The Best Shotguns of 2017
From ornate over/unders to fast-shooting autloaders, our shotgun test found great values and top performers
As a category, over/under shotguns don’t lend themselves to innovation. There have been a couple of interesting internal tweaks to how these guns operate in the last few years, but in truth, gunmakers long ago perfected the platform. So the issue becomes, how do you build one well and at a price that will make shooters take notice?
Barrett—and, no, that’s not a typo—has jumped into the fine-shotgun game with the Rutherford. Made in Italy in partnership with Fausti, this is a classically styled double that hits all the right notes—including price.
The 20-gauge we tested is a purist’s upland field gun. It is built on a Purdey-style under-bolt boxlock action, has solid side ribs along the barrels, and is stocked with attractive wood. The gun is tastefully engraved with scrollwork, and scenes on either side of the action depict quail in flight. It’s a handsome piece. The laser-engraved checkering is pointed up pretty well and wraps around the slender forend. This is a nice touch, since most guns these days have flat panels of checkering on either side of the gun, which is cheaper and easier to do.
That attention to detail is also evident in the rest of the shotgun’s construction. Everything on it looks and works the way it should on a quality double. The trigger is crisp. The action locks up tight. The wood is slightly proud. The safety, barrel selector, and top lever all function in a smooth and positive fashion. The gun also shoots. The test team raved about the Rutherford’s balance and how naturally it pointed and swatted targets out of the sky.
Our gun had 28-inch barrels, though you can get it with 26-inch tubes as well. It’s also offered in other gauges—12, 16, and 28—on properly scaled receivers. It comes with five flush-mounted choke tubes and a quality hard-sided case. It’s everything one would expect from this type of gun, and at $2,200, it’s an outstanding value. Little surprise, then, that it was the unanimous pick as the Editor’s Choice shotgun.
Benelli unveiled the third major overhaul of its iconic 3 ½-inch autoloader this year. The Super Black Eagle recently turned 25, and to maintain the shotgun’s position as one of the premier semi-auto waterfowl guns, the company made a host of changes to the gun’s stock geometry, ergonomics, and internal mechanics.
Upgrades include a more reliable lockup between the rotating bolt head and the lug recesses in the barrel, an improved recoil-reduction system in the stock, and a stock that makes the gun swing and point better.
The gun earned high scores across the board, which is a testament to the SBE 3’s versatility and quality. One judge found the gun’s $1,999 price a bit tough to swallow, but otherwise our praise was nearly universal.
Browning Citori CXS | Buy It Now Nathaniel Welch
This new over/under is another example of the trend toward hybrid guns that are meant to excel at multiple tasks, enhancing utility and value for the shooter. With the CXS, those tasks are sporting clays and bird hunting.
The gun has a lot of fine qualities. The trigger is crisp and adjustable for reach. The metalwork is top notch. The extended choke tubes are high quality as well.
But at 8 pounds 4 ounces with 30-inch barrels, we found it a bit sluggish, one tester going so far as to say the stock was “clubby.” Shotgun handling is highly individual, but our concern is that in trying to do so much, the CXS lacks focus.
A pump-action 28-gauge will always pique the interest of Outdoor Life’s shotgun team members, all of whom are avid upland bird hunters and sub-gauge fans. This gun, however, failed to generate much excitement. We found it difficult to load, and the design of the forend was too bulky for our liking. The fat forend made controlling the gun a bit of a chore and, curiously, gave the shotgun a whippy feel. The ported barrel—totally unnecessary on a gun like this—left us scratching our heads.
Despite this, we still think this gun is a good value. At $429, it is within the reach of most hunters, and it comes with five choke tubes and has some nicely figured wood.
This new autoloader from Winchester was one of the biggest surprises of the test. We honestly didn’t know what to make of it when we first pulled it from its case—which is a polite way of saying that we thought it looked kind of goofy. In our defense, this isn’t a shotgun that has classic looks. The crossbolt safety and bolt release tab are conspicuously oversized rectangular pieces of metal, the lines on the forend look like something taken from the Tron: Legacy movie set, and the blocky bolt seems too small for the large ejection port, creating gaps that I figured were a tribute to Michael Strahan’s dental work.
But these concerns receded when we started shooting. This 12-gauge, which is chambered for 3 ½-inch shells, won our hearts with its refined controls and how nicely it handled. The oversize bolt-release and safety are both intuitively ergonomic and don’t require much force to manipulate. The SX4 loads easily, and your fingers don’t get caught up in the shell lifter.
