February 03, 2022
Waterfowling can be an expensive pastime. By the time you calculate the cost of waders and clothing, calls, dozens of decoys, licenses and stamps, and ammunition you’re already approaching or above the four-figure mark, and that doesn’t even account for waterfowling’s most pricy luxury items like top tier retriever training, club memberships, boats, and land management.
One place you don’t need to spend a fortune is on your shotgun, though. There are some very reliable, high-quality guns on the market today for less than a thousand dollars, and with regular maintenance and minimal care these guns should last a lifetime. Here’s a look at the best duck and goose guns available today under a grand.
Winchester - SX4
The SX4 earns a spot on our list in large part because it comes with one of the most efficient, reliable gas-operated systems on the market. The Active Valve gas system has been around for over a decade and it functions with a range of loads by releasing excess gas through the Quadra-Vent ports, so that the gun is always properly gassed for whatever load is being used. The Active Valve system doesn’t require excessive maintenance, and cleaning the system is quick and simple. Other winning features found on the SX4 include a back-bored barrel, oversized controls, Invector-Plus screw-in chokes, and stock spacers for adjusting length of pull. The base model in 12- or 20-gauge with a black synthetic stock is perfectly functional, but I think the new SX4 Hunter Woodland model with its slick retro camo pattern is the most eye-catching of the bunch. The 12-gauge SX4 is available with either a 3 or 3 ½-inch chamber, and there’s a compact version as well.
$849.99-$999.99 | winchesterguns.com
Mossberg - 500/835
The Mossberg 500 has been in production for over six decades and deserves a spot on any list of the best affordable waterfowl shotguns. Available in 12- and 20-gauge and .410 bore, the Model 500 pump-action features an anti-jam elevator, tang-mounted safety, dual action bars, and durable steel-to-steel lockup that helps ensure a long working life. The basic black 12-gauge version with 3-inch chamber comes with Accu-Set chokes and carries an MSRP under $500. If you prefer something with a bit more punch, the 835 Ulti-Mag, the first 3 ½-inch 12-gauge shotgun, is available in a Waterfowl configuration which comes with a full Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo dip and costs about $100 more. Interestingly, Mossberg offers a .410 version of the Model 500, and the new crop of TSS ammunition has transformed that gun into an effective, low-recoiling duck killer. There are also several Bantam youth models available for small-statured shooters.
$459-$568 | mossberg.com
TriStar Arms: Viper Max
Reliable, functional, and hardworking—can you really ask for anything more from a 3 ½-inch supermag semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun that costs less than a grand? This gas-operated gun has no problem cycling anything from light target ammo to heavy hunting loads, and with it's dual piston system, you can store your secondardy piston in the forearm for easy retrieval. The Viper Max comes complete with a four-pack of Beretta/Benelli Mobil interchangeable chokes (SK, IC, M, F), chrome-lined chamber and barrel, swivel studs, newly developed recoil pad, fiber optic front sight, and a famed five-year warranty. The value experts at TriStar have created an option for every personal preference, with a black synthetic, Realtree MAX-5—and our favorite—Mossy Oak Blades and Bronze camo configurations.
$715-$825 | Tristararms.com
CZ - 1012
CZ is new to the inertia-operated autoloading shotgun segment, but you wouldn’t guess that while handling and shooting the 1012. This inertia gun feels refined, and we can credit CZ for doing their homework before jumping into the market. 1012 shotguns come with controls that are large and easy to use, and the semi-humpback profile and stock angles give the gun a sleek, modern look. The biggest news here, though, is the inertia system that runs cleaner than gas guns. In fact, maintenance requirements are so minimal that CZ ran these guns to 5,000 rounds without cleaning or lubricating and didn’t experience a malfunction. There are three Turkish walnut stocked models with your choice of gloss black chrome, bronze, or silver finishes, but I’d imagine most waterfowlers will gravitate toward the synthetic models with camo finishes, my favorite of which is the 1012 Synthetic Bottomland which comes with a full Mossy Oak Bottomlands dip. There’s also a cool All-terrain 1012 model with OD Green Cerakote finish. All 1012 shotguns come with a 3-inch chamber and five extended choke tubes.
