Simple Tips for Selecting the Right Shotgun

The Pump Action

Mention pump shotguns, and the attention turns automatically to the fabled Winchester Model 12, the so-called “perfect repeater.” Introduced by Winchester in 1912 in the post-Browning era, the gun was touted to require the finest materials and manufacturing techniques, which ultimately translated into its mass-production doom.

Pump-actions are among the most versatile options for those in the market for a shotgun, and one of the most cost effective.

Pump-actions are among the most versatile options for those in the market for a shotgun, and one of the most cost effective.


The value of the pump is its repeating ability and larger cartridge capacity over break-actions. With an extension tube, a tactical pump gun can carry upward of eight rounds in the magazine, a hunting gun six.

With a pump, a shooter points more directly at the target with his forehand as he works the slide, and so pulls down on it more naturally. Two other recommendations for the pump are its affordability, the Remington 870 starting at $400 retail, and reliability.

Another selling point for the pump is home defense. It is generally less expensive than a handgun, more accurate to point and creates a larger spray of projectiles.

Semi-Auto Seduction

The semi-auto shotgun is operated by two different systems: gas or recoil.

With a recoil action the force of the fired cartridge pushes back against the mass of the shooter and drives open the action, ejects the spent hull, loads another round, and recocks the gun. This is the action Browning used in his A-5, called in his case a “long recoil” action.

The other, more modern self-loading action is the gas-operated model. This action uses the gases of the cartridge’s ignition to operate, usually, a piston and produce the cycle of ejection, reloading and cocking.

Semi-automatic shotguns have two system options, recoil operated and gas operated.

Semi-automatic shotguns have two system options, recoil operated and gas operated.


So, which to choose?

In general, the recoil-operated actions recoil more but are easier to maintain. While gas-operate models are, normally, softer shooting but need more attention to cleaning to avoid fouling and jamming.

Well looked after, the gas gun ought to be as reliable in the field as any recoil-operated one, and should be better at absorbing the intense recoil of magnum loads such as those used for waterfowl.

Match the Action to Your Action

As a final rule of thumb, and pure opinion, pick an O/U for target and competitive shooting, and as a reliable upland gun. A pump is excellent for an all-around “beater,” to use an abusive term. A pump will also pull duty as a waterfowl gun in the harshest conditions, but there is little that will stop modern semi-autos, which will also soften the impact of 3- and 3½-inch loads on the hunter. And if you want the height of shotgun elegance and delight in shooting, buy the best SxS you can afford. You won’t regret the decision.

This article appeared in the April 8, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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2 thoughts on “Simple Tips for Selecting the Right Shotgun

    1. JohnQ2

      Good question Dendon2, it is aggravating to have that right column cover the last few words of each sentence. Hope someone is reading these comments, it is no fun to read these articles when you can’t see those words that end the sentences.

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