I admit that I was worried when I looked around the gun shop's tremendous inventory. I'd need nerves of steel to depart without making a purchase. That said, shotguns are like potato chips, you can't just have one. And so I squared my shoulders and started reviewing the Over/Unders, Side-by-Sides, Pumps, and Semi-Automatics to find one I couldn't live without. I'm always in the market for a new firearm, so that makes me a salesman's low-hanging fruit. And I'm sure it's a similar situation with you.
Also See: Does the Gun Fit?
A lot of consideration goes into the purchase of a new shotgun. Price, stock dimensions and fit, chokes, and quarry are some of the many topics. The action type is a touchy subject for many hunters and shooters, and with good reason. We all have our favorites, don't we?
Fans of the over/under like the single-sight plane that makes target acquisition a breeze. The stacked barrels offer the option for two chokes of different constriction, with one choke being more open than the other. When it comes to harvesting birds, that's a key point. An open choke offers better pattern spread at close range while a choke with more constriction accommodates a second shot at a greater distance. Single triggers reduce confusion, and a barrel selector switch can be easily flipped so as to fire the top barrel first. That's handy in the event that a bird flushes from a distance requiring a tighter choke. No shells are wasted.
Traditionally the bottom barrel is fired first, and that's where the stacked barrels shine: recoil is low in the shoulder and produces less barrel flip which keeps the shooter's eye aligned for more accurate second shots. Stock design includes Beavertail fore-ends while full pistol grips offer substance for a solid gun mount.
It's easy to be safe with an Over/Under as your hunting buddies know that when your shotgun is broken open that it won't discharge. It's a small wonder that uplanders, waterfowlers and clay target shooters prefer the Over/Under.
"If the Lord wanted folks to shoot an over/under then He'd have aligned the eyes in their head that way," says the side-by fan looking for a laugh. For many, that horizontal view offers a smoother swing. But the splinter fore-end usually accompanies a straight English stock or a modified pistol grip which requires a more refined shooting technique. The tendency to lift the head and peak over the barrels is hard to resist for many side-by shooters.
Proper fit is key as older vintage guns traditionally have a lot of drop at the comb and at the heel. Most come with double triggers with the front trigger discharging the right barrel and the rear trigger firing the left. Those double triggers come into play when a bird flushes at a distance; simply slide your finger to the rear trigger to discharge the barrel with the tighter choke. And double triggers aren't hard to master. Just run a few boxes of shells through your side-by at a skeet range, and you'll get the hang of it come bird season.
Fixed chokes accompany older models while screw-in chokes have gained in popularity. When the action is open the shotgun is easily recognized as safe. Hunters who have a traditional flair favor the side-by-side particularly for upland birds but also for waterfowl and even wild turkey.
Pumps and Semi-automatics
Shotgunners favoring a single sight plane along with a third shot look towards pumps and semi-automatics. Both offer a single-sight plane, both are light to moderate in weight, and both eject discharged shells and cycle in a new load. The difference really is whether shooters want to do it manually or not. For many years, pumps were considered to be 'no-fail' shotguns whereas semi-automatics required extra care and maintenance. That's not the case so much anymore as semi-auto's are as reliable as pumps.
The single barrel allows for only one choke constriction. Ejection ports are either on the left or right side of the receiver which easily accommodates both right and left-handed shooters. Beavertail fore-ends and pistol grips make for smooth gun mounts.
Some say semi-automatics load more quickly than the manual pump, but in the hands of an experienced shooter, a pump is just as fast. Compared to break action guns some critics say it's difficult to determine if a pump or semi-automatic is 'safe.' In reality, you'll need a focused glace to determine if the pump's slide and the semi-auto's bolt are open. If your hunting calls for a quick succession of three shots at a similar range then look at pumps and semis. It's probably why both actions are popular in duck blinds, goose pits, and in the uplands, with semi's edging out pumps on clays courses.
The next time you enter a gun shop think about the type of hunting and shooting for which you'll use your new purchase. It's a lot of fun shooting different actions, so match them to your purpose and expand your collection. After all, no one I know ever eats one potato chip.