$645-$715 | cz-usa.com
Franchi - Affinity 3/3.5
Franchi’s Italian-made, Inertia-Driven Affinity semiauto shotguns are extremely reliable and require very minimal maintenance. Unlike their cousins from Benelli, Franchi’s semiautos have a recoil spring that is located on the magazine tube and thus easier to access for maintenance. There’s a Compact version, and because the recoil spring is not part of the stock, when your young shooter is ready for a full-length shotgun you can simply install the longer buttstock. The Affinity’s controls are large and easy to operate, and the TSA recoil pad does an admirable job reducing kick, even when firing 3 ½-inch loads from the Affinity 3.5 model. If you don’t use 3 ½-inch loads you’ll be pleased with the Affinity 3 in your choice of black, Realtree, or Mossy Oak camo patterns, but if you want to shoot the largest 12-gauge shells available, then the Affinity 3 black synthetic model, which retails for just under $1,000, is your best bet in this line. Other key features include interchangeable chokes, a red fiber optic front sight, and stock shims. Regardless of which Affinity you choose, you’re getting a firearm that competes with waterfowl guns costing much more.
$849-$999 | franchiusa.com
Browning - BPS
The bottom feeding/ejecting BPS has a tang-mounted safety, and that makes it one of the few waterfowl guns that is truly ambidextrous. The receiver is machined from a solid block of forged steel instead of aluminum alloy, and while that adds a bit of weight (the 12- and 10-guage 3 ½-inch models weigh about 8 pounds), that helps reduce recoil. Twin action arms ensure smooth, slick operation and the recently redesigned stocks are more trim and functional than those found on previous iterations of this gun. The BPS Field with wood stock is the best option for hunters who appreciate the look and feel of walnut, and the Field Composite guns are available with either a black stock and matte finish or full Mossy Oak (Shadow Grass Habitat or Break-Up Country) camo finish. Three Invector-Plus chokes come standard, and your blind mates will appreciate that the BPS tosses spent hulls downward and not directly into the face of the hunter beside you, as is the case with other semiautos.
$719.99 to $919.99 | browning.com
Mossberg - 940 Waterfowl Pro
Mossberg’s new 940 Waterfowl Pro shotgun is an updated version of the company’s successful 930 gas-operated semiauto. Enhancements to the new 940 include oversized controls for easier operation, a True Timber Prairie adjustable camo stock, and beveled loading port. The most noteworthy addition on the 940, is a revised gas operating system with high-tech coatings that lengthens the recommended rounds between cleanings, from 500 to 1,500. The metalwork comes with a Cerakote Patriot Brown finish and a set of X-Factor Extended Chokes and a TriComp fiber optic sight come standard on this gun. Weight is about 7.75-pounds, and the 940 I tested functioned flawlessly, yet it wasn’t abusive with magnum loads. The 940 Waterfowl Pro’s MSRP is slightly over the $1,000 limit, but street prices will likely be less than a grand.
$1,050 | mossberg.com
Stoeger’s Inertia-Driven semiautos are both reliable and affordable, which is one reason that they have become so popular among waterfowlers over the course of the last decade. The simple, clean-running operating system ensures minimal care is required to keep these guns running smoothly. While they aren’t quite as refined as the offerings from sister brands Benelli and Franchi, Stoeger’s semiautos get the job done day in and day out. The M3500 line includes 12-gauge 3 ½-inch chambered guns, the M3000s are 12-gauge 3-inch guns, and the M3020s are the company’s 3-inch 20-gauge models. Screw-in chokse come standard, and you can choose from walnut or synthetic stocks in a variety of camo finishes. Weights vary from 5.5-poumnds for the M3020 to almost 8 pounds for the M3500 shotguns. There’s also a M3500 Snow Goose edition that comes with a stylish Distressed White Cerakote finish, extended magazine tube, and paracord sling. Regardless of which model you choose, you simply can’t go wrong with any Stoeger.
$559-$899 | stoegerindustries.com