Despite my typical focus on tactical shooting here on the Lounge, I‘ve actually got a very special place on my heart for shotgunning. I’ve always loved shotgun sports, and if I could shoot just one type of gun for the rest of my life, it would be a shotgun. There’s really nothing like the thrill of tracking that fast-moving target knowing you’ve got just a second or two to hit it. The rush that comes with firing and seeing that target break is absolutely euphoric, and one of the best things about shotgun sports is that it offers one of the most level playing fields of any shooting sport.
While high-end shotguns are some of the most extravagant and expensive guns made, it certainly doesn’t mean you need to shell out several thousand dollars to be able to succeed on a skeet or trap field. Unlike rifles and pistols where more money means objectively better accuracy or clearer and more precise optics, shotguns are limited by the somewhat primitive nature of their ammunition. Pushing a bunch of tiny pellets through a smooth tube just isn’t that complicated, and because of that there are great shotguns that can fit nearly any budget. If you’ve never shot clays with a shotgun, you really owe it to yourself to try it. To that end, here are some great low-cost guns to get you started breaking clays.
For many, the pump-action is the quintessential shotgun, and for good reason too. Pump actions have gained a legendary reputation for durability and reliability. They’re able to cycle everything from the lightest target loads all the way to the heaviest shoulder-breaking magnum shells that the chamber can accommodate. An added bonus is that this durability and versatility is pretty cheap, with many options available for less than $300.
While all of that is certainly nice to have, pump-actions generally lag behind as target guns due to their light weight and somewhat poor balance, which can cause fatigue over time. The manual action also poses its own set of problems whenever two targets are thrown simultaneously as in skeet or sporting clays. Still, as long as you can be quick and consistent with cycling the action, these pump-guns will break clays as hard as any other.
The Remington 870 is the king of the pump-action shotguns. With an outstanding track record for reliability and quality, it is one of the best and most widely-used shotguns of all time. They can be found new for under $300 at big-box retailers, and you can easily spot used models in gun shops and pawn shops all over the United States. Buyer beware however, as recent factory guns have a reputation for rough chambers causing shells to resist extraction.
If the Remington 870 is king, then the Mossberg 500 is the queen of the pump-shotgun world. Mossberg 500’s can be found just about anywhere a Remington 870 can. While just as rugged and simple as the 870, the Mossberg 500 typically does not have quite as nice fit and finish as its Remington counterpart but many shooters (myself included) find the controls to be a little better. Field models typically retail for less than $300 and bare-bones models can be found for under $200 branded as the Maverick 88.
The SXP doesn’t have quite the reputation of the other two pumps on our list, but Winchester is hardly new to the world of quality pump-action shotguns. Designed with an inertia-assisted action, the SXP should provide all the speed you need to get break those double targets with time to spare. SXP models can be found starting at $300. Because this design is much newer than the other two, the SXP doesn’t have the aftermarket support enjoyed by the Remington or Mossberg.
One step up from pump actions in the world of clay target shooting is the semi-auto. While the layout and overall form is usually similar to a pump-action, the semi-auto removes the need to manually cycle the action to extract a spent shell and load a new one. This allows the shooter to focus more on the target instead of operating the gun. An added bonus is a reduction of recoil due to the moving parts distributing energy over a longer period of time instead of all at once.
The downside to autoloaders is that they’re typically a little more expensive than pumps, and the ejected shells can be a nuisance to other shooters as well as a pain to pick up afterwards. While usually not as reliable as pump-actions, quality semi-autos should typically be able to endure hundreds of rounds between cleanings and not present issues under most operating conditions. In my experience semi-autos offer the best balance of build quality and price.
Starting right around $500 you wouldn’t think the Stoeger M3000 had much to offer. Despite its rather conventional appearance and humble pricing, the Stoeger M3000 has been making waves as a surprising value in the semi-auto shotgun market, particularly among 3-gun shooters and waterfowl hunters. It uses the same inertia-driven action as the high-end Benelli guns, which is famous for being not only extremely reliable, but extremely clean as well. The only caveat here is that recoil will be stiffer than gas-operated shotguns and you may need heavier loads for consistent cycling.
Just as the model 870 set the standard for pump-shotguns, the model 1100 did so for semiautomatics. The Remington 1100 has been around for over 50 years, and if that isn’t a testament to quality then I don’t know what is. While brand new models will come in at north of $1,000 there are tons of perfectly functional used models available at nearly every establishment that sells used firearms. The typical price range for used 1100’s is $400-$600 and it’s even possible to locate specialty models suited to particular sports like skeet or trap.
Beretta is the oldest gun maker on the planet and they dominate the shotgun market for good reason. Their shotguns are elegant, well-made, and reliable. The A300 is Beretta’s basic auto but it doesn’t skimp on fit and finish or reliability. The A300 Outlander is the evolution of the wildly popular model 391 and uses a self-compensating valve system to ensure reliability with a wide range of loads. The A300 costs more than the other auto’s listed, typically about $650 new, but the quality more than justifies the price tag.
Over/Under double-barrels are the premier type of target shotguns today. They are the gun of choice among the world’s top competitors and thousands upon thousands of others. Nothing swings as smoothly as an O/U shotgun, and that’s crucial when the difference between victory and defeat is one target out of 500.
Unfortunately, O/U shotguns vary considerably in quality and features offered, and budget guns won’t begin to approach the glory of the high-end guns with five-figure price tags. Still, even the entry-level O/U shotgun has some appealing advantages like the ability to use two different chokes for target pairs at varied distances. Cleanup is easy too, since spent shells can be plucked straight from the chambers without having to bend down and pick them up afterwards. While most seasoned shooters will frown on the idea of using a sub-$2,000 over/under for high-volume shooting, they can be great for an occasional day on the range or as a starter gun to learn and grow with.
Yildiz SPZ ME/12
The Yildiz line of shotguns are imported from Turkey along with many other shotguns including CZ models and some Stoeger guns. Unfortunately, these great budget O/U’s are only available from a very limited number of retailers in the United States. The Yildiz guns exhibit a level of fit and finish that is characteristic of guns well above their price range, which starts at about $500. Having seen many of these in action, my only gripe about them would be their light weight. While they’re a joy to carry, extended range sessions may become bothersome to recoil-sensitive shooters.
Mossberg Silver Reserve II
Mossberg’s Silver Reserve guns are another Turkish import that caters to budget-conscious shooters. These guns start at about $500 and can be had in various gauges and barrel lengths. They even offer a special sporting model with high-end features like extended chokes and an adjustable stock. The Silver Reserve II is certainly one of the better looking guns found in this price range and the 7.5 pound weight ensures that recoil won’t become a major issue.
The Stoeger Condor is probably the most widely available of the three budget O/U shotguns, and is imported from Brazil. Retailing around $400 the Condor certainly fits into budget shotgun territory but the aesthetics do leave a bit to be desired. The plain black receiver and boring dark walnut stocks won’t turn heads on the range, but the sturdy pin-locking action should last for years under moderate use. With 12 gauge models weighing in at more than 7 pounds they won’t beat you up should you decide to shoot a hundred or more shells at one time.
This list is certainly not exhaustive and there may be many more quality guns that fit the bill for an up and coming clays shooter, but the models listed here are some of the most widely available scatterguns around and I’ve managed to get my hands on just about all of them throughout my ten years of clay shooting. While pumps are sturdy workhorses and O/U’s have that classic old-world styling I’ve found that semi-autos offer far and away the most value per dollar when it comes to shotgun sports. Still, the most important consideration to remember is how a shotgun feels to you, no matter what type it may be. Be sure to lets us know that you’re busting clays with in the comments!