It wasnât so long ago that semi-autos were like a sexy racing boat: Fun to run and certainly appealing, but you didnât want to go too far from shore in one.
As a result of what I called earlier generation âjam-a-maticsâ I became a pump guy in the late â80s and stuck with them all through the â90s because my experience with my first two auto-loaders (built in the â70s) was painful. Theyâd perform fine in the dove fields and pheasant rows, then get sick and start puking on me soon as the mercury dropped or heavy loads were involved, stove-piping if they extracted at all.
I took years of the pounding recoil from my lightweight upland special 12-gauge BPS rather than risk the jams I witnessed in the frozen sandy goose pits and single-digit temps. Finally, as steel loads grew hotter, I began to hear the words âreliableâ and âauto-loaderâ in the same sentence, and grilled many goose guides. They told me the Beretta A390 was absolutely dependable and soft-kicking. I tried one and have never looked back. Back then, just a handful of semi-autos existed that could be called reliable.
Now, gratefully, that has changed and there are many autos you should not hesitate to purchase across ever-broadening price points. Check out ourÂ picks the best waterfowl shotguns for 2013.
Price: $1,100 to $1,200
Also new this year: Benelliâs M2 20-gauge in left-handed that they claim is the first SA designed just for southpaws, who are breathing easier now that gun companies are finally understanding that a larger percent of the population is wrong-handed. A high-tech synthetic stock and gel recoil pad show why Benelli has the largest array of SAs of any company. Mag capacity is 3+1 and the little M2 features the Crio choke system.
Price: $1,139 to $1,519
But perhaps my new favorite shotgun is the A400 Xplor Action 20-gauge, a gun I would use anytime while shooting over decoys or close up. More guys are carrying 20s in the timber, and the Beretta is lighter than most 28 gauges at an even 5 pounds! With the Kick-off system, it weighs just slightly more and recoil is non-existent. The sensation when I was killing birds with it in Texas was like pointing your finger, not holding and swinging a gun at all. It lists at $1,825 but should go for less in stores.
Price: $1,825 to $1,840
And who has designed a double gun of either style specifically for waterfowlers in, you know, forever? Stoeger has done just that. With walnut stocks bearing weather resistant oil finishes to go with matt, non-glare blueing and 30-inch barrels, these are classic duck guns from the get. With extended choke tubes, they are nice looking no-nonsense beasts. If only they had double triggers! Available in both 12- and 20-gauge.
Other nice touches include a mil-spec anodized aluminum receiver for weight reduction; a synthetic stock with a SuperCell recoil pad; a hammer-forged barrel with stepped ventilated rib sling studs for ease of carry and over-sized safety. Initial offerings include a 28-inch black synthetic version and a 28-inch Mossy Oak Duck Blind full camo version with a suggested retail price of $1,025 and $1,175 respectively, along with 26-inch black synthetic and 26-inch Realtree AP fully-camouflaged versions.
Price: $1,175 to $1,205
Yes, we had on lots of cushioning but we also shot mostly from the punishing sitting position, greatly increasing felt recoil compared to standing up. The Dual-Comb adjustable stock design is a nice touch, and the Mathews Harmonic Damper Technology and a new re-engineered thermoplastic elastomer recoil pad added a third dimension to the recoil reduction program on the guns. The 835 and 535 both handle 3.5-inch shells, and the 500 comes in a Field/Deer combo model with a 28-inch Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity ribbed and ported barrel as well as a 24-inch rifled deer slug barrel with sights.
Price: $543 to $630
Also new: We would never suggest a 28-gauge as a primary duck gun for adults, but I just profiled the new 5.5-pound Weatherby SA-08 for the August Guns & Ammo. After obliterating dozens of skeet with it, I must conclude that it would be really fun for close up, in the decoys gunning, or for an advanced shooter in a good flooded timber holeâŠand a real pleasure to carry all day as opposed to a full-framed 8-pound 12-gauge.
This year, a new 3.5â arrives and while we look forward to testing its reliability, a 3.5-inch A5 is nothing the world has seen before and should be an awesome extension of a fabled line. The new A5s are inertia guns like Benellis, and light for their appearance (the 3â gun is under 7 pounds). Our vote? Get it in classic walnut and steel. With six configurations, weâd still like to see a low-gloss wood.