SHOT Show 2015 brought us a lot of drool-worthy shotguns, like the Benelli 828U and the stunning, never-afford-in-my-lifetime Famar USA side-by-side. But while those are beautiful to look at and certainly a dream to shoot, my first priority is waterfowl hunting, where fine checkering and intricate engraving become more of a liability than an asset. Fortunately, SHOT had plenty of duck-worthy shotguns to talk about.
Mossberg 500 Left-Handed
The Mossberg 500 needs no introduction — chances are you already own one or at least have a strong opinion about this consistently popular pump-action gun. The big news from SHOT Show 2015 is that Mossberg is introducing 15 different SKUs of left-handed shotguns in the 500, 590 and 590A1 line. There’ll be 12- and 20-gauges, so if you’re one of the estimated 10 percent of the population who is left-handed, check ’em out. Pictured (top) is the 500 Waterfowl L Series.
The Remington V3 (pictured above, second from top) made a splash at the show, and for good reason. It’s a 3-inch semi-auto that uses the same Versa Port system as the company’s VersaMax, but at a much lower price point. In basic black, this gun carries an MSRP of around $800. The port system uses a series of ports to bleed gas off into the pistons, utilizing the length of the shotgun shell itself to self-regulate the gas pressure. That means it shoots dang near anything without changing pistons or hanging up with light loads. The V3 has a refined version of this system, as well as a magazine cutoff and a light weight of just 7.2 pounds. The return spring in the stock has been relocated to the receiver — no more pulling it out of the stock for cleaning. You can get the V3 in black, camo or walnut.
Beretta A400 Xtreme and A300
Neither of these are new, but they’re Beretta’s best choices for a hard-working duck gun. The A400 comes in black, RealTree Max-5 (new this year) or GORE Optifade Marsh, with a kickoff recoil reduction system that Beretta claims cuts recoil by 70 percent. I’ve killed a lot of geese with this gun, and it’s a dream to shoot. It’ll run you $1,800 (MSRP), but if that’s not in the budget and you don’t need to shoot 3 ½-inch shells, the Beretta A300 can be had for $800 or less. You sacrifice the AquaTech coating that the A400 has, you get a three-piece bolt assembly as opposed to the A400’s one-piece assembly, and the recoil reduction system is different, but for a difference of a thousand bucks, a lot of duck hunters will be very happy with the A300.
Benelli M2 Performance Shop Waterfowl 20-Gauge
With ever-improving load options debuting every year, the 20-gauge has never been a more viable alternative to the hard-hitting 12 — and not just for women and children. Benelli’s now offering its Performance Shop Waterfowl M2 in 20-gauge (pictured above, second from the bottom). Features like some trigger work, a lengthened forcing cone, a paracord sling, fiber-optic Hi Viz sights, and an oversized bolt handle and bolt release give it the “Performance” and “Waterfowl” labels. It also comes with a set of Rob Roberts Triple Threat choke tubes, and each gun is patterned at the Rob Roberts shop before it’s shipped out. Oh, and it’ll cost you $2,400 (MSRP).
Stoeger is owned by Benelli, and Stoeger guns use an inertia-driven action that’s very similar to what you find in top-shelf Benellis. The M3500 is a 3 ½-inch gun with a fiber-optic front sight and a weighted recoil reducer in the stock. It comes with four choke tubes, including extra-full turkey and is drilled and tapped. It’ll run you $779 MSRP in camo, and the 3-inch version goes for $649.
Franchi is also owned by Benelli, and it basically splits the difference (in both price and quality) between high-end Benelli and price-point Stoeger. The Intensity is Franchi’s 3 ½-inch waterfowl gun. It’s similar to the Stoeger M3500 — same inertia-driven system — but is made in Italy to a little bit different standards, while Stoegers are made in Turkey. The Intensity is $1,199, and the 3-inch version (called the Affinity) can be had for $949.
Browning Maxus And A5
If you own a Maxus or A5, you know there isn’t much room for improvement in Browning’s two flagship semi-autos. The gas-operated Maxus and the recoil-operated A5 with the distinctive humpback receiver have been dropping ducks across the country for several years now, so there isn’t much new here other than the camo. This year Browning is offering both guns in RealTree Max-5 and Mossy Oak Break-Up Country (limited availability on both). You won’t go wrong with either of these guns — if they’re in your budget. The A5 in Max-5 has an MSRP of $1,760 for the 3 ½-inch, and the Maxus 3 ½-inch in the same pattern goes for $1,660.
Winchester is owned by Browning, and similar to what Browning has done with the A5 and the Maxus, Winchester has chosen to offer its popular SX3 semi-auto in Max-5 camo. It’s considered a “SHOT Show Special,” so you might have trouble finding one if your dealer didn’t order them at SHOT, but the SX3 is a reliable gun at a lower price point than the Browning, Benelli and Beretta top-shelf semis. Slim and light (7 pounds) with the reliable Active Valve system and “.742 Back-Bored Technology,” the SX3 can be had in 3 ½-inch with Max-5 camo for $1,200.
If you’re old-school like me and like a waterfowl gun in good old walnut and blue, practically be darned, you might want to look at Weatherby’s brand-new Element (pictured above; bottom). It’s a 3-inch semi-auto made in Turkey, with an Italian-made walnut stock — though Weatherby tells me that camo and black synthetic are coming later. If you’re familiar with Weatherby’s gas-operated semi, the SA-08, the Element will be quite a switch — it uses an inertia action. The trigger system drops out for easy cleaning, the bolt release button also allows you to remove shells from the mag without ejecting the round in the chamber, and the chrome-lined barrel and chrome-plated bolt offer durability and corrosion resistance. It’s got the fit and finish of a Weatherby with a whole new action. The Element comes in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge with a 26- or 28-inch barrel. In 3-inch 12-gauge, it carries an MSRP of $1,099.