Semi-auto shotguns under £1500.
With the driven shooting season over, now is the time of year when semi-auto shotguns come into their own. A perennial favourite with wildfowlers and gamekeepers alike, they are also a great choice for pigeon shooting and clay shooting.
Hopefully, a bit of warmer weather will mean your shooting need not be restricted until September. As you will no doubt be aware, these guns are frowned upon by traditional driven game shooters.
This is most likely down to a desire to preserve the traditions of British game shooting, of which appearance is most readily observed. Certainly, semiautomatic shotguns are not as pretty as an English sidelock.
I also believe safety can be a concern: given that the gun cannot be broken open, it can be difficult to judge whether it is safe. However, the reality is these guns are very safe and mechanically sturdy.
Just because they would not be welcome on the peg at high pheasant shoots is not reason enough to discount them entirely. Indeed, semi-autos are hugely popular amongst American sportsmen, and for good reason: being single-barrel weapons they are light and pointable, and enjoy far less recoil.
Their extended capacity for holding cartridges is also most useful, though of course in Britain the magazine must be modified so the gun can hold no more than three cartridges simultaneously; two in the magazine and one in the chamber.
A GUN FOR ALL REASONS
For British sportsmen a semi-auto would suit quite specific purposes: wildfowling and pigeon shooting, and shooting with significantly reduced recoil for those with injury, illness or disability.
Semi-autos are quite widely used by serious wildfowlers, especially since the ban on the use of lead over water.
Most makers of semi-auto shotguns can supply guns with 3½” chambers, which will take Super Magnum steel loads, explaining their popularity. You should be careful not to use more than ½ (modified) choke in the barrel when using steel, as this shot will not deform in the same way as lead and may cause irreparable damage to the barrel.
A name that has, perhaps, come to be synonymous with semi-auto shotguns is Remington. Many of the top clay shots used Remington guns in the 1970s, the Autoloading Model 1100 being particularly popular. Their guns are still widely used by competitive shots today.
Guns by Winchester are also very popular amongst competitive shots and their SX3 shotgun is currently used by Patrick Flanigan, who used it to set a number of world records, including firing 12 rounds in 1.42 seconds.
More recently Beretta, Benelli and Browning have produced their own ranges of very successful semi-auto shotguns.
There are many more basic guns with examples from Escort, Webley and Franchi. For a good basic semi-auto shotgun I would recommend the Escort, imported by Edgars.
The warranty and back-up service they offer is second to none.
Escort manufacture good, straightforward guns, and their semi-auto comes with multi-choke and a choice of wooden or synthetic stocks. It would be a good gun for pigeon shooting or wildfowling, being very robust and simple to use, with no frills or complications on the action.
If you do decide to buy a semi-auto shotgun try to avoid over-oiling its action and internals. Of course, you must clean your gun regularly, paying particular attention to the portholes and the barrels, but over-oiling can cause mechanical problems and is a common mistake.
Also bear in mind if you are left-handed you must ensure you buy a left-handed gun to ensure spent cartridges are ejected away from your face when you are shooting.
BERETTA 391 TEKNYS STONECOAT £1,430
Probably the best known name in gun making, Beretta make an excellent range of semiautomatic guns.
I would recommend a gun from the Teknys range, which are available with various barrel lengths and with a 2.1/2″ chamber.
Semi-autos from Beretta have a slightly unusual method of reloading whereby you must first operate a catch so the receiver stays back in the action for the first cartridge to be placed in the chamber.
Only after this can the remaining cartridges be loaded into the magazine. These guns use the gas produced from the firing of a cartridge for reloading.
The special self-compensating and self-cleaning gas assembly is capable of venting excess gas from more powerful cartridges to prevent wearing, as well as using all of the products of cartridges with a lighter load.
Do not be alarmed if you spot holes in the barrel or fore-end of gas-operated guns, as these are necessary for the reloading system to function. Like all Beretta guns, their range of semi-autos can be had in sporting and field specification, and are well constructed.
They use good wood and are well finished, though you should not expect much decoration. What you will get is a gun that handles and shoots extremely well, with very little felt recoil, that would be ideal for long forays in the field.
BENELLI SUPER BLACK EAGLE II £1,323
Benelli offer a huge range of semi-auto shotguns which come in a variety of grades and materials. A great variety in choke size and barrel lengths means choosing the right gun from Benelli can be bewildering for the unprepared.
The Super Black Eagle II is one of the most popular guns Benelli produces.
The finish seen here is not the only one available; you can also have the gun in black, with synthetic stock and fore-end, or with Realtree or Advantage camouflage across the whole gun.
The bolt mechanism is inertia driven, very much like what one might find in automatic rifles.
It is hugely reliable and is capable of accepting 2.3/4″ – 3.1/2″ magnum ammunition with no adjustments.
This system is lighter than gas-based systems, meaning the gun is well balanced and excellent to shoot. Along with multi choke and adjustable shins that can alter the cast and bend on the stock, the Super Black Eagle II has been adjusted to dramatically reduce recoil.
Benelli claim their ComforTech system reduces recoil up to 48% on guns where it is fitted. They also claim their guns weigh on average 13 – 15% less than their competitors’.
BROWNING FUSION EVOLVE £1,062
A gun from Browning is always likely to be a good choice, and their newest semi-auto, the Fusion Evolve, is no different. Its action operates on a very similar system to Beretta, being driven by the gas expelled from a cartridge after it has been fired.
The Active Valve System works independently of the piston, increasing efficiency and reducing wear. Like the Beretta system, gas is used to recycle the action or is ejected depending on the amount produced, allowing various loads to be used in the same gun.
This gun features a special back-bored barrel which is extremely strong and rigid. The barrel itself is easily changed, meaning the gun is very adaptable and would be ideal if you are planning on shooting a wide variety of quarry.
This gun has an innovative system for loading, which is fast and extremely safe. This gun has excellent balance and would be suited to clay shooting as well as live quarry, featuring Invecta Plus chokes.
The gun features more decoration than most semi-auto guns, with well-figured wood, engraving and gold inlays.