It wasn't so long ago that semi-autos were like a sexy racing boat: Fun to run and certainly appealing, but you didn't want to go too far from shore in one.
As a result of what I called earlier generation "jam-a-matics" I became a pump guy in the late '80s and stuck with them all through the '90s because my experience with my first two auto-loaders (built in the '70s) was painful. They'd 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 "reliable" and "auto-loader" 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 our picks the best waterfowl shotguns for 2013.
Feels like a mild mannered smaller gun, barks like a big dog. That'™s the new Franchi Intensity
, a 3 1/2-inch version of the Affinity, with the well-established Inertia Driven system, utilizing a recoil spring wrapped around the magazine tube and thus allowing slim dimensions. Comes in three finishes and 26- or 28-inch barrels, with a stepped ventilated rib and three extended choke tubes for quick-change convenience. Shim kit is standard for a custom fit, and optional recoil pads can customize your length of pull. True to Franchi form, she'™s an elegant lightweight at just 6.7 pounds and each of these pounds are nicely distributed. We'™ve hunted them from Africa to the North Atlantic and found them reliable.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],100 to [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],200
Benelli Montefeltro & M2
long run as the graceful walnut-and-steel semi-auto is not over by any stretch, but the slenderness and fluidity for which the reliable inertia action gun is known will get a rugged face-lift this year in the form of an optional synthetic stock that will give it the kind of bottom-of-the-boat durability most duck hunters prefer. The result is a mild-mannered all-day dove gun with a light aluminum receiver that can take a waterfowler'™s beating due to the inertia and rotating bolt head action. And the new Monte still comes in at a hair under 7 pounds at a reasonable MSRP.
Also new this year: Benelli'™s 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: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],139 to [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],519
Beretta A400 Xtreme & A400 Xplor
The A400 Xtreme
in Optifade and Realtree Max-4 will no doubt reign a long time as the oldest gun company in the world'™s premiere duck gun, as it should, with it'™s polished interior parts, Kick-off recoil dampening, overall durability, super-fast assembly with the B-Lock system and many other features. But for those who have had enough of camo-everything, many hunters don'™t know it is also available in straight black, says Lea Ranthum, spokeswoman. Also in Beretta'™s arsenal: The A300 Outlander remains a superb value at $725. Based on the old reliable A391 action, it'™s a winner.
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 [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],825 but should go for less in stores.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],825 to [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],840
Stoeger Longfowler Doubles
If there'™s something better than a reliable double gun coming from a company with ties to Benelli
for $400, please call and tell us what it is. While over-unders are awkward in a duck blind or layout, there is nothing cooler or more balanced, smooth swinging or screams retro-duck-man chic like a side-by-side, for these are the guns of our forefathers. The horizontal sight plane creates a natural follow through as well.
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.
Remington Versa Max Sportsman
When Big Green launched the Versa Max
a few years back, it was a big leap forward in American shotgun design, and was instantly one of the softest-kicking, nicely balanced guns around. This year, they premiere a workhorse field model called the Versa Max Sportsman
, priced for a broader appeal at just over [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],000. The new gun features the same seven port-gas system that operates in stages according to shell length, and gives the gun a between-the-hands balance.
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 [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],025 and [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],175 respectively, along with 26-inch black synthetic and 26-inch Realtree AP fully-camouflaged versions.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],175 to [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],205
Mossberg Recoil Reduction 835, 535 & 500
I was pumped to hunt eiders with Mossberg
in Maine last year, but actually dreading shooting big heavy duck loads through a pump. Lightweight pump shotguns tend to kill at both ends, and while it was so cold our heavy clothing no doubt helped with recoil, at the same time it was surprising how manageable these different Mossbergs were with Hevi-Metal and Speed Ball'™s stomper waterfowl loads using the new recoil reduction systems.
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
Weatherby Kryptek SA-08 Youth & SA-08 28-Gauge
If 'œKryptek' sounds a little cryptic, that'™s a fine description for Weatherby\'s
new camo pattern featured on their WBY-X
line of firearms, aimed at shaking the company'™s stodgy image as the home of grandpa'™s glossy magnum rifles and embracing the video game generation. The 20-gauge SA-08 Kryptek
youth model sports camo that makes other edgy patterns look conservative. Indeed, they have developed a real humdinger of a duck gun for kids for $700, a semi-auto with a 24-inch barrel.
'œWe'™re trying to be a little less traditional because Weatherby gets pigeonholed as making grandad'™s guns,' says spokesman Tim Frampton. 'œThe Kryptek SA-08 youth is a great first gun for a young duck hunter because it has a short length of pull, is easy to handle and the Kryptek pattern is the latest thing, which kids always want.' Check out the whole line at wby-x.com.
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 hole'¦and a real pleasure to carry all day as opposed to a full-framed 8-pound 12-gauge.
CZ Wildfowl Magnum
If you'™re the kind of shotgunner that believes 'œreliable' and 'œaffordable' should not be mutually exclusive terms, CZ
has built a reputation for functional and reasonably nice-looking guns that are both. The 612 Wildfowl Magnum
pump is a duck-shucker that will serve solid duty as a good turkey gun come spring, and all-around fun in the off-season, with it'™s capacity as a six-shot gun (2¾-inch) that can also consume thumper 3' and 3.5' loads. Basically, any 12-gauge load you can find, it'™ll eat. All without a fat-girl physique: With a 26-inch barrel the '˜fowler comes in at just under 7 pounds (6.8) and has a 14.5-inch length of pull. A polymer stock and good-looking Next camo (full receiver coverage) complete the no-nonsense look for a tough to beat price. Five-year warranty, modified and extra-full chokes included.
Browning A5Browning A5s
have no doubt accounted for more dead ducks and geese than any other auto-loader, only to be canceled from production a few years back just shy of the century mark. So we were thrilled at the reintroduction last year of the cool new A5, with its sleeker but still unmistakable profile and slick fast-feeding function (with the bolt open shove one in the mag tube and it pops right into the chamber).
This year, a new 3.5' 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 3' gun is under 7 pounds). Our vote? Get it in classic walnut and steel. With six configurations, we'™d still like to see a low-gloss wood.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],700
Winchester Super X3
Hunters love to talk gear. Spend as much time in the blinds as we do, and you'™ll notice something — you don'™t hear many folks with anything bad to say about the Winchester SX3
. Marked down last year by about $250, it seems like waterfowlers have an ideal semi-auto in the [imo-slideshow gallery= 41]K range in this one. I have hunted with them in Canada twice and shot them more times than I can remember across North America, and while nothing fancy, they are a light, soft-kicking and a nicely balanced semi overall. The 3.5' gun runs ([imo-slideshow gallery= 41],200) for Realtree Max-4.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 41],200