Saturday, May 17, 2008

- Buying a First Shotgun

A friend recently got a larger than expected royalty check from his publisher, and in passing asked me if I had any suggestions about the kind of shotgun he should consider buying as his first. Me...an opinion about shotguns?

I guess he doesn’t read my stuff much.

[If you're looking for a description of the legal process in NJ for buying a firearm - then you should probably start here. If you're looking for suggestion on the kind of shotgun to buy as your first, then by all means please continue.]

Deciding on a first shotgun is a straightforward process, and the first step is the same as any other firearm purchase. A liberal once asked me if I thought I had enough guns, and to his supreme annoyance I responded “enough for what?” That’s not a joke, it’s the first concern when choosing a firearm… what exactly are you going to be using it for? If you’re going to leave it under your bed as a home defense insurance policy that means one set of priorities, but if you plan on shooting skeet with it once a month or using it to hunt deer and turkeys, that’s probably another. You may want to do both things with it and that’s perfectly reasonable, but you should be aware that multitasking will come with compromises. But before I get to that, there are a few things you should know about all shotguns.

Selecting a Gauge

The gauge of a shotgun is defined as “the number of lead balls you would need in that diameter in order to have one pound of lead”. So a 12 gauge gun, by far the most common, is the largest (standard) bore, and the .410 is the smallest. There are 10 gauge guns out there too, and even guns that sport custom “super large” bores, but none of these should be considered as a first shotgun. All you really need to worry about when choosing a bore size is your physical size and your strength.

In my opinion, if you’re a man of more or less normal size then you should almost certainly buy a 12 gauge as your first gun. In fact when it comes to the fairer sex, I would only recommend a smaller gauge for particularly petite women. As an example, my wife is tiny. She’s a pretty little Hungarian brunette who is 5’1” and weighs about 105 lbs. when dripping wet, and she can still shoot my 12 gauge semi just fine. The only issue is that it’s a little heavy for her so if she shoots it all day her arms are tired afterward. So I did recently break down and get her a 20 gauge gun so she can shoot it a little more.

Recoil is a big concern for the new shotgun purchaser, but it isn't as great an issue with shotguns as Hollywood would have you believe. Guns with larger bores are typically heavier which cuts down dramatically on their felt recoil, and the 'semi automatic' design shotguns can diminish it even more. Besides, you don't aim a shotgun like a rifle anyway, so if you get a little push from your gun it won't necessarily effect your performance. And even if you turn out to be REALLY sensitive, there are other options like low recoil ammo, and add-on pads that can make a big difference.

I can quote you numbers about ft-lbs of thrust etc, but it won't mean anything to you - so let me explain it this way. Whoever you are, you aren't so far away from 'average' that recoil will be different for you than it is for everyone else. Virtually all men, and all but the smallest American women can 'handle' the recoil delivered by a 12 gauge gun. If you're petite, consider a 20 gauge, but don't buy one that's too light, or it might shove you even more than some 12 gauges. And for children or child sized adults, the 28 gauge, is the 'really low recoil' option. But you should be aware that the ammunition costs a fortune, and it's really quite difficult to shoot well when compared to a 20, or 12 gauge.

Some people think starting with a smaller gauge like a 28 gauge, is always a good idea but I disagree. Shotguns are designed to throw a spray of pellets, and the smaller the bore the smaller the pattern. So with a 20 gauge gun it’s harder to hit what you’re shooting than with a 12 gauge, no matter how skilled you are. A 28 gauge is also harder than a 20, and a 410 harder than a 28, and so on. Making it easy to hit what you point your first gun at is a good first concern if you ask me. So for anyone who weighs more than say, 130 lbs or so, I’d strongly recommend a 12 gauge as a first gun. If you’re under that then consider a 20 gauge, but remember that you’re starting with a small disadvantage.

Shotgun Price

As I told my friend, I’m a value for the dollar guy. I don’t think anyone should ever spend a nickel more than they have to when buying a gun. There are manufacturers out there who will build you a custom fitted shotgun to your body measurements and artistic specification and it will run you $75,000. To consider something like that for a first gun is stupid, even if you have the money. Even to think about one of the higher end factory guns seems a little silly to me when you’re still new at shooting. If you consider a Perazzi, or a Krieghoff, or even one of the nicer Beretta’s or Browning’s, you could easily drop $10,000. That makes no sense to me.

