There are pessimists in all walks of life, yet I’m still taken aback by how many are encountered among our ranks. After all, this is arguably the best time to be a duck hunter in many years. Duck populations are at record highs. Season lengths and bag limits are generous. Steel shotshells finally work. And our guns—at every conceivable price point—are in some ways better than ever before.
You can buy a duck gun with a couple days’ pay or one that’s equivalent to a monthly mortgage statement. Most are well-made, reliable and—for different reasons—worth the investment. Here are a few of the best duck guns at every price point.
Entry Level: CZ 612 Wildfowl Magnum
CZ’s 612 Wildfowl Magnum is the perfect pump-action for anyone who wants one gun to pursue gobblers in the spring and geese in the fall. It comes with two chokes—a steel-ready modified tube and super-full turkey. Like big loads for big birds? The Wildfowl Magnum has a 3 ½-inch chamber, a notable feature at this price point. A camo dip adds concealment and durability.
Entry Level: Stoeger M3000
It began almost as a secret—Stoeger makes essentially the same semi-auto shotguns as its parent company, Benelli, but at less than half the price. The Stoeger M3000, a 3-inch 12-gauge autoloader, has the inertia-driven guts of a Benelli but a price tag that’s closer to certain pumps.
It may not have all the recoil-dampeners that a Super Black Eagle II sports, but in a heavy jacket while shooting at ducks, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt much of a difference. I also find the M3000 to be a rather attractive gun given its price range, perhaps more so than its hump-backed cousin. This is arguably the best semi-auto bargain on the market.
Price: $529 (black synthetic), 599 (camo dipped)
Entry Level: Weatherby PA-08 Synthetic Waterfowler
Weatherby is best known as a quality rifle manufacturer, but it has fought hard to make inroads in the shotgun market. Some ventures have been more successful than others, but it looks to have a winner in its relatively new line of value-priced, Turkish-made shotguns. Take the PA-08 Synthetic Waterfowler—a pump-action, dipped-stock 12-gauge that retails for slightly less than a field-grade Remington 870.
I found the gun to handle nicely, with a slightly forward point of balance. Given it’s a light gun without a whole lot of recoil-dampening frills, I’d opt for the 28-inch barrel to bump weight up to 7 ¼ pounds. Included chokes are IC, M and F.
Mid Level: Mossberg 935 Magnum Flyway Waterfowl
Mossberg has long established itself as a leader in the value department, and the 935 Magnum Flyway Waterfowl edition is no exception. For under $900 retail, just look at these features: a 28-inch overbored 12-gauge barrel; ported “X-Factor” waterfowl choke; 3 ½-inch chamber; camo dip; padded sling; fiber-optic front bead; and more. I doubt this is a gun that will cause many people any buyer’s remorse.
Mid Level: Remington Versa Max Sportsman
Remington hit a homerun in 2010 with the release of its Versa Max autoloader, which will cycle any 12-gauge shell made. It regulates gas using the length of the shell. The design is genius and at the same time inspires the old question “why didn’t I think of that?” This year Remington has sought out a new chunk of the market by offering a more affordable version, the Versa Max Sportsman. The gun’s action is identical to the original; it simply comes with a few less features and accessories—and a savings of nearly $400.
Mid Level: Winchester Super X3 Waterfowl Hunter
All things considered, the Winchester Super X3 may be my favorite gas-operated autoloader. Its gas piston is wonderfully simple, easily cleaned, and it just plain works. For those waterfowlers with about a grand to spend on a new gun, it’s often my first recommendation.
The latest addition to the line, the Super X3 Waterfowl Hunter, features special duck gun touches like a 3 ½-inch chamber, a Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades dip, and a hard-chrome finish on the chamber and bore to prevent scoring from steel shot.
High Level: Benelli Super Black Eagle II
A Belgian-made Browning A5 was the prestige gun of our grandfathers’ generation, and the Benelli Super Black Eagle II has arguably cemented itself as ours. With the release of the Performance Shop Waterfowl Edition, Benelli steps it up even further. According to Benelli, the gun’s inertia-action is specially honed and polished, and it features a tuned trigger for an extra-crisp break.
Also included with the purchase is a set of Rob Roberts Custom Triple Threat Choke tubes, and each gun is test-fired before shipping to ensure an ideal pattern. An oversized bolt-handle for reloading with cold, gloved hands adds a final, nice touch. This is the gun I will once again ask my wife to buy me for Christmas, but I’m not holding my breath.
High Level: Beretta A400 Extreme
The debate over who makes the ultimate duck gun, period, regardless of price point, typically boils down to two guns: The aforementioned Benelli, and Beretta. As you’d expect from a gun bearing its name, the A400 Extreme is a very well-made shotgun that quickly earned a reputation for reliability.
Its features are both innovative and practical, including the recoil-dampening “Kick-Off” system, which incorporates a hydraulic dampener into the stock. The gun resists corrosion, it’s backbored with steel shot in mind and it has a strong “Steelium” barrel. I also believe it to be a very sharp looking gun. In fact, particularly when paired with Gore’s Optifade camo, it is perhaps the most beautiful duck gun currently sold.
High Level: Browning Maxus
Browning fans stack the company’s signature autoloader—the 3 ½-inch 12-gauge Maxus—up against any gun on the market. And why not? It sports a similar gas piston as its cousin, the Winchester Super X3 (which I’ve already raved about), plus a host of great features.
It’s fully adjustable for pull, drop and cast; “Speed Load” plus allows shells to be loaded/unloaded without working the bolt; the barrel is backbored and includes a lengthened forcing cone; and true to its heritage the gun has an A5-style magazine cut-off switch. One of my favorite aspects of the gun is its slim, tapered forend. To me, a shotgun just seems to point more naturally when it places my forward hand’s index finger close to the barrel.
Price: $1,470 or 1,600 (dipped)