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, and 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.
We’re going to dig into just why you would want a semi-automatic shotgun, what some of the pitfalls, and how to choose the best one for your needs.
If you’re all jazzed to see our recommendations right away, here they are:
- Stoeger 3500 ($679)
- Remington Versa Max Competition ($1,066)
- Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical ($730)
- Mossberg 930 JM Pro ($680)
- Benelli M4 ($1,800)
- Benelli M2 Tactical ($1,250)
- Weatherby SA-08 ($680)
- Browning A5 ($1450)
- FN SLP Mark I ($1,100)
- Beretta TX4 Storm ($1,150)
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 in their prototype, and the gun buying public and even major militaries came around.
And for good reason.
It turns out, having several rounds of 12 gauge buckshot on tap can be a really useful thing, whether you’re hunting, target shooting, or fighting through the trenches of Europe.
The Auto-5 is a recoil-operated shotgun, just like many you’ll see on our recommendation list. This means that the gun uses the energy from the recoil to eject the used shell and cycle a new one into the chamber.
Modern Semi-Autos Shotguns Are Reliable and Practical
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 that is.
Demand has risen, quality has improved and prices have dropped. Action shooting sports athletes in competitions like 3-gun benefit greatly from the high fire rate of a semi-auto.
You can even catch these semi-auto badguy dispatchers in movies like the recently released John Wick 2.
So…How Does a Semi-Automatic Shotgun Work?
The pump-action shotgun you’re probably more familiar with works by having the user manually slide the fore-end – where you cock the gun – which 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.
The Pros and Cons of Shooting a Semi-Automatic Shotgun
Now that we’ve covered the basics of recoil and gas-operated shotguns, let’s have a 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
- Their more complex design makes them heavier and more 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-Automatic Shotguns: Which is best?
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.
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 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. They aren’t quite idiot proof, but they’re damn close.
When a pump action shotgun is empty there is no immediate tactile or audible feedback to let you know the shotgun is empty. 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 being said, these are the guns we’ve tested and used ourselves, and we feel confident recommending them to you. If you see a gun listed that shouldn’t be or feel like we left one off, please let us know in the comments below.
Here we go, our favorite semi-automatic shotguns, broken down by recommended use and ordered by price.
(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.
An inertia driven shotgun that is as an all-around solid hunting system. It is designed more for waterfowl, upland game birds, and turkey, but with the right choke, it’s also an excellent deer slayer.
The gun has interchangeable chokes, 3 different barrel lengths, and a ribbed barrel. It can handle shells from 2 3/4s to 3 ½ inch magnums reliably. It’s 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.
Turkish manufactured, gas-operated shotgun that 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. Between the “Weatherby” logo engraved on the receiver and the high-gloss walnut stock, the SA-08 Deluxe is one fine-looking shotgun.
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.
Starting its legendary life as the creation of John Browning, the A5 was the first semi-auto shotgun to make it to mass market. It’s also a thing of beauty.
No, this is not the Auto-5, your grandpa’s revolutionary semi-automatic shotgun that was introduced over a century ago. This is a next-generation version, a recoil-operated semi-automatic shotgun that first hit the shelves in 2014.
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, which 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.
Many people like a pump-action for a home defense scenario, but with that, you run the risk of short-stroking and ending up with a jam at the worst possible time.
These are the semi-autos we trust with our lives and feel comfortable recommending to you for the most important possible purpose: protecting yourself and your loved ones.
The Mossberg 930 Tactical series of shotguns are an affordable and excellent choice for home defense. The 930 is an extremely functional shotgun with a very reliable gas system.
The Tactical model holds 5 + 1 shells and features and has a cylinder choke bore. This shotgun is pretty plain Jane, but extremely functional. It’s also quite affordable with an MSRP is $684.00.
In a word: Sleek. A gas-operated 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun that’s 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 the TX4 Storm apart from other autoloading shotguns and makes this gun perfect for tactical situations, including home defense and crowd control.
The TX4 Storm is a shotgun that was built ready for tactical action
It has an 18-inch barrel that’s perfect for tactical shooting, but not necessarily optimized for 3-gun competitions. With that said, if you’re in the market for a shotgun that’s dependable and perfect for home defense, the TX4 Storm is a strong contender.
Don’t let this simple-seeming gas-operated 12-gauge fool you. Designed to be quick enough to meet the needs of the 3-Gun competitor, but also reliable enough to for home defense. One of the biggest selling points of the SLP Mark I is its durability.
Prices accurate at time of writing
It can truly take a lickin’ in the field and keep on tickin’ like a well-calibrated timepiece.
What really makes the SLP Mark I a superior autoloader isn’t fancy features, but rather its dependability. The shotgun is a solid semi-automatic to use for home defense, which is why the FN SLP was named the Shotgun of the Year by American Rifleman in 2009.
The Rolls Royce of shotguns. It’s also the armored Humvee, Firetruck, 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 seen combat on six continents, and in countless video games.
While Benelli is known for their inertia based guns, the Benelli M4 uses an auto-regulating gas operating system.
The ARGO system as it’s called 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, and it works phenomenally in a hunting environment. The worst thing about this shotgun is the MSRP of $2,000.
Competition shooting, from trap/skeet shooting to 3-gun, to just plain target shooting is always easier and more fun with more rounds and a faster fire rate. These competition guns get the job done every time.
Effectively a more refined 930, the 930 SPX/JM Pro rocks an 8 shot tube, and a set of proper Ghost ring sights. The front sight is AR 15 height so it co-witnesses with optics that co-witness with an AR-15. The rear sight is a ghost ring and is adjustable.
The Mossberg 930 JM Pro, on the other hand, is a bit more dolled up and comes with an extended magazine tube, quick-detach sling mounts, beveled mag well, and a few other high-end features that you’d normally pay big bucks for.
The “JM” in the name stands for Jerry Michulek, world champion 3-gun shooter and all around demigod among us mere firearms mortals.
When it comes to tactical shotguns, you know that Benelli is a name you can trust. Benelli’s M2 Tactical 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.
Prices accurate at time of writing
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.
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.
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 which 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.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Remington’s Versa Max Competition Tactical 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 is easy to operate, then this is the one for you.
The Last Word on Semi-Automatic Shotguns
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.
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.
And how about feeding the beast? We cover that in Best Shotgun Ammo.
So the real question is, what type of semi-automatic shotgun do you plan on getting? Was this helpful in making your decision? Let us know in the comments below!