The design of gun you buy will affect the price. There are single shot shotguns out there for about $100, but there are many things you can’t do with them (including all the clay shooting sports) so I’d stay away from them if you can afford to. Pump guns are generally the cheapest repeating shotguns out there and can be had brand new from reputable manufacturers for as little as $250. Next are semi-automatic guns, and then the double barrel guns which are the most expensive in comparison. That isn’t to say they are pricey in dollar terms. I commonly shoot a Mossberg Over/Under Double barrel that I paid $400 bucks for. It’s a solid gun that I’ve put 10,000 rounds through without a hiccup. And just this morning I shot with a friend who was shooting a pump gun that cost twice that. In some ways, you’ll get what you pay for. You just want to make sure you’re not paying for features you don’t really want or need.

A Shotgun for Home Defense

In my opinion, the two biggest issues for a home defense shotgun are a short barrel, and a low price. Statistically, it’s unlikely you’ll ever fire a shot in your own home. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a gun in your home if you feel the need, but it does mean that if you do, you probably won’t be using it all that much. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to have a several thousand dollar investment collecting dust under my bed. As for the short barrel, you don’t realize how small your house really is until you’re trying to swing a shotgun in your living room with a 32 inch competition barrel. In close quarters small is always a help.

If you’re buying a gun for home defense alone I’d recommend a Mossberg pump gun. Mossberg doesn’t make a pretty gun, but they have legendary reliability, and the click-clack of the pump is often more than enough to put fear in the hearts of most men. Remington also makes a pump gun with first rate reliability but a slightly higher price. For my money, Mossberg will do everything you need. The US Army loves the Mossberg 500. And if there is one thing the army knows, its how best to go about shooting people. You’re unlikely to use a shotgun for just this purpose, but if you think you will, then I can’t say enough about the Mossberg. No one will ever look down on it.

A Shotgun For Multiple Uses

A single shotgun used for multiple purposes is a tricky business. In fact hunting alone could turn out to be more than one purpose because there’s a big difference between hunting pheasant and hunting deer. Lots of people have just one gun to do all of the above and for use to defend their homes, but there are a number of issues to consider.

The people I know who try to use one gun for everything usually end up buying a semi-automatic shotgun with a medium length barrel - usually in the 26 to 28 inch range. A pump gun is cheaper than a semi, but the semi will give you a second shot just a bit more effortlessly. In that way its better suited to wing shooting where you should be concentrating on your target instead of worrying about short-stroking your pump. A pump can do it, but for the difference in price I think most people find it’s worth it to go with a semi.

When it comes to a semi automatic gun, I’m one of those people who is of a very strong opinion. I can only recommend one design… the recoil actuated semi-automatic shotgun designed by Benelli. There are a great many semi’s out there that use a gas actuated piston to reset the action after each shot. That design, produced by a half dozen manufacturers from Remington and Beretta, to Browning and others, has historically shown wonderful reliability when produced by a manufacturer with a good reputation. But as good as that design may be, it’s a bear to clean and it must be cleaned well in order to remain in good working order.

The Benelli design on the other hand has only 4 moving parts which drop out of the receiver frame without the use of tools. That design is so reliable that I know several guys who own them and have never cleaned theirs. But if they ever decide to, those few parts make it an easy task. It’s a lighting fast system that can handle any size of load, and makes a great all around design for a first shotgun. When the US Marines are issued shotguns, they are Remington or Mossberg pumps. When they buy their own shotguns they buy Benelli semi’s.

Of course brilliance doesn’t come cheap. The top of the line Benelli Semi-Automatic is not inexpensive, but I have a great way around that. A few years back a Turkish company hijacked the Benelli design, and starting building what probably amounted to illegal copies of it. When Benelli heard about it, they didn’t take them to international court; they bought them, and started offering the Turkish gun as a low priced model.

