Written By
Published Oct. 22, 2021

Ask a duck hunter what company makes the best duck hunting shotguns and the three most likely responses will be Beretta, Benelli, or Remington. So, it wasn’t too surprising that those gun manufacturers—along with Winchester—stood above the rest in our 2021 waterfowl shotgun test.

These were our top picks:

Beretta has been making soft-shooting gas-operated autoloaders since 1956 with the introduction of the Model 60. The almost 500-year-old company has come full-circle with the A400 Xtreme Plus, which is arguably the softest shooting sporting shotgun on the market, and a major reason why it was popular with our group of testers.

Benelli’s inertia-driven Super Black Eagle is carried by duck guides all over the country because it’s lightweight, rarely fails, and is one of the best-handling shotguns you will ever bring to your shoulder. Remington has sold more than 11 million 870s over the years—enough said. And Winchester’s Super X4 gives the most value for the dollar out of any shotgun on the market.

But there were plenty more duck hunting shotguns that performed well in our test—and some that didn’t. If you’re a duck hunter looking to buy a shotgun, this is the most comprehensive review of the best (and worst) auto-loaders and pumps you will find.

How We Tested the Best Duck Hunting Shotguns

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
We tested 17 shotguns during the early teal-season at Pintail Hunting Club in Texas. Stephen Maturen

Four editors—Colin Kearns, Phil Bourjaily, Alex Robinson, and myself—tested 17 of the best duck hunting shotguns over three days at Pintail Hunting Club in Garwood, Texas. We shot every shotgun at a five-stand clays range, patterned each shotgun at 35 yards inside a 30-inch circle, and hunted teal during Texas’ September early season with an assortment of Federal Premium, Remington, and Hevi-Shot ammo.

We used stock modified chokes for hunting and patterning the guns. We shot #4 Hevi-Hammer and Remington Nitro Steel while hunting and 3-inch, #2 Federal Speed Shok for patterning. From there, each of us evaluated the shotguns in five different categories: handling and ergonomics, workmanship and aesthetics, versatility, reliability, and value.

Here’s what each of those categories entails:

Handling & Ergonomics: Handling represents the balance, liveliness, and ability to hit targets with the shotgun. It also represents how the shotgun manages recoil. Ergonomics represents how well the firearm fits the hands and body. That includes grading how intuitive and easy the controls are to manipulate, and the ease with which you can load and unload the firearm.

Workmanship & Aesthetics: This covers the quality of the materials and construction of the shotgun. It also includes looking at the fit and finish of the metal and stock. Is the gun’s exterior—matte, blued, Cerakote, etc—done well? Does it look and feel durable?

Versatility: Is the gun capable of functioning well in multiple hunting scenarios? Is it good for pits, box blinds, walk-ins, ground blinds—essentially anyplace duck hunters hunt. Can it be used to hunt other types of game than waterfowl and shoot clays?

Reliability: This represents how well the firearm functioned mechanically throughout the evaluation and whether it had any failures or malfunctions, some of which we tried to deliberately induce, like throwing dirt into the action, shaking it out, and firing a shotshell. Or dropping the gun in water or mud, loading, and firing it.

Value: Does the price tag match the shotgun? Are you getting what you have paid for? Would you recommend it as a good buy to one of your buddies? 

We shot cases and cases of rounds during our test, ammo shortage be damned. We never cleaned any of the guns, because we wanted to see how they’d run dirty. We didn’t baby the guns either. They got wet, muddy, and bumped around in the back of UTVs and rental cars (always unloaded, of course). Because not every duck gun is designed — or priced — the same way, we broke the field of 17 guns into three main categories: premium-level semi autos, bargain-level semi autos, and pump guns. And finally, we picked a winner in each category.

