I was once a guest at one of the most famous private green-timber reservoirs in Arkansas. Our host’s gunroom held a Fabbri live-pigeon gun, Robert Ruark’s .416 Rigby and a .600 Nitro double. Yet when we hunted ducks in the morning, the gentleman shot a Remington 870. A waterfowl gun is like a hunting truck: You don’t care how it looks so much as how well it handles a heavy load—and whether it gets you through the hunt without breaking down and leaving you stranded.
Modern waterfowl guns are tougher than ever, thanks to the non-traditional materials (read “plastics”) making up trigger guards, stocks, even receivers on more and more models. There’s no romance to a plastic-stocked gun, but there’s plenty of toughness. The day my Benelli Nova slipped from my shoulder and clattered down a bank covered with reservoir riprap, it arrived at the bottom with just a few dings in its one-piece synthetic stock/receiver.
Of course, hunting trucks don’t accelerate or corner like sports cars, and traditionally waterfowl guns have been heavier and bulkier than upland pieces; however, many of the newer fowling guns are lighter and sleeker than any before them. The autoloaders handle a wider range of ammunition, too, from light target loads to magnums, making them as close to the ideal of the “all around” shotgun as any others.
Here’s a roundup of new waterfowl guns from the past two years. Although semi-auto prices keep creeping upward, all of the guns here cost less than $2,000, making them replaceable should you happen to drop one over the side of the boat.
Beneath the Vinci’s radical looks is a light, smooth-handling gun weighing a shade less than seven pounds. The Vinci snaps apart in seconds in a manner unlike any other shotgun. While it shares the reliable inertia system of all Benelli shotguns, its action spring is located in the one-piece stock/receiver where it’s easy to get at and maintain. The modular design also allows easy access to the trigger group for in-field care. The safety button is located ahead of the trigger, and the bottom loading port is generously sized and easy to find for fast reloading. The bolt-close button is also big and easy to find. Available in 3" 12 gauge, it features Benelli’s recoil-reducing ComforTech stock and comes in black ($1,379) or Realtree APG or Max 4 camo ($1,479). Barrel choices are 24, 26 or 28 inches, and the gun comes with five Crio chokes in a distinctive hard case.
Some would say “budget Benelli” is a contradiction in terms, but the M2 American is an excellent value. It is simply the successful M2 inertia gun without the ComforTech stock and with three Crio chokes instead of the usual five. There are two versions: one with matte metal, a 28-inch barrel and a Max 4 camo stock and forend ($1,149) and the other all black with a 26-inch barrel ($1,109).
Benelli also has given its flagship semi-auto, the Super Black Eagle II, the “American” treatment, doing away with the ComforTech stock and two of the five choke tubes and thus cutting the price by $350. Yes, you’ll get a bit more of a recoil beating from the 7.2-pound 3-1/2" 12-gauge than you would with the full-price ComforTech version, but it’s worth the savings. Like the M2 American, the SBE II American comes in a 28-inch version with Max 4 stock and forend ($1,399) or an all-black version with a 26-inch barrel ($1,339).
Benelli USA, 301-283-6981; www.benelliusa.com.
A blend of the successful 391 and Xtrema semi-autos with some new features all its own, the A400 handles everything from 1,200-fps M-ounce target loads to 3-1/2" magnums with minimal recoil, thanks to its gas system and the optional Kick-Off recoil reducer. The gun is very easy to disassemble and clean as well, with a new gas piston that eliminates all of the hard-to-clean nooks and crannies of the 391’s piston. The A400 has a walnut stock with weatherproof X-Tra Grain technology. It also has a greenish anodized receiver and a choice of 26- or 28-inch barrels threaded for Beretta’s Optima Choke HP tubes. With a 28-inch barrel and a Kick-Off recoil reducer, the gun weighs seven pounds even. New for this year will be a synthetic waterfowl version and a 20-gauge. Prices are $1,725 with the Kick-Off reducer, $1,625 without.
Beretta USA, 800-237-3882; www.berettausa.com.
Browning’s Maxus autoloader is the company’s soft-shooting replacement for the Gold, and its gas system has been redesigned to function more efficiently with light and heavy loads. It retains classic Browning features like speed loading and a magazine cut-off while adding some unusual new touches. The forearm does away with a magazine cap in favor of a latch like an over/under’s that doubles as a front sling swivel. The magazine plug can be removed with any key without disassembling the gun and potentially launching a magazine spring. The Maxus comes in 3" or 3-1/2" 12-gauge, with a camo, black synthetic or walnut stock and 26-, 28- or 30-inch barrels. (The 3-1/2" 12-gauge is a lightweight seven pounds.) Both the camo and black-stocked models feature Browning’s Dura-Touch easy-grip finish and Inflex recoil pads and stock shims to alter fit. The Maxus features Browning’s .742" overbore and Invector-Plus choke-tube system. Prices start at $1,199 for the 3" black version and run up to $1,532 for the 3-1/2" walnut.
