Gas Guns vs O/Us


I have spoken to numerous people and I figured I would also seek advice from you regarding shotguns. I am in the market for a new gun as I would like to focus on becoming more competitive and involved in competitions in the future. I usually shoot local fun shoots and small competitions in my area.

I have always shot semi autos. I would like to get a new gun and I have been contemplating an O/U. Just about everyone that I see at the highest levels of shooting sporting clays uses an O/U. A few use a semi auto but not many from what I see. Is there a distinct advantage to going to an O/U for sporting? Is there a reason that semi auto’s are few and far between at that level? Is there and advantage or benefit? Pros and cons for both, in your opinion?

After speaking to some about this, it seems that most people gravitate to an O/U over the years, almost graduating from a semi auto to an O/U. What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks in advance for your advice and guidance!


Dear Doug,

I guess that we see things differently, or shotgun preferences vary in different parts of the country. When I go to the big shoots, I find that about 1/3 of the good shooters use gas guns and 2/3 use O/Us. Of those who use gas guns, almost all use some version of the Beretta 391.

The better shot you are, the less the gun matters. Andy Duffy won the NSCA National Open championship with a Browning Gold gas auto one year and a Browning O/U another. Today, Matarese and several of our other super shots use the 391.

I think that a gas gun like the Beretta 391 is easier for the average shooter to use. Less recoil, single sighting plane, less recoil, lower cost, less recoil, easy stock adjustment for perfect fit, less recoil, faster choke change, less recoil, etc. For what it’s worth, I shoot both O/Us and gas guns (FN Superposeds and a 303 or 391). When I am having a good day, there is no difference, except less recoil in the gas gun. But when I am shooting my average miserable score, the gas gun is easier to deal with. I have to work a little harder with my O/Us.

Another advantage of the gas gun is that, because it has lower recoil, you can happily shoot the most efficient shell available. I’ve done a lot of patterning over the years and trust me, all things being equal (quality of components, velocity, etc), 1-1/8 oz of shot beats 1 oz beats 7/8s oz. Sure, lots of people shoot the light loads better than the heavy loads, but it’s not because the light loads are better ballistically. They aren’t. They produce smaller effective patterns. It’s because the shooters can’t take the recoil of the heavy loads, so they have no choice but to shoot lighter ones. Gas guns solve that problem.

Reliability- Over the past 35 years, I’ve shot competitive clay target games with Remington 1100s, Ithaca Model 51s, Browning Golds, Beretta 302s, 303s, 390s and 391s as well as Kreighoffs, Perazzis and Belgian Brownings. In my job as a gun reviewer, I’ve briefly shot just about everything else. Over the years, my gas guns have averaged about 3 gun related malfunctions per 1000 rounds. This would drive some people crazy, but it doesn’t bother me. I sort of accept it. It’s a trade off between reliability and lower recoil/easier gun fit/lower cost.

And don’t think that gas guns can’t last. If you keep a fresh main spring in a gas gun, they will go a long time. I had well over 80K of logged rounds through a 303. When I sold it, it worked as well as new.

New shooters feel that the more they spend on a gun, the better it will shoot. This may be true in rifle and pistol bullseye, but it isn’t in shotgun. Shotguns are just a tube. There is no accuracy in a shotgun. It’s all gunfit and shooter skill. A well fitting Mossberg pump will far outshoot a poorly fitted Purdey.

Go ahead and get an O/U if that’s what you want, but don’t pass up a gas gun because you think that it won’t do the job. It will do it and do it well enough to win on any level. The advantages of the O/U are dual choke selection (actually fairly unimportant), good reliability (pretty important), perhaps a better trigger out of the box and easier to clean. Some people just like the look and feel of the O/U. O/Us are also more convenient for reloaders.

I should mention here that I am comparing the O/U to a gas operated auto, not to recoil operated guns like the Benelli. Benellis are excellent hunting guns and function better than most gas guns in extremely wet conditions. But they don’t reduce recoil as much as a gas action does. The Beretta 391 isn’t the softest shooting gas gun. That one is probably the Remington 1100. But the the 391 has a good balance between soft shooting and reliability. That’s why it is so popular in sporting.

And finally, one last thing about gas guns. It’s the Technoid’s Third Axiom. “Gas guns are like sheep. They know when they’re alone and they don’t like it.” If you keep a backup gun handy, your first gun will never break. It’s one of those things. O/Us break too, so if you become a very serious competitor, you’ll need two of whatever you shoot. If you are just shooting for fun, one gun is fine. If you pick a gas gun, make sure to replace the mainspring every 10K as I advise above.

By the way, the Beretta A-400 models are out now. Both the field and the clay versions are on the dealer shelves. The Beretta rep told me that one of the test A-400s went 10,000 rounds between cleanings. Interesting. It will be fun to see how that works out in the real world.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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4 Responses to Gas Guns vs O/Us

  1. Joel says:

    Hello Doug,
    I also graduated to the o/u (browning 525) and saw my score drop 10 pts in a 100 shot course. The increased recoil had me punch drunk by 75 and I shot the last 25 real bad. It was my observation that the o/u shooters were reloaders and didn’t want to slow down the game picking up their hulls or cleaning up their mess left by gassers. I’ll take my 303 any day and my 525 is for sale…..Joel


  2. Might want to look at the Browning Maxus Sporting Clays also. I have one, and it eats everything I throw at it, and has not puked yet. I am sure at some point it will………….(love the sheep analogy), but it has been a steady work horse for three bird shoots, and when I just don’t feel like shooting the P gun. Don’ think you could go wrong with any of the modern gas guns, like the 1100-A400-or Maxus.


    • Dennis Feldman says:

      Just purchased the Fabarm xlr5 Velocity LR and all I can say as a newbie it is truly amazing regarding quick acquisition of site to target and recoil is almost non-existent!!! My sincere thanks to Tom for recommending this great gun!
      Dennis Feldman


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