In upland hunting, you take the fight to the birds. You meet them on their turf and on their terms and most of the time you’re going to do plenty of walking to get there. A lightweight shotgun that mounts quickly, swings well, and most importantly, can be comfortably carried all day is essential to success. But that doesn’t mean you must spend a fortune on a bird hunting gun. There are plenty of bargain options that will kill birds just as effectively as the fancier high-dollar models.
So, here’s my list of guns for the blue-collar bird hunter. Whether your quarry is pheasants, quail, or grouse, any of these shotguns will get the job done.
1. Remington’s 870 Wingmaster
One of my personal favorite upland guns is Remington’s 870 Wingmaster. I own both 12- and 16-gauge models. Although the latter has since been discontinued, the Wingmaster is still offered in 12-, 20-, and 28-gauge, as well as .410. Perhaps the best deal in the Wingmaster line-up is the 12-gauge version. With a 26-inch Light Contour barrel, it weighs only 6 ¾ pounds, which is extremely light for a 12-gauge pump and a good ½-pound less than its 870 Express counterpart. All Wingmasters come with highly polished blued metal, chrome-plated bolt, three Rem-chokes (IC, modified, full), and a better grade of wood than the Express, including a new model this year with claro walnut.
2. Savage STEVENS 555
The Stevens 555 represents an exceptional value among upland over/unders. It’s available in all four of the main gauges – 12, 20, 28, and .410 – and priced to fit the most frugal of budgets. Not only is it light on the wallet, but also in hand, thanks to its aluminum receiver. The 12-gauge model with 28-inch barrels weighs just a hair over 6 pounds, while the other three gauges with 26-inch barrels all weigh less than 5 ½ pounds. There’s also a 555 Compact with a shorter length of pull and 24-inch barrels available in all three sub-gauges, each weighing an even 5 pounds. Standard features include interchangeable chokes, extractors, and a single selective trigger. MSRP for all of these 555 models, regardless of gauge, is a reasonable $692.
3. Winchester SX4 Upland Field
The Winchester SX4 is powered by the proven and reliable Active Valve gas system. An oversized bolt handle, bolt release button, and safety are easily used with gloves, while a snag-free Inflex recoil pad protects your shoulder. The SX4 is currently offered in 3- or 3 ½-inch 12-gauge and black synthetic, wood, or camo. However, I bet most upland hunters will be interested in the 3-inch Upland Field.
This limited edition SHOT Show Special model has a nickel receiver and high-grade walnut that looks as good as it performs. That said, I finished last season strong by going three for three on quail during the last week of the season with my basic black SX4, proving pretty is as pretty does.
4. Mossberg 500 Classic
There are a lot of variations of Mossberg’s venerable pump, but the Model 500 Classic is sure to appeal to upland hunters. With its polished 28-inch blued barrel, jeweled silver bolt, and high-gloss walnut stock with a red recoil pad off-set by a white spacer, this 3-inch 12-gauge has the classic good looks of a vintage pump-gun. It comes with twin bead sights and a set of three Accu-chokes (IC, Modified, Full). If the Classic is too fancy for you, consider the 500 All-Purpose Field. This no-nonsense workhorse is available with a matte finish in 12- or 20-gauge with a wood or synthetic stock, or .410-bore in wood. Like all Mossbergs, these tough pumps are highly affordable.
5. Franchi Affinity 3
The Affinity 3 is probably the best value going currently among inertia-operated autoloaders. It has an oversized bolt handle and bolt release button that are easily manipulated while wearing heavy gloves. A shim kit allows customization of drop and cast, while replacement TSA recoil pads not only absorb recoil but also allow LOP adjustment.
Available finishes are black synthetic, camo, or wood. The Affinity 3 is offered in both 3-inch 12- and 20-gauge. (There’s also the 3 ½-inch 12-gauge Affinity 3.5.) The 12-gauge weighs about 6.8 pounds, while the 20-gauge weighs only 6 pounds.
6. Browning Silver Field
While Browning’s Maxus and A5 get more attention, the Silver semi-auto line is the real bargain. The Silver is powered by the same Active Valve gas system as the popular, yet discontinued Gold (and Winchester’s current SX4) with the added benefit of a semi-humpbacked receiver that aids in naturally aligning the eye for quick target acquisition. With its satin-finished stock and silver receiver off-set by a prominent black Buck Mark logo, the Field is the most attractive Silver model. It’s available in both full-size and compact 3-inch 12- and 20-gauge, but the latter is a true upland gem. It’s the only 20-gauge semi-auto Browning offers and weighs less than 6 ½ pounds.
7. FABARM L4S Initial Hunter
The L4S is powered by the same Pulse Piston gas operating system as FABARM’s flagship XLR5, which will handle light 1-ounce loads up to the heaviest 3-inch magnums. However, the L4S has a slimmer forearm than the XLR5 that makes it feel more like an over/under than a semi-auto. A shorter, reduced capacity magazine also improves balance and drops weight to well under 7 pounds, making this lightweight scattergun a delight to carry. The basic L4S Initial Hunter model has a black alloy receiver, but Grey Hunter and Deluxe Hunter models with various appearance upgrades are also offered. The L4S is available in both right- and left-hand models. Sure, this gun is a little pricier than the other guns on the list, but the features and style qualify it as a real bargain.
8. CZ Upland Ultralight
The name Upland Ultralight is an understatement. CZ trimmed weight by using a lightweight alloy receiver, eliminating the mid-rib, and hollowing out the stock. The result is a 12-gauge over/under averaging about 6 pounds, while the 20-gauge model weighs just 5.8 pounds. The 12- and 20-gauge are both available with a green anodized receiver and 28-inch barrels. The Upland Ultralight is also available with a more traditional matte black receiver in 12-gauge only with either 26- or 28-inch barrels. Five choke tubes are included, and other features include a single, mechanical trigger and manual, tang-mounted safety. Best of all, MSRP for the Upland Ultralight is just $762. ––Jarrod Spilger
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Bonus Sub-Gauges Light in the Field and on the Wallet
1. CZ Bobwhite G2
For $655 you can have a six-pound side-by-side with double triggers that is a dream to carry and points wonderfully. This isn’t a fancy double gun, but it is a practical one. Personally, I think this would be an ideal gun for hunting grouse in heavy cover. It has 28-inch barrels, and extractors (but no ejectors). The biggest criticism is that the triggers are overly stout (both take about 10 pounds to set off). But if you can get over the heavy trigger pull, you have utilitarian 20-gauge that is a throwback to the good old days of bird hunting.
2. Pointer Phenoma
This is a .410 that doesn’t feel like a .410, and that’s a good thing. This sweet shotgun has an MSRP of $429, which earned it the Great Buy award in our 2019 shotgun test. The Turkish-made gun cycled reliably as we burned up hundreds of rounds on the skeet range. It handled wonderfully (it wasn’t overly whippy like some .410s tend to be). Best of all there was relatively no recoil while shooting the Phenoma. The .410 might not be an ideal gun for many hunting scenarios, but I could see this being a great option for decoying doves or even preserve hunts for pheasants and chukars. –Alex Robinson