This year's shotgun test has a little something for everyone. Whether you're a sporting clays enthusiast, a hardcore waterfowler, a new shooter looking for an affordable pump gun or a bird hunter heading to the heartland for pheasant and quail, there's a new gun for you. There are also more innovations--smart innovations--in this crop of shotguns than we've seen in many years, which is a welcome sign in these challenging times. It shows that the vigor, energy and determination of the gun industry is alive and well.
Caesar Guerini Apex Sporting When it comes to building shotguns that blend beauty, performance and value, no one is doing a better job than Caesar Guerini, which has again earned top honors in our annual shotgun test, this time with its new Apex Sporting over/under. The reason for Guerini’s success is not a secret–the company delivers stylish and smartly designed guns at better prices than its double-gun competition. Whether you look at the quality of the wood, the overall fit and finish, the intricate engraving or the nuts-and-bolts ergonomics and handling, it’s difficult to find fault with Guerini’s products. At nearly 8 1/2 pounds, the Apex is a big gun. Its 32-inch barrels and substantially proportioned stock are geared specifically for sporting clays. Once its barrels get moving, they track smoothly, which is a benefit when a target’s line of flight is pre-established. The heft of the stock makes shooting hundreds of targets over the course of a day less punishing, as do the innovative adjustable recoil-reducing weight inserts embedded in the stock, which also let the shooter fine-tune the gun’s balance by changing the amount of weight he employs. The only hiccup in the Apex’s performance, and one that we’ve seen with other Guerinis that happen to share a common action design, is a tendency for somewhat erratic shell ejection. The sharp and fine checkering on the grip and forend provide solid gripping areas, and the palm swell on the right-hand side of the grip adds a measure of control for the shooter as well. Its crisp triggers, the best of the shotguns tested, add considerably to the shootability of the gun. The Apex is one of those guns that seems to glide toward the target, the end result being a satisfying cloud of orange shards raining across the field. It’s a winner by any measure. ($7,550; gueriniusa.com) **Overall Rating ** 4 stars Workmanship A+ **Performance ** A+ Price/Value A Testers’ Comments: A lot of gun–in terms of quality, durability, class and performance–for the price. * Gorgeous engraving, checkering and wood. * Has one of the most striking engraving patterns of any production gun on the market. * Great triggers. * Doesn’t have especially trim lines–kind of boxy, but that’s okay on a sporting clays gun. * Those 32-inch barrels love to swing. * Great fun on long crossers.
Remington 887 Any new pump gun carrying the Remington name will face inevitable comparisons to the iconic 870, which for more than 50 years has set an industry standard for affordability and reliability. So it is quite an ambitious undertaking to design a shotgun with the goal of improving on these two qualities, but that is exactly what Remington is attempting with the new 887. The 887 is billed as a go-anywhere, do-anything gun that’s intended to appeal specifically to new shooters. Think of it as the pump gun for people who would consider the 870 too complicated. While that might sound like a backhanded compliment, it really isn’t meant that way. The 887 breaks down more easily than the 870 does, and requires even less care because of the plastic overmolding that surrounds the exterior metalwork on the receiver and barrel, as well as plastic components, such as the trigger and trigger guard. The overmolding gives the 887 a bulky and blocky profile, but in this case, looks are deceiving. The 887 surprised us with its light in-hand feel and lively swinging characteristics on the skeet field. The action cycles smoothly and rapidly, so follow-up shots on clays or birds are a snap. Features like the slide-release button on the front of the trigger guard and plain-English wording on the choke tubes (ours read “over decoys”) go a long way toward making the 887 more intuitive to use and attractive to new shooters, and for that Remington deserves credit. ($532; remington.com) Overall Rating 31⁄2 stars Workmanship C+ Performance A Price/Value B+ Testers’ Comments: A dependable workhorse firearm that gets the job done. * Very nice gun for the money. * Cycles smoothly.
