By Annie Johnston Fisher, Johnston Arms
The decision to purchase a new shotgun often involuntarily invokes a variety of opinions from friends, neighbors, and fellow sportsmen. Simply conduct an internet search of the firearm you wish to buy and a handful of forums, blogs, and listings will occupy your screen. This article is not a commentary on the best gunmakers or shotguns on the market, though when asked, I will share my thoughts. Instead, I argue that every sportsman or woman needs to invest in three different types of shotguns to satisfy their outdoor needs.
Much like a bag of clubs is needed in golf, so different shotguns are needed for the types of targets that present themselves in the field. First, I recommend that everyone has a designated clay target shotgun. Typically, this is heavier in weight, has longer barrels (28-32”), and is either a 12 or 20 gauge. The weight of the gun and longer barrels encourage the shooter to insert and swing through the clay target without stopping the gun. Unlike in the field, the heavier weight is an asset, as there are frequent breaks and less walking. I personally shoot a 20-gauge over/under that weighs 7 ¾ lbs., with 30” barrels. For reference, I am only 5’1”!
Next, no sportsman or woman is complete without an upland shotgun. I often find that this is the most controversial. Some find it unsporting to shoot a 12- gauge, and instead prefer to shoot a subgauge like 20 or 28. Others, especially from the South, can be found carrying something as small as a .410 in the field. Regardless of the bore, an over/under or side-by-side are excellent for wingshooting, and comes down to personal preference. One of the most important factors to consider when selecting an upland shotgun is the weight. If you will be covering a lot of ground, a heavier gun may be less desirable. I became the envy of all the men on a recent hunt in Oregon, when I carried a 28-gauge side by side that weighed just over five pounds. Such a lightweight gun can have its disadvantages, but walking with it isn’t one. As a general rule, a side-by-side will weigh less than an over-under. If you opt to carry a 12-gauge in the field, perhaps consider one with shorter 26-28” barrels. Your upper body will thank you later.
Lastly, you’ll never find me with my clay or field shotgun in a duck blind. Ever. If you’ve spent any amount of time duck or goose hunting, you know what I’m talking about. Water and a fancy wood stock don’t mix. While there are more weather resistant over-unders on the market, I prefer a 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun for waterfowl. Though I have managed to shoot a few geese with a 20-gauge, I am much more confident with a 12. The 12-gauge gives you more pellets of the lighter weight steel shot, which can be helpful with pass shooting. I have found that a 12-gauge can also be a challenge, especially for women, as the length of pull can be too long. I recently purchased a women’s-specific 12-gauge semi-automatic for this purpose, and have been very satisfied with the results.
While I try to only shoot clays with my target gun, it is important to transition to your other shotguns before the seasons starts. I suggest practicing sporting clays or five-stand with your field and waterfowl shotguns before opening day. The clays may be difficult at first, but with time and practice the feel of the other long guns will come back to you, preparing you for success in the field. Within these three different categories of guns, there is an overwhelming variety and depend on personal preference and price ranges, and exceed the scope of this article. Rather, I hope that you consider the types of shotguns in your safe and their intended use. With time, each will begin to feel as an extension of your arm, and natural in the field.