While the “year of the duck” became the year of hard luck for many fowlers in parts of the country that were despicably warm still in midwinter, it was not for lack of proper arsenal that the birds weren’t falling. Like next year’s duck counts will no doubt turn out, this year’s crop of waterfowl guns offers a lot of carryover from the year prior, including some ultra-light autoloaders, guns with wicked new paint jobs, a killer Lego kit of a Mossberg pump and an insurrection of well-made guns that won’t kill your kid’s college fund.
Stealing the shotgun show at SHOT was the resurrection of an all-time great autoloader, Browning’s venerable humpback A-5, a legacy gun that is back and better-looking than ever. Now if we can just get a cold winter next year to kick us down some of these birds at a reasonable time in the season…
Anyway, here’s eight of our favorite waterfowling shotguns for the new year in alphabetical order.
Benelli Performance Shop Super Black Eagle II
While not all-new by design but specifically for waterfowl hunters comes what is essentially a Super Black Eagle ll with a tuning kit and aftermarket mods. Polished guts in the gun and a custom trigger are the start, followed by Rob Roberts Custom Triple Threat chokes. Each gun is test fired, and features a Crio barrel with a polished forcing cone to provide consistent patterns while reducing recoil. Also new from Benelli are Super Black Eagle ll models featuring Mossy Oak Duck Blind Camo, and a new M2 in 20 gauge with Realtree MAX 4 Camo; a first for a 20 gauge from Benelli in waterfowl specific camo.
Price: Performance Shop Super Black Eagle ll in Realtree MAX 4 camo, $2,669
Beretta A400 Xtreme OPTIFADE
After running this gun all season and piling up snow geese knee-deep with it last week in Arkansas, it’s hard to argue that the Beretta A400 Xtreme is not at the pinnacle of duck and goose gun engineering. I love this gun, from it’s proven rotating bolt head and gas cycling that functions with about any load made, to its softest-kicking status thanks to the Kickoff recoil dampening system. Kickoff uses hydraulics to prevent muzzle rise and to keep hard hitting loads from removing your fillings. With just a quarter-turn the B-Lock forend cap pops off, allowing total takedown in seconds. The gun premiered last year in Realtree MAX 4, and reappears for 2012 with Gore OPTIFADE, a cool sort of honeycomb-meets-snakeskin mirage, which is based on the science of what animals see, not just mimicking surroundings.
Price: $1,840. Those in the market for an over-under dream gun should also check out the all-new SV10 Perennia ($2,890). Though of upland design, the 3” SV10 models are fine for any fowling.
If I had a box of shells for every time someone asked me, “Did you see the new A5?” at the SHOT Show, I would never need to buy ammo again. Browning’s original design had nearly a hundred-year run, and it’s back as an all-new, streamlined, gorgeous-as-ever but slightly less humpbacked version using a different recoil-operated cycling system. For those of us who dig the square-jawed looks and the clear sight picture of the duck hunter’s original battle axe, the new A5 is a home run. Comes with a five-year or 100,000 shot guarantee, a 3-inch chamber and in Mossy Oak Duck Blind or Break Up, as well as black or walnut.
CZ 712 ALS
CZ claims the new CZ 712 ALS is the only semi-auto shotgun on the market with a fully adjustable length stock. That’s a neat trick to be able to take advantage of when you’re wearing bulky clothing or shooting from a layout, and a slightly shorter length of pull is the way to go. And of course, there is the issue of young shooters growing up to be big shooters. The stock has a simple AR style push-button release that boasts four different length settings, and the gun has an adjustable cheek piece, too. Not a real pretty setup, but a practical one and dang hard to beat at this price point. At our magazine roundtable last year, it was noted that some editors enjoyed the feel and pointability of some of these CZ autos over more renowned makers.
Busting the biggest ducks in North America off the coast of Maine in December, we managed to push the new Franchi Affinity semi-autos to the limits chasing eiders all morning, then switching to smoking hot puddle duck shoots in the afternoons. This environment is so severe it involved dunking the entire gun in kerosene each night, draining it off and heading back out on the sea the next morning. Nobody who shot these guns had anything bad to say about them, and they are about as light and pointy as semis get. A steal of a 3-inch gun at the price, and come in straight black or both Realtree APG and MAX 4.
Price: $849 black, $949 camo
The natural grace of the over-under is beloved by American sportsmen, and a sweet-pointing “stack” is not hard to come by -- except at this price. Tang-mounted automatic safeties work as barrel selectors in both the Franchi L and SL (above) models, with the SL featuring a polished aluminum receiver and the L built around a case-color hardened solid steel receiver. Both models chamber up to 3” shells and weigh as little as 5.3 pounds in the feathery 20 gauge, and both are available in both 20 and 12 gauges arriving in a nifty hard cover carrying case. Who’d have ever thought you could buy quality Italian double barrels for less than most premiere modern semi-auto duck guns?
Price: Instinct L -- $1,149; Instinct SL -- $1,349
Mossberg Flex 500
Mossberg’s genius mutating Flex 500 pumps feature interchangeable parts for “most versatile pump shotgun in the world” status. Schizophrenic shotguns are not new, but have not been created on quite this Transformers level before, perfect for the guy who can only afford one gun or who just wants ultimate utility and versatility. The tool-less TSL locking system has a series of simple connectors that allow you to swap stocks, forends and recoil pads at will. Hunting models come in three proven Realtree and Mossy Oak camo patterns, as well as colored barrel configurations ranging from camo to tan and green. Throw in the ability to choose from Mossberg’s vast selection of barrels, and you are never going to get bored with this gun.
Winchester Super X3
Since the Winchester SX3 was released in 3.5 inch a while ago, there’s not a lot new with the gun overall except something that’s critical to gun buyers: price. Like the Franchi, this is a superbly pointy, very lightweight shotgun that comes in well under the price point of most guns that are on the same playing field in terms of performance (lightweight, soft-kicking semi-automatic guns capable of digesting the heaviest waterfowling loads). I had the chance to work over the speckled belly geese in Arkansas with it and hunted the flooded timber for ducks (with the inevitable dunkings that come with that), and the SX3 fired without a hitch. The SX3 just might be the great bargain of the full-sized 3.5-inch capable semi-auto shotgun world. Winchester worked hard with the supplier to trim pricing down with savings like eliminating the Dura Touch coating on the stock and forearm.
Price: Retail is now $1,199, down from $1,479 a year ago.