Since fowl hunting has become so popular in the last few years, we understand why many people opt for this sport: it develops fast reflexes, it’s dynamic and creates tension. But choosing the best waterfowl shotgun means getting a very clear picture of what you want to use it for, at what range, how much time and money you want to invest, what season you normally hunt, etc.
So we’ve started this article by analyzing a few key factors that influence your shooting experience, before putting them into practice with the reviewing of the best waterfowl shotgun models.
The Most Important Factors to Understand
It’s hard getting the right pick from among different shotguns for waterfowl which might be considered best on the market.
But we’re here to help with some factors that should differentiate between them, so you can get the best one for your needs.
Every website out there will tell you that most people buy shotguns with size 12 gauge. However, each barrel size has various advantages, as well as disadvantages:
The 10 gauge:
- Voluminous loads.
- Perfect for shooting geese and ducks.
- Works well on bigger ranges.
- Great for cleaner shots.
- Most chances in retrieving.
- Huge recoil.
- A ton of money spent on shells.
- Limited use mostly to shooting winged game.
The 12 gauge:
- Versatile, you can use it for different hunting, but:
- It’s more appropriate for upland hunting.
- Cheap shells.
- You can buy the shells literally everywhere.
- It’s pretty heavy.
- Still, has a rather big recoil.
The 16 gauge
- It used to be all the hype.
- It’s pretty powerful.
- Better for upland shooting.
- Harder to find shells that work.
The 20 gauge:
- Better for shooting decoys at any range.
- Works nicer at a closer range for waterfowl.
- Doesn’t weigh as much as a 12-gauge.
- It has a reasonable recoil.
- More appropriate for women and youngsters.
The chamber length
If you’re not done with numbers yet, here are some more to do with the length of your shotgun’s chamber.
This category has a favorite too: the 3-inch chamber, but we’ll review some other usual options too:
- Less shot capacity.
- Perfect for smaller waterfowl.
- Good for practice with decoys.
- Should work better at closer ranges.
- Less recoil.
- Increased capacity for shooting.
- More appropriate for larger waterfowl.
- Works better on vast areas of water.
- More recoil.
- Makes the perfect fit with the 12-gauge shotgun.
- Bigger chamber length.
- Perfect for specialized hunters/ shooting.
- Increased shot capacity.
- Can use bigger pellets.
- A lot of recoil.
- Costs you an arm and a leg to buy.
The barrel length
The dispute between big and small continues in the department of barrel length as well, because hunters will have to choose between
Bigger length (30-inch and up) barrels:
- The traditional choice for many hunters and shooters.
- Increased sighting plane.
- More precise shots in theory.
- Heavier and thus harder to carry and maneuver.
Smaller length (28-inch and below) barrels:
- The modern choice for shooters.
- Decreased sighting plane.
- More precise shots in actual, dynamic conditions.
- Lighter weight, and therefore easier to carry, mount and handle.
- Shorter than appropriate leads to losing momentum.
Settling this dispute may mean choosing the middle option for most hunters, which is the 28-inch length that works for a variety of hunting.
When dealing with action, you’ll have to choose between three options.
Is found in single and double barrels alike, but:
The single barrel:
- Can’t be reloaded fast enough.
- Doesn’t work on rapid follow-ups.
- Doesn’t have such a smooth swing.
- Has a barrel selector, and therefore less versatility.
- Isn’t perfect for every condition in the field.
- Costs less.
- Less recoil.
- Fairly easy to reload when you have obstructed vision.
The double barrel:
- Is reloaded at a decent pace.
- Works well on quick follow-up shooting.
- Has a smooth swing.
- Heavier on the front.
- You can opt between chokes, and therefore have more freedom of choice.
- Can withstand various conditions.
- Costs more.
- Huge recoil.
- Harder to reload when your vision is obstructed.
- Should work magnificently if you’re hunting ducks or geese.
- It was the standard choice way back when.
- It has the third shot option you don’t have for the double-barrel model.
- Works well and you can count on it.
- Low-maintenance and doesn’t require a lot of cleaning.
- Costs way less than an automatic shotgun.
- The follow-up shots aren’t as fast for a beginner, which makes it more a choice for the experienced.
- Bigger recoil than an automatic.
- Has become increasingly popular in the last 20 years.
- Reliable in any weather/ terrain conditions.
- Can cycle magnum and light loads alike.
- Has the third shot option.
- Very fast follow-up shots.
- Very little recoil – less than the previous types discussed.
The semi-autos also have two models you can choose from:
- Don’t get dirty quickly, so they’re easy maintenance.
- Have fewer parts so they can be disassembled fast.
- Have a bigger recoil.
- Work better with lighter loads.
- They’re lighter.
- Get dirty faster, so they need more maintenance.
- Have more parts, so you need more time disassembling them.
- Have less of a recoil.
- Work better with bigger loads.
- They weigh more.