Brno 801.2 Whereas most shotguns destined for the uplands aspire to be as smooth and refined as a dram of 21-year-old Scotch, the Brno 801.2 goes down like a shot of Soviet-era vodka. Put another way, this shotgun gets the job done, but is a bit rough around the edges. In the hands of our test team, the Brno broke its fair share of clays and handled well enough over the course of a couple days of shooting, but its muzzle-heavy balance will not suit everyone’s shooting style. On paper, the 801.2 has the features you’d expect in a bird gun costing $3,000–better-than-average wood, an engraved receiver, a checkering pattern with some design flourishes, an automatic safety, removable choke tubes and the like–but the execution of these elements in the final product leaves much to be desired. For example, the barrel-to-action fit, engraving and jeweling do not reflect the quality you’d expect in a gun of this price, and the inexplicable presence of exposed Torx screws on the bottom of the action are unflattering, to say the least. Such indifference to aesthetics and craftsmanship puts the 801.2 at a disadvantage when compared to similarly priced shotguns, though the Brno did exhibit some favorable characteristics. The trigger-mounted barrel selector and mechanical triggers were both well received by the test team, and the gun’s ejectors are strong enough to toss a boulder over a castle wall. But it will take some design refinements for the 801.2 to reach its potential. ($3,007; cz-usa.com) Overall Rating 21⁄2 stars Workmanship C Performance C+ Price/Value C Testers’ Comments: Performance far exceeded the appearance and craftsmanship of the gun. * Balance is far forward.
Weatherby PA-08 There is no shortage of new firearms that suffer from over-thinking on the part of the designers and engineers who dream them up. Sometimes simpler is better–especially when a gun is built according to successful, time-tested principles. Make that gun attractive and affordable as well, and you’re sure to catch the eye of Outdoor Life’s penny-conscious panel of judges–which is exactly what Weatherby did with its new pump-action shotgun, our overwhelming choice for this year’s Great Buy honors. Mechanically, there are no surprises here. The Turkish-built PA-08 functions like a Remington 870, and there’s no reason to think it won’t deliver the same level of dependability. The only issue with our pre-production sample was a slight hitch in the cycling of the slide after some shots, which appeared to be a solvable timing issue with the action’s locking mechanism. The nimble handling demonstrated by the PA-08 on fast crosses and skeet doubles made it clear it would be at home in the hands of any bird hunter. Its ability to accept screw-in chokes allows the PA-08 to adapt to varying shooting conditions. The $389 MSRP makes this an appealing first gun–and, best of all, perhaps, it doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of styling and looks. The high-gloss finish on the stock might not be to everyone’s taste (we’d like to see it with an oil finish and sharper checkering), but it contrasts well with the largely unadorned metalwork, all of which is offset by the simple Weatherby logo and a gold trigger. Overall, the PA-08 is a handsome and elegant gun, and one a first-time hunter or veteran shooter would feel pride in carrying. ($389; weatherby.com) Overall Rating 31⁄2 stars Workmanship B+ Performance B+ Price/Value A+ Testers’ Comments: This is a great gun for the price. A very nice entry-level pump gun. * The austere decoration gives it an elegant look. * They should offer it in an oil finish. * Would be a good dove gun. * Would make a great first gun for a kid. * It’s a sweet little pointer that is a lot of fun to shoot. * The hitch in the cycling of the action was annoying. * Has very good balance. * Came to the shoulder quickly.
Beretta SV10 Perennia The latest evolution in Beretta’s line of over-and-unders is the SV10, which is offered in a version for bird hunters called the Perennia and one targeted (forgive the pun) to competitive shooters called the Prevail. Visually, the most noticeable changes are in the lines of the receiver and in the “Kick-Off” recoil reduction system, which is an option that adds $400 to a gun’s base price. The characteristically skeptical test team members were initially dubious of the value of the Kick-Off system, but ended up falling in love with it after withstanding consecutive rounds of flurry targets during which hundreds of shells were fired at a pop. The only downside is that with the Kick-Off in place, the SV10’s length of pull can’t be adjusted. The two-pin locking system on the receiver is similar to that of other Beretta O/Us, but the SV10 has recoil shoulders that are deeper and contoured in a new way. The artists at Beretta have made the most of the new receiver, which is striking and bold without being gaudy, by blending colors, finishes and engraving styles. The deep, even blacking on the ripple-free barrels and ribs speaks to the quality of the gun’s construction. We liked the oversize safety, which was easy to manipulate even with shooting gloves on, though the top lever struck most testers as needlessly bulky. As befits an upland bird gun, the Perennia was a nimble and lively pointer, handling doubles on skeet and five-stand with ease. ($3,650; berettausa.com) Overall Rating ** **4 stars Workmanship B+ Performance A+ Price/Value B+ Testers’ Comments: Love the gun’s lively feel and balance. * The Kick-Off system worked great. * Wood was nice but rather plain.
Outdoor Life’s Shooting Editor John Snow and team test the best shotguns on the market for 2009.