Finding the best hunting shotgun is the subject of this article.
There are hundreds of game species that can be taken with a shotgun, in fact it's hard to imagine a scenario, with even the toughest game being unable to be dispatched with the proper shotgun and load, with the exception of the largest most dangerous game, to include safari game and bears.
Because of this, there are hundreds of combinations that could be called the best hunting shotgun and load. For the sake of this article, we are picking a select number of shotguns that work well across the most popular channels and have features that set them apart from other shotguns that make them specifically tailored to hunting.
There are only a few guiding principles:
- We will favor shotguns that are not overtly tactical in design because, while they could be used, their buildouts likely do not make sense
- Capacity is generally a non-factor, that is: lower capacity is not unfavorable in selecting a "best shotgun for hunting"
- Preference is given to guns that are designed and marketed for the hunting channels
We rate the following choices as the best hunting shotguns for deer, dove, bird, pheasant, duck and turkey...
Best Hunting Shotguns
Beretta USA - 686 Silver Pigeon I Combo Shotgun
Best Hunting Shotgun for Upland Birds
A brilliantly practical hunting gun with a traditional design hat proves you don't need a ton of new technology to deliver on promises in the field. But that doesn't mean that the Beretta 686 Silver pigeon is lacking any technology or innovation, it just means you don't need every new add-on to get what you want while hunting.
The reason this particular shotgun makes so much sense on this list is the dual double barrel sets. You get a 20 gauge and a 28 gauge setup for use on birds. That means you can hunt any type of bird anywhere, with the same gun.
Yes, many hunters don't want to stalk turkey with a 20 gauge, but you could, given the right loads and techniques. You can also immediately swap out the 20 gauge set for the 28g set, and hunt quail.
But that's only part of the story. The build quality of the Silver Pigeon is amazing. You get fit and finish like no other production gun, except a few $4500+ shotguns. You're shooting a luxury item, but the tolerances and performance potential is like a race car. A 28 inch barrel offers sufficient accuracy, without causing difficult balancing or mobility issues.
The entire length is a small 42". That means your mobility is excellent in high density tree areas or brush heavy locations; and it means you can shoot this gun like an extension of your body. It's comfortable to get on target and fast.
- Short OAL
- Premium fit and finish
- Proven performance over many years
- Multiple calibers/gauges
- Starting to price out many consumers at this price point
Browning - A5 Hunter
Best Hunting Shotgun with an Ultra Magnum Capability
Want to take any turkey at any reasonable range without a bunch of trouble and without going to a 10 gauge? This is the one for you. The classic model A5 by Browning offers the power to reach out and hit turkeys with their bobbling, tiny heads thanks to the 3.5" chamber; the inherent accuracy of the platform and the reliability of the design.
If you want a shotgun that has seen it all and can do it all, the A5 with the 3.5" chamber is it. The amount of versatility this shotgun has is almost unmatched. You can go from hunting big game to hunting waterfowl to shooting sporting competitions. It's a jack of all trades with a heavy slant towards power.
It is also exceptionally light weight, which is a blessing and a curse depending on where you stand. The lighter weight makes it more realistic to carry for long periods of time, and easier to swing onto target, but it also means that you get hammered by recoil. It's an integrative approach to shotgunning – but you might not want the added recoil.
The A5 is recoil driven, so it's ultra-reliable, consistent and lasts for generations. The overall length is 49.5", so it isn't small, but it does balance well and swings like a dream. The longer 28" barrel is accurate out to long distances and the capacity (4+1) makes it suitable for a lot of different applications.
- Easy to carry, but big enough to remind you it's an ultra-magnum shotgun
- Proven performance over decades
- Clean lines
- Huge power
- Heavy recoil
Savage 220 SP Bolt-Action Slug Shotgun Combo
Best Hunting Shotgun for stalking large deer
Aside from being a knockout bargain for any big game stalker, this is an almost scary-accurate bolt action shotgun that has few peers from a purely longevity and long-range accuracy perspective. This is not a shotgun with a slug barrel. It is a purpose-built rifle style long gun that utilizes shotgun slugs.
The way it was designed and engineered was to harness the best accuracy and stability components of a rifle and incorporate the modern slugs now available to produce a long gun capable of taking any big game animals from 25 yards to 175 yards and possibly beyond. This slug gun is built amazingly tough and with accuracy at its core.
The free floated barrel is an unheard-of option on a shotgun. The synthetic stock is properly fit to maximize accuracy. The magazines are detachable and allow you to carry multiple loadouts with you for fast replacement if something changes rapidly in the field. In a few moments you are ready for anything with the pre-loaded magazine. This is truly best shotgun for deer hunting.
