A Tough 12-Gauge Duo

Okay, so you don't have $10,000 to spend on that classic Browning humpback you've always dreamed of, but you still want a solid-performing shotgun that can stand up to years of tough use without any worries. Here are a couple of new shotguns worth considering.

FRANCHI I-12

I had the chance to spend several days with the I-12 last summer on an incredible duck hunt in Uruguay. The variety of species and the sheer number of ducks were astounding. Bag limits there are liberal, so you can really burn through a lot of ammo. You need a gun that can take the sting out of high-brass duck loads, and the I-12's recoil reduction system did that with ease.

The first line of recoil reduction really comes from the I-12's Inertia Driven system. Here's how it works: Instead of having a heavy gas cylinder in the fore end, which adds weight and can make guns feel clubby, the I-12 doesn't rely on pistons or valves. The mechanically simple system features a free-floating bolt that compresses an inertia spring as the gun recoils. This, in turn, cycles the action. The result is a slender, lower-profile forend that really feels great--even for guys with smaller hands like me. And eliminating the big gas cylinder and hardware up front also gives these guns a nice balance--quick-pointing and smooth-swinging without feeling whippy.

An even bigger help toward reducing felt recoil is a unique, two-part recoil pad. The pad has a special gel insert, but unlike some recoil pad designs, this one is open on both sides, which allows the gel insert to deform outward to spread the kick over a much wider area.

When the gun is fired, the special rubber part of the pad maintains the pad's shape. At the same time, the gel insert starts to deform outward, spreading the recoil out and cutting down on all the shock to your shoulder. After compression, the gel insert returns to its original shape in a fraction of a second.

We burned through a lot of shotshells in the course of our trip. Moreover, the weather was unseasonably warm, so by mid-morning we were hunting in shirt-sleeves without the benefit of any extra padding from heavy coats. Despite all the shooting we did, my shoulder never got sore.

The I-12 I used came in a flat-black finish (a good all-purpose color choice), but for a few dollars more, these guns can also be purchased in Advantage Timber HD for turkey hunting, Advantage MAX-4 for waterfowling or traditional satin-finished walnut. All represent a great value, too.

BENELLI ULTRA LIGHT

One of the other guns I got to spend time with was the new Benelli Ultra Light. This 12-gauge semi-auto weighs just 6 pounds, thanks to a lightweight alloy receiver, a shortened magazine tube (which holds two shells) and its unique carbon-fiber rib.

Now, I know what you're probably thinking: Why would I want such a lightweight 12-gauge? But think about it for a moment. For those of us who spend a great deal of time chasing woodcock and grouse each fall, the weight savings during a day of timber bashing is very much welcome. And having a 12-gauge certainly allows you to put more pellets in the air for quick shots, which hopefully means putting more grouse in your bag. For those out West, think of the advantages these guns will give folks hunting chukar and high-altitude ptar migan; wing-shooters will really appreciate every ounce they don't have to lug when flushing birds in tough, steep terrain.

In addition, these guns feature Benelli's Inertia Driven bolt system, which makes recoil tolerable, even with 3-inch duck loads. And the three-lug rotating bolt head locks up solidly, steel-to-steel in the barrel, so these guns are super strong.

The wood on these guns is also very nice, which made me a little worried until I discovered that it's protected by a five-step finishing process that completely seals it against the elements.

If you're hankering for a different kind of waterfowling adventure, you've got to try Uruguay. And if you want to be sure you have a reliable gun along, take one of these.

Benelli Ultra Light Skinny: This autoloading shotgun, which weighs a dainty 6 pounds, is the answer to the hiking upland hunter's dreams. Special Features: Shortened magazine tube. Specs: This 3-inch 12-gauge is available only with a 24-inch barrel. Price: $1,335. Contact: 301-283-6981; benelliusa.com.

Franchi I-12 Skinny: Tough and reliable, this synthetic shotgun is the workhorse of the new Franchi I line. Special Features: The I-12 is the first Franchi to use Benelli's proven Inertia Driven action. It also comes with an innovative gel-filled recoil pad, making it a good choice for high-volume shooting. Specs: Available with 24-, 26- or 28-inch barrels. Weighs 7.5 pounds. Price: $660. Contact: 301-283-6981; franchiusa.com.

"Benelli's Inertia Driven bolt system makes recoil tolerable, even with 3-inch duck loads."