The Stoeger model 2000 has the same fantastically fast and reliable Benelli recoil action, but at a fraction of the Benelli price. It’s not as pretty and slick as the Italian styling of the new Benelli SBE, but it does look exactly like some older Benelli models, and is not unattractive. And in spite of it’s more traditional look, it has the same high performance works under the hood, and it shoots that way. The Stoeger 2000 will typically run you about ½ the price of the Benelli and offer the same functionality. You can find them here for as little as $450 or so. It’s a great buy, maybe the best in the shotgun industry. As a combination hunting and home defense gun I highly recommend it.

Its only weakness is that Benelli has yet to find a manufacturer for the “rifled slug barrel” they’ve been promising for a few years now. A rifled barrel will let you shoot slugs with a shotgun out to about 100 yards with dead shot accuracy. But since Benelli hasn’t gotten their act together, if you go with a Stoeger, then you’ll be forced to shoot slugs through your smoothbore giving you a best case accuracy of about 75 yards.


A Shotgun For Clay Shooting

I’ve never fired a shotgun in a home defense situation. If I exclude the high fence pheasant hunt I do with my friends every year then in the last 7 hunting seasons I’ve fired my shotgun at animals exactly twice. Even if I include it, I’ve probably only fired the gun 35 or 40 times. When hunting you don’t exactly burn through cases of ammo, there’s really no need. But last year on the skeet field at my club, I think I went through about 4,500 rounds of ammo, plus whatever my friends and other guests shot. And that’s the issue that defines the clay shooting sports; there is a lot of actual shooting going on. It’s high volume, over and over and over again. So the gun you select for that purpose should keep that in mind as a first concern.

If you try shooting that kind of volume through a pump gun or a gas driven semi, you’ll spend as much time cleaning that gun as you do shooting it. Even a Benelli or Stoeger Semi will require some careful attention after a while when it’s used that heavily. And while I personally have always felt that cleaning my guns was a zen like experience, sometimes you just have other places to be. So if you want a gun that cleans up quickly and easily, then there are really no bones about it, you want a double barrel gun.

The over under is the slightly more popular double barrel design these days, But in fact the finest grade guns available are almost all side by sides. I think the thing that makes them popular is that with an over under gun you can only see one barrel when you mount it to your shoulder, so it takes less time to get used to the view. In my house we have both. And they can both be used to great effect. No one will ever look down on your for showing up with one or the other. The gun I shoot most often is a Mossberg Silver Reserve Over Under, and my wife’s gun is a Stevens 311 Side by Side.

Double barrel guns cost more than pump guns or semi-automatics. But these days there are imports which are simple, reliable and inexpensive. My Mossberg was made in Turkey (Are you noticing a pattern here”) and Remington imports an over under from Russia which they sell under the Spartan label that I’ve heard people speak well of. Both are sturdy Boxlock designs with shell extractors instead of ejectors. An extractor is a simple device which lifts the shell from the chamber when the gun is opened, but you have to reach down there and remove them yourself. Ejectors are spring loaded mechanical devices that automatically kick the shells free for you. If you’re buying an inexpensive import, I’d stay away from a gun with ejectors since they can sometimes be subject to failure on inexpensive guns. I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re prepared to pay up.

The triggers on double barrel guns also have several options. Many side by side guns have 2 triggers, one for each barrel. This takes some getting used to, but it works perfectly well. If you decide to go with a double trigger gun I’d recommend getting one that has a straight “English style stock”. It makes it slightly easier to adjust your finger for the second trigger. The Steven’s 311 my wife shoots came with double triggers and a pistol grip stock standard, but I replaced it with a straight style stock as a project.

As for the single triggers typical on over under guns, some are what’s called “mechanical” and others are designed to reset on recoil. Mechanical triggers are supposed to be stiffer and therefore less appealing, but I’ve found them to be more reliable in all circumstances so I still prefer them. You aren’t aiming a shotgun, you’re pointing it, so a stiff trigger isn’t so much of a hindrance in my mind. And if you have a gun with recoil triggers and for some reason the first shell doesn’t fire, the second one won’t be able to. With mechanical triggers at least you’ll get off one.

As for where to buy a gun - I do most of my firearm shopping online. In fairness, that might be at least partly because the State of New Jersey has been on a legislative war against legal gun dealers, so there are few left in the state. But even if you live in a state with lots of gun dealers, these online sites can probably save you some scratch.

