Have you ever wanted to empty a half dozen rounds of 12-gauge in just a couple of seconds?
If you’ve been involved with firearms for any length of time, you’ve probably shot break-action or pump-action shotguns, but what about semi-automatic shotguns?
For many of us, shotguns are some of the first firearms we were introduced to.
Indeed they make excellent guns for everything from training beginners to providing the ultimate home defense protection.
They even see a good bit of use in modern militaries (and games).
We’re going to dig into just why you would want a semi-automatic shotgun, the pitfalls, and how to choose the best one for your needs.
Summary of Our Top Picks
Table of Contents
The Birth of the Semi-Auto Shotty
Before we go into modern semi-automatic shotguns, let’s have a look at the prototype, the grandpappy, the Godfather of all modern semi-automatic shotguns: the Browning Auto-5.
While it would eventually go on to revolutionize the shooting world, it was about as reliable as a broken clock when it was first released, and no one really trusted it.
Eventually, though, Browning ironed out the kinks, and soon the public fell in love with it. And for good reason.
It turns out that having several rounds of 12-gauge buckshot on tap can be a really useful thing.
The Auto-5 is a recoil-operated shotgun, just like many you’ll see on our recommendation list.
This means that the gun uses energy from the recoil to eject the used shell and cycle a new one into the chamber.
Modern Semi-Autos Shotguns
It wasn’t that long ago that there was only a handful of reputable semi-auto shotguns on the market.
Big companies like Browning, Mossberg, and Remington produced them, but they never caught on…until now.
Demand rose, quality improved, and prices dropped. Action-shooting athletes in competitions like 3-Gun benefit greatly from the high fire rate of a semi-auto.
You can even catch these semi-auto bad guy dispatchers in movies like the recently released John Wick 2.
How Does a Semi-Auto Shotgun Work?
The pump-action shotgun you’re probably more familiar with works by having the user manually slide the forend — where you cock the gun.
This uses a spring-operated mechanism to simultaneously eject a spent cartridge and load a fresh one.
A semi-automatic shotgun, on the other hand, does the same thing automatically and can cycle through cartridges in one of two ways:
- Through a gas system…think something similar to the AR-15.
- Through inertia – aka, recoil-operated.
While both gas and recoil-powered systems use energy for the same function — reloading the shotgun — they go about it in different ways.
Gas-powered shotguns take high-pressure gas released after firing and use it to cycle ammo, while recoil-operated shotguns utilize kinetic energy instead.
Even though gas-operated reloading systems have been widely used for various automatic and semiautomatic weapons over the years, recoil operation was historically favored in shotguns.
Pros/Cons of Semi-Autos
Now that we’ve covered the basics of recoil and gas-operated shotguns, let’s look at how semi-automatic shotguns measure up to more traditional shotguns.
Pump-Action Shotgun Advantages
- Typically cheaper retail price.
- A simple design that’s easier to clean, assemble, and disassemble.
- As a rule, they’re less likely to fail.
- Not picky about ammo.
Pump Action Shotgun Disadvantages
- They have a significantly slower rate of fire in inexperienced hands.
- Can be difficult to shoot with an injured hand.
- More recoil.
- Can be short-stroked, especially in a high-stress scenario, which causes a malfunction that can be difficult to clear.
Semi-Automatic Shotgun Advantages
Semi-automatic shotguns are great for competitions and tactical situations, especially for beginners who might struggle to keep their target engaged while cycling rounds with a pump.
- While one-hand shooting is not recommended, it’s at least fairly possible with a semi-automatic shotgun. With that said, I wouldn’t advise doing it unless you were in an emergency situation.
- Generally speaking, the kick of a semi-automatic isn’t as strong, especially with those that use a gas system.
- Semi-automatic shotguns have a much faster rate of fire than their manual counterparts, given similar operator ability
To get an idea of how fast one can shoot with a semi-automatic shotgun, check out this video:
Semi-Automatic Shotgun Disadvantages
- A more complex design makes them heavier and difficult to clean, especially for beginners.
- Semi-automatic shotguns have a higher likelihood of jamming than pump and break-action shotguns.
- Many can’t reliably cycle low-powered ammo, like some low-brass birdshot.
Pump-Action vs. Semi-Auto
It really all depends on what you’re looking for.
Do you want something that’s more affordable and less likely to fail, or do you want a shotgun that can cycle through shells faster and put more rounds on target?