Top 9 Waterfowl Shotguns to Consider
Once you’ve become better acquainted with all these different factors that influence your choice, you’ll be able to put your knowledge into practice. You can start your acquisition process by browsing various shotguns like the ones below, which we consider are some of the best waterfowl shotguns:
Weight: 9 pounds
Dimensions: 50 inches length
Specifications: semi-auto; recoil-operated; 12, 16 or 20 gauge; 28-inch barrel length
Best Use: versatile shooting
Description: The Browning A-5 is a semi-automatic shotgun which means you can safely use it even if the weather is bad, with absolutely no fear that it will give up on you. It’s the perfect choice for versatile shooting and various waterfowl hunting also because you can shoot the third additional shot very quickly after the first two so you can hit your target precisely.
It has a very low recoil, even though it’s recoil-operated, which makes it better with lighter loads. However, it’s rather light and therefore easy to handle when you’re out hunting, and you don’t have to invest a lot of time in cleaning it.
The 12 gauge is the preferred option for a lot of hunters because it’s the type of gun that can be used in various situations, and with cheaper shells but you can get the 16 or 20 gauges just as well. You can pick different chamber lengths with the Browning A-5 depending on your needs, but the barrel length is fixed at 28 inches. That’s another argument in favor of its versatility and all fowl shooting abilities.
Beretta | A400 Xtreme
Weight: 7.68 pounds
Dimensions: 49.4 inches
Specifications: semi-auto; gas-operated; 28-inch barrel length; made in Italy
Best Use: versatile shooting
Description: This shotgun is manufactured by a very trustworthy brand in Italy, with a significant experience when it comes to making various shooting equipment. It’s another good, multi-functional type of gun since it’s another semi-automatic model. Since it’s furthermore gas-operated, it has a significantly lower recoil, which renders it perfect for practice or for the Ladies and Youth category.
However, since you can take the second and third shots as fast as the first, it’s also a good option for dynamic conditions that requires quick follow-up shots. The barrel length is 28 inches, which makes it rather precise in various field conditions.
As you can choose between different chamber lengths, you’ll also be able to acquire the model that fits your preferences better. But the total weight for each model is pretty low, which means it’s a good option for easy carry, although it may require a bit more maintenance and regular cleaning.
CZ-USA | 612 Waterfowl Magnum
Weight: 6.8 pounds
Dimensions: 48.75 inches
Specifications: pump-based action; 12 gauges; 28-inch barrel length; versatile chamber length
Best Use: geese and ducks
Description: This shotgun is lower priced than the other models we’ve discussed, at about third of the total retail price, but that doesn’t mean it’s the worst quality model, just that its action is pump-based. That’s still a pretty nice choice, and a very popular one before the autos came to be, which is why it’s perfect for shooting fowl in flight.
You still have the third shot option, but it may take a bit longer to fire than when using an automatic weapon. However, it’s one dependable gun you can count on without dedicating too much time to its overall maintenance. Since it doesn’t fire very fast follow-up shots and you may deal with some recoil, you should probably have a bit of training before shooting with it.
But because you can choose the dimensions of its shells, and because it has a 12-gauge and a 28-inch barrel length, it’s still a pretty multi-purpose type of gun, you can confidently handle.
Benelli’s Super Black Eagle II
Weight: 7+ pounds depending on the model
Dimensions: 45.6 – 49.6 inches
Specifications: semiautomatic; recoil-operated; 24-28 inches barrel length; 12 gauge; various chamber lengths
Best Use: smaller fowl
Description: This model of shotgun really takes the cake in the department of semi-automatics because it comes in a plethora of models, and Benelli’s can literally manufacture a weapon that fits your precise requirements.
It’s one of the most modern, popular choices and you can get it in various barrel length sizes, ranging from 24 to 28 inches. However, if you do get the smallest size, the sighting plane will be smaller and you may lose some momentum.
That disadvantage is compensated by the fact that it shoots two fast follow-up shots, which renders it very accurate on the field when you need a dynamic instrument. Plus it has a lower weight than other weapons in this category, making its transportation and maneuvering a piece of cake.
Its versatility is something to be noted also when it comes to the various chamber lengths you can choose from, and use on this 12 gauge shotgun. It’s easy to clean and disassemble, it has a reduced recoil by up to 48% if you’re to believe the official description, and one of the best characteristics is that you can also buy the left-handed version.
Weight: around 7 pounds
Dimensions: around 50 inches length
Specifications: break-action; 24-32 inches barrel length; 12-28 gauges; various chamber lengths
Best Use: depending on the model
Description: Since the Browning Citori comes in a plethora of models, you can pick the one that’s right for you. For instance, choose a 24-inch barrel length if you’re more interested in having a low-weight shotgun, with minimal recoil which is more appropriate for shooting skeet than anything else.
Or you can get the bigger size of 32 inches, which is amazing for clay pigeon shooting as well as shooting bigger fowl. However, these models are heavier and more difficult to handle than the smaller-sized barrel ones.