Premium-Level Auto-Loaders

Editor’s Choice Winner: Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.3 inches
  • Trigger weight: 5.1 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.8 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,749

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus Overview

Beretta’s A400 finished just ahead of the Benelli Super Black Eagle III. In fact, every editor had to shoot both guns on sporting clays one final time on the last afternoon to decide the winner. Ultimately, the A400 won best duck hunting shotgun because it’s a softer-shooting gun than the SBE3, and it also patterned more accurately. The Benelli put more pellets in the 30-inch circle at 35 yards (121 to 109 for the A400) when we compared the two guns’ best patterns, but the SBE3 shot 100 percent above point-of-aim on every shot. Beretta’s A400 was a much more center-mass pattern that shot 60 percent above and 40 percent below point-of-aim. You will notice this model has a custom Cerakote finish on it. Standard issue A400s are available in Realtree, Mossy Oak, True Timber, and Kryptek camouflage, as well as a synthetic option.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
Beretta A400 pattern at 35 yards.

The reason why the A400, which is gas-operated, is so light on recoil is a two-part Kick-Off system in the stock. The Kick-Off Mega is a three-spring system that dampens recoil and then the Kick-Off3, located in the grip of the shotgun also mitigates felt recoil. I’ve shot 2-ounce turkey loads through this gun and it mildly tapped my shoulder—it’s remarkably easy on the shooter. Also, as previously mentioned, the A400 patterning is superior. Where you point the gun, is where it shoots. You also get an oversized bolt handle and bolt-release button for easier handling, plus the load gate is wide and easy to manipulate even with thick gloves on. The one drawback of the A400 is a fat fore-end, and the fact that it carries more like an 8-pound gun. If you have small hands and don’t like to tote a shotgun that’s a few ounces heavier than most other auto-loaders, you may not love the A400 as much as we did. There wasn’t a gun in the test that all four shooters were more accurate with—some were equally accurate, but none better—than the Beretta. And none of us had a bad morning in the marsh trying to knockdown acrobatic blue-wings with this gun. That’s what you want in a duck gun. If can shoot a shotgun well on early teal, you’ll shoot it well on any species of duck.

Benelli Super Black Eagle III

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49. 5 inches
  • LOP: 14 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.2 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,699

Benelli Super Black Eagle III Overview 

This gun came in a close second as best duck hunting shotgun. The SBE3 is one of the best-handling semi-auto shotguns ever made. It’s sleek, and light, so you can get the gun moving fast, which is important for duck hunters because our shot windows can get tight. This is the ultimate guide gun because it only weighs 7 pounds and can stand up to the 100-plus days of hell a guide will put it through each season. You don’t see a lot of pro hunters carrying the A400, and that’s because the SBE3 is almost a pound lighter and functions just as well.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Benelli Super Black Eagle III pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

There’s a little bit more recoil in the Benelli, but it’s not bad for an inertia gun. The Comfortech system, a series of interlocking synthetic chevrons in the stock, makes recoil incredibly manageable, and unlike some inertia guns, the SBE3 can shoot 1-ounce target loads without issue. You won’t find a more simple, easy-to-clean semi-auto waterfowl shotgun on the market. The only thing that takes a bit of time is unscrewing the fore-end cap—it took us 12 twists to get it off. The A400 cap comes off with a simple half-turn. You won’t get the “Benelli click” with this gun. The rotating bolt head has a spring in it that forces the head to close and ensures there is a secure lockup with the shotshell, so the firing pin strikes the primer. Our sample did shoot high—100 percent above point of aim—but surprisingly, that didn’t matter on teal or at the five-stand. If you cover the target, this gun kills it.

Browning Maxus II

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 47.25 inches
  • LOP: 14.4 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,600

