What Shotgun Should I Buy? Four Things to Look For (and Watch Out For)

Mossberg 835 Waterfowl
Mossberg 835 Waterfowl

When it comes time to buying a shotgun there are a few things to consider. In all actuality there are many things to consider but let’s take a look at what I believe are the core items to look at before you hand the clerk your credit card. Mulling over these few points can lead to you getting the shotgun that best serves your needs.

Pump or gas gun? While this sounds like a reference to buying gas for your car, it refers to the type of action the gun will have. The two main styles of shotguns are pump action and semi-auto guns which are often referred to as “gas guns.” This is because they operate on a gas blowback system. When choosing between the two you need to look for guns that are known for reliability. Of the two systems, the pump action shotgun is more reliable because the action is manual. Gas guns can have cycling issues if not lubricated properly, have light loads or even if the shooter is not set firmly enough behind the gun. This can be overcome of course by choosing a well-made semi-auto gun and really learning to run it. However, out if the box the pump action wins in this category.

Another item to look for is length of pull or “LOP.” This refers to the length of the stock. This is significantly more important than most people realize because it determines whether you will be able to correctly shoulder the shotgun and shoot it well. I find that most guns have a set LOP that fits only a small number of shooters right out of the box. If the LOP is too long you will not be able to seat the stock in the correct spot in your shoulder without turning your body. This leads to uncomfortable shooting and possibly even bruising if done for a long period. There are aftermarket stocks you can buy for your shotgun from companies such as Hogue that can make the gun a true personal fit.

Third on the list of things to look for is caliber. There are numerous calibers or more specifically “gauges” in shotguns. While 12 gauge is the most common, it is by no means a must. What will determine the gauge of the shotgun are two things. What will the gun be used for and what can you handle? I tend to lead people to either 20 gauge of 12 gauge. Either of these two will work as a general round for most people. These two rounds can be easily found at any sporting goods store or gun store in a variety of flavors. From bird shot, which is nice to train with, to defensive loads.

The final thing to consider is aiming system. Contrary to what Hollywood may suggest, you do in fact need to aim your shotgun correctly if you want to hit your target. There are many options but as you can guess, it is up to personal preference. The most common sighting system is a bead site. This is literally a BB style object placed on the end of the barrel and used as a point of reference for the front of the gun. While it has been around forever, I believe there are better options. First is an actual rifle site set up. This would have a blade style front sight and a notch rear site. These are very easy to use and increase accuracy. The next is a ghost ring style site. This is a blade front site with an aperture style site in the back. This is my favorite of the iron site options because it is very easy to use and very fast. The last option is an actual optic which is the most accurate tool. With advances in optics they can now easily manage the shock and recoil found in a shotgun. All of these are helpful in making sure the shot that you launch down range actually hits the target. Yes…you can miss with a shotgun if you do not aim correctly.

As I alluded to earlier there are dozens of sub points we could dig into, but these are the primary things to be aware of as you look at adding a shotgun to your collection!

READ: 4 Best Shotgun Sights