(Originally published in Fall 2019 issue of California Waterfowl)
BY PHIL BOURJAILY
Waterfowl guns grow more reliable, more user friendly and more weatherproof by the year. Cerakoted metals and enlarged controls that make guns more weather resistant and more user-friendly in the cold have crossed over from 3-gun competition to become almost standard, as you’ll see on many of the guns here.
There are a couple of upland bird guns here, too, as well as a target gun you could also take to the blind.
Twenty gauges grow more popular among waterfowlers every year, and not just those belonging to 20 gauge-only clubs. As people discover there’s little a 20 can’t do at decoying ranges, they leave their 12s at home in favor of small bores. Recognizing this trend, Benelli gives its excellent M2 semiauto the Performance Shop treatment. The gun comes with three Rob Roberts chokes, enlarged bolt handle, bolt closer and safety as well as a durable Cerakote finish on metal parts and Optifade Marsh camo on the furniture. Like all M2s it has the recoil-reducing ComforTech stock and Benelli’s reputation for running smoothly in all conditions.
A lot of manufacturers take an existing gun, lengthen the barrel, write “Sporting” on the side and call it a clays gun. Benelli made big changes to the 828U field gun to beef it up for the clays course, starting with a steel receiver in place of the field model’s alloy frame and a bulkier target-style stock. The gun includes an in-stock balancer system and an in-stock recoil reducer that works. It’s also the only O/U that comes with stock shims to adjust its dimensions. With its 3-inch chamber, this is a gun you could take from the gun club to the duck club.
Beretta’s A400 Xtreme is the gold standard among 3½-inch gas guns. It’s reliable, soft shooting, runs forever between cleanings, and the ones I’ve shot cycle everything from 3½-inch turkey loads to sub-1-ounce reloads. The new Plus version features a stepped rib, enlarged bolt handle and release, a cut-away loading port, and it adds a soft comb to the already effective Kick-Off recoil reducer. It also has the best magazine cap ever, a sort of child-resistant cap that comes off with a push and a half turn, and is high visibility green inside in case you drop it in the water. New for this year are several new camo patterns, including an all-white Kryptek Wraith camo for the snow-goose obsessed, as well as Realtree Timber.
Starting at $1,750 in basic black. berettausa.com
My personal favorite new gun at the 2019 SHOT Show betrays my upland hunting roots: I mean, you could take the Citori Super Light Feather into a duck blind, but why? It’s a classic upland gun. An alloy receiver keeps the weight down to around six and a quarter pounds with 28-inch barrels, making it perfect for carrying all day but not too light to shoot well. The oil-finished stock has a straight grip and Schnabel forend and the receiver is silvered; trim, light and well-balanced, this gun is as good looking as it is functional. And, 16 gauges pattern well and ooze class, too.
New from CZ comes the 1012 inertia-operated semiauto. Available at first only as a 12 gauge with a 28-inch barrel, the 1012 is light, as inertia guns tend to be, weighing just 6 ½ pounds. It comes with five chokes and a choice of black, gray or bronze receiver in the walnut stocked model. In addition, both black synthetic and camo stocked versions are available. Although the guns are too new to have built up a track record in the field, CZ ran test models through a 5,000 round, no oil, no cleaning, torture protocol and the guns neither malfunctioned nor did they break any parts.
$659 in walnut CZ-USA.com
A huge favorite among hunters back when we had tons of pheasants where I live, the Bobwhite, like our birds, went away. Our birds came back a little, but the Bobwhite came back better than ever. Re-engineered and now called the G2, it boasts a slimmed-down receiver and new internal parts, while retaining the classic straight grip/two trigger/extractors configuration of the original. The G2 comes in 12, 20 and 28, each built on its own scaled frame and all with 28-inch barrels. The guns come with five steel-friendly choke tubes, satin-finished wood and black chrome metal.