In general, we recommend semi-autos for sport shooting, such as 3-Gun or trap shooting, and pump-actions for those looking for a more affordable shooting experience or those who want the guaranteed reliability that a pump-action brings.
With that said, shotgun technology over the years has improved. This means that semi-automatic shotguns are becoming more reliable, making them great for self-defense situations.
For more on this debate, check out our article dedicated to the drama that is Pump vs Semi.
Are Semi-Automatic Shotguns Good for New Gun Owners?
The operation of a semi-auto shotgun is simpler than any manually operated shotgun.
All a shooter is required to do is to initially charge the weapon via a charging handle. After that, the gun will run itself until it’s empty.
Once it’s empty, the majority of semi-auto shotgun bolts will lock to the rear, giving even the most novice of shooters a clear visual, auditory, and tactile sign that their gun is empty.
When a pump-action shotgun is empty, there is no immediate tactile or audible feedback to let you know.
The only way to know is to count your rounds, or when it goes click on an empty chamber.
All of this combines to make semi-autos an excellent choice for new gun owners.
Just make sure you read the manual to understand proper cleaning and lubrication, as well as your gun’s recommended ammo and malfunction-clearing procedures.
Best Semi-Automatic Shotguns
Of course, any time you use the word “best” to describe anything, someone somewhere is going to disagree with you, and that’s to be expected here.
That said, these are the guns we’ve tested and used ourselves. So, we feel confident recommending them to you.
Note: Many, if not most, of these shotguns can easily fill multiple roles, so be sure to give all of them a look before you decide on buying.
Semi-automatic shotguns are perfect for hunting and are commonly used to take all varieties of game birds, as well as hogs, deer, and other medium to large game.
1. Benelli M4
The Rolls Royce of shotguns, the Benelli M4 is also the armored Humvee, fire truck, and Ferrari of shotguns.
It can do anything, anytime, anywhere, and has seen success in home defense, competition, and hunting scenarios.
It should come as no surprise that the M4 is the U.S. Marines M1014 Joint Service shotgun and has been on combat missions on six continents. Not to mention it’s a favorite in countless video games.
While Benelli is known for inertia-based guns, the Benelli M4 uses an auto-regulating gas operating system.
The ARGO system is cleaner and more reliable over long periods of shooting.
The Benelli M4 is a proper combat shotgun with ghost ring adjustable sights and an optics mount.
Oh, and it works phenomenally in a hunting environment.
The worst thing about this shotgun is the MSRP of $2,000.
Want to learn more? See our full hands-on review here.
With our YouTube review below:
Got one already and want to fully upgrade your M4? Check out our Best Benelli M4 Upgrades article.
2. Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical
The Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical is an excellent choice for home defense, holding 8+1 shells.
It features a cylinder choke bore and an 18.5-inch barrel length.
This shotgun is an extremely functional shotgun with a very reliable gas system.
We have a whole hands-on review of the 930 SPX Tactical that you should take a look at. But it boils down to simply…it’s awesome.
It will serve you and your family very well. Plus, it looks sleek as hell.
3. Stoeger m3500
The Stoeger m3500 inertia-driven shotgun that’s an all-around solid hunting system.
Designed more for waterfowl, upland game birds, and turkey, with the right choke, it’s also an excellent deer slayer.
The gun has interchangeable chokes, three different barrel lengths, and a ribbed barrel.
It can handle shells from 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-inch magnums reliably and is fitted with fiber optic sights and a shim kit to make the stock a little longer.
A Stoeger M3500 has an MSRP of $679 and can be found cheaper if you shop around.
4. Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe
A Turkish-manufactured, gas-operated shotgun, the Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe comes available in 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge.
If you’re looking for a great mid-range autoloader that’s dependable and fun to shoot, the SA-08 Deluxe is the right shotgun for you.
Aside from the price, the biggest selling points of this shotgun are its appearance and its featherlight weight.
The SA-08 Deluxe, depending on the gauge, weighs between 5 ½ and 6 pounds. This makes the SA-08 Deluxe a favorite among waterfowl hunters and clay pigeon enthusiasts.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a shotgun under $1,000 that looks as nice as this one.
Forget any hang-ups that you may have about Turkish guns…the Weatherby SA-08 is a beautiful and affordable shotgun that’s not only dependable but also a pleasure to shoot.
5. Browning A5
Starting its legendary life as the creation of John Browning, the A5 was the first semi-auto shotgun to make it to the mass market.
It’s also a thing of beauty.
