Waterfowlers tend to prefer quick-shooting semi-autos over other shotgun types. Some truly innovative new autoloaders have been developed recently, including the Browning Maxus, Remington Versa-Max, Benelli Vinci and Beretta A400. All four were initially introduced as waterfowl models and marketed mainly to waterfowlers. Each of these new scatterguns also cost well over a thousand dollars.
Although it’s often said a dollar isn’t worth what it used to be, the same could be said for a hundred or even a thousand dollars. Consider this — my first car, an old Ford Torino, was bought from my uncle for just a thousand bucks. Today, that same money wouldn’t even buy one of the new, high-end semi-autos.
What’s the waterfowler looking to upgrade from an old beater pump to a new autoloader to do? Those not wanting to settle for a bargain-basement semi-auto, yet unable to afford a pricey, top-shelf self-stuffer, should consider a mid-level model. Here’s a trio of hard-hitting, affordable autos that’ll reliably drop ducks all day without breaking the bank. All three cost between $600 and $900, which is a more realistic price range for many waterfowlers.
Up first is Franchi’s new Affinity. Introduced this year, it’s already generated a lot of buzz. Like its I-12 predecessor, which it replaces, the Affinity is powered by parent company Benelli’s proven and reliable Inertia Driven operating system. However, with a real-world price of $699.99 for black synthetic and $799.99 for camo, the Affinity costs much less than a new Benelli.
Franchi is known for making lightweight autoloaders, and the 12-gauge Affinity has been trimmed down to around 6 ½ pounds, about a pound less than the I-12. Unlike the I-12, the Affinity is also available in 20-guage, at around 5 ½ pounds. The lightweight Affinity is perfect for run-and-gun hunters. Barrel lengths are 26 and 28 inches in 12-gauge, 26 inches in 20-gauge, all with 3-inch chambers. Time and consumer demand will tell if a 3 ½-inch 12-gauge model will be offered.
The Affinity is currently only offered with synthetic stocks. Waterfowlers will be interested in the black synthetic and Max-4 camo models. For testing, I received a basic black version with a 26-inch barrel. A red, fiber-optic front sight sits atop a wide, flat vent-rib, making target acquisition quick and easy. With the modified choke installed (IC and full are also included), clay targets were frequently reduced to mere puffs of powder drifting in the air. Misses, and even chips, were rare. Since my shotgunning skills are modest at best, this speaks volumes about the Affinity’s shootability.
See page 2 for more.
Although loads less than 1 1/8-ounce are not recommended, I fed my test gun a steady diet of lighter loads. These included low-recoiling 1-ounce Winchester Super Target Xtra-Lite target loads and low-velocity 1- and 1 1/8-ounce Vinci sporting loads. All cycled and dusted targets just fine. In hunting loads, I tried 1- and 1 1/8-ounce Winchester Xpert steel loads, 1 1/8-ounce Hevi-Steel and Federal Black Cloud Snow Goose loads, and even a 1 7/8-ounce Winchester turkey load. All functioned well in the Franchi, and the excellent TSA recoil pad did a good job of absorbing 3-inch magnum recoil, although the high-velocity Snow Goose load still got my attention in this lightweight gun.
It’s safe to say the Affinity will effectively shoot all 1- to 2-ounce loads. The only stuff the Affinity didn’t like were low-flow 7/8-ounce Kemen and Rio target loads, but neither do most autoloaders. After several hundred rounds, I finally decided to clean the Affinity, although its clean-burning inertia system was still going strong.
A shim kit for adjusting drop and cast is included, and the large trigger guard accommodates heavy gloves. The only gripe I have with the Affinity is its lack of checkering on the rearward portion of the forearm near the receiver, where many people grasp a semi-auto, which could be a problem in wet waterfowling conditions. Otherwise, the Affinity is a nice-shooting, affordable, inertia-driven semi-auto.
Remington’s 1100/11-87 series of semi-autos enjoy widespread popularity among a variety of shooters, myself included. I dearly love my old 11-87 Premier. For waterfowlers, there is the 11-87 Sportsman Super Mag Waterfowl model. This 3 ½-inch 12-gauge features full-coverage Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo, over-molded forearm and stock grip inserts that enhance grip in wet weather, 28-inch barrel, Hi-Viz front sight with interchangeable light pipes, and a set of extended waterfowl-specific Rem-Chokes.
The soft-shooting gas system and thick SuperCell recoil pad combine to tame recoil from the stoutest 3 ½-inch super magnums. While 1 1/8-ounce minimum loads are recommended, that shouldn’t be a concern since most waterfowling involves heavier loads, and this gun was designed for waterfowling. A real world price of $799.99 makes this mid-level semi-auto accessible to many hunters.
Our final affordable auto is Winchester’s fast-shooting Super X3 Black Shadow. Its black synthetic stock and forearm have textured gripping surfaces, sans Dura-Touch finish. Although the “grippy” Dura-Touch finish is certainly convenient in soggy conditions, its exclusion lowers the gun’s price by $100, making the SX3 Black Shadow more attainable to more hunters, with a real world price as low as $899.99.
Otherwise, the Black Shadow has all the same features SX3s are known for — 26- or 28-inch back-bored, Invector-Plus barrel, 3 ½-inch chamber, three chokes, self-adjusting and reliable Active Valve gas system, cast/drop shims and LOP spacers, and an Inflex recoil pad that redirects recoil down and away from the face. While 1 1/8-ounce loads are again the recommended minimum, my personal SX3 digests lighter loads with aplomb.
If you’re shopping for a new shotgun before next duck season, check out these mid-range semi-autos and see if one of them fits both you and your pocketbook. You can’t go wrong with any of them. All three are tough, reliable, and — most importantly — affordable autos that’ll serve you well in the marsh.