Buying Your First Shotgun: A Beginner’s Guide

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Forget what you see in films when considering buying your first shotgun. It can’t knock five people off their feet with a single shot. Shotguns, however, can do some impressive stuff, such as repelling intruders or bringing home waterfowl for the dinner table.

Anything under the range of 50 yards is a ripe target for shotgun pellets. This versatile firearm is the most fun to hunt with. Break your first clay pigeon, or drop a real overhead duck with a shotgun, and you’ll be instantly hooked.

Which Type of Shotgun Should You Choose as Your First?

There are a few firearms that compare with the versatility, effectiveness, and brute power in a shotgun. Endearingly called the scattergun, shotguns have adapted to the current sports shooting scenarios, hunting, law enforcement, home defense, and military armament.

Choosing the right shotgun for your application can prove a challenge, especially if it’s your first time. It’s vital that you understand the many options before buying your first shotgun.

Setting Your Shotgun Buying Budget

After getting your Shotgun License, it’s now time to decide how much you want to spend on your first gun. There are other costs that come along with your shotgun. These include range charges, cartridges, and clay pigeons.

Depending on your circumstances, and the application you intend to put your shotgun through, the budget is entirely your decision. A good gun will not only facilitate your clay breaks but won’t hold you back when you hit the woods or ponds for the game.

Spending between $500 and $1,000 for buying your first shotgun will start you off. Stretching your budget to $1,500 can be a better option if you’ve set your eyes on hunting big game. 

Types of Shotgun Designs to Select

After deciding the budget that you expect to spend on buying your first shotgun, decide on its type. The best type of shotgun depends mainly on the manner of shooting that you intend to engage in the most.

You’ll find that a game gun and a primary clay gun will have different features. These include an over and under, single shot, or double-barreled shotgun. If you are confident that your ultimate shooting goal is to get a small game, then an all-rounder model that breaks clays and hunts may be suitable.

A hunter’s over and under model differs from a purposefully built clay shotgun in advantages which each gun offers for suitability to each engagement.

Some of these features include an example of the safety catch’s operation and position on a clay breaking shotgun. A manual safety type doesn’t reset to safe when you open the gun. The design and weight of the gun handle clay shot cartridges recoil well.

Semi-automatic action shotguns can’t be discounted either, even though an over and under design may seem like the obvious choice. While most hunters find them comfortable because of the significantly reduced recoil, they offer exceptional value to beginner shooters.

Semi-autos will also require you to take careful note of special safety procedures for clay pigeon bursting or practice shooting. Only two cartridges are loaded during such instances. A safety flag has to be shown when you clear the breech.

Does the Size and Fit of the Shotgun Suit to Your Applications?

You are now looking at the shotguns on offer, and all manner of details are catching your eyes. It could be stylish stock engravings, a beautiful rib design, or patterning of the action.

Does a to-die-for gun travel case accompany the shotgun, or does the model come with a selection of chokes? After you’ve looked them over and marveled at their construction or materials, find out if that particular shotgun fits you.

Finding a gun that settles in the crook of your shoulder, and points, where you are looking, means you are halfway home.

Settle on a shotgun that doesn’t fit your body structure or frame, and you have an uphill experience with your shooting. You’ll not find consolation in a pretty engraved stock when applying salve on sore shoulder or neck muscles.

As a first shotgun, find one that’s adjustable so that it grows with your shooting confidence. Once you refine your style and settle on your technique or consistent gun mount, an adjustable stock shotgun will complement your shots. 

Advantages of Using a Shotgun for Hunting Small to Medium-Sized Game

Designed to be fired from your shoulder, a shotgun is a weapon that is chambered with shells. Each round fires several pellets. The pellets, known as shot, are contained in a plastic or cardboard cartridge or shell.

Shotguns come in two types of barrels, rifled and smoothbore. The smoothbore is used to fire shells while rifled shotgun barrels fire slugs. Small game hunters such as water-fowlers use birdshot, and larger animal hunters employ buckshot for a clean kill. 

Smoothbore barrel shotguns are unsuitable for hunting waterfowl or small animals. This is due to centrifugal forces that make the bullet travel in a hollowed pattern. 

A simplistic design mechanism and the ability to fire a spray of projectiles means shotguns are the popular choice. With a shotgun, you can engage a variety of targets using one platform, and hunt small to large animals successfully.