Gunbroker.com
GunsAmerica.com
AuctionArms.com

Your local laws must all be obeyed of course, buying online won't let you get around the law. But if I can do it in NJ, then I'm quite sure that you can buy online as well. And even with the shipping and transfer fees, I find it cheaper. Basically the process is that your online 'seller' will transfer the gun to a dealer in your state for sale to you. That dealer will complete the paperwork for a fee, and you have your gun. The online auctions will even help you find a dealer near your home - have a look under 'finding an FFL' on the gunbroker.com site above.

With that said though, a shotgun still needs to fit you well. So I would highly recommend that before you buy anything, you go to a local firearms dealer and try them on. Stocks for factory guns all come in slightly differing lengths and sometimes come with space holders which can be added or removed to change the fit. If you need a shorter stock it can usually be cut down to suit you, but extending it is trickier, so the default factory stocks tend to be a little on the longer side. that's usually fine if you're about average size - only the very small or very tall will need much in stock reworking. But I find that most people's tolerance for a poor fit will decrease as their skill with a shotgun increases.

So it's of paramount importance that you go to a local store... pick one up, hold it, mount it, see how it feels tracking an invisible pheasant through the air. It’s really one of the most important aspects of a shotgun purchase. We aren't all built alike, and what suits me perfectly might not work for you. And in the meantime I’ve also had my local dealers agree to match prices that I showed them from the internet, so it might wind up saving you a trip as well.

The shotgun sports are my principle hobby so naturally I have a lot more to say, but unfortunately I lack the time to say it. If you have any other questions, please leave them on the blog and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. After all, it's not exactly tough to get me to offer an opinion on shotguns.

Good Shooting.



%%%% UPDATE - 4/15/2010 %%%%



It's been a while since I wrote this piece and in the intervening 2 years it's been read by tens of thousands of people. I've had plenty of time to think about it and with the exception of cringing at the mis-spellings and the few awkward turns of phrase, I wouldn't change a word. My 'go to' gun is still a Stoeger M2000 for every task except clay shooting, where I reach for my Mossberg Silver Reserve. The one thing I'd like to add though is that in those states that don't allow hunting with rifles (a foolish law which when the data is examined, does not actually add to hunting safety like it's supposed to) you really do have to go with a shotgun with a rifled barrel.

I had an unfortunate incident where in spite of my months of planning, a NJ Black Bear was spooked by another hunter just before before he entered the safe range of my Stoeger. Had I had a rifled barrel gun I'd have had another 20 yards of effective range, and that 400 plus pound Bear would be a carpet in my office right now. That's hunting I suppose. But now that NJ Governor Chris Chistie has ended the psychotically foolish Bear hunting ban that was put in place by ex governor Corzine, I'm going to go buy myself a Mossberg 500 with a rifled barrel.

That's a specialty item... you can't shoot clays or hunt ducks or pheasant with a rifled barrel gun unless you change the barrel. Bird shot fired through a rifled barrel forms a patters with a big donut hole in the middle and in extreme cases can damage the performance of your gun. So it's not nearly as adaptable as a shotgun should be. Hopefully it won't matter to you. In my opinion a rifle is a better hunting tool for virtually all situations, and a rifled barrel shotgun is really just an invention of politics. But if you are forced to cope like I am... you can't go wrong with a Mossberg 500.




%%%%%%%%%%%%UPDATE - 10/18/10%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%


Ok one last update. For those of you trying to decide on an over under, I've had great luck with my Mossberg Silver Reserve. It's held up very well for 20,000 rounds or so, and it's still in excellent condition. It should be good for another 20,000 rounds at least... however....

I was going shooting with a few friends recently and thanks to an unusual turn of events, we found ourselves a little short of firearms. I have an old H&R pump which was given to me by a friend, and it can usually fill the bill as a loaner at times like that. But the last time I lent it to my buddy Vinny he accidentally broke the carrier release spring, and no one makes the parts for that gun anymore. I tried making the spring myself a few times by reverse engineering it. But it’s an odd shape and without a sample to work from I never seemed to manage.

