Summer is the best time to buy a waterfowl gun. You have months to get comfortable with it, blasting away 2 3/4-inch loads at the trap range before really breaking in the gun—and your shoulder—in the fall.
But choose carefully. Waterfowl hunting has a way of weeding out the weak and vulnerable shotguns (and hunters). Only the most reliable, durable designs will stand up year after year.
The duck and goose guns on this list are among the best ever made. —Curtis Niedermier
1. Remington Model 870
With more than 11 million sold, the Remington Model 870 is the most popular shotgun ever made. How’d it get so good? Its simple, pump-action design is among the most reliable ever made – even compared to other pumps that lasted for decades. For hunters, especially waterfowl hunters, reliability is the most desirable trait in a gun. Dozens of 870 variations have been made over the years, including models with waterfowl-themed camo patterns, matte finishes, 3 ½-inch chambers and other features duck hunters appreciate. And every one has been affordable and reliable. Even hunters who choose $1,000 shotguns as their go-to guns probably have an 870 “back up” stashed away somewhere in the safe. (MSRP for the waterfowl version pictured is $648) —C.N.
2. Winchester Model 12
If you grew up in a waterfowl hunting family, there’s a Model 12 being passed down through the generations. It’s an iconic gun that was released in 1912, survived two world wars and went on to become one of waterfowl hunting’s most beloved symbols.
As waterfowl guns go, it was a microcosm of its generation: simple, clean and reliable. It came with a blued finish and walnut stock. Long-range pass-shooting, more common in the era of this gun’s prime, led to long 32-inch barrels and full chokes being popular. The design of the gun’s wooden parts changed some over the years, and the barrel and choke specifications evolved a bit with the times. But the basic, reliable Model 12 action is what made it an icon of the waterfowl industry. (Estimated value: from $425, Blue Book of Gun Values 33rd ed.) —C.N.
3. Browning Auto-5
Put aside the recent reincarnations of this classic Browning design. The original A-5 is one of waterfowl hunting’s favorite guns. The classic humpbacked receiver is its visual calling card, but for those who hunted with one, the A-5 is probably best known for the “ker-chunk, ker-chunk” feeling of its action. Functioning with recoil-operated springs, the entire barrel slid into and out of the receiver on every shot. Minor adjustments within the gun could fine tune it for the loads each hunter chose, and a little break-in time was needed to get it running just right. As newer autoloaders came on the market, the A-5 gradually grew out of style and took on the image as being a “clunky, hard-recoiling” gun. Just don’t tell that to any of its diehard fans who still use it today. (Estimated value: From $375, Blue Book of Gun Values 33rd ed.) —C.N.
4. Benelli Super Black Eagle 3
A gun that was built for punishment, the Super Black Eagle 3 has been shot just about everywhere ducks and geese fly. In 2020, Benelli added to that durability with the advent of its BE.S.T Series, a finishing technology that wards off rust and corrosion, which coastal waterfowlers will appreciate. Buy a Benelli with parts treated in the BE.S.T finish and you get a 25-year warranty. A 12-gauge, the balance of this third-generation gun is more forward-weighted than its predecessors, so you can continue to swing through the bird. The fore-end is still slim, and it carries more like a 20-gauge than a 12 (it’s only seven pounds), but doesn’t kick your ass like an inertia-driven 3.5-inch gun should. That’s thanks to the Comfort Tech 3 stock, which uses shock-absorbing chevrons to limit recoil and a cheek pad that is soft enough to fall asleep on (please don’t). It comes in black synthetic, Mossy Oak, Realtree and Optifade patterns, plus a satin walnut finish for those that still hunt in tweed. An oversized bolt handle and bolt release make it easy to operate. The SBE3 comes in right- and left-handed models with three barrel lengths: 24, 26 and 28 inches). (MSRP $1,899-$2,199) —Joe Genzel
You can find the full review of the Benelli Super Black Eagle II here.