The new and improved A5 comes with modern technology and the same vintage look
The A5 has the same vintage look and style that made the old Auto-5 models popular but is significantly lighter and is built with a recoil system called Kinematic Drive. This removes the need to manually choose between light or heavy loads.
Overall, the Browning A5 is an excellent reboot of a classic shotgun and is great for hunters and competitive shooters alike.
What do you think of the Browning A5? Give it a rating below!
6. Beretta 1301 Tactical
In a word…sleek. The Beretta 1301 Tactical 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun is capable of firing full-power and reduced-power loads.
When it comes to making shotguns that are dependable and ergonomically designed, few manufacturers can compete with Beretta.
This innovative feature sets this series apart from other autoloading shotguns and makes this gun perfect for tactical situations, including home defense and crowd control.
It has an 18.5-inch barrel that’s perfect for tactical-style shooting.
With that said, if you’re in the market for a shotgun that’s dependable and perfect for home defense, the the 1301 Tactical is a strong contender.
Check out our full video review below or head to our Beretta 1301 Tactical article to learn more!
7. Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical
Effectively a more refined 930, the Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical is an evolution stemming from feedback from pro shooters like Jerry Miculek as well as shooters like us who buy and modify guns.
All the improvements make sense, and the gun’s performance is outstanding. It features a capacity of 7+1 with improvements over the 930 platform.
The buttstock pad feels much improved, providing good grip on the shoulder as well as cushion for recoil. Mossberg added an extended elevator and removed the notch that always seems to catch our digits when loading.
In the same area, Mossberg enlarged the loading port by beveling the edges. The improved gas system softens recoil and is supposed to run cleaner than previous versions. And we love that the barrel clamp now has an M-LOK slot for accessories.
Oh, and did we mention it’s also compatible with the Shield RMSc footprint?
All in all, the 940 Pro Tactical is a great option for those looking for a modern semi-auto.
Check out the video review below or catch up on the deets in the written review.
8. Benelli M2
When it comes to tactical shotguns, you know that Benelli is a name you can trust. Benelli’s M2 is no exception.
This excellent semi-automatic shotgun comes in three stock configurations: Pistol Grip, Standard, and Benelli’s fabulous ComforTech stock that dramatically reduces felt recoil.
Like with all Benelli models, the M2 is praised for being a dependable semi-automatic shotgun.
When fitted with ComforTech technology, shooters will experience nearly 50% less recoil, which can make competition shooting much more comfortable.
Check it out in action in our editor’s 3-Gun M2 setup:
It is also relatively lightweight and comes in a Benelli’s special wet/dry finish to ensure comfortable, safe handling in all conditions, making it ideal for rigorous competition or home defense.
9. Remington Versa Max Competition Sportsman
The Remington Versa Max Competition Sportsman is a 12-gauge, autoloading shotgun designed specifically for the shotgun phase of 3-gun competitions.
It’s a gas-operated shotgun that uses Remington’s Versaport technology, a system that regulates gas pressure depending on the length of the shotgun shell (2 ¾” to 3”).
The benefit of this technology is that it allows the shooter to experience consistent recoil regardless of load.
Remington’s Versa Max Competition is a brilliantly designed competition-grade shotgun that’s reliable and comfortable to use.
If you want a well-rounded automatic shotgun that’s quick to load and easy to operate, then this is the one for you.
10. IWI TS12
Want something a little out of the box? Then the IWI TS12 is the gun that certainly fills that niche.
A combination of bullpup meets semi-auto shotgun, this semi-auto, gas-powered shotgun kinda looks like it’s straight out of a sci-fi flick.
It sports an 18.5-inch barrel and uses Beretta/Benelli chokes, plus it brings plenty of M-LOK space to mount accessories.
Downside…it doesn’t run reliably all the time. We saw failures to eject and failures to load — in short, it’s very picky about ammo.
That said, it’s a really fun gun to run, and if you prefer style over functionality or just want something fun to shoot at the range, the IWI TS12 fits that bill.
Read more about this space-age shotgun in our review!
When you consider that semi-autos don’t usually kick as hard as pump-action shotguns, it’s not difficult to see why they’re a great choice for beginner shooters, and the extra rounds and boost to fire rate make them a great choice for veteran shooters as well.
The most important thing to remember when owning a semi-automatic shotgun is maintenance.
A well-maintained autoloader will be much less likely to fail, especially if it’s a gas-operated version.
So the real question is, what type of semi-automatic shotgun do you plan on getting? Let us know in the comments below! How about feeding the beast? We cover that in Best Shotgun Ammo.