Some shotguns are specialized tools. There are short-barreled, camo-clad turkey guns, over/unders and side-by-sides built for the uplands, and shotguns with rifled barrels for hunting big game. Elite clay shooters purchase target shotguns with recoil dampers, adjustable combs, and interchangeable ribs. With enough cash on hand and ample gun safe space, you can own a specific shotgun for every application.
But most accomplished shooters will tell you to find one shotgun that you shoot well, and never let it go. These guns may not be ideal for a single pursuit, but they’re perfectly suited for shooters that split time between hunting multiple species afield and at the range.
Here’s a look at the best all-around workhorse shotguns. They can be used for self-defense in your home, in a duck blind, cottontail thicket, or the turkey woods. Buy one of these guns, learn to shoot it well, and you’ll have a single scattergun that serves you in all seasons.
First, What Makes a Good All-Around Shotgun?
The most basic necessity in a do-all shotgun is functionality. If your gun doesn’t shoot it’s not much use to you. That’s why pumps and break-action shotguns are such a smart buy. The pumps rely on you to cycle shells and the over/unders don’t need to spit out spent hulls until you break the gun open. Inertia-driven and gas-powered auto-loaders have a higher chance of failure, but as long as you keep these semi-autos clean, they will run just fine. A good all-around shotgun must also be durable, which is why every gun on this list comes in a synthetic option (with the exception of the Stevens 555). If you are only going to buy one gun for all your hunting pursuits, it must stand the test of time, and protecting the gun’s exterior is paramount.
The gun should also be light enough that you can carry it afield all day long for upland hunts or deer drives (where legal). Only the 12-gauge model of the Browning BPS fails to meet that criteria, but you can always buy it in a 20-gauge to trim some of the heft off the gun. Lastly, the gun must shoot well and thus fit the shooter properly. I have found that straight-stocked pistol grips offer the best accuracy for most shooters and that is reflected in this list of shotguns.
The workhorse BPS (Browning Pump Shotgun has been in production for over five decades. Its robust receiver is forged from solid steel, which means it isn’t the lightest gun on this list but it is certainly one of the most durable. Bottom feeding and ejection prevent dirt and debris from entering the receiver and spent shells are tossed directly at your feet so they are easy to find and collect (and won’t bounce off your buddy’s forehead in a duck blind). With its bottom feeding/ejection design and tang safety, the BPS is also an ambidextrous shotgun; I shoot right-handed while my wife is a lefty and we both use a BPS equally well. Recent upgrades to the BPS include stock inserts allowing length of pull adjustments and turkey hunters will also appreciate the tang safety because it requires less movement to manipulate than a trigger-guard safety. There are currently BPS models available in camo, black synthetic, or walnut stocks chambered in every gauge from .410 to 10-gauge. Check availability here.
The CZ All-Terrain line includes side-by-side, semi-automatic, and over-under shotgun options, all of which offer versatility and value. If I were forced to select a favorite it would be the inertia-operated 1012 semi-auto. Like other All-Terrain shotguns, the 1012 features a Turkish walnut stock and OD Green Cerakote finish on the metalwork. The Cerakote finish is durable and stylish but also cuts glare—a major benefit when hunting waterfowl and turkeys. Over/unders will find the Drake, Upland Ultralight, and Redhead Premier models suit their needs. I like the All-Terrain Bobwhite’s side-by-side design with the added practicality of a non-glare ceramic metal finish. All of these guns come with five interchangeable choke tubes, and all but the Bobwhite are equipped with extended chokes. Check availability here.
The Super X4, or SX4, is the fourth generation of Winchester’s flagship semi-auto shotgun family. The SX4 relies on the self-adjusting Active Valve system which is a proven gas operation system that offers reliability on par with more expensive competitor. It also reduces felt recoil, making this a great gun for anyone who shoots magnum shotshells. Its available in full-size and compact versions and comes with length of pull spacers for a custom fit. The oversized controls are easy to manipulate, and the Quadra-Vent system bleeds excess gas from the gun and reduces fouling for easier maintenance and improved reliability. I’ve used the SX4 to shoot sporting clays and to hunt waterfowl, upland birds and small game, and I’ve never been disappointed with its performance. There are specialized versions available, but the basic black synthetic model, which is available in 12 gauge (3 and 3½-inch chambers) and 20-gauge, is a superb all-around shotgun. Check availability here.
Mossberg’s recently revamped Silver Reserve over/under shotguns are rather austere, but what they lack in ornate dressings they more than make up for in versatility and value. These Turkish-made guns are available in 12-, 20-, 28-gauge and .410-bore, all of which comes with five choke tubes, walnut stocks, satin silver receivers, and extractors. A Bantam version with a shortened length of pull is available for smaller shooters. The most versatile member of the Silver Reserve family is the Eventide, which features a black synthetic stock and a matte blue metal finish. Available in 12-gauge with 28-inch barrels, the Eventide will work for skeet and other clay games and its no-glare finish and tough stock are perfect for hunting waterfowl. Over/unders have much shorter receivers than semi-autos and pump guns, so even with 28-inch barrels the Eventide has a similar overall length as pumps/semiautos with 24-inch barrels, which makes it a great choice for hunting grouse and small game in dense cover. Turkey hunters will appreciate that short overall length. Check availability here.