So I did the thing that most men do when they have a friend who wants to borrow a gun and they don’t have one to lend – I used that as an excuse to go and buy myself a new one. This may seem like convoluted logic to everyone who isn't a gun owner. But as strange as it may sound to you non-firearm folk, believe me when I tell you that to us, we people of the gun, a decision like that is not only perfectly natural but absolutely expected. In many case even our wives are conditioned to expect that from us as well.

So last week I got myself a brand new Lanber 2097 12 gauge Sporting shotgun. I’ve fired it exactly twice… that is…I fired it at one outing to break it in, and another a week later. I couldn't be happier with it. Lanber has a reputation for making incredibly durable guns for the price, and for the $700 it cost me, I couldn't be happier with it. It's one step up from the Mossberg, but it's an excellent 'value for the dollar gun.

26 comments:

Tom Connors said...

Tom,
Missed you at the Statesman-Sportsman Shoot.

Good choice on shotguns. I own a Stoeger 2000, two Benelli Nova pumps, a bantam Mossberg 500 and a Mossberg 835. The 835 in my opinion is the best gun for the money. I little heavy and kicks like a mule, but with the short barrel you can use it for home defense, turkey, deer, small game and clays. I've fallen in swamps and rinsed it off and it worked flawlessly. Hunted turkey in the rain. No problem. Switch in the rifled barrell and you have a very accurate slug gun. I think I could use it to paddle a canoe and jack-up my truck.

Tom said...

Sorry Tom... I held out calendar space but you never told me where it was going to be. Another time I hope.

Thanks for the input on the guns. I think I make a good argument, and a low priced gun is better for first time shooters. I've been a Mossberg fan from way back.

I didn't really include anything for teaching a young person, but I do very little of that myself and I prefer to talk about what I actually know.

Tom Connors said...

A Mossberg bantam 500 20 gauge is what our eleven year old shoots. Took two turkeys and a spike last year at the age of ten. It has a short stock, perfect for the young shooter.

My apoligizes for the lack of information regarding the shoot. We had a terrific turnout of legislators. We are making deep inroads on educating the law makers on who the firearm owners, sportsmen and women of this state really are. Next year we will have the event at the Salem County Sportsman's Club. We'll get you down here then.

Anonymous said...

Now I read this fairly quickly, but I think you missed one point of consideration when buying your first shotgun: pump action offers a physical and an audible thrill that the others don't have.

To an old shotgun hand like yourself, the thrill of the pump might not even register. But for a newbie, nothing beats that loud cha-chang! Also, for home defense, if the assailant doesn't take the gun seriously enough at first glance he might reconsider when you pump a shell into the barrel, which will save you from having to waste a perfectly good shell by pulling the trigger.

Doug Santo said...

That was a great post. Very informative.

Doug Santo
Pasadena, CA

John E. said...

Very fine and informative article. I have just one small quibble. You're one of the few who defined properly what shotgun gage actually measures. However you seem to include the .410 in that definition. The .410 is the only exception to the rule, in that .410 is the actual diameter of the barrel rather than the number of balls needed to make a pound. I'm sure you know this, but probably didn't want to get into it. Thanks again for a most useful article.

Punditarian said...

"Such is life in the media business under a capitalist system."

And you think that the reviewers in a socialist system, where they are employed by the publishing branch of the same government that runs the manufacturing branch of the the government, would be any less biased?

You have been living in New Jersey for too long. The anti-free-market crap is rubbing off on you.

Move to freedom!

Citizen Grim said...

I'm currently saving for a Mossberg 590.

Tom said...

A few comments on the comments.

To John E. Yeah I did know that about the .410 measurement difference but I figured since I'm really talking about 12 and 20 gauge guns, why quibble. In the main piece I thought it was distracting to mention so I left it out. Good to have the additional color in the comments though thanks.

To Punditarian, believe me when I say this, you will never find anyone who more embraces and endorses capitalism more fervently than I do. If you don't believe me, read the rest of my stuff. Just because someone uses the word doesn't mean there has to be a negative connotation to it, and sometimes "not very good" is as good as it gets.

And to the anonymous poster commenting on the click-clack of a pump gun, I did mention it briefly as a deterrent in a home defense situation. I have a pump gun and it's a reliable shooter, but you only have to short stroke the thing once or twice before that tactile thrill wears off. I'm not dissing them, they're a really great and very inexpensive design. But with any luck you'll still own your first gun long after the thrill of working the action is gone, and when that time comes there might be better options for the shooting you're taking on.