When paired with either a slug or buckshot, shotguns become deadly weapons. They have the power to deliver foot-pound energy equal to most semi-automatic rifles. With bird or buckshot pellets, you have a higher chance of hitting your quarry.

Shotgun shot pellets splatter in varieties of patterns that can be constricted using shotgun chokes. Even when shooting in less than favorable light conditions, you’ll have no issue downing birds flying overhead with a shotgun.

Typically affordable, shotguns from reputable brands will cost you less than $ 300. Tthey are not as restricted as rifles or handguns in the US.

Shortfalls of Shotguns

The number one limitation for shotguns is range distance, reaching at most 150 yards even with the slug variety. The shot has more range challenges, reaching only 50 yards with a choke and the right shells. Shotguns that exceed the caliber of 20 will deliver heavy recoil. This makes them hard to control and punishing to your shoulder. 

Shotgun Calibers

Shotguns calibers are measured in gauge, an odd old method of calibration and measurements that persists. References to shotgun gauges are measured by bore. The traditional way to determine bore is by splitting lead balls to the size which fits down your bore.

The lead ball that’s split has to be a pound. If you have to divide that into 12 balls, your shotgun is a 12-gauge. Lower numbers of ball splits that go down the bore mean that your gauge and shotgun power is bigger.

So 20 gauge shotguns end up being smaller than a 12 gauge, but there’s one unique offering whose size is determined in inches. The .410 is a popular shotgun that follows along with the caliber standards of rifles and handguns.

That’s why the most common calibers you’ll find are the 12-gauge, 20-gauge, and the .410 as popular American shotguns. These three calibers represent the shotgun size in terms of shot, recoil, and amount of firepower.

From hunting, military operations to home defense, the 12-gauge shotgun proves the most common.  The 20-gauge is milder but perfect for small game shooting or defensive applications. 

For young people or light-framed ladies, the .410 caliber shotgun is perfect for learning to shoot and hunt waterfowl, upland birds, and rabbits. Though this shotgun can be used as a defensive or law enforcement weapon, the 12 and 20-gauges are more efficient.

Some uncommon shotgun calibers also include a powerful and mighty 10- gauge, a mid-impact 16-gauge, and the mildly meek 28-gauge. Though not as popular now as they once were, these intermittent gauges are still in the application, prompting many gun retailers to stock their shells.

Rare shotgun calibers include the 4-gauge, 8-gauge, and 32-gauge. There are many modified and even homemade versions that are in actual use.

Shotgun Action Types

When you are buying your first shotgun, you’ll come across many designs. Well, some change with time while all remain in similar modes of production. You must concentrate on details regarding your shotgun’s action, which is literally how your firearm works.

Single-Shot and Double-Barreled Shotguns

Capable of holding one round per barrel, single-shot and double-barreled shotguns are simplistic in design, proving the most affordable of the versatile armament. Lightweight and easy to use, single-shot shotguns come in one or double barrels, and are prevalent hunting guns.

Back in the 1800s, double-barreled shotguns were used as part of law enforcement armories. Today they are more common than sports and hunting firearms offered side-by-side or over-under configurations.

Though the side by side variety has fallen out of hunting favor, over and under designs are typical waterfowl downers and clay pigeon busters. Side by side double barrels are still used in single-shot action competitions. However, those that exist are mostly recreations of older frontier guns.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Many of the shotguns you shall come across in the marketplace are pump-action shotguns. These are manually operated to eject the load, re-cock the gun and inject a new round into the chamber.

Pump-action shotguns are standard on the hunting field, due to their ease of use and affordability. The pump-action repeating shotgun holds between four and nine rounds depending on tube magazine length.

New shotgun designs have detachable box magazines, which can hold up to 20 rounds. The manual accentuation of pump-action shotguns makes them inherently reliable as a quick repeating firearm that’s cost-effective.

Bolt Action Shotguns

Bolt action shotguns are not as common as their pump-action counterparts. However, at one time, Mossberg produced several models, including a bolt-action slug shotgun released as late as early 2000s.

Though several other munitions companies have manufactured bolt actions, their popularity and affordability have been overtaken by pump-action shotguns.

One significant advantage of bolt action shotguns is that they’re lighter in weight than pump actions. They are also reliable and easy to operate. 

However, without the fast repeatability and magazine capacity of pump actions, these shotguns replicate bolt action rifles in many ways. Due to some state’s restrictions on hunting with rifles, Savage has produced a few dedicated bolt action models. They employ slugs and are legal to hunt with.