Browning Maxus II Overview

The second-generation Maxus has the same Power Drive gas system as the original, but that’s about where the similarities end between the two guns. Maxus II’s most important upgrade is the fore-end cap, which can now be removed and outfitted with an extension magazine tube for snow goose hunters. The first Maxus had a fore-end latch, the premise of which was to be able to remove the fore-end quickly. But if you pay $1,800 for a shotgun, you should be able to affix an extension mag to it, and the old Maxus didn’t allow for that.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Browning Maxus II pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The exterior upgrades on this gun are exemplary and make it one of the best duck hunting shotguns on the market. You get a slender fore-end that is outfitted with rubber grips for better handling in cold and wet conditions—none of the other best new shotguns of 2021 offer that. There is also a rubber grip for your shooting hand on the palm swell of the stock, and a cushioned rubber riser for your cheek, plus a thick recoil pad to mitigate recoil. An oversized bolt handle makes pulling the bolt back easy, and there’s plenty of room in the trigger guard for your trigger finger even if you’re wearing thick decoy gloves. This gun was also designed with the Speed Load Plus system, which allows you to load the first shell into the magazine and the lifter will load it into the chamber for you. It can take some precise finger work to get the speed loader to function, but it’s a nice feature once you get the hang of it. You can read my full review on the Maxus II here.  

Browning A5

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49 inches
  • LOP: 14.25 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.9 pounds
  • Overall weight: 6.8 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,500

Browning A5 Overview

The “new” Browning A5 has been around for almost 10 years now and operates on an entirely different inertia system than John Browning’s original long-recoil model in which the barrel moved back into the receiver of the Auto-5 upon firing it. The A5 has a similar system to Benelli shotguns. When you fire the A5, the bolt stays still as the rest of the gun moves backwards under recoil—hence the “inertia.” This action compresses a powerful spring in the bolt assembly and once the gun encounters resistance from your shoulder, the spring unleashes its force and cycles the bolt, ejecting the spent shell, and collecting a new round on its trip back into battery.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Browning A5 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

One thing we all noticed in testing the Browning guns was that they all patterned very evenly and delivered some of the tightest patterns of all the shotguns, though the A5 (77 percent) was not as good as the Maxus II (86 percent) and BPS (83 percent) inside a 30-inch circle at 35 yards. It also has the Speed Load Plus system like the Maxus II, but you won’t find any rubber grips on this gun. I’ve shot the A5 quite a bit in prairie Canada which is a damn fine test of a gun’s ability to function. You shoot a lot more than you would in the states (because of higher bag limits), and guns get a lot dirtier because you’re often laying in dusty ag fields. The A5 never failed to perform. I have had some issues with the bolt running properly in cold weather, but a good cleaning has always taken care of that problem.

Benelli M2 Waterfowl Performance Shop

Key Features 

  • Gauge: 20
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length 48.5 inches
  • LOP: 13.7 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.5 pounds
  • Overall weight: 6.9 pounds
  • MSRP: $2,699

Benelli M2 Overview

The M2 is one of the best 20-gauge semi-auto shotguns you can take afield. A lot of duck guides like them because of their light weight and reliability. It’s also a very balanced gun when you swing it on ducks or clays. The M2 did shoot high and right for me on the pattern board, but I have never had a problem killing ducks with this gun. And it shot straight for Bourjaily as you can see in the pattern below. It will also cycle lighter 1-ounce loads, which are more common offerings for 20 gauges than the heavier 1 1/8 ounces. If you step down to a 7/8-ounce charge weight, reliable cycling can be an issue, but inertia guns aren’t built to function with such a light load.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Benelli M2 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

A Performance Shop M2 will cost you nearly $2,700. That gets you lengthened and polished forcing cones, three Rob Roberts chokes, a Hi-Viz front sight, oversized bolt handle, enlarged bolt release, and a paracord sling. But you can buy a standard synthetic M2 for under $1,500. I’ve had Roberts customize one of my guns with many of the same upgrades, and it didn’t cost the $1,200 difference in price that Benelli charges you. Plus, if you buy a standard M2, you can pick your own custom Cerakote finish when you send it to Roberts and aren’t stuck with just one option—Gore’s Optifade Marsh. My recommendation is to buy the standard version of the M2 and then if you want to make the aftermarket upgrades, you can pay as you go. Get the forcing cones lengthened and polished and buy the T2 choke (they pattern best out of Benellis, according to Roberts) instead of all three. Then you essentially have the Performance Shop version of this gun, minus a few upgrades, for several hundred dollars cheaper.

