Have you decided to step into the action-packed world of bird hunting?
Before you get started, you’re going to need a good shotgun to help you bag that prized duck, quail, pheasant, or turkey.
As a beginner, or someone shopping for a beginner, you should consider choosing a gun that’s easier to handle, and lightweight… shotguns with low recoil are a great place to start.
In this article, I’ll talk about some of the best shotguns on the market for people looking to get into bird hunting.
Choose Your Gun Carefully
There are a number of different shotguns out there, and each one is optimized for different types of game.
The first thing that you want to do before buying a new shotgun is to think about the type of animals that you want to hunt, because the type of gun that you’ll use to shoot quail could be different than the one to kill waterfowl.
Shell sizes from smallest (.410 bore) to largest (10-gauge)
Here are the shotgun gauges that you can choose from:
- 10-gauge – a powerful shotgun that’s packs a lot of power and is heavy on recoil. Can be used for turkey and waterfowl hunting, but many hunters report more success with the 12-gauge. Warning: the recoil on this, coupled with the difficulty you’ll have finding shells means you can probably skip over it.
- 12-gauge – the most well-rounded shotgun, hands down. Since it’s the most popular gauge, hunters have a wide variety of shells to choose from when hunting geese, duck, turkeys, and even upland birds like pheasant and quail.
- 16-gauge – arguably the most overlooked shotgun on the market. Many hunters and competitive shooters claim that the 16-gauge has the power of the 12-gauge and the recoil of the 20-gauge.
- 20-gauge – the second-most popular hunting shotgun. It’s strong enough to take down waterfowl and light enough to handle smaller game like quail. Like the 12-gauge, 20-gauge owners also have access to a wide variety of shells for any situation.
- 28-gauge – a fairly low-powered shotgun that’s used commonly to hunt upland game like quail, chukar, and sharpies.
- .410 – the lowest-powered shotgun. It’s a great gun for teaching younger shooters and beginners how to operate a shotgun because of its low power and recoil. It can also be used for hunting, including pests and small game birds.
Generally speaking, the best shotgun for an adult beginner bird hunter is going to be either 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotguns. Since they’re the most commonly used, they’re the ones that you’ll want to become familiar with.
An added bonus is that you have a much larger range of guns and shells to choose from…and won’t have to special order ammo.
I advise against picking up a 10-gauge as a beginner. It’s a powerful gun that gives a lot of kick and can be difficult to control. Don’t end up like the beginner in this video trying to handle a 10-gauge:
They do this because it’s more challenging to hit the targets. For this reason, I also recommend staying away from the 28-gauge and the .410…at least until you’ve got more hunting experience.
Their low power will make it harder to bag that bird you want.
If you already have a .410 or you’re comfortable in your shooting capabilities, don’t let me discourage you. Hunting birds with a .410 is certainly doable, and is a great way to get children and other recoil-sensitive shooters into the sport. The video below shows the effectiveness of hunting pheasant, a common game bird, with a .410.
We’re not done choosing yet
Have you decided which gauge shotgun you want to use for bird hunting?
Great, now it’s time to choose the type of shotgun. Here are your choices:
- Semi-automatic shotgun – the advantage of using a semi-auto is that they have a much faster rate of fire. The downside is that most of them are significantly heavier and sometimes prone to jamming, especially with low-brass birdshot shells. Semi-auto shotgun technology has come a long way, leaving us with some incredible shotguns.
- Pump-action shotgun – since you have to manually cycle the shells of a pump-action shotgun, they have a lower rate of fire. However, they’re generally lighter than semi-autos and give less recoil, and are also less likely to jam.
- Single-shot breech-loading shotgun – a single shot breech loader will hunt birds just as well as any other gun…but it can only shoot one time before you need to reload, so its not recommend unless you already have one on hand, and is all you have on hand.
- Double-barrel breech-loading shotgun – Available in side-by-side (SxS) or over/under (O/U), a double barrel shotgun is the classic bird hunter’s weapon of choice, and it is still found wherever birds…or clay pigeons…are the target.
Note: The only difference between the two double barrel shotguns is that the over/under has the barrels stacked vertically, while the side-by-side’s barrels are horizontal. While double barrels are very cool to have, I wouldn’t recommend them for the beginner hunter because they can be more difficult to aim and only hold two shells at a time. However, if you plan on hunting quail, you may need one depending on the property! Check ahead of time before scheduling a hunt.
With that said, the two advantages that double barrels have over other shotguns are comfort and faster follow-up shots. Both of these perks are thanks to the simplistic breakaway design, which allows for the gun to be roughly 4” shorter without sacrificing barrel length –and they follow-up faster because there’s no need to cycle a shell into the chamber.
My recommendation: I suggest going with a 12-gauge shotgun as your first bird hunting gun. They’re great for beginners because they’re easy to handle and are extremely versatile. If you want the classic bird hunting experience, a double barrel is a good choice. If you want a multipurpose shotgun that can do more rigorous competition like 3Gun, or even pull double duty as a home defense gun, get a semi-auto and maybe a spare barrel.
The Best Shotguns for Your Bird Hunting Trip
Now that we’ve looked at some of the various types of shotguns, let’s explore some specific models that’ll help you bag and tag waterfowl or upland game.
1. Beretta 686 Ultralight Classic ($1,900)
Double barrels are popular in quail hunting for two reasons: tradition and to prevent overhunting. The Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon ($1,900) is an excellent example of a shotgun tradition that goes back centuries.
Once you get past the learning curve of aiming with a double barrel, you’ll find there’s few models better than the Beretta 686 12-gauge. Not only does the gun look great, but with a weight under six pounds, it’s even less than most 20-gauge shotguns.
