What Kind Of Shotgun Do I Need For Waterfowl Hunting?

We live in an age of specialization. For example: We use to have just be family cars. Now we have cars for driving the family around town, driving the family off road, and for driving fast when you want to leave the family at home.

Shotguns are just as specialized. While you can hunt waterfowl with any of them, specific ones have been designed for this task.

Single Barrels Rule

If you visited a dozen duck blinds, almost all the shotguns you’d see would be pumps or semi-automatics. Why? Because with their low costs, rugged designs, screw-in chokes, and 3-shell capacities, modern pumps and semi-automatics are ideal for hunting ducks and geese.

  • Pump shotguns: THE classic American duck gun. Most pumps cost $500-$750. All shoot a single shot each time you pull the trigger. To reload and cock them, you "pump" their forend back and forth. Because of this simple design, they work in the worst weather.
  • Semi-automatic shotguns: More expensive, with prices between $500-$1750. They also shoot a single shot each time you pull the trigger, but they reload and cock on their own. The mechanics that do this makes them heavier—which is good when you’re hunting waterfowl.

You can use over-unders and side-by-sides for duck and goose hunting. But for reasons we’ll get to, most are not ideal for waterfowl hunting. That being said, some makers have offered, and still offer, doubles designed for today’s duck and goose hunting environment.

12-Gauge Is The Gauge

Back in the nineteenth and early 20th century, waterfowl hunters used shotguns in 4 gauge, 8 gauge, 10 gauge, and 12 gauge. But today, most people hunt with 12 gauges—and for good reason. With chamber from 2 3/4" to 3 1/2", modern 12 gauge pumps and semi-automatics can shoot anything from 1 ounce to 1 ? ounces of lead. That means, you can use them to hunt everything from teal to Canada geese.

Twelve gauge shells are also easy to find—especially ones loaded with the special shot the U.S. Government made mandatory for all waterfowl hunting a few decades ago. Of course, you can also hunt ducks with 10 gauges, or with 16 gauges and 20 gauges. But of all these, the twelve can handle the widest range of birds.

It’s The Law

Shotgun shells are filled with pellets called shot. For 150+ years now, this shot has been made from lead. But in 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlawed its use when hunting ducks and geese.

Today, this means anyone shooting ducks and geese must use non-toxic shot. The most common—and cheapest—type of non-tox is steel. Tungstens, Hevi-Shot and Bismuth are also options, but they come in fewer varieties and cost three to four times more.

Modern pump and semi-automatic shotguns—especially ones made for duck and geese hunting—are made with metals and chokes that can stand up to steel shot (which is harder than lead).

But if you want to bring older guns into your duck blind, especially vintage over-unders and side by sides, you’ll have to use expensive non-toxic alternatives like Bismuth.

Heavy Is Good

Recoil is the unavoidable byproduct of firing a shotgun. Regardless of what gunsmiths say or gunshops tell you, there are only two ways to deal with it: First, you can increase the weight of your gun. The heavier a gun is, the less recoil you’ll feel. Second, you can add a recoil pad or use a gun with some kind of recoil-absorbing system.

For a lot of duck and goose hunting, you’ll use shotgun shells loaded with 1 ¼ ounces of shot or more. These loads generate a lot of recoil. To make their recoil bearable, you’ll want to use a shotgun that weighs at least 7 pounds. If you plan to shoot heavy loads often, close to 8 pounds is better.

Semi-automatic shotguns recycle some of force that generates recoil and use it to reload and cock the shotgun. The mechanics to do this tend to make these guns heavier, too. This cut down on how much recoil you feel and makes semi autos more comfortable with heavy loads.

Good For Ducks, Bad For Guns

An old duck-hunter’s saying goes "When the rain’s falling and the wind’s blowing, the ducks are flying". Or to put it another way "Bad weather for people is good weather for waterfowl hunting." And what’s bad for people is also bad for shotguns.

So, when you’re shopping for a new duck or goose gun, looks for ones built to shake off lousy weather like a Labrador Retriever. A lot of new pumps and semi-autos made for waterfowling use synthetic stocks and specially coated metals. This makes them less susceptible to moisture and corrosion. These guns are easy to strip, too. So, at day’s end, you can break them down and clean them up in a flash.

Other Nice-To-Haves

Along with corrosions resistance, an ideal duck gun also features studs for sling swivels and a sling. This lets you throw you shotgun over your shoulder and makes it easier to lug it from your truck to the blind.

Rounding things off, a matte finish on all metal parts is the final thing your dream duck gun should have. Shiny, blue barrels and trigger guards look nice. But to sharp eyed ducks and geese, they look like a good reason to stay away from your blind. Matte finishes eliminate this problem and increase the chances you’ll have a successful day.

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