2014 Gun Test: OL Reviews and Ranks the Best New Shotguns

If you’re in the market for a shotgun this year, you’re in luck. The new guns of the Class of … Continued

If you’re in the market for a shotgun this year, you’re in luck. The new guns of the Class of ’14 cover a lot of ground, both in terms of price and application for different types of shooting. There’s something for everyone here.

The shotgun field, while small, is especially strong. The race for the Editor’s Choice and Great Buy awards was neck and neck. At the higher end of the price spectrum is the Benelli Ethos, which has an inertia-driven operating system that’s been reworked for greater reliability, and an interesting new recoil dampener. It is the epitome of a hot-rod wingshooter that is begging to be taken to Argentina to strut its stuff on high-volume birds. For shooters who like their shotguns with two barrels, there’s a new Citori 725 in 20 gauge that has classic American lines. The Stoeger M3020, on the other hand, also chambered in 20 gauge, represents a very good value for the budget-minded hunter. Black from muzzle to butt, it isn’t pretty, but we found the way it handles very attractive. Each of these guns merits a close look.

The Complete Outdoor Life Shotgun Review

Rating Guide:

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1. Editor’s Choice: Franchi Intensity

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Photo by Jeff Wilson

Franchi shotguns have always had a devoted following among wingshooters who appreciate the way these Italian-made smoothbores handle. Their lively quality and light weight have made them a favorite of upland hunters of all types, but grouse hunters–who are presented with quick flushes in tight cover between long bouts of walking–­especially favor them.

With the Intensity, a 3 ½-inch autoloader, Franchi has created a shotgun that can do it all. Whether the game requires heavy magnum loads–think spring turkeys or geese armored with thick winter plumage–or lighter shotshells, the Intensity will get you on target.

Most 3 ½-inch guns are a bit sluggish to swing, but the Intensity is true to the Franchi DNA. To a person, the shotgun test squad appreciated the way it balanced and moved. Its versatility, well-mannered handling characteristics, and reasonable price put the Intensity at the head of the class and earned it this year’s Editor’s Choice award. $1,099; franchiusa.com

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2. Great Buy: Ruger Red Label

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Photo by Jeff Wilson

When the Red Label disappeared from Ruger’s product lineup three years ago, it seemed the beloved over/under would live on only in used-gun racks. The price of the shotguns had climbed steadily over the years–up to $2,000, due to labor costs–triggering a decline in sales, so Ruger decided to pull the plug.

Well, now the Red Label is back, and Ruger has managed a pretty impressive trick with its reintroduction by figuring out how to build a better shotgun for less money. Outwardly, the Red Label looks similar to its predecessors, though if you examine where the stock joins the receiver, you’ll see that wood and metal join at a sharper, more rakish angle.

The difference with the new Red Label is that the receiver is now machined from a single piece of metal, whereas before it was formed by two pieces that had to be welded together by hand. This process has the benefit of being stronger, more precise, and more economical.

We loved the way the Red Label swung on targets and shouldered easily, even on the most challenging clay birds. For a shotgunner on a budget looking for value, there’s no better deal out there for an over/under, making the Red Label the logical choice for the Great Buy award in a field of excellent new shotguns. $1,399; ruger.com

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3. Stoeger M3020

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Photos by Rab Cummings****

****HTough as a $5 steak, this $600 gun is vesatile and a terrific value. $599****

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4. Benelli Ethos

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****This Italian autoloader is nimble and light, yet dampens recoil very well. $1,999****

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5. Caesar Guerini Invictus

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****A clay-breaking machine with an innovative and ultra-durable action. $6,700****

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6. Browning Citori 725

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We liked the Citori’s lines and are glad to see the 725 in 20-gauge. $2,470

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How We Test

The Outdoor Life rifle and shotgun test team gathered in Bozeman, Montana, to evaluate this year’s new sporting arms. Our panel of judges follows a strict and extensive protocol. We use detailed checklists to make sure every facet of the guns’ performance and construction is considered, placing heavy emphasis on how the guns handle drills based on real-world shooting. Rifles are shot with multiple loads to determine accuracy, shotguns are scrutinized for their feel and balance, and all the firearms are subject to hard use to ensure they make the grade. After putting thousands of rounds downrange, we tally the results.

See the results of the 2014 rifle test here.