The lightweight nature of this gun makes it perfect for upland hunters spend hours trekking through brush and wetlands. This helps to eliminate fatigue during those long hunts, making your time outdoors much more enjoyable. An added bonus is that you get the durability and top-notch quality that Beretta is known for.
In general, we’re hesitant to recommend double barrels to new shooters because they are a bit limiting…so if you’re going to get a double barrel, make sure you know what you want to do with it, and pick a double barrel that will bring you joy for years and years. The 686 fits this bill nicely.
Overall, the 686 Ultralight is the perfect hunting shotgun for hunters looking to shed a few extra pounds from their equipment, while the Silver Pigeon and Upland models both offer exceptional competition performance as well…perfect if you want a shotgun that pulls double duty.
As a new hunter, if you can get used to aiming with an over/under design, this is a great shotgun to own and should provide you with years of smooth hunting.
2. Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Waterfowl ($479)
Are you looking for a gun that’s perfect for that upcoming waterfowl hunting excursion? Are you not wanting to spend “down payment on a new car” money on a shotgun? The Mossberg 835 Ulti Mag ($479) is a brilliant 12-gauge pump that’s durable and great for beginners and experienced hunters.
When it comes to hunting birds like ducks and turkeys, the ability to successfully blend into your environment is a critical part of having a successful hunting trip.
The Mossy Oak Shadowgrass finish that covers the barrel and stock of this shotgun means that you don’t have to worry about your weapon giving you away from behind the duck blinds.
There are two features that help the Ulti-Mag stand out from other guns and make it a great beginner’s shotgun: the fiber optic front sight and the vented barrels. The sight makes it easy to track moving targets without any problem, while the barrel design helps to reduce recoil making it easier to execute a follow-up shot.
The other great thing about this shotgun is that it comes with a set of various choke tubes, so you can take it on turkey and upland hunts as well.
The 835 Ulti-Mag is probably one of the best shotguns on the market for under $600. It’s durable, versatile, and is a great gun to take up bird hunting with.
3. Mossberg SA-20 ($469)
The 20-gauge doesn’t get as much love as it should with everyone in the bird hunting world, but it does have its purposes. When it comes to a small area like a pond or creek, or shooting quail hiding in the thickets, many hunters make the 20-gauge their go-to shotgun.
The Mossberg SA-20 ($469)is a gas-operated, 20-gauge shotgun that’s perfect for your quail or duck hunts. It’s just as effective as the old Winchester Model 12 20-gauge that our grandfathers used, and is also exceptionally light for a semi-automatic – six pounds!
Generally speaking, the SA-20 is a reliable semi-automatic that won’t constantly jam on you in the middle of a hunt. This means that the gun is great for follow-up shots, so you’ll get a second and third chance to drop your target if you miss on the first go.
4. Franchi Affinity 3.5 ($800)
The Franchi Affinity 3.5 ($800) is an inertia-driven semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun. It weights approximately seven pounds and is available as either a 26” or 28” barrel. The Affinity is pretty lightweight for an inertia shotgun, giving hunters the benefit of being easy to carry and operating with a faster rate of fire.
Unlike other inertia shotguns, the Affinity doesn’t have a powerful kick thanks to its patented recoil padding. This doesn’t only make the shooting the Affinity more comfortable than other shotguns out there, it also makes it easier for beginner hunters to operate.
The best thing about the Affinity is that using it more like shooting a 20-gauge than it does a 12-gauge, and its red fiber-optic front sight makes tracking targets quick and easy. You also get three different choke tubes with this gun, making it optimal for waterfowl as well as upland game.
6. Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 ($1,800)
There’s no unwritten rule that demands that a Benelli features on every top shotgun article – but they’re just that good, so you’ll almost always find one on the list…even if they are a bit pricy.
When it comes to turkey hunting, Benelli has a range of excellent 12, 20, and 28-gauge shotguns that can get the job done. However, for beginners who’re willing to shell out a little extra money for a top-of-the-line turkey gun, the 12-guage Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 ($1,800) is an inertia-driven semi-auto that’s hard to beat.
For starters, it’s a Benelli. That means that you get the top performance and durability that comes with all of their models. The shotgun is also available in a number of different finishes:
- Realtree Max-5
- MossyOak Bottomland
It also comes with either a 26” or 28” barrel and weighs seven pounds, making it easy to lug around during those long hunting trips.
Simply put, the Super Black Eagle 3 meets all of the expectations in terms of accuracy and reliability. It’s easy to shoot and is unlikely to jam up. As an inertia gun, it does have a little bit of a kick, but a lot of that is mitigated thanks to the foam butt pad and cheek piece.
If you want a gun that’ll provide you with a lifetime of quality waterfowl and turkey hunts and is easy enough for a beginner to handle, but also meets the needs of experienced hunters, the Super Black Eagle 3 is the gun for you.
Final Thoughts Before You Go Hunting
Another piece of advice to keep in mind when choosing a gun is barrel length: If you’re selecting a shotgun for upland game, a shorter barrel is helpful when shooting at those fast-moving birds.
Longer barrels 28” and above work better with waterfowl since you’ll be shooting them from a further away.
Another thing to keep in mind is the types of shotgun shells you’ll be using, which you can read about here.
Finally, there are a million great shotguns out there, and almost all of them can be used bird hunting…you don’t need the best of the best, or the latest model. These guns will get you started, but don’t be afraid to go off-script. The most important things are that you be safe, and enjoy your time in the great outdoors.
Now that you have an idea about the different types of shotguns for bird hunting, what type of hunting do you plan on doing? Got a shotgun in mind, or think you have a good one that we missed?