Benelli Ethos Cordoba BE.S.T.

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 49 inches
  • LOP: 14 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.1 pounds
  • Overall weight: 6.5 pounds
  • MSRP: $2,349

Benelli Ethos Cordoba BE.S.T. Overview

Named for the region of Argentina most famous for its dove hunting, Benelli’s Ethos Cordoba was built for high-volume shooting. The barrel of the Cordoba is ported for lighter recoil and to minimize muzzle jump which helps you get back on the bird after a miss. Or, if you connect, you can move on to another bird with relative ease. It’s a Benelli, so it’s a well-built gun. We had no malfunctions with it in our testing. The BE.S.T coating, which Benelli touts as the best exterior gun finish on the market, did not chip or rub off. It’s also rust- and corrosion-resistant, but you should still take care of your gun the same way you would if the finish was not applied. Metal eventually rusts after all.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Benelli Cordoba pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

Like the SBE3, the Ethos patterned high, but it was a touch worse in this gun. My best pattern with the Cordoba was 100 percent above point-of-aim. The rest were 120 percent above POA. And unlike the SBE3, that did make a difference on five-stand clays. I had to aim a foot below the bird to break it. That’s not ideal when ducks are in the decoys, but if you like to see the target and not cover it up when you swing on a mallard, you will like this gun very much. It also comes with five extended chokes (C, IC, M, IM, and F). Plus, there’s a small window that runs the length of the fore-end so you can see how many shells are left in the magazine tube (this feature is more for Argentina dove hunts where you can shoot unplugged shotguns). The Cordoba is also offered in 20- and 28-gauge. With an MSRP over $2,300 it’s a little steep for me. I don’t see any features—other than the BE.S.T. coating—that make this gun cost $600 more than a standard SBE3.

Bargain-Level Auto-loaders

Great Buy Winner: Winchester Super X4

Key Features 

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.25 inches
  • Trigger weight: 5.9 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.1 pounds
  • MSRP: $899

Winchester Super X4 Overview 

There’s no other 3.5-inch gas-operated auto-loader that you can buy for under $1,000 that holds a candle to the Winchester SX4. There’s no cheaping out in this gun either, which is remarkable considering the price tag. The SX3 was my favorite affordable shotgun before the SX4, which is a bit slimmer than the previous version of this gun, and also less expensive. The original SX1 was a beloved gun by many waterfowlers as well, it was just an absolute tank, which made it durable but a brute to carry.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Winchester SX4 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The SX4 is not heavy at all, just 7.1 pounds. It’s the most versatile gun in the test, due to its light weight and the fact that it’s a gas gun. I’ve shot plenty of turkey loads through the SX4 and taken it on high-volume snow goose hunts, and it has never left me with a sore shoulder. This is my personal gun, which I had modified by Rob Roberts (lengthened forcing cone and specialized choke). One point of interest was that it patterned slightly better on the 30-inch board with the stock modified choke (89 percent) than Roberts’ Triple Threat T2 (83 percent). I’ve also shot the standard version of this gun many times without any aftermarket modifications. All of the SX4s, including the 20-gauge model, have patterned well at the range and killed ducks and geese cleanly as long as I did my job.

Beretta A300 Ultima

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 47.5 inches
  • LOP: 13.8 inches
  • Trigger weight: 5.14 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.7 pounds
  • MSRP: $749

Beretta A300 Ultima Overview

Ever since the A390s were discontinued, Beretta has been trying to build an affordable 3-inch auto-loader that gives shooters a reason to buy a new shotgun as opposed to finding a used Silver or Gold Mallard. The A300 Ultima is as close as Beretta has come to accomplishing that goal. The Ultima shot a consistent pattern of 60 percent above and 40 percent below point-of-aim, which is a staple of Beretta shotguns and why they are some of the best duck hunting shotguns on the market.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Beretta A300 Ultima pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

Beretta also included the Kick-Off system in this gun to tame recoil, but it’s not as advanced as the one you will find in the A400 Xtreme Plus. The Ultima Kick-Off has two springs in the stock and the A400 has three. You can tell the difference when shooting the two guns. The Ultima delivers a noticeable “pop” to your shoulder when you pull the trigger. And the stock also pulls at your face a bit. You won’t feel anything except a slight push against your shoulder shooting the A400.

