By Mia Anstine, The Shooting Channel
There are many arguments as to which is “the best” type of shotgun. Is a pump better than a semi-automatic or should I use a single shot or an over-under? We could banter back and forth a while, but the bottom line is there are a variety of reasons that a shotgun is “the best”. One reason is that you are comfortable handling it. Another thing that makes a certain type shotgun better than another is the purpose for which it is being used.
Shotgun styles and purpose vary depending on the action of the gun. Action is the term used to describe the operational mechanisms used to load and fire a shell.
Single Shot: The single shot shotgun is a manageable gun for a beginner to use. It has a single barrel with a break-action and allows the shooter to load and shoot one shell at a time.
Side by Side: The side by side is a double barreled shotgun that has a break-action. It has been popular over the years with big game hunters. Holding one shell in each barrel or two shells at a time, this shotgun has a separate trigger for each barrel.
The side by side has always been a popular configuration for the shotgun.
Over Under: The over under style shotgun is another type of double barrel style gun. It is most often used for competition shooting involving clays or pigeons. It holds one shell in each barrel, allowing for two shots. When two birds fly, it is optimal to shoot the lower bird on its way up and then shoot the second bird as it rises higher.
Pump: The pump-action shotgun gets its name from the operation of the moveable forearm. The forearm is used to slide back and eject a spent shell then to slide forward, cycling a new one into the barrel. It is considered durable with its manual operating action. It has a tubular magazine and can hold a multiple number of shells. Most come with an insertion rod to restrict the number of shells to two in the magazine and one in the barrel when hunting (as required by US Federal Law).
Youth model pump shotgun. Image by Mia Anstine
The pump shotgun is excellent for teaching new shooters. It often comes with a shorter barrel length and is easy for a new shooter to swing. It can be loaded as a single shot gun while teaching the novice to cycle a round. It is also worthy of turkey or game hunting. Because of the compact length, some shooters opt to use the pump action shotgun for home defense.
Auto Loader: The auto loader, or semi-automatic, shotgun has become highly developed over the years. It has a tubular magazine that holds multiple shells and also comes with a plug to limit the capacity to the US Federally mandated capacity of 3. Older models use spring mechanisms to eject the spent shell and load the next shell. Newer models use a gas, inertia driven system.
Browning A5 Ultimate Partridge Semi-Auto
When the gun is fired the inertia system re-directs the gas emission into the tube. It transfers the energy into cycling the spent shell and reloading the new shell. This inertia driven system reduces the number of cartridge jams and diminishes some of the recoil of the gun. This enables the shooter to reacquire a target after a shot with greater ease. Competitive shooters and hunters alike enjoy the reloading speed of the semi-automatic shotgun.
There are a multitude of other shotgun models that have been made throughout history. Lever action and bolt action shotguns can still be found in some collector’s safes or in cowboy action shooting. The lever and bolt actions were initially modeled after traditional rifles. Over the years, the ease of use of newer models and technology has replaced these historic firearms.
All the models mentioned are available in a variety of caliber and lengths. Again, the size you choose will be a matter of personal preference. Some shooters who have shot with longer barreled shotguns swing them well because it is what they learned with and so they are comfortable. Other shooters find they are comfortable shooting a 12 or 20-gauge because it is what they have always done. It becomes what is “the best” for them.
If you have the opportunity to shoot the various shotgun models, I highly recommend it. There is not a better way to determine which you think is best than to do some good ol’ hands on field testing. Have someone show you how the firearm operates before you load and shoot it. Remember to wear your eyes and ears. Always be safe and you are sure to have fun.
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