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Posted on 09/10/2008 3:49:23 AM PDT by sig226
A friend recently got a larger than expected royalty check from his publisher, and in passing asked me if I had any suggestions about the kind of shotgun he should consider buying as his first. Me...an opinion about shotguns?
I guess he doesnt read my stuff much.
Deciding on a first shotgun is a straightforward process. And the first step is the same as any other firearm purchase. A liberal once asked me if I thought I had enough guns, and to his supreme annoyance I responded enough for what? Thats not a joke, its the first issue when choosing a firearm what exactly are you going to be using it for? If youre going to leave it under your bed as a home defense insurance policy that means one set of priorities, but if you plan on shooting skeet with it once a month, or using it to hunt deer and turkeys, thats probably another. You may think that youd like to do both things with it and thats perfectly reasonable, but you should be aware that multitasking will come with some compromises. But before I get to that, there are a few things you should know about all shotguns.
If you read gun magazines its hard to find a reviewer who has too many bad things to say about any type of gun. Thats because the manufacturers give them the guns to review for free, and theyd like to remain in their good graces. Such is life in the media business under a capitalist system. But no one is paying me, or has ever offered to give me a gun for free, so Im going to tell you exactly what I think. But if Browning, Perazzi, Krieghoff or one of the English gun makers would like to step up at a later time and persuade me to say otherwise, Ill be more than happy to entertain the discussion.
Also, Im normally happy to engage in debate with people who dont agree with me, but in this case I know that passion for a specific firearm manufacturer can run pretty high. So if all you want to do is tell me that I shouldnt be recommending this or that and should instead be suggesting something you think is better, why dont you go start your own blog instead? Im sorry but Im not really all that interested. Ill spell out my reasons for thinking the way I do, and if you think Im a fool then so be it. But I hope you all can recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and Im describing only one way.
Selecting a Gauge
The gauge of a shotgun is defined as the number of lead balls you would need in that diameter in order to have one pound of lead. So a 12 gauge gun, by far the most common, is the largest bore, and the .410 is the smallest. There are 10 gauge guns out there too, and even guns that sport custom super large bores, but none of these should be considered as a first shotgun. There are a number of common gauges produced by quality manufacturers, but when just starting out I dont think you need to worry about all that. All you really need to worry about is your size and your strength. In my opinion, if youre a man of more or less normal size then you should almost certainly buy a 12 gauge as your first gun. In fact when it comes to the fairer sex, I would only recommend a smaller gauge for particularly petite women. As an example, my wife is tiny. Shes a pretty little Hungarian brunette who is 51 and weighs about 105 lbs. when dripping wet, and she can still shoot my 12 gauge semi just fine. The only issue is that its a little heavy for her so if she shoots it all day her arms are tired afterward. So I did recently break down and get her a 20 gauge gun so she can shoot it a little more.
Some people think starting with a smaller gauge is always a good idea but I disagree. Shotguns are designed to throw a spray of pellets, and the smaller the bore the smaller the pattern. So with a 20 gauge gun its harder to hit what youre shooting than with a 12 gauge, no matter how skilled you are. A 28 gauge is also harder than a 20, and a 410 harder than a 28, and so on. Making it easy to hit what you point your first gun at is a good first concern if you ask me. So for anyone who weighs more than say, 130 lbs or so, Id strongly recommend a 12 gauge as a first gun. If youre under that then consider a 20 gauge, but remember that youre starting with a small disadvantage.
As I told my friend, Im a value for the dollar guy. I dont think anyone should ever spend a nickel more than they have to when buying a gun. There are manufacturers out there who will build you a custom fitted shotgun to your body measurements and artistic specification and it will run you $75,000. To consider something like that for a first gun is stupid, even if you have the money. Even to think about one of the higher end factory guns seems a little silly to me when youre still new at shooting. If you consider a Perazzi, or a Krieghoff, or even one of the nicer Berettas or Brownings, you could easily drop $10,000. That makes no sense to me.
