Apart from sea ducks, geese are the toughest waterfowl we hunt. Even the duck-sized Richardson goose is difficult, not to mention lesser and greater Canadas. Decoying geese at 20 yards can be bagged by a good shot with any gauge, but back them off in the wind or when they are just being coy, and it takes a lot more to bring them down. The five models pictured here bring enough firepower to get the job done.
My all-time favorite goose gun is the Browning Gold 10 semi-auto. Although the 12 is the standard, and 3 1⁄2-inch shells that once seemed to doom the 10 to oblivion are readily available, the big 10 remains my go-to goose gun. Never mind that I shoot mine well–it just drops geese like a bag of rocks. I was once on a hunt with 3 1⁄2-inch 12-gauge ammo, and someone sardonically boasted, "The 10-gauge is dead." Au contraire, mon ami. So why is the 10 so good? Because of its wide bore (.775 inch), it patterns large BB and BBB shot well. And then there is the matter of recoil. Ten-gauge shotguns–the Browning Gold 10 and Remington SP-10 and Browning BPS pump–are 10-pound guns, and that weight soaks up the punishment that heavy waterfowl loads deliver. Compared to a lighter 12-gauge shotgun running 3 1⁄2-inch shells, which deliver extra recoil to the shooter for questionable ballistic gain (a topic for another day), the 10-gauge can't be beat. ($1,640; browning.com)
In my travels, perhaps the most popular shotgun I've seen in the hands of die-hard goose hunters and guides is the Benelli Super Black Eagle II. Its inertia operating system is simple and highly reliable, with little to break down in the field. The Black Eagle II comes with the Comfortech stock, which uses a system of collapsible chevrons made of high-tech shock-absorbing material that greatly reduces recoil. ($1,649; benelliusa.com)
The Xtrema 2 uses Beretta's tried-and-true gas-operating system, which can handle most 12-gauge loads. To soften recoil, the shotgun employs Beretta's KickOff3 system–a hydraulic recoil pad and an oil-dampened recoil buffer that take the recoil of the bolt as the action cycles. Beretta's gently tapering Optima-Bore smoothes the shot's passage from breech to muzzle, helping the Xtrema 2 pattern well with large shot. ($1,600; berettausa.com)
Browning and Winchester Repeating Arms, as part of the same company, share many design features. The Browning Maxus, and its cousin, the Winchester Super X3, both have back-bored barrels with an internal diameter of .742 inch, providing excellent patterns with large shot. Also, the recoil management of both the Maxus and Super X3 is excellent, making them a good choice for taming hard-hitting goose loads. ($1,220; winchesterguns.com)
To me, Remington's new Versa Max gas-operated semi-auto is the best autoloader it's ever made. Recoil is extremely mild, the gas system is unique and in a season shooting heavy duck and goose loads with no cleaning, I had no malfunctions. The Versa Max's easy-to-adjust stock is a first for Remington, making it shoot where it's pointed. The Versa Max is destined to join Remington's 870 Wingmaster pump as a true classic. ($1,399; remington.com) For more shotguns: Shotgun Review: OL Ranks the Best New Shotguns of 2011 The 30 Best Shotguns of the Last Ten Years