One last thing I failed to mention in the piece is that the reason double barrel shotguns are so much easier to clean is because all the works are shut away from the messy business of shooting. Unless something is really wrong with your gun, only the barrel and a bit of the receiver get any dirt on them at all, and those are easily wiped down in minutes.

All the best and thanks for the comments.

PN NJ said...

A new shooter might also want to consider using a pump gun with reduced recoil ammo. However, reduced recoil ammo is usually not a good choice for a semi-auto gun.

Tom said...

Personally I disagree about low recoil ammo. People who are just starting out aren't going to do their own reloading, and commercial low recoil loads usually cost more than the Wal-Mart specials that I buy. I'm a value for the dollar guy, and I don't think it makes such a big difference to make it worth the price. If it's a young shooter starting out, then maybe that's one thing, but for an adult I don't think it's really necessary. Fair point though.

PN NJ said...

I'm cheap too. I buy low recoil Fiocchi shotshell from Midway USA, the ammo is fine, and the price is pretty good.

Anonymous said...

As a "lefty" looking for a first shot gun, I am concerned with the shell ejection throwing out across my face and have been considering the Browning BPS since it throws the shells downward. Any advice about the importance of having the shells ejecting downward as opposed to a typical shotgun? Any experience with the Browning BPS guns?

Brian D.

Tom said...

As a matter of fact I shoot lefty as well. My Benelli is right handed as is my pump gun and it's never been a problem for me. When I bring newbie’s to the range I'll occasionally use my Benelli to shoot at 4 birds at once (2 doubles... the second launched "on report") just for fun. I never even notice the shell ejection. I've read about people complaining about it, but it's never been a distraction to me. I would imagine it would matter even less in a pump gun.

The BPS is certainly a time tested design, but in my opinion you're spending somewhere between an additional $150 and $250 on the name. That's OK I suppose, but it seems a waste to me.

Anonymous said...

I vote for a nice solid Remington 870 Express Magnum 7 shot. Here is why:
http://www.remington.com/images/products/firearms/shotgun/smsil_870expsyn7.jpg

Out of the box, 7 shots with the factory magazine extension tube.

You can purchase a good solid 26" barrel and take off the mag extension to use it as a skeet/clay/duck gun.

You can also buy a rifled barrel for it and shoot slugs for deer. Even mount a scope if you see fit.

I have one with Hogue stock and forearm and do not regret it.

Base 870 7shot express magnum is like $300 most places. Extra barrels are only $150 - $250.

Tom said...

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve bought one, but these days an out of the box Remington 870 is about $575, a little more than that with the options you suggest. With that said, an 870 is a great gun, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about one. It has the strengths and weaknesses of any pump, but no manufacturer has a better reputation than Remington, and for good reason.

All the same though, I think there are ways the frugal gun buyer can get all the functionality they need without paying that much. It’s a first rate gun, with a first rate price tag. For that money, there are lots of other options which I think are worth it.

aczarnowski said...

The upper $500s you mention are for the 870 wingmasters I believe. Express 870s commonly run in the $300 range around central MN. Law enforcement models are somewhere in between the two.

Get what you pay for of course. I've heard, but not seen, that the internals of the express models have lower fit and finish.

Thanks for the Stoeger mention. I'm on the hunt for an under-bed defense gun and I can't fine a shorty barrel I like for my 870 wingmaster (nobody sells short and blued rem barrels and a mossy replacement didn't chamber reliably). That M2000 might be just the ticket.

Janamo said...

Hi Tom,
What would you recommend for a varmit gun? I am a sturdy middle-aged woman but-- would rather not buy a shotgun with a big kick.
Your article was helpful. Thanks.

Tom said...

