They are the go-fast sexy guns of the shotgun world. The semi-automatic war hammers that launch shot and slugs downrange as fast as you can pull the trigger. They are fast and exciting to shoot so the natural inclination is that they are “the best” shotguns. Well before we sit the crown on its head, we need to have a close look at the pros and cons of the semi-automatic shotgun.
First off let’s look at the pros of semi-auto guns. The first obvious upside is the fact that they are fast. The action is cycled by using the remaining gas from the fired shot. It is channeled back into the gun generally via a piston that drives the spring-loaded action back allowing a new round to chamber. In this arena anyone would be hard pressed to keep up with the speed at which the gun cycles and preps the following round. Some master shooters of pump action shotguns can give a it a serious run for the money, but they are unfortunately not the average everyday shooter.
The lack of a pumping action helps stabilize the gun which in turn allows us to get back on target much more quickly. The more we have to physically do to the gun, the longer it is going to take to get back on target and the higher the likelihood we will cause excessive movement. One other nice feature is that most semi-auto guns provide less perceived recoil than their pump-action cousins. This is because the gas is redirected in order to run the action.
As with any weapon system though there are some down sides to the semi-automatic shotgun. The first one that creeps up quickly is a lack of reliability. Now understand that these guns are well made and solid performers, yet they are prone to malfunction. This can be caused by a number of reasons ranging from fouling to the shooter not providing sufficient resistance to the gun as it cycles. This is a major issue when it comes to the gun as a home defense weapon. Brand and model performance vary, but if you choose a semi-auto gun for home defense make sure you trust your life with it. A side note on this topic is the fact that you need to take much better care of a semi-auto gun. We can’t go shoot it a bunch then throw it in the safe and expect it to run when we yank it back out again. It needs to be cleaned and lubed regularly. If you are serious about your guns, you will do this regardless of the gun type.
A second “con” is that a number of semi-auto guns will not run birdshot. This is problematic simply as a training matter. Training with birdshot is an inexpensive way to get rounds through the gun and in turn become more comfortable with it. This combined with a healthy dose of buckshot and slugs can help you master the shotgun in short order. The problem with birdshot is that they simply don’t have much power and that translates into weak cycling ability. There are some semi-auto guns that have addressed this and if you go this route, I would encourage you to choose a gun that is birdshot friendly like the new Remington V3.
While not a huge issue, semi-auto guns have a very specific manual at arms for loading and unloading. They are a bit more complex than pump guns so know that before you make a choice. With practice it is simple to learn but know it is part of the gun choice.
The last thing against semi-auto guns is price in comparison to pump action shotguns. Now I realize this is like comparing apples to oranges regarding what you get for your money, and yet the price does matter. There are some very affordable semi-auto guns out there, but most of the higher end guns start pushing the $1000 market pretty quickly. I would like to be able to say that price shouldn’t matter, but unless you have unlimited expendable income, price does matter. The only advice I will give you in this realm is a reminder that just because something is super expensive, doesn’t mean it is that much better than a lower priced option. Like any industry, firearms live and die off brand recognition. The more recognizable the gun, generally the more it will cost in comparison to other guns. There are some exceptional gas operated shotguns out there that would make you wonder why they are as inexpensive as they are, and yet they run well.
With this little bit of information, you can now have a little better understanding of the pros and cons of semi-automatic shotguns. Depending on the application they can be either the perfect choice or a disastrous option. Choose wisely and your new shotgun will serve you well for a long time.