Semi-autos rule the roost, but there is demand for pump-actions as well
Duck and goose hunters demand performance from their shotguns. Their guns must deliver heavy loads of shot reliably in the harshest conditions. Sell the right gun to a waterfowler and you can earn a customer who will be back time and again for ammunition, clothing, and gear throughout waterfowl seasons, which run almost non-stop from Canada geese and teal in September to snow geese in early spring.
When hunters come to you for waterfowl shotguns, here’s what you need to know.
Most waterfowl hunters want semi-auto shotguns. Most, but not all, who buy pumps hope to trade up to a semi-auto someday. Although there are some very good pumps made, the budget, entry-level models will be most popular. Over/unders are rarely seen in the marsh.
Gas or Inertia
Both semi-auto actions have their fans. In a nutshell, inertia guns are more reliable in bad weather and don’t get as dirty as gas guns, but they kick more. Gas guns offer noticeable recoil reduction, and the best of them are almost as reliable as inertia guns; they do require more maintenance, though. Be ready to explain the advantages of each. The hardcore hunter who goes every day and rarely cleans guns may prefer inertia, while the hunter who would like to use the same gun for doves and clays is better off with a gas gun.
The 3-inch 12-gauge will serve for all but long-range goose hunting. A 3½-inch gun costs a couple of hundred dollars more than the same gun with a 3-inch chamber, and 3½ recoil can be stout. That’s the case for a 3-inch 12-gauge, but understand that many hunters want the option of shooting 3½-inch shells whether they ever actually shoot them or not. They may also want to use the gun for spring turkeys with 3½-inch shells.
The 10-gauge has a small but loyal cult following, but there are only two 10s currently on the market. Unless you live in an area where Canada geese are king, you probably don’t have to stock 10s.
Twenty gauges have grown in popularity lately among experienced hunters, and they have always been the first gun of young waterfowlers, so you’ll want to have full- and youth-size 20s in your inventory. As more women come into the sport, the temptation for many retailers is to sell them a 20. However, unless your female customer is tiny, she’s probably better off with a 12-gauge gas gun, which will be soft-shooting and much more effective on game.
Never mind that our fathers killed birds with walnut-stocked guns. Most hunters now want synthetic, either in black or a camo pattern. Black guns usually sell for $100 less than camo. While camo looks cool to today’s hunters, a strong selling point of camo dipping is that it protects steel parts from external rust.
Guns get lighter every year, with many now under 7 pounds. It’s easy to sell a gun that seems to fly to the hunter’s shoulder when they try it out, and I won’t tell you to argue with them. The truth, though, is that heavy guns of 8 pounds or so are easier to shoot and absorb recoil better; lightweight 3½-inch guns can kick brutally. If a hunter mostly hunts ducks but wants the option of the occasional 3½-inch shell, let him buy a light gun. A goose hunter who plans to shoot a lot of heavy magnums will be happier with a heavier gun in the long run.
A 28-inch barrel is the most popular barrel length, though some hunters choose 26 or even 24 inches. The old standard 30-inch barrel is rare. Barrel length has to do entirely with balance and very little with ballistics or sighting plane. Shooters hardly ever wish they had bought a shorter barrel, but often wish they had bought a longer one. Push the 28-inch barrels.
Many semi-autos and a few pumps come with shim kits to adjust stock dimensions. Some guns also offer adjustable length of pull by means of spacer kits. Not only does that simplify the chore of altering synthetic stock length, which can be tricky, it allows a hunter to shorten a stock to accommodate heavier clothing in the late season. If you can learn how to perform an in-store fitting, you’ll be offering a service big boxes can’t match.
