Benelli’s, this Franchi is a very reliable semiauto that can handle the extremes hunters will throw at it.
With a unique humpback design, the Browning A5 stands out like a sore thumb on any gun rack. But while beauty is in the eye of the beholder on this one, for some, the A5 shoots like a dream. That’s due to the odd humpback that tends to put some shooters’ eyes on the perfect sight plain.
Well, the Sweet Sixteen is Browning’s 16-gauge edition of the A5. It’s a very unique gun in that regard, but one that has admirers among a decent swath of serious shooters. On the plus side, 16-gauge is a really versatile size and tends to be quite rare. Thus, it holds its value very well. And oh, the Sweet Sixteen is a dream to shoot. I’ve crushed a bunch of clays with one and fell quite quickly in love.
On the downside, well, 16-gauge is rare. Finding ammo can be tricky, and the selection will be much more limited than that of 12- and 20-gauge models. But for those who want a gun that stands out from the crowd, this one will be a pleaser.
Beretta builds some of the best shotguns for hunting. But most of them are fairly pricey. The A300 Outlander, however, retains the high Beretta quality while bucking the price trend. You can have this gas-operated semiauto for under $800.
For that modest price, Beretta packs in a lot of technology and performance. The A300 cycles 2.75- and 3-inch shells interchangeably. With the included set of spacers, the oil-finished wood stock allows shooters to customize the drop and cast as well as the length of pull. A high-absorption recoil pad, coupled with the gas operating system, reduces recoil and keeps you on target for fast follow-up shots.
The A300 easily disassembles with no tools into four major components; and with a self-cleaning gas piston, the A300 stays clean for extended periods of shooting. A reversible safety adapts the A300 for left- or right-handed shooters. Sling swivel posts on the stock and forend cap allow for carrying the A300 slung on your shoulder. It comes with three screw-in choke tubes and is made in the USA.
How to Choose the Best Shotgun
While I’ve tried to lay out some top options above, there are literally thousands of very good shotguns you could buy dating back to the early 20th century. So chances are very good that you’re going to consider buying one that’s not on the list above.
What do you need to know to buy the best shotgun for you? Let’s break it down.
The gauge of a shotgun refers to the diameter of the barrel. It’s a measure of how many lead balls of the barrel’s size equal a pound. Yes, it’s an asinine way to measure something. But it’s what we’ve got. Thus, a smaller number equals a bigger barrel.
For most hunters, you will choose between a 12-gauge and 20-gauge, with other, less common sizes being 16-gauge, 28-gauge, and .410-caliber, which is actually a measurement related to rifle size and very small. The most common and most versatile gauge is 12-gauge, while 20-gauge has a lighter recoil and is better suited to smaller birds.
The action refers to how the gun cycles between shots. Common actions are semiautomatic, pump-action, and over-under. Semi-autos use either the inertia of the shot recoil or gases created during firing to cycle a new shell into the chamber.
Hunters use a mechanism called a “pump” to push out the spent shell and push in a new one. And over-unders (or less common side-by-sides), also known as double-barrels, have two barrels which fire in succession as the trigger is pulled.
There are pros and cons to each type, but all have a place in the hunting world. Other less common actions include bolt-action shotguns and single shots.
The choke of a shotgun is a restriction in the last portion of the barrel that helps control the way pellets disperse into a “pattern.” Common chokes, from most open to tightest, are improved cylinder, modified, and full.
There are many other choke variants, but in short, hunters use open chokes like improved cylinder when they expect close shots and want the pellets to spread quickly. Full choke keeps the pattern tight for longer shots. Modified falls in the middle.
Many modern shotguns use interchangeable chokes that you can change easily even in the field. These enhance the versatility of the shotgun. Most new hunters or shooters should buy a shotgun with interchangeable chokes if possible.
Of course, shotguns are complex tools. Many books have been written about them, so I’m leaving out a lot of details. Things like stock material (wood versus synthetic) and length of pull have a huge effect on the way a gun performs and feels. But if you’re getting a shotgun, you have a lifetime to learn about the nuances of the tool.
For now, you should be on your way to making a reasonably informed decision. Good luck — and happy hunting.