Although few waterfowlers choose over/unders, the completely enclosed actions make such guns reliable choices, and some hunters like having the option of different chokes in different barrels. Browning’s Citori Satin Hunter features matte-finish wood and metal, 28-inch barrels and 3-1/2" chambers. Like all Browning 12s, it has an overbored barrel threaded for Invector-Plus choke tubes. Weighing eight pounds and change, the gun is heavy enough to absorb magnum recoil. And the $1,469 price tag has this quality O/U coming in under some of its autoloading competitors.
Browning, 801-876-2711; www.browning.com.
Known as a maker of quality side-by-sides and O/Us since 1948, Fausti Stefano is now branching out into autoloaders. The Progress, due to be launched at the 2011 SHOT Show, will be the company’s first semi-auto offering. The gun will be available in 3" 12 and 20 gauge and will incorporate the inertia operating system made famous by Benelli. The Progress will feature a return spring mounted on the magazine tube for easy access, and each gun will come with two springs: one for loads down to M ounce, the other for magnums. Weighing 7.4 pounds in 12 gauge, 6.3 in 20, the Progress will have an oil-finished AAA walnut stock and a silver receiver with gold-inlaid ducks. It should list for around $1,600.
Fausti USA, 540-371-3287; www.faustiusa.com.
Ithaca Gun Co.
Ithaca’s classic pump has long been a favorite of many waterfowlers, because the bottom ejection port not only throws empties at your feet but it also keeps weather and debris out of the action better than side-ejecting models. New for this year, Ithaca makes the 37 even more weather resistant with a synthetic stock and Perma-Guard treatment on all metal parts inside and out. The Perma-Guard treatment is actually infused into the steel, and Ithaca claims it has subjected test guns to salt for up to 90 hours without signs of rust. The gun has a fatter forearm than the traditional ringtail design for positive handling and comes with a 3" chamber, 28-inch barrel, Truglo bead and three choke tubes. The price is $859, with a walnut stock available as a $100 upgrade.
Ithaca Gun Co., 877-648-4222; www.ithacagun.com.
Polymer covered from butt to muzzle, the 887 pump represents the ultimate in weatherproof durability. The ArmorLokt polymer coating surrounds a steel receiver frame and the barrel, and the stock and long forearm are made of polymer as well. Weighing a little more than seven pounds with a distinctly weight-forward balance, this is an easy gun to shoot. A 12-gauge with 3-1/2" chamber and 28-inch barrel, it comes with a Modified Rem Choke and a black or camo finish. Prices are $399 in black, $532 in camo.
At press time Remington’s new Versa Max was in production but not yet in stores. A 3-1/2" gas semi-auto, it has a unique system of seven Versaports in the chamber area. The Versa Max handles all shells from light 2I" target loads to 3-1/2" magnums through an ingeniously simple concept: the longer the shell, the more ports the hull covers, effectively metering the amount of gas tapped from the action. In a departure from other Remingtons, it has an alloy receiver, stock-fit shims and what appears to be a soft comb for recoil reduction. With 26- or 28-inch barrels, the price is $1,399 in black, $1,599 in Mossy Oak Duck Blind.
Remington, 800-243-9700; www.remington.com.
The Weatherby PA-08 pump, made in Turkey, comes in a synthetic version for this year. The PA-08 weighs less than seven pounds in 3" 12 gauge and has an easy-pumping action. It has matte-finish metal and a black synthetic stock and forend. It comes with a 26- or 28-inch barrel and three choke tubes. The PA-08 starts as low as $299.
Weatherby, 800-227-2016; www.weatherby.com.
A slick, inexpensive and somewhat underappreciated pumpgun, Winchester’s 1300 was discontinued when the New Haven factory closed. It’s back as the Turkish-made SXP (or Super X Pump), borrowing cosmetics from the Super X3 semi-auto but retaining the smooth-cycling action that earned it the billing “speed pump.” Winchester engineers did make some design changes: Gone is the “fishtail” joint between the stock and receiver that led to cracked stocks, and the action bars and the plate that the bolt sits on are now all one piece and slide out easily for cleaning. The gun comes with a back-bored barrel and Invector-Plus chokes, with a choice of a 26- or 28-inch barrel. The SXP weighs a shade less than seven pounds and sells for $399 in black synthetic.
Winchester, 801-876-3737; www.winchesterguns.com.
- By: Philip Bourjaily