Shotguns: Which One Is Right For You?
By Patricia Mereyfith
What is the best shotgun for you? Do you want a shotgun for hunting home defense, or competition? There are three commonly used shotguns: break-open, pump and semi-automatic (also called an auto).
Break-open shotguns are popular with competition shooting. The break-open shotgun has either one or two barrels. The typical competition two-barrel break-open is referred to as an over-under, as one barrel sits on top of the other unlike side-by-side double-barrel shotguns. Break-open shotguns hinge open exposing the breech end of the barrel or barrels. Shot shells are loaded and removed by hand into the breech end of the barrel(s). The shotgun I am holding in my biography photo is a break-open. It is a Browning Citori Golden Clays XT; a 12 gauge shotgun with adjustable comb and butt plate and a recoil reduction system. The shotgun my daughter, Elizabeth Simester, is shooting is a single-barrel break-open, a Browning BT-99 12 gauge.
Pump and semi-automatic shotguns have one barrel; they hold shot shells in a tube-like magazine. Pump action shotguns load the shot shell into the breech end of the barrel when the forearm is pumped. This process ejects the empty shot shell from the breech end of the barrel while transferring the next shot shell from the magazine to the breech of the barrel. The sound made by the pump racking a shot shell into the barrel is in itself a deterrent when used in home protection.
Semi-automatic shotguns operate similarly to the pump shotgun, except after the first shot shell is loaded into the breech end of the barrel, every time the trigger is pulled the remaining shells are loaded automatically while ejecting the spent shot shell. Semi-auto shotguns typically have less recoil than a pump or break-open of the same weight, because the operation of the semi-auto shotgun absorbs some of the recoil. Take a lesson from someone who has all three shotguns for you to try before you buy one for yourself. The other things to consider are the gauge, barrel length, fit and accessories that come with the shotgun.
The most common gauge used is the 12 gauge. I would recommend the 12 gauge for every event mentioned above. Women are frequently encouraged to use a 20 gauge, but I don’t agree. The heavier 12 gauge shotgun will usually absorb more recoil than a light 20 gauge. In competition, I see women and teenagers using only 12 gauge shotguns.
When it comes to home defense, you might want a shotgun with an 18.5” to 21” barrel. If you are going to shoot skeet or hunt pheasants or chukars you may prefer a barrel length of 26” to 28”. Most trap shooters prefer a 30”, 32”, or 34” barrel.
The length of pull, (the distance from the bend of the inner elbow to the bend in the trigger finger), the drop from the rib (top of barrel) to the comb (where the shooter’s check is placed) and the weight of the shotgun are all important. A good salesperson can help fit you to the shotgun, and a gunsmith can make adjustments to fit. Also, some shotgun models are offered in a micro version to fit the small-framed shooter.
Check to see what you get with the shotgun. Does it come with a carrying case, and an assortment of chokes? Sometimes the case is part of the purchase price; sometimes you will have to buy the case separate from the shotgun. Shotguns without removable chokes will have a fixed choke indicated on the side of the barrel stating Full (full choke), IM (improved modified), M (modified), IC (improved cylinder), etc. Each choke has its use, but you don’t want to buy a shotgun with an open choke like the improved cylinder to shoot trap from the 27-yard line where a full choke is usually the choice. Remember, it’s not the cost of the shotgun that makes you a better shooter, it’s the right fit and the right practice. Again, there is a lot of benefit in taking a lesson; you get to try out different shotguns, and you will be practicing correct technique, not bad habits. Think safety at all times and enjoy your shooting experience.