Duck hunters ask a lot of our equipment, especially our shotguns. We expect them to go “boom” every time we pull the trigger, despite long seasons in the harshest conditions imaginable. Salt spray? Wipe it down, give it a shot of oil and take it back to the marsh for another round of gunning.
Mud, corn stubble, snow, sleet, driving rain, even filthy dogs—it’s all just part of the waterfowling culture, and only a duck hunter could love it like we do. In turn, the best shotguns stand up to those conditions year after year, performing flawlessly when a flock of mallards settles into the decoys or when a pair of honkers sails in like a couple of silent B-52s.
Here’s a look at the best waterfowl shotguns of all time, guns that do what we ask and more. Some have been around for decades, a few for more than a century. They’ve proved their worth with each passing season, despite a layer of rust and a battered stock. A few are remnants of a bygone era. Others may be the new gun in the marsh, but legions of dedicated waterfowlers have put them through the ringer and given them a wet, cold thumbs up.
The Fox brand turned more into a working man’s gun when the company was acquired by Savage in 1929. The side-by-side was in production in various forms until 1988. Many of the guns are still in use today, although doubles are relatively uncommon in the duck marsh. Nash Buckingham would probably be disappointed with that that reality if he were still alive today.
Some folks will certainly argue that it’s the best duck gun right now. At prices of $1,800 or more, the SBE won’t be too common of a sight in the marsh, but one thing’s for sure: Duck hunters who can afford an SBE will still be using it well into the future.
The self-compensating, gas-driven recoil system helps reduce the inevitable punch of those large loads, but it’s a gun best-suited for hunters willing to take time to clean it after an outing in the marsh.
Soon after, production moved to Belgian company Fabrique Nationale under the Browning name and then to Japan. The A-5’s era ended in 1998, but it was reborn with modern improvements in 2012. Old or new, the A-5 has a solid reputation as a reliable duck- and goose-killing machine.
If you do see an over-under, there’s a good chance it’s a Browning Citori. Introduced in 1973 as a less-expensive version of Browning’s popular Superposed, the Citori has become the go-to over-under for discerning waterfowlers. The single trigger and selective safety make it ideal for shooting with gloved hands in extreme conditions. It remains the most popular over-under in its class and is now available in a variety of models.
Many of the guns carried by kids are Harrington & Richardson’s venerable Topper. First introduced in 1893, H&R’s break-open shotguns remain as reliable today as they were back then. They are safe, functional and well-suited for beginning hunters intent on bagging their first duck or goose.
The bottom port proved a worthy feature in the duck marsh, and it remains one of the most reliable shotguns in history. The name was changed to the Model 87 after the company was sold in 1987, but it was changed back to the Model 37 after 9 years. Production ceased in 2005 after the company was sold again, but the Model 37 is once again back in production.
At least 4 million variations of the 1100 have been produced since then, and Remington revamped the 1100 and produced the 11-87 in 1987. Both guns are still in production in various forms, but the 11-87 has become the choice for duck hunters, in part because of its available camouflage finish.
Remington reinvented the 870 in the mid-1990s when it introduced the 870 Express, a no-frills version of the original Wingmaster. Although less expensive than the Wingmaster, the Express is equally reliable in the waterfowl trenches.
More than 2 million were built, including a Heavy Duck Gun version, which accepted 3-inch shells. Sales fell after Remington introduced the less-expensive 870, and the shotgun was taken out of mass production in 1964. Although not a common sight in the duck marshes these days, the Model 12 remains a favorite among old-timers who helped feed their families with the iconic shotgun.