The design of gun you buy will affect the price. There are single shot shotguns out there for about $100, but there are many things you cant do with them (including all the clay shooting sports) so Id stay away from them if you can afford to. Pump guns are generally the cheapest repeating shotguns out there and can be had brand new from reputable manufacturers for as little as $250. Next are semi-automatic guns, and then the double barrel guns which are the most expensive in comparison. That isnt to say they are pricey in dollar terms. I commonly shoot a Mossberg Over/Under Double barrel that I paid $400 bucks for. Its a solid gun that Ive put 10,000 rounds through without a hiccup. And just this morning I shot with a friend who was shooting a pump gun that cost twice that. In some ways, youll get what you pay for. You just want to make sure youre not paying for features you dont really want or need.
A Shotgun for Home Defense
In my opinion, the two biggest issues for a home defense shotgun are a short barrel, and a low price. Statistically, its unlikely youll ever fire a shot in your own home. That doesnt mean you shouldnt keep a gun in your home if you feel the need, but it does mean that if you do, you probably wont be using it all that much. If it were me, I wouldnt want to have a several thousand dollar investment collecting dust under my bed. As for the short barrel, you dont realize how small your house really is until youre trying to swing a shotgun in your living room with a 32 inch competition barrel. In close quarters small is always a help.
If youre buying a gun for home defense alone Id recommend a Mossberg pump gun. Mossberg doesnt make a pretty gun, but they have legendary reliability, and the click-clack of the pump is often more than enough itself to drive the average intruder away. Remington also makes a pump gun with first rate reliability but a slightly higher price. For my money, Mossberg will do everything you need. The US Army loves the Mossberg 500. And if there is one thing the army knows, its how best to go about shooting people. Youre unlikely to use a shotgun for just this purpose, but if you think you will, then I cant say enough about the Mossberg.
A Shotgun For Multiple Uses
A single shotgun used for multiple purposes is a tricky business. In fact hunting alone could turn out to be more than one purpose because theres a big difference between hunting pheasant and hunting deer. Lots of people have just one gun to do all of the above and for use to defend their homes, but there are a number of issues to consider.
The people I know who try to use one gun for everything usually end up buying a semi-automatic shotgun. A pump gun is cheaper than a semi, but the semi will give you a second shot just a bit more effortlessly. In that way its better suited to wing shooting where you should be concentrating on your target instead of worrying about short-stroking your pump. A pump can do it, but for the difference in price I think most people find its worth it to go with a semi.
When it comes to a semi automatic gun, Im one of those people who is of a very strong opinion. I can only recommend one design the recoil actuated semi-automatic shotgun designed by Benelli. There are a great many semis out there that use a gas actuated piston to reset the action after each shot. That design, produced by a half dozen manufacturers from Remington and Beretta, to Browning and others, has historically shown wonderful reliability when produced by a manufacturer with a good reputation. But as good as that design may be, its a bear to clean and it must be cleaned well in order to remain in good working order.
The Benelli design on the other hand has only 4 moving parts which drop out of the receiver frame without the use of tools. That design is so reliable that I know several guys who own them and have never cleaned theirs. But if they ever decide to, those few parts make it an easy task. Its a lighting fast system that can handle any size of load, and makes a great all around design for a first shotgun. When the US Marines are issued shotguns, they are Remington or Mossberg pumps. When they buy their own shotguns they buy Benelli semis.
Of course brilliance doesnt come cheap. The top of the line Benelli Semi-Automatic is not inexpensive, but I have a great way around that. A few years back a Turkish company hijacked the Benelli design, and starting building what probably amounted to illegal copies of it. When Benelli heard about it, they didnt take them to international court; they bought them, and started offering the Turkish gun as a low priced model.
The Stoeger model 2000 has the same fantastically fast and reliable Benelli recoil action, but at a fraction of the Benelli price. Its not as pretty and slick as the Italian styling of the new Benelli SBE, but it does look exactly like some older Benelli models, and is not unattractive. And in spite of its more traditional look, it has the same high performance works under the hood, and it shoots that way. The Stoeger 2000 will typically run you about ½ the price of the Benelli and offer the same functionality. You can find them here for as little as $450 or so. Its a great buy, maybe the best in the shotgun industry. As a combination hunting and home defense gun I highly recommend it.
