Unlike rifles, which one can shoot from a bench to collect objective performance data, shotguns are things that, ultimately, are judged on their feel.
Ask three people for a definition of shotgun “feel,” however, and you’ll probably end up with five different answers. Feel is a squishy, nebulous concept, and the only way to really arrive at a valid conclusion is to spend plenty of time with each individual gun, running hundreds of rounds through it in a methodical fashion.
Curiously enough, our method doesn’t actually have much to do with how the gun breaks clays—at least that’s not the primary objective when the Outdoor Life test team starts pulling the trigger.
Instead, we focus on a specific attribute to evaluate—how well the shotgun swings, whether it is nimble when coming to the shoulder, how it does with snap shots, and so forth—and run it through a scenario that allows us to arrive at a sound conclusion. For example, with snap shooting, the shooter might stand just to the side of the target launcher with the gun at port arms and turned slightly away from the path of the clay—as he would stand in a thick grouse covert. Shoot a couple dozen targets this way, and that attribute of the shotgun begins to materialize. The goal is to put the gun in real-world situations and see how it reacts.
It takes cases of shells and a pallet full of targets to cover all the bases with each shotgun, but such are the trials of an Outdoor Life shotgun judge.
We spend a lot of time combing over each shotgun from butt pad to bead. While doing so, we’re grading the quality of the stock; looking to see if the barrels are struck well and free of ripples and other flaws; checking to see if the finishes are applied well and are durable; judging the quality of the checkering; and otherwise scrutinizing the gun with the fervor of a gem merchant grading a diamond.
In order to evaluate Price/Value, we also look at what comes with the shotgun—extra choke tubes, the carrying case—to help determine whether it is a good buy.