What To Sell
Here’s a cheat sheet on the waterfowl shotguns your customers will be asking for:
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3: The new Super Black Eagle 3 has been slimmed down and lightened, and features an improved recoil-reduction system. It also has a bolt that eliminates the “Benelli click” misfire that occurs when the bolt is nudged out of battery. SRP: $1,799–$1,899. (benelliusa.com)
Beretta A400 Xtreme: Beretta’s flagship 3½-inch semi-auto is the last word in gas-gun technology. It’s reliable and soft-shooting and comes with a very effective Kick-Off recoil reducer in the stock and a slick magazine cap that comes off with just a half-turn. SRP: $1,750, black; $1,900, camo. (beretta.com)
Beretta A300: One of the best deals in a gas gun on the market, the A300 is a 3-inch gun based on the discontinued Beretta 391. SRP: $800, black; $900, walnut and camo. (beretta.com)
Franchi Affinity: The Franchi line (owned by Benelli) features inertia guns at a much lower price point. The Affinity also now comes in a Catalyst version with a stock designed for women. SRP: $849–$999. (franchiusa.com)
Browning Maxus: Browning’s top-of-the-line gas gun comes in 3- and 3½-inch versions and features low recoil, a unique forend latch in place of a magazine cap, and a “turnkey” plug that can be removed and replaced almost instantly. SRP: $1,379–$1,659. (browning.com)
Browning A5: An inertia gun with the humpback profile of the classic Auto 5, the new A5 is lightweight, reliable, and available in 3- and 3½-inch versions. SRP: $1,499–$,1759. (browning.com)
Winchester SX4: Re-plac-ing the popular SX3 gas gun, the SX4 is more or less the same gun at a lower price, thanks to manufacturing efficiencies. It also has a safety, bolt handle, and closer button. SRP: $799–$1,069. (winchesterguns.com)
Remington VersaMax: The softest-shooting gas gun around, thanks to its heft and a unique gas system, the VersaMax makes a good choice for hunters who shoot lots of 3½-inch shells. A no frills “Sportsman” is an excellent deal in a 3½-inch magnum. SRP: $1,069–$1,664. (remington.com)
Remington V3: Patterned after the VersaMax, the V3 is a 3-inch semi-auto that fills the shoes of the legendary 11-87. Very reliable, rugged, and easy to clean, it’s a very good buy in a gas gun. SRP: $895–$995. (remington.com)
Browning BPS: A well-made, high-quality gun, the BPS costs more than most pumps. Left-handed shooters love the BPS for its bottom ejection and top safety. Also available in 10-gauge and full-size and compact 20-gauge. SRP: $699–$949. (browning.com)
Remington 870 Express: Remington’s classic pump comes in several versions suitable for waterfowlers, from the low-priced base model to a full-camo, 3½-inch Super Magnum. Also in 20-gauge full-size and compact versions. SRP: $417–$629. (remington.com)
Mossberg 930 & 935: Mossberg offers its 3- and 3½-inch semi-autos in an impressive Pro Series waterfowler model with corrosion-resistant internal parts and stainless springs. SRP: $874–$959. (mossberg.com)
Mossberg 835: The first 3½-inch 12-gauge ever made, the 835 has a near 10-gauge diameter barrel for superior patterns with big shot. SRP: $518–$604. (mossberg.com)
Benelli Nova: With a one-piece polymer stock and receiver, the Nova is a durable, heavy, and slick 3½-inch pump gun. Also available in 20-gauge. SRP: $449–$559. (benelliusa.com)
Weatherby SA-08: This lightweight and inexpensive Turkish-made gas gun has nothing but satisfied owners. In 3-inch 12-gauge and full-size and compact 20- gauge. SRP: $649–$749, camo. (weatherby.com)
Chokes, Slings, and Cases
Most waterfowl guns come with sling swivels, so it makes sense to keep a selection of slings in stock. Avery’s (averyoutdoors.com) neoprene slings are popular among hunters. I like the Quake (quakeinc.com) rubber Claw slings. Floating gun cases (bandedbrands) are another good accessory to keep in stock, as are magazine plugs.
Waterfowl hunters love choke tubes almost as much as turkey hunters do, and they make a good upsell with a new gun. Patternmaster (patternmaster.com) are probably the most popular, but Kick’s High Flyers (kicks-ind.com), Carlson Cremators (choketube.com), and Brileys (briley.com) also sell well. Instead of being sold by constriction, most are labeled by purpose, such as “over decoys” (usually a Light Modified) or “pass shooting/long range” (Improved Modified). Most hunters want the tightest choke they can get, but really they should have two—an open choke and tight choke.