In the US pump-action shotguns are common, but in the UK they haven't really caught on. Is it time for a rethink?
We British are a traditional bunch. Only in recent years have we finally accepted the presence of over-and-under shotguns on driven shoots. If you turned up at a shoot with a semi-auto or pump-action you would probably be asked to leave because it is considered somewhat unsporting to use three shots on game birds. A lot of clay grounds don’t like pump-action shotguns because they spit cartridges all over the place and, like semi-autos, it’s difficult to tell if a gun is unloaded.
However, the pump-action does have its place in the UK. Limited to three rounds on a UK shotgun certificate, the pump, like the semi-auto, has the advantage of that extra shot up the barrel that double-barrelled shotguns don’t have.
Why use pump-action shotguns?
So why use a pump-action over a semi-auto?
There are two main advantages of a pump-action.
- Semi-autos can be cartridge fussy. If the cartridge is too light to cycle the action on inertia-operated guns, then the gun won’t fire the second or third shot. A pump-action is cycled manually, so it doesn’t matter what load cartridge is used.
- A pump-action is easier to clean than a semi-auto with its intricate gas parts. If you neglect to clean a semi-auto properly you will soon run into reliability issues.
A pump-action is often more robust and reliable than a semi-auto, but there are downsides to using one. It’s slower to cycle the action than a semi-auto or a double-barrelled gun. Also, to reload you need to ‘pump’ the fore-end, which can cause you to come off aim if you require a follow–up shot. In addition, some people don’t pull the fore-end back far enough (known as a short stroke) and the gun doesn’t load or cock. Finally, a semi-auto’s action will soak up the recoil on heavy load and magnum cartridges, which a pump-action won’t.
A three-shot pump-action is a good and reliable alternative to a semi-auto and you would use it in circumstances such as pigeon shooting, wildfowling or general pest control. The pump-action is more robust and reliable and allows you to use a wider variety of cartridges. Mossberg and Benelli are well known for their pump-actions, as is Winchester with its SXP, said to be one of the fastest-cycling pumps on the market.
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Pump-actions are great value for money. Prices start from around £350 new, with calibres ranging from .410 to 12 and 20-bore. With guns that cheap you don’t have to worry too much about dropping them on the salty marshlands or in a dusty crop field. As long as you look after it, a pump-action will give years of service.