Bad Back Guns

Dear Technoid:

Due to a back injury, the last time that I shot a shotgun was several years ago. It was a day of informal clay target shooting. A friend had brought along a Browning Auto 5 – 20 gauge. The 20 ga. was much lighter than my 12’s and I appeared to get on target much quicker. My accuracy was just as good with the 20 as with the 12, but it required less effort to carry and swing through the target. Recoil was significantly less with the 20, but I felt that I would enjoy shooting it even more so, with a softer recoiling gas semi-auto and a good recoil pad. I usually feel better now and I would like to try shooting again. Firearm heft and recoil are still a lingering concern. Today I saw a new 20 ga. Beretta AL-390 for sale (26″ bbl. what appeared to be a decelerator recoil pad). Seemed perfect. I would have bought it except that I was told that the 20 ga. Browning Gold was a better and softer recoiling firearm. Someone else mentioned using a Sporting Clays 12 ga. with 7/8 oz. or 1 oz. loads. I also heard that Beretta is coming out soon with a significantly better gas semi-auto shotgun and that I should wait to buy. All three firearms felt pretty good in my relatively large hands although I was not able to compare them side by side. I was a little more aware of the Beretta pistol grip, but I do not think that it was overly distracting. Price is not a concern. What would you recommend?

Thank you in advance.


Dear James,

The gun that I would recommend would really depend on the extent and type of your back problem. Generally bad backs are as sensitive to weight and swinging as they are to recoil. If gun weight isn’t an issue, then I would definitely get a 12 gauge gun and shoot light loads. You will get less recoil that way because the gun is heavier.

In the 12 gauge gas guns I currently like the Beretta 391 sporter best, though you don’t really mention which shooting discipline you prefer. Many people find the Beretta stock awkward though. The 12 gauge Remington 11-87 sporting clays model (with the nickel receiver) is a very soft shooting gun, softer than the 391 or the Gold to my way of thinking. The 11-87 is also the best balanced of the lot with a 30″ barrel and its stock seems to suit the most people. The new 11-87s hold up better than the first ones did too, though not as durable as the 391. The Browning 12 gauge Gold is gaining popularity in sporting clays, though not in skeet or trap. I think that the Gold has less recoil than the 391, but more than the 11-87. Personally, I find the Gold 12 gauge too nose heavy and the Gold’s stock too small, but others deal with it just fine. The Gold has proven less reliable than the 391, but more so than the 11-87. To be fair, all three are pretty close in this department.

As to 20 gauge guns, I really think that would be the best combination because I feel that weight hurts the back just as much as recoil does. The 20 will kick more with a 7/8 oz load than the heavier 12 will with a 7/8 oz load, but not all that much. The 20 will also weigh about a pound less, and that really could matter. My favorite 20 would probably be a tie between the Gold and the Remington 1100. I haven’t shot the new 20 gauge 11-87 yet, but if it is set up like the 12 gauge 11-87 target models, it doesn’t have the secondary valve that the field guns do, so it is basically an 1100 and I would like it just as well. Beretta has always had trouble with the functioning of their 20 gauge autos. Italian 20 gauge shells must have different pressure curves than ours. I thought that the 391 20 had it all sorted out, but I have been getting some reports that there are still some occasional problems. My friends with Browning Gold 20s report very reliable operation with target ammo. The Remington 1100 20 gauge has always been reliable from a functioning point of view. My only problems with 1100s came when they had a whole bunch of rounds through them and started to eat parts. That takes quite a while though.

Bottom line: if you have a bad back and want a fun clay target gun for skeet, sporting and hunting, my first choices would be either a Browning Gold 20 gauge semi-auto or a Remington 1100/11-87 20 gauge semi-auto. In either case, I would pick the one which felt best. The Gold may have the edge as I notice that the new “classic” hump back model is listed in the catalogue as having an “adjustable” comb, probably by the shim method. This could be a nice plus if you have trouble with gun fit. I haven’t seen this gun in the flesh though. One final thing on shooting with a bad back- try flexing both knees slightly. Instead of standing with most of your weight on your fore leg, with the fore leg bent and the rear leg straight, try standing with your legs shoulder-width apart and your weight equally on both legs. Bend BOTH knees ever so slightly. When you swing, transfer weight, but start neutral. You will find that shooting with both knees very slightly bent will take a tremendous amount of pressure off the back.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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