I understand the frustration of trying to find a dependable clay target shotgun that doesn’t cost a fortune. While I was in college, I shot for my school’s club team and where I quickly realized that my reliable 12-gauge pump, which had served me so dutifully in the field, wasn’t going to cut it at the range. That gun worked fine for trap, but if I wanted to earn top scores in skeet and sporting clays, I need to switch to an over/under or semi-auto.
But good competition guns cost money (or so I thought), and I couldn’t afford one. So I worked long hours and squirreled away enough cash from a summer spent raking gravel for an excavation company to finally purchase a proper over/under. Everyone said I needed a shotgun designed to shoot clay targets, and so I thought I had to have one. But in reality, I could have spent a lot less money than I did on the gun I bought, and dedicated more time to the range instead of the gravel pits.
If you’re looking for a clay target shotgun, there are plenty of affordable options available in a variety of operating systems. Here are five that will fit the needs of most shotgunners.
If you’d like to join your local trap club but don’t have a gun, the SXP Trap is an excellent place to start. For under $500 you get a robust and functional pump-action gun designed with trap shooters in mind. The raised Monte Carlo comb and 5/16-inch trap rib with ivory mid bead and fiber-optic front bead allow you to get on target quickly. The back-bored barrel produces the type of consistent patterns required to break targets at greater distances once your handicap increases and you inch your way back to the 27-yard line. Chrome lining protects the interior of the barrel and chamber and black chrome on the bolt and internals guard against wear, even after thousands of rounds. At 7.5 pounds the SXP has enough heft to absorb recoil, and further mitigated by the Inflex recoil pad. Modified, IM, and F chokes come standard. If you have a young shooter, try the SXP Trap Compact, a great competition gun for beginners with a shortened 13-inch length of pull. The full-sized SXP Trap comes in 12-gauge with a 30- or 32-inch barrel, while the Compact version is available in either 12- or 20-gauge with 28- or 30-inch barrel. Check availability here.
Tristar semi-autos are made in Turkey, and some shooters associate Turkish shotguns with poor quality. But that’s mainly because so many cheap inertia-driven guns are made there. Tristar guns are gas-driven and come from one of the best factories in Turkey. They are also randomly tested on the assembly line in the Kansas City, which is a big reason why they have become known for their functionality. In fact, the Viper G2 I tested never had a hiccup after putting nearly 1,000 rounds through it. The G2’s recoil-eating gas system made it very pleasant to shoot. The Tristar also has a number of features seldom found on a sporting gun in this price range, including four extended Beretta/Benelli pattern cokes (SK, IC, M, F), a manual magazine cutoff, and your choice of adjustable wood or polymer stocks. Shim kits come standard so you can customize the fit, and oversized controls make this gun easy to operate. My pick for the best looking of the family is the synthetic black/blue version (shown here), but there’s also a red and black model and a select walnut version. Check availability here.
It’s no secret that Franchi’s Affinity offers excellent build quality and outstanding reliability at a very reasonable price. They also make excellent clay target guns. The standard field model with a black synthetic stock is perfectly suitable for trap, skeet, and sporting clays, and there are also left-handed and compact versions available. In addition, the Affinity Catalyst features stock geometry designed with female shooters in mind. So, if you’re one of the growing ranks of women competing in clay target events, the Catalyst is worth a closer look. There’s also an Affinity Sporting model with a wood stock that’s available in 12- and 20-gauge. At the heart of all Affinity guns is the inertia-driven system that operates with just a handful of moving parts so it’s easy to clean and maintain. The one thing the gun may struggle with is reliably cycling lighter loads, like 7/8-ounce shotshells. These guns weigh around 7 pounds, but recoil is manageable thanks to the TSA recoil pad. Other standard features include three screw-in choke tubes (extended on the sporting model), a red bar fiber-optic sight, and oversized controls. Check availability here.
Over/unders can be costly, especially when you start adding in the price of spendy walnut stocks, engraving, and selective ejectors. But in truth, you don’t need any of those things to break clays. The affordable Mossberg Silver Reserve Eventide is about as basic as an over/under gets: It comes with a no-frills black polymer stock, extractors, and a largely unadorned receiver. But the balance point is superior, and the weight (7 pounds) makes recoil manageable without transforming the Mossberg into a tank that is simply too heavy for field use. Five chokes come standard, and I love this gun’s stock geometry. The forearm is rather wide and comfortable in the hand, plus the sweeping pistol grip keeps your hand in a natural position while shooting. The safety/barrel selector is located on the tang and the mid-rib is ventilated, a nice touch. Not only is the Mossberg an apt target gun, but with its durable stock and non-glare black matte finish it also serves as a waterfowl, upland, and turkey gun. If you’re looking for an affordable all-purpose gun that can crush clays, this is a solid option. Check availability here.
5. CZ-USA 1012
There are more companies than ever offering inertia-operated semi-autos. Some of the new inertia guns are poorly constructed, but a handful like the CZ 1012 are legitimate sporting guns. In fact, these guns were tested to 5,000 rounds without any oil or cleaning and the 1012 continued to run without a hitch. In my experience, the CZ 1012 has been phenomenally consistent and it’s difficult to believe that MSRP is below $650. What you get for your money is a hard-working 12-gauge semi-auto with either Turkish walnut or synthetic stock and five screw-in chokes. The barrel of the wood-stocked models comes with a gloss black chrome that is durable. You can also opt for the bronze or silver model. When I tested the 1012 I found that it handled light target loads well, which isn’t the case with many inertia-driven semi-auto shotguns. Balance on these guns is also excellent, making them an affordable clay target shotgun option. $645.
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