But, you can remove the Kick-Off system from the stock, and essentially replace it with a plastic spacer. That will probably make the gun much more comfortable to shoot, honestly. The exterior features are superb on the Ultima. It looks just like the A400, only slimmer, and there is a 20-gauge option that’s even less cumbersome. But the matte finish on the barrel was rubbing off after just a few days. Granted it was riding around in the back of a UTV next to other unloaded shotguns, but none of those guns experienced the same level of wear and tear.

Remington 1100

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 2¾-inch
  • Length: 47.75
  • LOP: 14-inch
  • Trigger weight: 4.9 pounds
  • Overall weight: 8.1 pounds
  • MSRP: $700

Remington 1100 Overview

It’s pretty hard to not love the 1100 if you’re a wingshooter. This is a truly iconic shotgun, which is why we felt compelled to include it in this test even though it’s not currently in production (all the other guns in this test are currently in production). The other reason we included it is because you can still find used Remington 1100s in good condition at affordable prices.

Sure, it’s a heavy shotgun (just over 8 pounds), but that’s negated by how durable it is and how well it patterns. You don’t see these auto-loaders in too many duck blinds anymore because they have 2¾-inch chambers (though 3-inch magnums are still out there). But with the evolution of bismuth and tungsten shotshells, you can certainly kill ducks and geese effectively with this shotgun today.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Remington 1100 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The 1100 was an even 50/50 on the pattern board (you’ll notice we had to use a #8 target load for patterning) and was one of the best-shooting clay guns of the entire test. All four editors shot the gun well, and I had to make sure no one “accidentally” took it home because everyone broke so many clay birds with it. A descendent of the Remington Model 58 and 878, this is one of the most reliable auto-loaders ever built—it set the record for firing the most shotshells (more than 24,000) in a row without being cleaned. You don’t get the exterior amenities you’ll find on more modern shotguns with the 1100, but it was one of the most well-made guns in the test. And none of the other guns had the classic beauty of wood and steel that this gun holds. Plus, you can find used 1100s for $600 (sometimes less), which makes them an extremely good value.

Franchi Affinity 3

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.2 inches
  • Trigger weight: 5.14 pounds
  • Overall weight: 6.8
  • MSRP: $750

Franchi Affinity 3 Overview

I don’t see many duck hunters shooting Franchis, which is baffling, because the Italian gunmaker—which falls under the Benelli canopy of brands—builds some of the most reliable shotguns for the money. The Affinity 3 operates on the same inertia system as the Benellis do, it’s just made with some less expensive exterior features, like a flat, rubber-coated bolt-release and the plastic feel of the stock and fore-end. But the Affinity is a little lighter (remember it’s a 3-inch gun versus the SBE3, which has a 3.5-inch chamber).

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Franchi Affinity 3 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

Also, the Franchi beat all of the Benellis on the pattern board in our test. It shot 60 percent above and 40 percent below point-of-aim on paper, and the best Affinity pattern was a few pellets better than the SBE3, which shot 100 percent high point-of-aim. The Franchi has the same slim fore-end you will find on all Benelli semi-autos, which improves the overall feel of the shotgun and makes it easy to shoot. The recoil is also extremely manageable for an inertia gun. There’s a thick TSA recoil pad that will tame any 3-inch shotshell, and I have found that follow up shots—after I have fired my customary first warning shot at ducks—with the gun make it easy to get on the bird. This shotgun also comes in a left-hand model, which is a big deal for those of us who shoot lefty, because there are so few left-eject shotguns on the market that can be had for less than $800. TriStar and Remington are the only other two manufacturers that make affordable shotguns specifically for lefties.