Lever Action Shotguns

One lever shotgun that existed, the Winchester 1887, but fell out of popular favor with the onset of pump-action shotguns. As one of the first repeating firearms, the main problem was how huge the shotgun needed to be for efficient function.

With less room for shell variables standard with shotgun round sizes, the lever throw for this category was over length. Century still reproduces the Winchester 1887 lever-action shotguns, but their application is sorely for action shooting competitions.

More or less a novelty, lever-action shotguns are rarely used in sports hunting or target practice.

Break Action Shotguns

A hinge is operated for break-action shotguns, which eject shells and facilitate reloads. Break action is a classic action that’s been configured in a variety of barrel types.

You’ll come across break-action shotguns in over-under, single or double side by side configurations, especially as hunting or clay pigeon breaking shotgun. Simplistic and reliable in use, break-action shotguns have a limited magazine capacity, which makes them unsuited to home defense applications.

Revolving Cylinder Shotguns

These are very rare types of shotgun. Revolving cylinder made their first appearance in the 1980s and early 90s, only to fizzle out after being declared defective. Having a recycling cylinder shotgun requires that you get registration from the NFA as a destructive device.

A .410 variant is made by Taurus, firing .45 colt cartridges and having a rifled bore. This .410 is technically a rifle, but its action is a revolving cylinder slug shotgun on the application.

Operating a revolving cylinder shotgun requires the accentuation of a heavy trigger, which fires the slug while revolving an often massive cylinder. Though reliable shooters, revolving cylinder shotguns are slow to reload. 

A significant advantage offered by the revolving cylinder action type of shotgun was their higher magazine capacity. They were shorter barreled since there was no need for the length associated with tubular magazines. 

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

A semi-automatic shotgun uses the pressure generated from one shot to chamber the next shell. Semi-auto shotgun action enables you to shoot and reload easily and quickly.

For beginner shotgun shooters, semi-autos can prove excellent performers, but it’s better, to begin with, a break or pump-action shotgun. First-time shotgun buyers should not skip the experiences of racking every shell physically or having to deal with limited mag capacities.

Accessories For Shotguns

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Best Shotgun Options for a Beginner

When buying your first shotgun, you need a weapon that can perform as an all-round gun, possibly with a simplistic pump or gas-operated semi-auto action.

Any of the following shotgun suggestions will make an excellent firearm;

Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I

This is a graceful but robust shotgun that doubles as clay-shot skeet shooter as well as a hunting sporting gun. The 686 Silver Pigeon I comes in 12, 20, 28-gauge and .410 bore. One starter variety model has a 30-inch barrel.

A tad pricey compared to other offerings, the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I is a durable shotgun. Retaining its value since first appearance should you decide to trade or sell it in the future. 

Winchester SXP Black Shadow Shotgun

The super X pump or SXP from Winchester is a pump-action shotgun that’s fast loading and a suitable first-time all-around shooter. This quick action pump is the best for beginners who feel that a semi-auto doesn’t feel right, or traditional pump action is too slow.

An affordable option, the Winchester SXP Black Shadow undercuts other weapons of its class as one of the best first pump-action shotguns. 

Beretta A300 Outlander

This is a gas-operated semi-auto that’s reliable and excellent as a first-time shotgun. A hunter’s shotgun, the Beretta A300 Outlander, can funtion as an all-round service shotgun for clay or feathers.

The semi-automatic shotgun is available in 12-gauge, weighing slightly over seven pounds. It has an adjustable stock for a more natural fit. Young shooters seeking to grow into the shotgun or small frame hunters will love the removable spacers on its synthetic stock for adjusting the length.

Remington 870 

The best selling shotgun of all time, this Remington gun still exists due to its excellent durability reputation. A pump-action shotgun, the 870 is a hunter and home defense weapon.

This shotgun brand includes models like the low priced ‘Express’ and the top of the line ‘Wingmaster’. These are the versions dedicated to any shotgunning application.

Benelli SuperNova 

If your main intention for buying your first shotgun is waterfowl hunting, you can’t ignore the Benelli supernova. This is the only pump-action shotgun with power to fire 12-gauge 3 ½ inch magnum shells favored by birdshot hunters.

Also available in scaled-down or full-size versions for the 20-gauge, the nova is an affordable first pump-action shotgun.

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