We put a variety of loads through this gas-operated gun and had zero problems with feeding, cycling, or ejection. We found the SX4, with its 26-inch barrel, to be lively and quick to shoulder, yet it swung well on crossers and distant targets. In short, this struck us as one of those guns that can do it all. Our biggest gripe is that the gripping texture on the stock is not aggressive enough, making the gun slicker than it should be. But for the price—the MSRP is $799—you won’t find a better 3 ½-inch semi-auto out there, and for that reason it took home the Great Buy award.
This over/under, which has a synthetic stock that is chambered for 3 ½-inch shells, is certainly the boldest gun introduction of the year. What madman (or maybe mad genius—time will tell) closed his eyes and thought, This is the gun we’ve been waiting for? It looks like an o/u designed by Orcs.
It’s made in Turkey, and has nice mechanical triggers and an automatic safety. Its 30-inch barrels swung on clay targets with the momentum of a Titan’s war club—but I’ll be damned if it didn’t break a bunch of clays for everyone on the test team.
So aesthetics aside, we were impressed by how well the gun handled.
We found this 3 ½-inch pump-action difficult to love.
None of us cared for the stock dimensions on this brute. “Ill-fitting,” is how one judge put it. We all felt as if the gun was fighting us while we were trying to hit targets. The long stroke required to cycle the pump action added to our frustration. The front bead on the shotgun is distractingly large, perched like a snowball on the end of the muzzle. And the trigger pull, at just below 8 pounds, was heavier than the gun. Never a good sign.
The most attractive thing about this gun is its price. At $399, it is an inexpensive way to get a 3 ½-inch shotgun if you have your heart set on one.
Weatherby Element Deluxe Nathaniel Welch
This year, Weatherby has expanded its line of inertia-driven shotguns to include this 20-gauge. The company has done an excellent job with its Turkish-made shotguns, keeping a close eye on quality, and this gun continues that tradition—for the most part. It functioned with no hiccups during the test. The high-gloss finish on the wood and metalwork, a signature Weatherby look, is nice enough, and the gun balanced and shot pretty well. The only glaring negative was the sharp finger-shredding edges on the gun's crossbolt safety.
At 6 pounds 6 ounces, it is slender enough to carry over big country, but its $1,099 MSRP seems a bit steep.
Here’s another exemplar of the trend toward hybrid firearms. The Allsport is a smartly configured target shotgun that combines multi-discipline utility with a good price. I know calling a $4,280 shotgun a good value can be a stretch for many folks, but shooters who are serious about trap and sporting clays often spend double that figure (or more) on a purpose-built shotgun.
The ability to easily swap ribs allows the shooter to go from a 50/50 pattern—with half the shot payload impacting above the front bead and half below—for sporting clays, to a 65/35 that throws a higher pattern for trap in a matter of seconds. Ribs with different patterning percentages are also available.
The gun has gorgeous wood, nice checkering, an outstanding trigger, and a stock that adjusts easily for a custom fit. And it comes with a generous set of seven extended choke tubes.
The gun weighs 8 ¼ pounds, has 30-inch barrels, and balances very well. For an aspiring competitive shooter who wants one gun that can shoot multiple events, this is an excellent choice.
|Shotguns||Barrett Sovereign Rutherford||Winchester SX4||Benelli SBE 4|
|Shotguns||Fabarm Axis Allsport||Weatherby Element Deluxe||Browning Citori CXS|
|Shotguns||CZ-USA Swamp||CZ-USA 628 Field Select||Stoeger P3500|
How We Test Guns
We want every gun in the test to win. With that as our goal, Outdoor Life’s test team does its best to make sure each rifle and shotgun has the opportunity to shine and showcase its potential.
This starts with a thorough inspection of each firearm before we head to the range. We gather all the objective data on weight, length, trigger pull, etc., and at the same time make certain all the fasteners are tight and that no parts are missing.
With the pre-production and show-exhibition samples we often get, you’d be surprised at how frequently they require fixing up and tuning.
Once they are ready to shoot, which in the case of the rifles means they have been topped with quality scopes and zeroed, the fun begins. We put every gun through a battery of drills to mimic real-world use. Rifles are shot from field positions. Shotguns take on clay targets with every imaginable trajectory.
Then we get tricky. We load and handle the guns in an attempt to purposely induce malfunctions. Will a single cartridge tossed carelessly into the receiver feed well? Will a shotgun tuned for heavy shells still cycle a light target load? Does shooting a gun until it is smoking hot affect accuracy or reliability?
We also punch a lot of paper, using a variety of different loads and bullet weights, to ascertain the accuracy of the rifles. We take copious notes while gathering all this data, and use that information to generate the scores and rankings.