Starting at $655 CZ-USA.com
Remington’s 3-inch 12 gauge V3 has proven itself to me as a very reliable gas gun even in cold Iowa temperatures you will never see during a California duck season (and you should be glad about that, believe me). It’s easy to maintain – when you need to maintain it, which is rarely – it’s soft-shooting and it cycles everything. It’s one of the semiautos I recommend to people shopping for a first, all-around gun. The new Waterfowl Pro version adds enlarged controls and a Cerakote finish, which is especially welcome, as the bead-blasted metal finish of the basic black V3 I have rusts easily if you don’t wipe it down when wet. The V3 comes in three color phases of camo and Cerakote, has a 28-inch barrel and sells
for $1,195. Remington.com
Following the current trend of enlarged controls and Cerakote finishes, Franchi turns its inertia gun into a waterfowl special, except they call it an “Elite” in 3 and 3½, 12 gauge and 20 gauge. Trim and light even in 3½ inch 12 gauge, the Affinities feature stepped ribs and fiber-optic sights as well as extended choke tubes. The downside of lightweight inertia guns is recoil, but the soft TSA pad on these guns helps tame the kick of heavy loads. The 12 gauges have 28-inch barrels, the 20s have 26-inch tubes and all gauges come in either Optifade Marsh or Timber patterns with tan or gray Cerakoted metal.
Starting at $1,249 franchiusa.com
How to put this tactfully? I saw the 3500 Waterfowler at SHOT Show and couldn’t believe it was a Stoeger. The gun dresses up very nicely in the new duck gun uniform of camo and Cerakote, big bolt handle and closer, extended chokes and this model even has paracord sling. Beneath all that it’s an inertia gun along the lines of those made famous by parent company Benelli, but at a much lower price. I have only shot these guns on the range but California Waterfowl editor Holly Heyser put one through its paces in Manitoba last fall and tells me it did everything a waterfowl gun needs to do. Although she and I both would gripe about the non-reversible safety button, that won’t matter to the vast right-handed majority.
Another top choice in a 20 gauge duck gun, the Super X4 scales down the proven operating system of the Winchester SX series. One of the softer-shooting gas guns, the X4 is also easy to maintain and, in my experience with them, they are able to cycle anything. It has a stock that adjusts for length, oversized bolt handle and release button, and a big square safety button that is easy to find with cold hands and easy to reverse for left-handed use. The Super X4 comes in 26- and 28-inch barrel lengths in synthetic as well as Mossy Oak Blades and Realtree Timber patterns.
$939 in basic black, more for camo. winchesterguns.com
The XLR5 isn’t as well-known as other gas guns, which is our loss, as it’s a dandy. The internal parts are so perfectly polished the Fabarm people sometimes display this gun with the forearm removed to show them off. The polish isn’t just decoration, either. Combined with sound design, it results in a semiauto that chugs along so reliably that the XLR5 is about the only semiauto besides Berettas that you’ll see in the hands of serious sporting clay shooters. The new synthetic model is an all-black version that knocks a bit off the price of an admittedly expensive 3-inch 12 gauge gas gun. Weighing right around seven pounds, it’s a good compromise between light enough to handle easily and heavy enough to shoot, and the gas system does a great job of handling recoil.
In 12 gauge only, with a 28-inch barrel, $1,695 fabarmusa.com
Weatherby’s new 18i Waterfowler is an inertia gun, as its lower-case initial suggests. I haven’t had a chance to shoot this one yet so I can’t tell you much more about than it is Italian-made, and the synthetic and camo Waterfowler models are chambered for 3½ inch 12 gauge. The gun features both a recoil pad and comb insert to cut the kick of magnum loads. It comes with five choke tubes and a fiberoptic bead. Weatherby’s recent shotgun models have been
lower-priced Turkish guns.
This one is a bit more upscale, starting at $1,099. weatherby.com
The Tri-Star Viper is an inexpensive, 3-inch Turkish-made gas gun that has been slowly earning a reputation as a gun that works very well at a price that’s hard to beat. These lightweight guns come in 12, 20 and .410. All three gauges are light and trim. The camo and synthetic models are the ones of greatest interest to waterfowlers, and they come with a “Soft Touch” finish to improve your grip in cold, wet conditions.
It comes with three Beretta/Benelli-style choke tubes and spacers to adjust the stock fit. And, you get all that starting at $565. tristararms.com