A Shotgun Approach

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

I’ve always thought that downing a quail peeling out at full throttle probably feels about as satisfying as hitting a homerun out of a Major League ballpark.

Just as the bat is the tool of a Major League slugger, the shotgun is the tool of the quail hunter. It’s also the tool of choice for hunting many other kinds of game, as well as for most types of recreational shooting.

With so many types, styles and models on the market, choosing a shotgun can be daunting to a new shooter, but it doesn’t have to be. If you take your time and focus on your specific needs, selecting the right gun can be simple and fun.

Shotgun Types

Most shotguns are based on three basic designs: semi-automatic, slide-action (pump) and break-action. You can sometimes find bolt-action shotguns, but they are inefficient and hard to shoot.


For reliability, durability and value, a slide-action shotgun is a solid choice for all kinds of shooting.

This type of shotgun consists of a single barrel, a receiver and a magazine that holds three to five shotgun shells. The action loads shells into the breech from the magazine and ejects spent hulls when you work (pump) a slide back and forth. That’s why they are most commonly called pump guns. The action locks when it seats a shell in the breech and releases when you fire the shell.

Slide-action guns come in two main designs. The most common has the ejection port on the side of the receiver. The pump guns made by Browning and Ithaca eject from the bottom. Bottom-ejecting guns throw empty hulls at your feet rather than off to the side like more traditional styles such as the Remington 870.

With practice, operating a pump shotgun becomes second nature, and you can fire three successive shots with surprising speed and accuracy. The best thing about them is that they almost never break, almost never jam and are simple to clean.

You can find used pump guns in good condition for around $150. Or, you can buy one new starting at around $300 for a Mossberg 500 to more than $500 for a Remington 870.


Unlike a pump gun, a semi-automatic shotgun cycles and ejects one shell automatically with each pull of the trigger.

Most modern semi-autos are gas-operated. When the shell ignites, excess gas diverts to a cylinder, creating back-pressure that cycles the action. Many shooters appreciate the light recoil of gas-operated guns. The

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