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The Toughest Duck Guns

Field-tested in the harsh conditions of Alaska, these top-performing shotguns are built to take a beating.

The Toughest Duck Guns

Hunkered down in a layout boat in the churning Pacific Ocean off Alaska’s Aleutian Island Chain, I clicked the safety off as two stud common eiders banked into the decoys. When the big, yellow feet dropped, I sat up, confident of a double. Instead, my firing pin barely touched the primer. It was my seventh misfire of the trip, where prized sea ducks and Pacific black brant were the targets; I about threw the new inertia driven 12 gauge to the bottom of the ocean. I borrowed an old 870 for the rest of the hunt and did just fine.

The gun that gave me fits on that hunt performed well in the Lower 48, but failed in the saltwater conditions of Alaska. That was in 2017.

duck hunter with shotgun and decoys
Your favorite shotgun may be fine for a small backyard hunt, but is it ready to be tested on a saltwater destination trip? (Photo courtesy of Scott Haugen)

Passing the Test

When it comes to finding dependable guns that consistently work in tough conditions, do your research. Start by assessing the habitat you’ll be hunting in to figure out what challenges may test a gun. If it’s saltwater, sand, and mud, invest in a workhorse that’s proven in these conditions. If you’re hunting a duck pond in a valley where rain is the biggest force you’ll face all season, gun options greatly expand.


Many waterfowlers I know who hunt both salt and freshwater settings during the course of a season have two shotguns; a hefty performer for saltwater birds, and a lighter model for hunting in milder conditions. Some use pump actions in the salt, going with semi-auto’s the rest of the time.

What Does it Take to Make It?

Last season my dad and I picked up two new inertia driven shotguns. By season’s end I had 14 misfires, Dad, 11, with various brands of shells. We were hunting in rain and mild conditions, but despite thorough cleanings after each hunt, they just wouldn’t cycle properly. This season we’re back to gas operated models and are off to a great start. Dad is 81 years old, and I hate seeing him miss opportunities, not only because he’s one of the best waterfowl shots I’ve seen, but because life is passing way too quickly to worry about frustrating misfires.

This is my 45th year of waterfowl hunting, and I still have some of my first shotguns tucked away in the safe. Why? Partly for sentimental reasons, but also because they still work and serve as backups in a pinch.

waterfowl hunter with emperor goose
Know how to properly disassemble and clean your shotgun before venturing on a destination hunt to avoid hiccups and misfires when trophy birds are on the line. (Photo courtesy of Scott Haugen)

If your gun gets used as a paddle in the swamp boat or as a crutch to pull you out of deep mud in a marsh, it’ll need a thorough cleaning. One time on Kodiak Island a buddy and I were hunting sea ducks when an immense storm suddenly kicked up. We lost a paddle to our little raft, along with a bilge pump. I had to use the butt of my shotgun to help steer in the raging winds and water that spilled over the bow as my buddy worked the tiny motor. I thought it was the end and taking care of the guns was the least of our worries. We barely made it back to camp and immediately buttoned up things so they wouldn’t blow away or get more soaked.


My buddy’s gun had been on the floor of the raft, covered in nearly a foot of saltwater by the time we made it to safety. An hour passed before we cleaned the guns, as we had more pressing issues to tend to. It took time and tedious work, and though rust was already starting to build in spots, the guns recovered, and we had some good days of hunting once the storm passed.

waterfowl hunter with emperor goose
The saltwater spray of an open ocean hunt can harm your shotgun without proper cleaning and maintenance. (Photo courtesy of Scott Haugen)

Duck Gun Care

If hunting in mild conditions, a quick wipe down may be all that’s needed. The occasional bore cleaning is also wise, especially if powder and moisture buildup inside the barrel. Pay attention to the conditions you’re hunting in and how they impact your gun. And whatever gun you choose, take care of it, cleaning as needed, in order to get the most out of it year after year.

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Note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author. Learn more at www.scotthaugen.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

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