5. Beretta A350 Xtrema
With its “self-cleaning gas cylinder and piston,” the Xtrema is known as one of the most reliable gas-operated autoloaders ever made. It was also the flagship waterfowl gun of Beretta up until the release of the A400 series. It has a 3 ½-inch chamber and is known for its ability to eat any and all field loads you send its way. The Xtrema Max 5 doesn’t come with a wood stock. Its synthetic and rubber outer layers—plus the corrosion-resistant materials on all the metal parts—aren’t the prettiest in the eyes of some traditionalists, but they definitely extend its years of service in the duck or goose blind. ($1,150) —C.N.
6. Browning Gold
For Browning fans—and there are droves of them—the Gold is like a beloved uncle. There might be younger, leaner models around, but this is the one that taught them how to hunt and painted all those early memories. Its Speed Loading design was a hit when shell No. 3 was gone and the birds were still coming, but its best feature was the reliable gas action. Today, the Gold has nearly been replaced in Browning’s lineup, except for the 10-gauge model. Goose hunters who still prefer the big boy should get one now. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait until all the Gold diehards finally break down and offer to sell. (MSRP from $1,799) —C.N.
7. Remington Versa Max
The Versa Max is a relatively new classic auto-loader from Big Green, taking its place beside the 1100 and 11-87. The gun has a unique gas port system that regulates pressures during cycling based on the length of the load being used. The result is a soft-recoiling action no matter the load. That’s a feature all waterfowl hunters appreciate. Other notable features are the easy-to-grip stock material, corrosion-resistant finish on metal surfaces and the ability to shoot up to 3 ½-inch shells. (MSRP from $1,485) —C.N.
See our full review of the Remington Versa Max when it came out here.
8. Benelli Vinci
The Vinci is about as “space age” as it gets with waterfowl guns, but there’s a lot packed into that extreme-looking frame. The Vinci breaks down into three basic parts for easy transport and cleaning and is adjustable for four common stock dimensions. Benelli shotguns are all about speed and reliability, and this gun has plenty of both thanks to careful tweaking of the action and balance of the gun that reduces recovery time between shots. It also uses an updated “in-line” version of Benelli’s famed Inertia Driven System. There’s a lot of techno-jargon and impressive engineering packed into the Vinci, and the more recent Super Vinci, which can handle 3 ½-inch shells. What’s been most impressive, however, is how quickly this gun has won over waterfowl hunters everywhere. (MSRP from $1,359) —C.N.
See the full, original review of the Benelli Super Vinci here.
9. Winchester SX4
When companies release with the next generation of a gun, it usually costs more than its predecessors. But when Winchester unveiled the SX4, they dropped the price by hundreds of dollars. The SX4, available in 20- and 12-gauge, is a 3.5-inch gun for under $1,000. It’s become a staple for snow goose guides who want to run a softer-kicking gas gun during the spring season, but don’t want to burn cash on a spendy Italian auto. Its reliability in that price range for a semi-auto is only matched by Franchi. Better still, it doesn’t have a cheap feel to it that you might find in older, Turkish-made shotguns. If you don’t like recoil, this is your gun. Winchester’s active-valve system combined with the Inflex recoil pad renders recoil almost non-existent. The reversible safety is simple to switch out, which you should definitely do if you’re a lefty. (If lefties leave it as-is, the safety tends to slide back on every time you shoot and that’s no good when you’re trying to triple on greenheads.) A bigger bolt handle and release are standard, and the SX4 is available with 24-, 26-, and 28-inch barrel lengths. It’s camo-dipped in True Timber, Mossy Oak and Realtree. You can also get hybrid versions that have a brown Cerakote finish on the action and barrel. Plus there’s the ol’ reliable black synthetic. (MSRP $939-$1,040) —Joe Genzel
You can find our review of the SX4 here.
10. Remington 11-87/1100
Although not the same gun, the Remington 11-87 (top) and 1100 (bottom) get lumped together because they share many similarities. Most notable is a gas-operated action that has earned the trust of thousands of hunters over the years. Originally, the 1100 was released as a 2 ¾-inch version, and the 11-87 was the more recent release that could handle 3-inch shells. However, both have been offered in “magnum” versions capable of handling the next-largest size shell. These became popular with waterfowl and turkey hunters. Remington has a legion of shotgun fans, so these models still shine in blinds every season, despite all the newer, high-dollar shotguns inundating the waterfowl market. (MSRP from $681; MSRP from $1,279) —C.N.