Mossberg 940 Pro Waterfowl

Key Features 

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 48.5 inches
  • LOP: 13.5 inches
  • Trigger weight 5.11 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.7 pounds
  • MSRP: $868

 
Mossberg 940 Pro Waterfowl Overview

Mossberg unveiled the Mossberg 940 JM Pro a few years ago at Shot Show. This is the waterfowl version of that gas-operated auto-loader. Mossberg has tested this gun and says the gas system runs clean enough that you can shoot 1,500 rounds through the 940 before it needs cleaning. We didn’t shoot that many shells through it in our test — there’s an ammo shortage after all — but it’s true that we never did experience a hiccup with the gun after cycling a few hundred rounds through it. The buffer tube on the outside of the magazine, and corrosion-resistant coatings on many of the internal parts (the gas piston, magazine tube, hammer sear, return spring tube, chrome-lined chamber and bore, and a stainless-steel return spring) are what allow the gun to continue functioning after so many spent rounds.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Mossberg 940 Pro pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

What I like about the 940 versus the older 930 model is the overall exterior finish of the gun. The 930 fore-end doesn’t mate with the receiver seamlessly when the gun is put together. The 940s fore-end does, thanks to a piece of plastic on the underside of the gun that assists with the fit. There are plenty of extras that come with this shotgun: stock spacers for length-of-pull, drop, and cast all come standard, plus the gun was built with an oversized bolt handle, enlarged load port, enlarged bolt-release, a HiViz front sight, and extended choke tubes that are easy to swap out at home or in the field.

Stoeger M3000

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 48 inches
  • LOP: 14 3/8 inches
  • Trigger weight: 8.15 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.3 pounds
  • MSRP: $559

Stoeger M3000 Overview 

All of us loved the way the M3000 patterned—it shot an even 60/40 pattern on the board. Plus, I killed a pair of blue-wing teal on one shot with this gun the final morning of our test. So there’s perhaps a little personal bias there. But the issue I have run across with Stoegers is that some function just fine, while others can break down quickly. I took a new M3500 to Canada a few years ago and the spring in the carrier broke, relegating me to a single-shot gun for the rest of my trip. On subsequent hunts, both the M3000 and M35000 served me well, but I also saw them jam, not ejecting shells consistently for other hunters. Some of that was because the hunters had not cleaned the gun of the heavy packing grease Stoeger cakes its guns in for delivery. But the guns also didn’t function reliably at times even after a deep cleaning.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The M3000 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The M3000 we tested had trouble cycling 3-inch shells too, and the pistol grip cap on the stock fell out of the gun on the last day of hunting. It was a brand-new gun, so to have both those issues occur wasn’t acceptable. Stoegers shoot a great pattern, you just have to keep some cleaner than others so they cycle reliably, and understand that they may need more maintenance (that’s the reality of some price-point semi-autos). This gun carries like a Benelli with a little chunkier fore-end. It has a heavier trigger pull weight (8.15 pounds) than it does overall weight (7.3 pounds), which some shooters don’t like because they feel it affects accuracy. I didn’t notice it. When ducks were in the decoys, I never thought “man, I wish this trigger was lighter.”

Mossberg 930 Pro

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length 48.5 inches
  • LOP: 13.5 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.7 pounds
  • MSRP: $844

Mossberg 930 Pro Overview

A fellow gun writer once said that sometimes an ugly gun that doesn’t feel good in your hands is the one you will shoot the best. That couldn’t be truer of the Mossberg 930. It’s not an awful gun to look at, but it’s also not near as beautiful as, say, the Remington 1100. The fore-end of the 930 has a hollow feeling to it, and it also doesn’t seamlessly flow into the receiver. There’s a noticeable gap that even the most novice shotgun shooter will spot.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Mossberg 930 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

But this shotgun is also one of my favorites to shoot, because it’s accurate as hell (81 percent on the 30-inch pattern board at 35 yards), and durable, which is all any core duck hunter wants in a gun. I’ve shot long-tailed ducks in Maine with the 930 beyond 40 yards. Killing speeding sea ducks at that distance requires some serious lead and a consistent shot string. The 930 has always delivered a killer pattern no matter what ammo I’ve shot through it. The proof is in all the dead ducks. You may not love the look of the gun, but the gas system is superb and soft on your shoulder. It’s also a reliable shotgun. I’ve never had a jam or seen anyone have one with the 930. The 940 is likely to replace this shotgun, and I’ll be a sad to see it go. You don’t get that much more if you buy the 940, and the 930 printed slightly better patterns on paper (113 pellets to 103 pellets from the 940). It also costs $20 less than the 940.