Its only weakness is that Benelli has yet to find a manufacturer for the rifled slug barrel theyve been promising for a few years now. A rifled barrel will let you shoot slugs with a shotgun out to about 100 yards with dead shot accuracy. But since Benelli hasnt gotten their act together, if you go with a Stoeger, then youll be forced to shoot slugs through your smoothbore giving you a best case accuracy of about 75 yards.
A Shotgun For Clay Shooting
Ive never fired a shotgun in a home defense situation. If I exclude the high fence pheasant hunt I do with my friends every year then in the last 7 hunting seasons Ive fired my shotgun at animals exactly twice. Even if I include it, Ive probably only fired the gun 35 or 40 times. When hunting you dont exactly burn through cases of ammo, theres really no need. But last year on the skeet field at my club, I think I went through about 4,500 rounds of ammo, plus whatever my friends and other guests shot. And thats the issue that defines the clay shooting sports; there is a lot of actual shooting going on. Its high volume, over and over and over again. So the gun you select for that purpose should keep that in mind as a first concern.
If you try shooting that kind of volume through a pump gun or a gas driven semi, youll spend as much time cleaning that gun as you do shooting it. Even a Benelli or Stoeger Semi will require some careful attention after a while when its used that heavily. And while I personally have always felt that cleaning my guns was a zen like experience, sometimes you just have other places to be. So if you want a gun that cleans up quickly and easily, then there are really no bones about it, you want a double barrel gun.
The over under is the slightly more popular double barrel design these days, But in fact the finest grade guns available are almost all side by sides. I think the thing that makes them popular is that with an over under gun you can only see one barrel when you mount it to your shoulder, so it takes less time to get used to the view. In my house we have both. And they can both be used to great effect. No one will ever look down on your for showing up with one or the other. The gun I shoot most often is a Mossberg Silver Reserve Over Under, and my wifes gun is a Stevens 311 Side by Side.
Double barrel guns cost more than pump guns or semi-automatics. But these days there are imports which are simple, reliable and inexpensive. My Mossberg was made in Turkey (Are you noticing a pattern here) and Remington imports an over under from Russia which they sell under the Spartan label that Ive heard people speak well of. Both are sturdy Boxlock designs with shell extractors instead of ejectors. An extractor is a simple device which lifts the shell from the chamber when the gun is opened, but you have to reach down there and remove them yourself. Ejectors are spring loaded mechanical devices that automatically kick the shells free for you. If youre buying an inexpensive import, Id stay away from a gun with ejectors since they can sometimes be subject to failure on inexpensive guns. I wouldnt recommend them unless youre prepared to pay up.
The triggers on double barrel guns also have several options. Many side by side guns have 2 triggers, one for each barrel. This takes some getting used to, but it works perfectly well. If you decide to go with a double trigger gun Id recommend getting one that has a straight English style stock. It makes it slightly easier to adjust your finger for the second trigger. The Stevens 311 my wife shoots came with double triggers and a pistol grip stock standard, but I replaced it with a straight style stock as a project.
As for the single triggers typical on over under guns, some are whats called mechanical and others are designed to reset on recoil. Mechanical triggers are supposed to be stiffer and therefore less appealing, but Ive found them to be more reliable in all circumstances so I still prefer them. You arent aiming a shotgun, youre pointing it, so a stiff trigger isnt so much of a hindrance in my mind. And if you have a gun with recoil triggers and for some reason the first shell doesnt fire, the second one wont be able to. With mechanical triggers at least youll get off one.
There are many types of guns out there and many many opinions on them. I like the cheap imported guns and have found them to be of excellent quality generally, but there are a lot of guys out there who would never consider them. Fair enough more left for you and me. Also, I love buying shotguns online because it makes the firearms market more efficient and MUCH cheaper. These online gun auction sites:
Gunbroker.com GunsAmerica.com AuctionArms.com
should all be checked out when you decide to purchase one and it will save you a bunch of money. They can refer you to a transfer agent in your area, and its perfectly legal for you to buy them online if you meet all other laws and requirements that apply to you with regard to firearms purchases.
