Reliable shotguns for under £3000
Reliable shotguns don't have to break the bank, as Jonny Carter discovers when he tests five very versatile guns worth under £3000
The shotgun market is an ever-changing beast, with new brands and price points coming to the fore every year. To that effect, it’s interesting to me that a decade ago I spent every day referring to some of these models as entry-level. It’s not just that my perspective may have changed, but nowadays a reliable over-and-under can be purchased new for well under £1,000, and with inflation happening to everything but wages, these guns are now more ‘mid-market’ than before. Do not fear however, I think they still represent good value for very versatile guns.
Beretta Silver Pigeon I Sport
In no particular order, here are my top new mid-market all-rounders, starting with the Silver Pigeon I Sport. Where would a list like this be without a 680 series Beretta present? This design is over 40 years old, and is hands down one of the most reliable, easy to work on guns out there. I’d hazard a guess that the platform has won more shoots of all sizes and even maybe hunted more birds in than the others on the list.
This gun is great for a number of reasons, the first which is how common it is. Every gunsmith in the UK will be able to diagnose problems with ease and fix them almost blindfolded with parts they likely have in stock.
The next is just how bombproof this design is. If you buy a new Silver Pigeon, it is very likely that it will still be in service 50 or even 100 years from now. Every wearing part on the gun is replaceable with multiple oversized parts, to keep the gun tight and functioning with relatively little investment.
Why this particular model, when so many others exist in the range? Well for me, this offers everything to be able to shoot clays well, without taking anything away from its ability to go after birds. The silver action sports a basic scroll engraving, and the barrels are available in multiple lengths with an 8–10mm top rib, which I do prefer to the thin game one. The stock is plain but comes with good measurements to build from.
This is a gun I would recommend to anyone and not feel like they would be disappointed. If you really want something sweet, the 20-bore version comes with one of the nicest palm swells out there. (Read more on the different Beretta Silver Pigeon models here.)
Second on the list, but perhaps equal to the first, is the Miroku MK38. This is a serious bit of kit with a reputation to match, holding Commonwealth medals to its name as well as many hearts. There is no dedicated gun owner like a Miroku owner — just ask Simon Garnham.
This gun has legendary handling characteristics, brilliant off-the-shelf stock specs and has been used by many great shooters at certain parts of their shooting journeys, and it is still used by many top Shots today. It’s a sure bet for what it costs new, representing one of the best value for money guns on the market.
This design of gun is arguably just as reliable as the Silver Pigeon, but the costs of rebuilds when it gets a little tired are significantly more. That said, most folk won’t shoot it enough to get it in that state.
The only thing not to like — and this is personal preference — is that this gun is based on Browning’s Superposed, which leaves it taller and wider than the Beretta and also gives it that rather unique ‘clack’ noise upon closing. This develops as the gun breaks in. I love these factors but some prefer a smaller framed gun.
I owned and shot a MK38 as my main gun for years and remain a big fan to this day.
Rizzini BR110 Sporter
Number three is the oddball of the group, the Rizzini BR110 Sporter. Although this gun doesn’t get the recognition of the bigger brands, the action is still a tried-and-tested 40- year old design, so deserves the same respect as the others. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Rizzini BR110 Sporter is built in Italy in the same valley as Beretta, by a company with a long history of good value, reliable guns. The 110 Sporter is no exception, offering the highest specs for your money of these five guns.
It features a matt-black Cerakote action with plain logo engraving, 28in, 30in or 32in multichoke barrels with extended forcing cones and a tapered top rib. The grade two Turkish walnut stock has attractive 26-line per inch chequering and a deep palm-swelled pistol grip. The gun is available with a without adjustable comb, but having tried both, the adjustable is a must. Of course, being a Rizzini there is an option for a completely custom stock — but that optional extra puts this gun out of our budget. This gun is more of a gamble if you’re looking for other people’s approval, but if you’re looking for a well-built gun with the specifications of a £4,000 gun, you would not be disappointed with this.
Browning B725 S1 Sporter
This list wouldn’t be complete without a Browning, would it? There are a few choices to go for in our price bracket, but the B725 S1 Sporter is the one I would go for. It hits a lot of the points I looked for in the other guns with its reliable mechanism, good stock measurements and good palm swell, but these are ingredients in a gun’s recipe for success so are not worth overlooking. This gun isn’t really a looker, not many on this list are, but at the price point it’s worth pouring every penny into shootability and reliability — engraving can come with your next upgrade.
The 725 is smaller in the frame than the Browning 525 and MK38, which does give it a more modern feel with its lower centre of gravity. It also has a mechanical trigger with noticeably improved trigger-pulls over the 525.
Do trigger-pulls and palm swells really matter? “If you’re not a great shooter, probably not,” is the sort of answer I would give in person. That said, each of the features help give a small improvement when stacked together. Good triggers will break exactly when you ask them to, very handy for those more instinctive shots. A palm swell will force you to have a correct hand position as well as helping regulate felt recoil. All other little features such as these are not worth overlooking; these gunmakers spend a fortune proving they work before claiming they do so.
Caesar Guerini Tempio
The award for the prettiest gun on the list goes to the Guerini Tempio and it’s also the only dedicated game gun. Everything I have said above will count for a high percentage of shooters, but it would be wrong not to think about those who prefer something less logical.
The Caesar Guerini Tempio has a 3in chamber in its 12-bore offering. The low-profile receiver sports attractive engraving and a ‘French grey’ finish. The stock is the highest grade of our offerings, has a handrubbed oil finish and comes with a Prince of Wales grip that complements the gun’s schnabel fore-end.
This gun isn’t all looks. It’s a very well-finished gun with great barrel technology, fantastic action machining and finishing and a bunch of optional extras such as balancing weights. The gun is the lightest in the list at 7lb 8oz, which can be topped up if you choose the balancing weight option.
One of my favourite features on this gun is the hand-fitted wooden butt plate, perhaps not the most forgiving of things but a very classy addition. To top it all off, it comes with Caesar Guerini UK’s 10-year mechanical warranty, giving great peace of mind. Interestingly, this gun invokes a lot more emotion than the others on the list, making it easy to see why many folk opt for looks and emotion over raw practicality.
Whichever you choose, you would not be disappointed. Guns are such personal things, with fit, balance and aesthetic preferences changing wildly from shooter to shooter. There is obviously a recipe that makes a gun good to shoot, but as the owner of many guns that are nowhere near perfect yet fill me with joy, I can fully understand if you just like something for the sake of it. As always, buy what makes you happy but be aware that sometimes that means you’ll have to put your aspirations of being a God-like Shot on hold.