Pump Shotguns

Best Pump Shotgun Winner: Remington 870 Express

Key Features 

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 48.5 inches
  • LOP: 14 inches
  • Trigger weight: 5.3 pounds
  • Overall weight: 7.6 pounds
  • MSRP: $400

Remington 870 Express Overview

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The legendary Remington 870 is back and being built better than previous years. Stephen Maturen

In the last decade, the 870 Express came under heavy scrutiny for its inconsistent, poor construction. It wouldn’t reliably cycle shotshells—they would get hung up in the action as shooters tried to work the pump and load another round—and some of the guns rolled off the assembly line with unpolished burrs on the inside and outside of the steel receiver. But Remington is under new ownership now, and after more than a year of not shipping 870s, the guns are once again being assembled, and the quality is far better. I’ve shot the synthetic version, which is a 7-pound gun (read the full review of the new 870 Express here), and the wood and steel model, a 7.6-pound gun. The extra 6 ounces in the wood and steel gun makes a good bit of difference in the amount of recoil you will soak up. The synthetic 870 is a joy to carry, but not as pleasant to shoot as the wood version. They both cycled 3-inch duck loads just fine. And though I don’t think they live up to the Express of old, when you compare it to today’s best duck hunting shotguns, the 870 is at the top of the heap for pumps along with the Winchester SXP, and Browning BPS.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Remington 870 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The 870 runs extremely smooth on the classic dual-bar pump system. Since it’s a budget gun ($400), the 870 only comes with a modified choke. The exterior finish is not fancy, but it’s smooth and the matte black on the receiver and barrel has a solid grit to it, so it won’t slip from your hand when you carry it afield. The bolt release is the only thing  about the 870 that could be better. It’s an obtrusive, skinny steel claw. A more streamlined release that did not stick out so badly would be a better fit, but you can always easily find it in the field, even if you have thick gloves on.

Browning BPS

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.4 inches
  • Trigger weight: 7 pounds
  • Overall weight: 9 pounds
  • MSRP: $760

Browning BPS Overview

Browning is one of only a few shotgun makers that is still producing a high-end sporting pump gun (Ithaca being the other). The Browning BPS is a walnut and steel beast—it’s also available in composite and camo-finish models—that’s nearly indestructible. It’s a bottom-eject shotgun, the only pump, along with the Ithaca Model 37, still being built this way. You also load the shotgun through the ejection port, which is slightly easier than the side-gate pumps. The safety is tang-mounted, which makes it appealing to both left- and right-handed shooters.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Browning BPS pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The weight of the 3.5-inch BPS (8 to 9 pounds) allows it to soak up recoil remarkably well, but if you are a smaller shooter, the 3-inch BPS (a lighter gun, that still manages recoil just fine) is a better option. The travel on the pump for the 3.5-inch model is nearly 4 inches and that makes operating the gun harder for shooters with a shorter arm length. I’m 6-foot-4 and sometimes short-stroke this gun after firing the first shell, trying to eject it, and bring a second shell into battery. Still, the BPS is one of the best made pumps of all-time and a gun Browning doesn’t cut any corners on. So, if you’re in the market for a well-constructed pump shotgun that will last generations, this is it.

