Reliability means different things to different shotgunners. To a field shooter who uses a flat of ammo per year, it is one thing. To a clays shooter who runs 25K a year, it is an entirely different matter. It is also important to remember that a field shooter destroys his gun from the outside in. A target shooter kills it from the inside out. Equally obvious: A one-gun shooter has very different requirements than someone with a dozen or so shotguns.
In a lot of ways shotguns are like cars. The high-performance stuff is simply assumed to merit annual checkups and constant tinkering. It’s the grunt-work equipment that gets ignored. Your Purdey gets treated one way, your Huglu quite another.
In my experience, the more “boutique” a gun is, the more likely it is to need reconstructive surgery on delivery and demand constant attention as it ages. But the middle-class mainstream guns tend to be pretty good these days. And by pretty good I mean that they work right out of the box and will continue to do so for at least 25K before something requires attention. The over/under Beretta 680 series and Browning Citoris come to mind here. They are sort of the Honda and Toyota of shotguns—not exotic, but popular, proven and pretty reliable.
I’ve always had a personal preference for Fabrique Nationale and Perazzi O/U target guns because I like the way they shoot. They hold up pretty well, but little things do break. Ejectors are always the weak point on any O/U. And remember that any rib that is soft soldered will sooner or later come adrift. It’s just a matter of when, not if. But the FNs and P-shooters don’t require over-much maintenance, and their performance is beyond compare.
Semi-autos are another category entirely. All semi-autos screw up occasionally. All of them. Some eat parts like a barfly eats peanuts. Others simply hiccup every now and then. When you shoot a semi, you learn to accept this. To many it is well worth it in exchange for the lower recoil, lower cost, easier adjustability and balancing options. The Beretta 391 gas gun has an excellent reputation among clays shooters, while the Benelli inertia action is popular in the field because it works well when wet.
Side-by-sides are different. Most are built as field guns and thus make certain compromises to gain light weight and good handling. That always comes at a price. You can build for speed or durability, seldom both. Then again, lightweight side-by-sides generally aren’t used for heavy-volume stuff, so the life expectancy can be pretty good in terms of years, if not rounds. It’s all in how you use them. I have some old English side-by-side guns, and I’m afraid to shoot them too often because I know what it costs to fix them. But my thoroughly modern Turkish-made Smith & Wesson Elite Gold seems as close to bulletproof as the Winchester Model 21. And it is a lot cheaper.
And then there is the pumpgun. I love Winchester Model 42 .410s. I have a couple of very-high-mileage old ones and a pretty fresh one. The old guns have been enjoyed by numerous previous owners during the past 70 years, and I’ve had to add some serious parts. Nothing lasts forever. Except maybe the Remington 870 Wingmaster and Winchester Model 12. If anyone has worn one of those guns out by simply shooting it, I’d like to meet him.
Nothing made by the hand of man is perfect, but some guns are sure better than others when it comes to holding up. Your experiences might be different from mine. If so, perhaps you could share them and let us know what has held up to a lot of shooting for you over time.
That’s it for now. Boots off. Beer open.