With that said though a shotgun still needs to fit you well. So I would highly recommend that before you buy anything, you go to a local firearms dealer and try them on. Stocks for factory guns all come in slightly differing lengths and sometimes come with space holders whcih can be added or removed to change the fit. And that fit is of paramount importance.
so go to a local store... pick one up, hold it, mount it, see how it feels tracking an invisible pheasant through the air. Its really one of the most important aspects of a shotgun purchase. We aren't all built alike, and what suits me perfectly might not work for you. And in the meantime Ive also had my local dealers agree to match prices that I showed them from the internet, so it might wind up saving you a trip as well.
The shotgun sports are my principle hobby so naturally I have alot more to say, but unfortnately I lack the time to say it. If you have any other questions, please leave them on the blog and Ill answer them as soon as I can. After all, it's not exactly tough to get me to offer an opinion on shotguns.
Is there anything wrong with using a .410 as a small farmyard varmint gun? I’m thinking possums, etc.
CCI Blazer 45 Auto Shotshells, 10 rds
I use this for small problems.
Good article for those in the market for their first shotgun.
My dad uses his for varmints, both the woodsy and street-sy kind. It'll do the job better than a BB gun!
Is that a can of Vienna Sausages in the survival kit? (Or a waterproof can of ammunition...)
But now there's also the Taurus .410/.45 Colt Judge revolver that would be easier to keep on your hip.
My favorite shotgun is my Remington 870; bought it used for $95 on 9-11-2001 and a gunsmith told me the barrel was slightly bent at 18”. He cut it off, then I added a magazine extension so that it holds 6 rounds.
A cop friend of mine asked me about the legality of that many rounds capacity (Texas Fish and Wildlife law mandates a plug to limit its total load to 3 rounds) and I reminded him that it’s not a game gun. I had another species of critter in mind when I bought it.
Using a .410 is akin to bow hunting. The object is to increase the level of difficulty.
BTW, the .410 is not measured like the the others. I’m sure you know but that didn’t come through clearly in your piece.
As for me, Rem 870 with a long ribbed barrel and a short iron sighted barrel, both with Rem choke.
I’ve got several, but my favorite is my old 12GA Ithaca 37 Featherlight that my father bought for me as a HS graduation present in 1974.
I think there’s room for extra goodies.
I save my Winchester 1300 Defender for critters that might try and get in the front door.
My dogs are good for an alert in both cases. If it gets on the fence or steps up off the curb the dogs go to barking.
If you buy a shotgun that already has a short barrel, it’s legal in Texas.
You just can’t do it yourself.
FTA: “Mossberg doesnt make a pretty gun, but they have legendary reliability, and the click-clack of the pump is often more than enough itself to drive the average intruder away.”
I have read and heard this many times, i.e., the sound from racking (sp?) a pump shotgun will drive an intruder away.
Anybody know if there’s any data or collection of anecdotal evidence to support this notion?
Thanks much and Semper Fi,
In my mind, Remington is really the gun by which all others are measured. (well ... you know ... for a working American guns for peasants like me... you can't compare a Remington to a Purdy but who would?) I think the new turkish guns come close enough in quality to a Remington and are priced enough less than a remington to be a good value. They are not in my opinion "the same as a remington", but I think they are worth the price all the same. That goes double in my mind, for someone who is just starting to shoot and should be looking to keep the expense ot a minimum.
And that's where I stopped reading. The guy might know a thing about different shotguns but he doesn't know anything about staying alive. If you care to scare some intruder away then do it with your voice. The weapon should have the safety off and the front sight on the intruder's center mass. If I'm within sound range of an intruder, I'm not going to be fumbling around trying to chamber a round. It's stupid tactics and shows how little the author knows. It will get you killed.
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