Mossberg 500 Hunting

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Length: 47.5 inches
  • LOP: 14 inches
  • Trigger weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Overall weight: 6.5 pounds
  • MSRP: $459

Mossberg 500 Hunting Overview

Almost as iconic as the Remington 870, the Mossberg 500 and the Express were in a tight battle for the best pump shotgun up until the final day of the test. A side-by-side comparison (and a shoot-off at the sporting clays range) gave the 870 the edge. But not by much. Mossberg’s 500, which is available in an almost endless number of configurations—particularly if you buy the Flex series—patterned the best out of the four pumps we tested. Its best pattern put 119 of 140 No. 2 pellets inside a 30-inch circle at 35 yards, an 85 percent pattern percentage. The BPS and 870, were only a few pellets behind, but the 500 did win out.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Mossberg 500 pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

Like most modern pump guns, the 500 operates on twin-action bars that allow you to pump shotshells through the gun. There were no issues with hangers or short-stroking the 500—it ran very smooth. The feel of this gun isn’t quite as good as the 870 or BPS, but it also shoots slightly better. The fore-end has a little more bulk to it than most pumps, but that gives you more to hold onto and control the gun better. Also, each side of the fore-end has been scooped out so there is a channel for you thumb and forefinger. If you have bigger hands, your fingers will not fit into those carved out notches, but it’s not a deal-break. The tang-mounted safety on the gun was stiff and slow, but you can replace it for as little as $20 with an aftermarket safety.

Benelli Nova

Key Features 

  • Gauge: 12
  • Chamber: 3.5-inch
  • Length: 49 inches
  • LOP: 13.7 inches
  • Trigger weight: 7.14
  • Overall weight: 7.7 pounds
  • MSRP: $449

Benelli Nova Overview

Benelli’s Nova is an extremely tough gun; it’s stock and receiver are built on a single steel frame with a polymer overmold. I know plenty of duck hunters that have had this gun since it came out in the late 1990s, and it still runs as good as the day they bought it. The Nova’s best pattern was 66 percent, 93 of 140 pellets inside the 30-inch circle at 30 yards through a modified choke. But there were several shots on the pattern board that were high (70 to 80 percent above point-of-aim) and uneven—the Federal No. 2s were spread thin over the target with not much core density.

The Best Duck Hunting Shotguns for Waterfowlers
The Benelli Nova pattern from 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

I do love the feel of the Nova. It’s a Benelli, so it carries light and has that skinny fore-end that makes these guns so easy to swing. But the fore-end of the Nova is slightly different than the SBE3. It’s almost a triangle. It gives you a damn good grip on the gun and makes operating the Nova easy. There were no mechanical flaws with the Benelli at all. And as I said, this is a soundly built gun, I’ve just never shot it that well and neither did others on the test team. For me, I think it’s the fit. This is almost a 50-inch-long gun with only a 13.7-inch length of pull (it doesn’t come with a shim kit). Benelli lists the LOP on this gun as 14 3/8 inches, but our tape measured quite a bit shorter than that.

sunrise duck hunt texas
Sunrise at the duck gun test with the Pintail Hunting Club. Stephen Maturen

Final Thoughts on the Best Duck Hunting Shotguns

What’s cool about duck hunting and duck hunters is that with all the technology that goes into modern shotguns, some of us still choose to kill mallards with a Remington 870 that couldn’t fetch $50 in a gun shop. But, it’s also cool to see how far the best duck hunting shotguns have come, particularly the high-end auto-loaders. Benelli is the shining example of that. In just three decades, they climbed to the top of the shotgun heap and are now on the third generation of the iconic Super Black Eagle. Browning re-engineered its namesake John Browning’s most famed semi-auto (the A5) and has added the gas-operated Maxus, the second iteration of which is one of the most smartly designed duck guns in waterfowl history. Beretta is in its fifth century of operation, and still it had the foresight to create the best semi-auto duck gun ever invented. Between the affordable, workhorse Remington 870 and Beretta’s A400, which is on the precipice of shotgun technology, are a lot of damn good duck hunting shotguns. Now it’s on you to decide which is best for your waterfowl pursuits.

Find out more about the Pintail Hunting Club at Pintailhuntingclub.com

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