- A different way to build a shotgun
- Serious accuracy
- Very durable
- Hard to find anything wrong with it at this price point
Benelli USA - M2
Best Hunting Shotgun for long range slug shooting on intermediate game
Probably the best all around slug gun on the market once you factor in the smoothness of the action, the durability and longevity of the specifications and build materials and the lightweight overall build.
It's a bit understated with the all-black exterior, and while it looks tactical, it's 100% a sporting/hunting shotgun made for long-distance game stalking.
A scope mount is an obvious inclusion; and paired with the 3" magnum chamber for the 20 gauge, a scope driven M2 slug gun offers a lot of range and versatility in the field.
The 24 inch barrel can satisfy even the most discerning brush hunter with the better mobility; but it still offers 150+ yard potential with the right loads.
Benelli has been proven for decades, and the M2 platform has been a showstopper from a performance perspective for the better part of that time frame. It's the fastest slug gun on the market by a wide margin and the tight action and durable chrome plated internals means it will last a long time.
- Smooth and fast
- Awesome sight system and great scope mount option
- Excellent trigger and internals
- Expensive compared to the other slug gun on this list
Benelli 828U Sport Over/Under Shotgun
Best Hunting Shotgun that offers unbelievable adjustability
The pinnacle of innovation for the Benelli lineup, the 828U is the newest offering for multi-discipline shooting with scatterguns. The fact that it easily doubles as a hunting specific gun makes it even more interesting.
It looks futuristic, and that's probably the only con, and even then, most people don't mind the looks considering what it offers beneath the skin.
The adjustability on the stock is unparalleled. In seconds you can adjust LOP and comb. In minutes you can adjust the drop and cast. The recoil reduction technologies are myriad and include some of the best new tech on the market. ProgressiveComfort is a great new concept that will be adopted widely.
Balancing can be done by the user to help get the right swing for individualized tasks, or personal taste. The Crio barrel and chokes offer a longer life span and have better internal surface finishes than competing barrels and choke systems.
An all steel internals scheme means you don’t have to worry about longevity. The wide carbon fiber vent rib sheds heat and offers great sight acquisition.
Benelli ticks all the boxes on the list and while it isn't traditional looking, perhaps you can overlook the styling in favor of the huge benefits from the design.
- Superior innovation
- Superior recoil management
- Superior longevity
- Superior adjustability
- It looks a bit alien
Henry Repeating Arms - Lever Shotgun 410 Cylinder
Best Hunting Shotgun for a unique experience
A fun little gun that offers precision shooting out of a small bore shotgun with the .410. This is not traditional in the sense that shotguns are readily produced on lever action platforms, but it is traditional in the sense that it looks like history. And history is very handsome.
The slim profile and ambidextrous styling; rifle like sights and fast swinging balanced feel make this a no-brainer for small deer in short and medium range brush. This is also a super fun bird gun for those that want a challenge.
It's anything but obvious for a shotgun hunter, but it's amazing for predators like coyotes and other small and medium game.
- 6 shots mean you can do more than hunt with it
- Great sights
- Fun to shoot
- Low recoil
- It's meant for very specific game and doesn’t have the versatility of most others on this list because of its uniqueness
Benelli SuperSport Performance Shop Semiautomatic Shotgun
Best Hunting Shotgun that isn't really a hunting shotgun
It's not really a hunting gun, but it's really awesome and offers a lot of innovation in a gun that's fairly value priced considering the material and build style.
We included it because of the crossover value that some of the features have, including the toughness and durability of the stocks (carbon fiber) and the non-slip design it incorporates; as well as the fast inertia drive system that improves second shot reaction times and lessens felt recoil.
But felt recoil is also mitigated substantially through the ComforTech recoil reduction system and the back bored forcing cone. The recoil is further reduced through porting on the barrels.
It's built for speed and it's not particularly heavy either, but it is very durable for the weight. The extended controls offer fast field operation especially in gloved hands and the adjustability is second to none. The comb, drop, LOP and cast are all easily adjustable in minutes.
We like the 12 gauge in a 30 inch barrel, because the reduced recoil feels like a 20 gauge and the wide array of loads in 12 gauge means you can turn this sporting shotgun into a multi-disciplinarian that excels in the field.
- Relatively lightweight
- Smooth action
- Benelli offers more innovation than any other maker currently
- Adjustability galore
- Slick looks and non-slip grip thanks to carbon fiber furniture
- It's not really a hunting gun, even if you try to convince yourself it is
Mossberg 500 Youth Super Bantam Field/Deer Pump-Action Shotgun Combo
Best Hunting Shotgun for youth hunters
It's hard to find a more detailed setup for a youth shooter that can grow with the young ones. Mossberg has hit it out of the park with the kit they offer, especially with the camo patterns and the multi-barrel configurations.
