Choosing a Waterfowl Shotgun
Action, weight, load compatibility, and durability are among the top factors to consider when choosing a waterfowl shotgun. Shopping for a new shotgun rekindles past hunting memories and promises new and exciting days in the duck blind. Not to mention, you have the opportunity to put your hands on all of the new shotgun models and determine which ones swing, handle, and fit your hands most comfortably. Waterfowlers have never had as many shotgun choices as those available today. However, the diversity can complicate the selection process. To ease the process, determine what options fit your requirements, and compare them to what is available.
Choosing the correct gauge should be your first priority. In the modern waterfowling world, the 12 gauge dominates the market. In certain situations, the 20 gauge fits the bill nicely, especially when in tight quarters or for young, beginning hunters. The 10 gauge also has its place, but has limitations for many hunters. The larger higher capacity loads are helpful for hunting sea ducks or pass shooting geese, especially where extended shots are required. However, the advantages of a 10 gauge are neutralized by the excessive cost of shells and the body pounding recoil. Although they have limited popularity today, we cannot discuss waterfowl shotguns without including the once favored 16 gauge. During the days of lead shot waterfowl loads, the 16 gauge was the waterfowling standard. In the current market, the high cost of factory shells and their limited availability make the 16 gauge an impractical choice for many hunters.
Chamber length should be your next decision. Just like the 12 gauge the 3 inch chamber has become the standard. The long time standard 2 ¾ inch chamber was more than adequate in the days of lead shot. In the modern steel shot world, the 2 ¾ inch chamber is probably best reserved for close quarters shooting and youth hunters. The 3 inch chamber offers many advantages over the 2 ¾ inch veteran. The 3 inch shells provide increased shot capacity and broader range of available shot sizes. The popularity and availability of shells provides a cost savings as well.
The third chamber length option is the 3 ½ magnum. The 3 ½ inch option arose from the lack luster performance of early steel shot. The increased chamber length allows for greater shot capacity to overcome the drawbacks of steel shot. With the advancements in steel shot loads, there is a decreased advantage of fighting the severe recoil or paying the excessive price tag. Although the 3 inch load is the most popular the 3 ½ inch chamber offers the freedom to choose 2 3/4 inch, 3 inch or 3 ½ inch shells, to adapt to any waterfowling situation.
Your next decision is barrel length. For years, waterfowlers believed a 30 inch barrel provided the best accuracy. Modern times have reshaped how manufacturers and hunters view barrel length. Waterfowlers need to shoulder, swing, and carry our shotguns. A smooth swing and proper balance benefit accuracy more than barrel length. Along with the longer 30 inch barrels, 26 inch and 28 inch barrels are also available. If your barrel is overly short, you take the chance of decreasing the critical momentum necessary for accurate follow through. For all around versatility, a 28 inch barrel is the best option for waterfowl hunting.
The next most important decision is which type of action best fits your needs. Break actions are available in double barrel and single shot variations. However, single shot shotguns, do not offer any real application in waterfowling, especially if a fast follow-up shot is required. As far as double barrels, traditionalists will argue there is no better gun. A well-balanced double barrel swings smoother than any other action type. The double barrel also offers the advantage of using two different choke tubes at the same time. The greatest advantage of the double barrel is the almost flawless design and reliability under many different conditions. The major drawbacks to a double barrel are their expense, increased recoil, and the space required to reload them.
In my youth, pump shotguns were the top choice for repeating shotguns. Some of those shotguns are among the best firearms ever designed. Those top designs remain popular today. Pump shotguns offer a third shot and are extremely reliable. Their simple designs are time-tested with millions of shells. The main drawback of a pump shotgun is the amount of felt recoil.
Over the past two decades, autoloaders have become the number one choice among die-hard waterfowlers. Older autoloaders carried a reputation of breakdowns in the field. They did not hold up well to the cold, wet and muddy conditions. They were also known for cycling either light or magnum loads, but not both. Modern autoloaders have alleviated those issues. There is not a repeating action waterfowl gun that is sweeter. They will provide three shots, faster, smoother, and with far less felt recoil than the other action types.
Choosing a waterfowl shotgun is an essential piece of the waterfowling puzzle. Many decisions affect your choice. Those choices are not just limited to gauge, chamber length, barrel length, and action type. Stock material, type and color of finish, and safety preference should also be considered for a perfect fit.