Even if I have been to the sporting goods store twice in a given week, I cannot leave without a visit to the gun counter. I have shouldered and looked at virtually every shotgun they have in stock, but for some reason I feel compelled to do it again, and again. On one hand I enjoy comparing the look and feel of each shotgun. On the other hand, what I enjoy the most is the conversation with the person working the gun counter and possibly other customers that happen to be nearby. Ultimately it ends up being a great conversation about the pros and cons of different guns; whether it is features that are liked or disliked about a specific product or application stories that specify why a certain gun is the right gun for the job. It can be quite informative!
When it comes to waterfowling, there is no such thing as the “perfect gun”. Being such a versatile sport there are multiple forms of waterfowl hunting all requiring different attributes. For example, are you after ducks, geese or both? What kind of conditions do you primarily hunt in? What is your budget? What is your experience level and physically what can you handle? I will try to provide a well-rounded view on how to approach the age old question of “which waterfowl shotgun is right for me”?
Understanding your options
You have a few things to consider when selecting your waterfowl gun. The first question you need to ask yourself is “what type of action do I want”? Shotguns are available in three different action styles: semi-auto, pump and break action. Semi-auto shotguns eject and reload the chamber automatically. They tend to be more expensive, so keep that in mind when considering your budget. There are also more moving parts, so the complexity (not saying they are difficult by any means) is greater than a pump or break action when it comes to taking it apart, cleaning it, etc. For waterfowling, I always use a semi-auto because it is nice to have quick shooting ability. As fast as you can pull the trigger your gun will shoot, which is great for those fast moving ducks.
A pump shotgun is still used by several hunters today in a variety of applications. Pumps manually cycle shells when you pump the forearm lever of the gun. Pump shotguns are simple in design, making them easy to care for and reliable. These guns will also be lighter on your pocket book. The only obvious drawback on a pump shotgun for waterfowl hunting is a reduced ability to shoot fast, as well as the fact that the pumping action to cycle your next shell slows down your second and third shots.
Break action guns in my experience are more common on the trap and skeet ranges, as well as upland bird hunting applications but you would be amazed how many folks duck hunt with over under shotguns. Break action guns pivot and open for you to load shells. Almost all break-action guns have two barrels nowadays, either one on top of the other (over/under) or side by side configurations. I love shooting over unders in particular, however having only two shells is a disadvantage compared to having three in a pump or semi-auto. Safety is an advantage in the break-action guns because you can keep your gun open at the action, making it safer and not able to be operated.
Shotguns also come in six different gauge sizes. This means that each gun will shoot a different size shell or load, which affects how much shot is thrown at your target and what kind of distance your shot can travel. The .410 gauge shotgun is the smallest. This gun can kill birds, and will not recoil much at all making it ideal for a youth hunter or first time shooter. This gauge will not be ideal on a windy day, or at longer distances. The 20 gauge option is popular because it is still a smaller, lighter gun with less recoil, but you gain power and distance with your shot. This size remains popular for the simple fact that it can get the job done and isn’t a big gun to handle. The 12 gauge is by far the most popular choice for waterfowl hunting. This gauge has several guns that offer the ability to shoot a 3 ½ inch shell, ideal for longer distances.
Selecting a shotgun can be difficult because there are so many options on the market. In my opinion, much of this choice comes down to a few simple factors; what is your application(s) and what is right for you? Can you physically handle the recoil of a 12-gauge or would a 20 gauge better suit you? Some of these questions I cannot answer for you. If you are anything like me, I have a limited budget on what I can afford so I tried to consider what uses I may try to satisfy with my gun. I wanted something I could goose hunt with, but take upland hunting if need be. I was concerned with the weight of the gun for upland use and carrying it all day, but was also concerned with being a semi-auto and having a 3 ½ inch chamber (ideal for goose loads).
The single most important fact to remember is that a gun is all about how it fits you. It is a lot like a shoe, some fit great, and some do not. We are all different and no single gun will universally fit each shooter. Make sure you look at guns in person, and utilize the help of the staff at the gun counter. Sometimes, you’ll know the right gun when you shoulder it!