A 20 gauge shotgun can last their entire life, and with some basic alterations, this is a gun that can be adjusted to do the same (within reason). The caliber offers extreme versatility, mild recoil and great load options. The build is durable and you don't care at the price point if you notice some scuffs after the hunt. This is a good value for money in the segment.
A pump action builds good basic skillsets and helps the younger shooters learn discipline and fast decision making, while offering some help on problems with loads or extraction/ejection issues, and adding a failsafe for inexperience.
Being a pump gun, it's infinitely more ambidextrous than other guns in its segment. The controls enhance that positioning.
The rifled barrel is a great option for big game hunting.
- Made to grow with youth shooters for many years
- Durable build
- Great ammunition options
- Not the best fit and finish
Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen Semi-Auto Shotgun - Model 0118005004
Best Hunting Shotgun you didn't expect to be amazing
To those who own them, the Browning A5 Sweet 16 is among their most cherished guns, especially for hunting. The sweet shooting shotgun offers the apex of recoil softness and load versatility for a smaller bore shotgun than the 12 gauge. It extends your abilities to beyond where a 20 gauge can get you and doesn't discriminate on any game type.
The looks are legendary and the fit and finish, and the smoothness of the action are second to none at the price point. A single magazine tube will make you a convert of the recoil operated shotgun, which, aside from being more a sports car type of vibe is actually quite sound mechanically. Very few A5's are plagued with the same issues as most semi-auto shotguns.
At 5.75 lbs. for the 26 inch barrel, you are getting long range shooting capabilities and all day carry capabilities in a single shotgun. With 5 rounds at the ready for the range and fast follow up in the field when you only have two and have to make them count.
Built to last and fits in anywhere against any game and in any hunting scenario, this is one for the ages. This is one of the best semi-auto shotgun for hunting.
- Impeccable reputation
- Great caliber even if it is a bit undermarketed
- No CONS here
Franchi - Instinct SL Over and Under Shotgun
Best Hunting Shotgun that's also an ultralight
This is the lightweight champion on this list with an overall weight of 5.6 lbs. it's less weight than the Browning Sweet 16 listed above, which is the next lightest weight gun on this list, and it only has a single barrel.
Franchi is known for svelte, capable shotguns that have that distinctive European styling and offer miniscule weight in the field while offering great on-target swing and simple operation. All of their guns for decades have had some form of this methodology built into the platform.
This particular model is perfect for long days in rough terrain after small upland birds thanks to the 20 gauge chambers and the 28 inch barrels, but it is equally at home hunting all types of other game given the versatility of the 20 gauge loads on the market.
An overall length of only 44.5" is excellent considering the full-sized barrels that this O/U shotgun sports, which will easily have you reaching out to long distances accurately, especially with the included choke tubes.
The single drawback for some, is the saving feature for others: an alloy receiver. For the low volume shooter this is a long-term gun that passes to the next generation; for the high volume shooter there may be other guns on the list better suited to their particular endeavors – due to increased recoil and wear and tear.
- A proven performer
- Versatile caliber
- Durability is lessened and recoil is heightened because of an aluminum receiver
Winchester Model 101 Ultimate Sporting Over/Under Shotgun
Best hunting Shotgun that comes from an unexpected maker
The New Winchester Model 101 isn't the first good shotgun Winchester has ever made. Winchester has some truly iconic, truly beautiful shotguns in their archives. It is, however, perhaps the greatest shotgun they have produced in the past 2 or 3 decades, and for a legacy company like Winchester, that is saying a lot.
Not only is it very handsome, the gun is full of great creature comforts and offers a very good field experience for those who like the simple build style and the utilitarian finish of this variant. Note: there are prettier variants available in the 101 lineup.
The gun is made to be completely ambidextrous and easily handled by either a left or right hander and that is a huge benefit considering the industry push for more and more custom tailored adjustability that leaves the lefty shooter desiring a whole lot. It is also simple to operate. The double barrel O/U configuration make it approachable and easy to understand.
The recoil reduction is subtle in looks, but huge in the amount of shoulder pain it mitigates. The back boring, combined with a great porting scheme and the Decelerator pad by Pachmayr make quick work of excess recoil and help you to enjoy a long day of shooting, whether at the range practicing, or in the field hunting.
30 inch barrels offer better accuracy than most competitors in conjunction with a proven Invector Plus choke setup which features 5 extended tubes that are easy to remove and swap out. Depending on what you're hunting for, you can dial it in by load and with these excellent choke tubes.
Fit and finish is better than recent high end models from the Winchester Factory and this Belgian manufactured shotgun is creating a lot of long-term fans for the brand again.
- Great choke tube system
- Fit and finish for a Winchester Product that is uncommonly good
- Seems pricey compared to other brands depending on what you plan to do with it