Janamo,

In gun culture vernacular, a “varmint gun” has a very specific meaning. The phrase describes a small caliber flat shooting rifle that’s designed for extreme accuracy. The idea is that it’s really for cleaning out prairie dogs and such that must be hit at a distance. But I take you mean something different in your question. If you’re shooting fairly close range rodents and snakes and such just for the purpose of disposing of them, then I see no reason why you can’t go with a 20 gauge gun. I wouldn’t really go smaller than that. The recoil from a 20 gauge is kitten gentle with most gun and shell combinations, and in my mind is really nothing to be concerned about. In fact if it’s your only use then you might want to seriously consider the ultra-inexpensive single barrel design. Harrington and Richardson (H&R) have built an entire business around the single barrel design. They can be had new for about $100 and less if used. They are as simple a design as there is so there is almost nothing to go wrong, so you could probably buy used with confidence if it look OK. Many of their models will also allow you to swap out the barrel for another gauge or even a rifle barrel. You can see them at the website:

http://www.hr1871.com/Firearms/Shotguns/topper.asp

I have an H&R Topper in my safe that was given to me by my dad. It’s from the 50’s and has never misfired.

The other option would be to go with a pump gun made by a reputable manufacturer. That’s still not too expensive.

The one thing you might want to consider carefully is the kind of shot you’ll be using. For something rabbit (or rattlesnake) sized I’d recommend about a #4 shot. I didn’t discuss shot sizes, but basically the lower the number, the larger the actual projectile. And the larger the projectile, the fewer of them you’ll have in each shot. Others have written on this extensively. You also might want to look up “shotgun chokes” which are really a way of setting the effective range of a shotgun. Too much choke and your pattern will be too small so you’ll miss. Too little, and the shot pattern will spread out too much and be ineffective. It’s a little too complicated an issue to raise here, but google it and you’ll get your questions answered.

Best of luck.

Janamo said...

Tom,

Thanks very much for your reply re a varmit shotgun. The varmits in question--problematic coons & skunks. They're good sized here in Texas. :)
A 20 gauge sounds like what I'm looking for.
Am reading about the choke...there's much to learn..

Want to check out the various manufacturers, but don't want to be too naive when I do--a mid priced pump sounds fun.
I enjoy your comments. Keep writing.

Janamo

Anonymous said...

I have freind that has a 12 gauge he got from his dad, forget what company made it but I think it was a Remingtion, that can slam fire and it is amazing how fast it shoots for a pump action. I want to know if I should get a shotgun that is capable of slam firing or should stick to the other ones that have a trigger dissconect. I've heard that slam firings bad for the rifle anyway but it was really cool.

Tom said...

For those unfamiliar with vernacular of gun culture, slam firing is where you hold the trigger down and the pump gun will refire every time you cycle the pump. It’s one of those things that looks kinda cool in video games and impresses testosterone addled pre-pubescent boys. But it’s extremely dangerous and would be horribly irresponsible in a ‘real world’ setting. Personally I’d recommend against even trying it, and if you’re going to try it, please let me know so I can be somewhere far away when you do. My opinion is that you should leave the ‘slam firing’ to the Bruce Willis movies and Call of Duty 4. It’s not like you’re ever going to be able to hit anything like that anyway.

The only time I can ever imagine ‘slam firing’ being a benefit is under certain (probably quite rare) circumstances in a military combat setting. And if that’s your concern, you’ll have professional shooting instructors tell you the right way to do things long before you actually get there.

Lyndsy said...

I've always been fond of the Remington 870 as a first shotgun. One of my friends recently did a Remington 870 Review, actually - it's by far the most versatile gun for a new shooter, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I have been hearing over the course of a few years of people having troubles with the Mossberg Silver Reserve. Seems the firing pins are breaking. Has anyone else heard this? I'm still trying to decide on either the Stoger 2000 or the Uplander... Opinions???

Tom said...

Mossberg's Turkish partner had a recall for some of the firing pins which were made from inferior steel and subject to breaking. My didn't break but I responded to the recall anyway and got new ones. The whole thing was done at zero cost to me, and was handled by Mossberg's first rate customer support without issue.

The problem has since been corrected in the production guns, and to my knowledge no one else is reporting any issue with them. I put about 5,000 rounds through mine with the original firing pins, and about 4,500 since the swap.

But if you can only buy one gun I'd really say that you should go with the M2000 and not the uplander. The uplander feels like a 2x4 to me. It's not my first choice for an inexpensive double barrel. The M2000 on the other hand feels first rate.

Anonymous said...

Extremely well written and informative from a shotgun newbie.