You can still rest assured that since Browning is a well-established, trustworthy brand, you won’t stumble upon a very heavy shotgun only the Hulk could carry and mount. In fact, the top notch materials used, like walnut wood, make it fairly light and comfortable especially because it has various buttress options.
Returning to its many different models, you can choose between various gauges. The 12 and 16 gauges are better for shooting upland, while the 20 and the 28 gauges work better for shooting decoys. Also, the first two are heavier and have more of a recoil than the last two which may be more appropriate for beginners or the Ladies and Youth category.
Fabarm USA | Elos B
Weight: 6.2 – 6.8 pounds
Dimensions: 45 inches
Specifications: over and under break action; 28 inches barrel; 20 and 28 gauges
Best Use: skeet shooting
Description: The Elos B is a very lightweight shotgun, which makes it perfect for various purposes. For instance, you may be more interested in skeet shooting than anything else, which is why having a lighter gun with minimum recoil may benefit you more.
Or, you may be more interested in shooting smaller fowl with increased dexterity, which is again why you would buy this 28 gauge barrel gun. Also, if you’re more interested in close range shooting, but get a bigger recoil, the 20 gauge model is more appropriate.
Since it has a 28 inches barrel, you’ll be safe and sound in various dynamic, fast-paced situations when you need accuracy above everything else. Including the third shot, because the Fabarm models have an over and under break action, which only allows for two consecutive shots being fired. However, the follow-up is fast enough to get the job done and you won’t lose any time or momentum.
Mossberg | 835 Ulti-Mag Waterfowl
Weight: 7.75 pounds
Dimensions: 48.75 inches
Specifications: pump action; 12 gauge; 3.5 inches chamber length; 28 inches barrel length; optic fiber sight; Accu-Mag choke
Best Use: specialized/ upland shooting
Description: Since this shotgun has a bigger chamber length, it’s more appropriate for specialized shooting. It has a pump action that fires the third shot, but with a slower follow-up, which might be an issue for a very inexperienced shooter. However, it’s what accounts for a lower retail price, at about a few hundred dollars depending on the vendor.
But you’ll still get an increased shot capacity and you can use bigger pellets too. The recoil is definitely not something to be worried about, and it works well in various field conditions.
It’s not difficult to shoulder either, but it’s a bit on the heavier side and you may find it difficult to carry it for longer periods of time. The optic fiber sight is another perk, as is the Accu-Mag choke which renders it perfect for upland shooting.
Remington | VersaMax Waterfowl
Weight: 7.75 pounds
Dimensions: 50 inches
Specifications: semiautomatic; 12 gauge; various chamber lengths; 28 inches barrel
Best Use: shooting in tough conditions
Description: This semi-automatic model seems to be specially designed for strength and durability.
Compiling all the qualities of a semiautomatic shotgun that fires its follow-up shots fast and increases accuracy as well as overall success, the Versa Max is designed with double gas pistons and can cope nicely with various shell sizes. That increases its versatility while lowering its chances for a big recoil.
The bolt handle may seem a bit big at first, but if you’re frequently wearing gloves when out shooting, it’s a real feat. You may need gloves if the weather’s bad, which is why this shotgun is perfect for the tough weather and field conditions.
And the safety button is also pretty big so you can’t miss it; plus its size makes it easier to activate during colder weather. The big feeding port is another reason why you should definitely consider this model for hunting in cold weather: it’s huge enough to make loading a breeze, even if you have cold or covered hands, and even in low-visibility conditions.
Ruger | Red Label
Weight: 6.5 pounds
Dimensions: 45-49 inches
Specifications: 26, 28, and 30 inches barrel length; 12, 20 or 28 gauges; double barrels; break action; brass bead sights
Best Use: tactical shooting
With a plethora of models to choose from, the Red Label shotgun has maybe one major flaw we’ll start you with before dealing with its positives: it doesn’t have the most amazing balance out there. That’s probably because it has a break-action mechanism, which also adds a fair amount to its price, though it doesn’t cost as much as an automatic model.
Given its various gauges and barrel lengths to choose from, we’d say this shotgun is better suited for tactical shooting. That’s because you can reload it at a decent pace and it works pretty nicely when it comes to follow-up shooting, though it doesn’t allow for a third follow-up shot.
Its swing is smooth and it can be used in various weather conditions, also because it has a rather low weight which accounts for good handling and shouldering.
The Choice Is Yours
Everyone has their own vision in regards to what makes a shotgun appropriate for various field conditions. For instance, some may even recommend beginners to start with a bigger-sized weapon to get the real feel instead of starting with a lighter weight one. So that’s why we think there are many best waterfowl shotguns, not just one.
Now, let us know what your opinion is: tell us what type of shotgun you own and why you’d recommend it to others. Or maybe you hate your shotgun and you’re thinking about buying a new one, in which case we’re also happy to find out more about your decision-making process.