The unadorned P3000 won’t impress anyone at the trap field or your hunting pals, but if you’re adept with a pump it’ll kill game and break clays alongside more expensive shotguns. Reliable and completely without ornamentation, the P3000 is quite possibly the best value in a versatile shotgun. The basic black version comes with one screw-in choke (modified), but it will work for hunting waterfowl, upland game, and clays. Buy an additional full or turkey choke and you can hunt gobblers. If you prefer the look and feel of a walnut stock that’s an option too, and there’s a version with a full Realtree Max-5 camo dip as well. The P3000 is not a gun that will appeal to high-end shotgun snobs, but for everyone else a solidly-constructed, versatile, workaday pump with a price tag starting below $300 is a no-brainer. Check availability here.
Tristar has been making waves in the shotgun market by offering well-built guns that are also great values. The Hunter Mag II is an over/under built with the hunter in mind. It has a synthetic stock with your choice of Mossy Oak camo patterns (Blades, Break-Up, Duck Blind, or Bottomlands) and either camo or Cerakote finishes on the metal. Five choke tubes come standard, as do sling studs (a worthwhile addition on a field o/u) and extractors. The top tang safety immobilizes the firing mechanism for maximum security and doubles as a barrel selector. These guns are made in Turkey, but are designed after Berettas and offer excellent reliability. I’ve been impressed with the Hunter Mag IIs I’ve handled and shot. They’re great for upland, waterfowl, turkey, and small game and make excellent clay targets guns during the off-season. Check availability here.
Affinity semi-auto shotguns utilize inertia-driven operating systems so they’re easy to maintain and ultra-reliable. Franchi made the Affinity 3 and 3.5 shotguns available in walnut or synthetic stocks. The synthetic versions come in either black or your choice of Realtree or Mossy Oak camo. There’s also a Catalyst version of the Affinity with a stock designed specifically for female shooters, the only gun on this list to offer that feature. Twelve- and 20-gauge Affinity 3 shotguns sport a 3-inch chamber, and the 12-gauge Affinity 3.5 has a 3.5-inch chamber. No matter which version you choose you’ll find these guns perform well on a full range of game and in every clay sport discipline. Check availability here.
Weatherby built its reputation on high-performance centerfire rifles, but the company has been selling shotguns almost as long as bolt guns. The inertia-operated Element semi-auto is an exceptionally versatile shotgun that also happens to be quite affordable. The Griptonite synthetic stock and matte bead-blasted finish won’t draw the attention of wild game. The barrel is chrome lined, and length of pull and cast adjustment shims allow for a custom fit. Most importantly, these guns run. I’ve had excellent success with the Element shotguns and they’ve been proven in Cordoba’s legendary dove fields, the most grueling punishment field shotguns can endure. You likely won’t fire your Weatherby 1,000 times a day like we didi in Argentina, but you can reasonably expect years of good service out of these guns with minimal care. They’re available in both 12 and 20 gauge: three chokes come standard with the 20, and the 12-gauge includes an extra extended modified/long range steel choke suitable for waterfowl and turkey hunting. Check availability here.
There’s no more versatile shotgun than the FLEX 500. At its core is Mossberg’s proven 500 pump action, and while most shotguns offer owners the versatility to swap out barrels, the FLEX system takes that modularity to the next level. The incorporated Toolless Locking System (TLS) design makes it simple to install stocks ranging from 12.5 to 14.25-inches, and you can also change comb height, recoil pad thickness, and fore-ends. In minutes, the FLEX 500 can be transformed into the ideal gun for hunting big game, upland birds, turkeys, or waterfowl, and owners can also change out components to create a purpose-build home defense weapon with options for adjustable tactical stocks. If you have a young hunter at home the FLEX design allows them to not only grow with the gun but to accessorize it for any game that they choose to pursue, and the reliable 500 action can stand up to years of hard use. Check availability here.
The Stevens 555 is a utility over/under that costs considerably less than competing guns. A lightweight aluminum receiver keeps the 555’s mass at a minimum: the 12- and 16-gauge versions weigh in at 6.2 pounds while the 20, 28 and .410 models weigh just 5.5 pounds. Five choke tubes come standard, and the stock is made from Turkish walnut. Both the receiver and carbon steel barrels come with a semi-gloss finish and extractors, a tang safety and mechanical trigger come standard. There’s also a compact version with a 13-inch length of pull available in 20- and 28-gauge and .410, too. Prefer something a bit more ornate? The 555E model comes with upgraded wood, a laser engraved scaled silver receiver, and ejectors for a few hundred dollars more. Regardless of the 555 you select, you’ll own a functional field and clay gun that’s an excellent value. Check availability here.
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