11. Mossberg 835
This is a no-frills shotgun that fits perfectly into a working man’s duck boat, or in the pit at a farm-country goose hunt. It’s the kind of gun that you don’t show off to your friends but you’re glad you have by your side on a snowy, late-season mallard hunt. The 835 is designed around the 3 ½-inch shell and comes in various iterations, with several models specific to waterfowl hunting. If you want an affordable pump shotgun that’s not a Remington 870, this is probably what you’ll reach for. (MSRP $535) —C.N.
12. Mossberg 935
While not the same gun as the Mossberg 835, the 935 Magnum shares many of the same cosmetics and has many of the same loyal fans as its pump-gun cousin. It’s the go-to autoloader for waterfowl hunters who are also “Mossberg guys.” That translates to “waterfowl hunters on a budget.” It comes in a variety of configurations, including waterfowl-specific platforms, and tames shoulder-bashing 3 ½-inch shells (the model 930 will chamber up to 3-inch shells) with its gas action. One feature I’ve always appreciated on a Mossberg is the thumb safety on the rear of the receiver. It’s easy to find and operate with cold hands or with heavy gloves. To sum it up: The 935 will chuck hulls like a high-dollar gun, but you won’t feel bad about using it as a boat paddle, should it ever come to that. (MSRP from $686) —C.N.
See the full review of the Mossberg 935.
13. Browning BPS
As pump guns go, the Browning BPS just sort of falls into the mix with other quality, no-frills guns. But what made it popular with waterfowl hunters was not the hunter buying the gun, but the guy in the pit next to him. The BPS feeds and ejects shells out the bottom of the receiver, rather than out the side. That means when a volley starts, your shells end up at your feet instead of clanging off your buddy’s face or shotgun, or streaking across his line of sight. It’s a great option for southpaws and tough guys (it’s also available in 10 gauge). (MSRP from $660) —C.N.
Two More Great Waterfowl Shotguns
1. Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus
The Kick-Off system in this 12-gauge is one of the best recoil reducers ever put in the stock of a gas-operated autoloader. When you shoot the A400, the kick back often feels like that of a pop gun (depending on how big of a duck hunter you are). Still, even smaller fellas, women, and older kids won’t have an issue shooting this gun. The fore-end is definitely bigger than you’ll find on most 12s, but that profile also gives you something more substantial to hold onto during the inclement weather we tend to hunt in. An oversized charge handle, bolt release, and enlarged loading port are upgrades you will find on this version of the A400. The 26-, 28-, or 30-inch barrels are made from Optima Bore HP Steelium Plus with a step rib, and the gun comes with five extended chokes. A 3.5-inch gun, the A400 is offered in Realtree, Mossy Oak, Kryptek, and True Timber camo, plus black synthetic. (MSRP $1,750-$1,900) —J.G.
2. Franchi Affinity Elite
If you’ve ever shot the Benelli M2 20-gauge but couldn’t get past the price tag, the Affinity 20 is a fine runner up. It’s honestly baffling why more hunters don’t shoot Franchis. They are built on the same inertia-driven system as big brother Benelli and function just as well. They’re still well-made guns, just without all the bells and whistles. Franchi uses the catchphrase “Feels Right,” and that’s an accurate statement. From its autoloaders to over/unders, every gun fits well. The Elite is a slim gun that’s offered in 12-gauge, too, but the 20 has become popular with duck hunters who want a smooth-running sub-gauge. It has a large bolt handle, and the release is oversized. The cheap, plasticky feel of the release is the only thing on the gun I wish was a better. It’s not a deal-breaker, but when you pay more than $1,000 for a gun, it shouldn’t skimp on anything. The 20 is only a six-pound gun—great for walk-in hunters—and both gauges are available in an Optifade/Cerakote finish or A-Grade Satin Walnut. (MSRP $1,249-$1,419) —J.G.