man holding duck hunting shotgun

Choosing The Best Duck Hunting Shotgun | 3 Things To Consider

No worse feeling exists in the sport of waterfowl hunting than pulling up to dust a flock of mallards and then… your gun misfires.

I’ve been in that frustrating situation before and I don’t want you to experience the pain I did. 

So, how exactly can you keep this from happening?

Well, it begins with the firearm you select. I’m not here to push one brand over another, but rather to help you find the gun and gauge that best fits you so you can go with it.

What exactly is shotgun “fit?” Scroll down and watch the video near the end of the article to find out!

Does price matter?

dead geese and duck
At the end of the hunt, you want a shotgun that has performed as expected, hopefully resulting in a successful harvest.

I’ve hunted with guys who bought the latest and greatest shotgun on the market only to watch them miss every duck that decoyed. I’ve also hunted with guys who were shooting a “pawn shop special” and they absolutely slaughtered every duck within a mile radius.

So, what was the difference?

Well, one group of guys thought the expensive gun would make them a good shot. The other group knew they needed a gun that they were extremely comfortable shooting in several different conditions.

Simply put, the best shotgun is the one you are most comfortable using.

But how do you figure that out?

Which type of shotgun fits your hunting style?

There are three main types of shotguns. The most popular is the semi-auto, followed by the pump-action, and the over-under. They all come in different gauges and all are solid choices when it comes to waterfowl hunting. I have personally hunted with all three for at least one season each. As I hunted with each, I found there are pros and cons to all.

I prefer to hunt with a 12-gauge shotgun, regardless of the type of shotgun I am shooting. But, enough about me, let’s look at three critical factors in determining the best shotgun for ducks and waterfowl.

The three criteria I used to determine the best type of duck hunting shotgun are as follows:

  • Dependability: How unlikely it is to malfunction in different weather conditions?
  • Ruggedness: How much abuse can it take from being tossed in the back of a truck and dragged through mud all season long?
  • Amount of birds in the blind: That should be pretty self-explanatory. If I was able to shoot more birds with it, I hunted with the firearm more often!

The Most Dependable Shotgun

shotgun and decoy
Part of having a dependable gun is knowing it won’t jam or misfire.

As far as dependability goes, an over-under is going to fire every time the trigger is pulled. A pump-action is going to fire basically every time, as well. The weather conditions are not prone to affect the firing capabilities of an over-under or pump-action.

The semi-automatic shotgun is a different story.

As long as they are clean and lightly oiled in warm conditions, a semi-automatic works great! However, in my experience, when the cold weather hits, semi-auto shotguns tend to become finicky. So, when I need a gun that is dependable, I hunt with a pump-action or an over-under. 

12 gauge shotgun shells
Shotgun types come in different gauges… my personal favorite is the 12-gauge.

The Most Rugged Shotgun

Ruggedness, once again, goes to an over-under or a pump-action. The over-under has so few moving parts that make it such a rugged gun. Now, this does not apply if your over-under is a gun that only comes out of the gun safe to get oiled and then gently placed back in its place. 

The over-under I used was as basic as they are made, perfect for the tough conditions I hunt. A pump-action has a few more moving parts, but in my experience hunting with one, they are just as rugged as an over-under.

The semi-auto shotguns I hunted with were not as rugged as I had hoped they would be, but in recent years semi-auto shotguns have made tremendous strides in ruggedness. 

The Most Deadly Shotgun

The most critical factor is the number of birds the firearm helps bring down cleanly.

semi automatic shotgun and black lab
Semi-automatic shotguns give you the ability to fire 3 shots rapidly, but may also lead the shooter to rush the shot.

The semi-auto shotguns are outstanding when I need to fire off all three shots quickly, but I have a tendency to rush my shot. That is my fault, not the firearm!

When hunting with a pump-action, I am forced to slow down just enough to be much more accurate and add more birds to my limit.

The over-under shotgun I hunted with drastically fell short because it lacked the third shot I was familiar with. My friend, Jason Cruise, claims the third shot is a wasted shot more often than not.

I would disagree.

Yes, many times by the third shot, the birds are out of range. However, when the ducks are back-flapping in your face, that third shot is a huge advantage. Every hunt I am on, I will consistently shoot all three shells in a single volley. When I hunted with my over-under, I desperately missed having that third shot. 

So, what exactly is “shotgun fit” and how do you get the right fit for you? Check out this video to find out.

And, the best shotgun type is…

As I mentioned above, all three shotgun types have their pros and cons. However the one that stands out the most is the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun.

The pump-action shotgun is a workhorse. It is not anything fancy but it consistently gets the job done. Time after time, adding birds to the limit. No matter the weather conditions, a pump-action shotgun will deliver what it promises… three shells. 

Why the Pump-Action Shotgun is the Best

The reasons I choose to hunt with a pump-action shotgun over the other two styles are because a pump-action is typically more dependable than a semi-auto, it is extremely rugged, and I shoot more birds with a pump-action than an over-under. 

I admit I am extremely tough on my gear. So, I need a firearm that will hold up to the abuse, enduring throughout the season. A pump-action shotgun does this for me more consistently than the other two styles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t bring my other guns on a shoot or two during the season. I love shooting my semi-auto when the weather permits and my over-under has become my turkey hunting shotgun. 

Whether you are just getting into duck hunting or waterfowl hunting has been a lifestyle for a while now, a pump-action shotgun is a tool that won’t let you down.

Before purchasing any firearm, do your research. I would recommend not only reading the online reviews, but also getting your hands on the gun you intend to buy prior to buying it. This ensures that it fits you well and you are more than comfortable handling it.

Buying a firearm is a big purchase, don’t rush into it. Take your time and choose the best shotgun for you

*All photos used by permission from Brad Alan

Alex Horsman

Alex Horsman is a Southern boy and proud of it. It was in America’s heartland that Alex learned how to hunt, fish and practice basic survival skills. (Cue up Hank Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive,” and you’ll get a pretty good picture of Alex’s upbringing). Alex studied Economics and Business at the University of Missouri.

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