I am a new shotgun owner and wish to upgrade for trap and sporting clay. You are the first to answer any questions. Would you, as a new shooter, buy an O/U or Semi Auto?
Dear B. R.,
If I were a new shooter and wanted to get my feet wet, I’d buy a good semi-auto, not an O/U. Currently the Beretta 391 is the best made. The fancier versions (Teknys) don’t really get you anything extra that’s important at this stage. Beretta also makes a less expensive 3901 that is based on the previous 390 action and is functionally every bit as good as the current 391.
Saying that you want to shoot sporting clays and trap is like saying that you want to buy one car for racing at Indianapolis and the quarter mile dirt oval. The games are completely different. Skeet and sporting clays are somewhat similar, but trap is so different from any other clay target game that there is little crossover. I shoot trap with the same guns I use for skeet and sporting because I prefer high stocks, but that’s the exception. Most trap guns are fit for nothing else.
That said, if you get an auto for trap, make sure that you find one that can take a shell catcher. T&S makes the best. Everyone sells them. I know they make them for the 391 and I am not sure that they do for the 390, but they used to. The shell catcher is imperative for an auto in trap to keep from hitting the guy next to you with your empty hull. You won’t use it for sporting.
Personally, I would (and did) buy an auto set up for sporting and have it make do at trap. If you learn to cover your birds instead of float them at trap, you’ll do fine. If you get into trap big time, you’ll want a dedicated gun.
I been a gun reviewer for various magazines for 15 years and have had the chance to shoot just about everything. That said, what I’m about to say is only one guy’s opinion. A lot of people who are better shooters than I am feel differently.
I like the gas gun, especially for a new shooter, because
1) at under $2000, it costs a lot less than any good O/U. You can buy the best gas gun for that, while a decent target O/U is over $3000.
2) gas guns are much cheaper to fix than O/Us. You can repair a gas gun yourself. True, they do break parts a little more, but the new guns are really surprisingly good and reliable.
3) gas guns like the 391 come with adjustable stocks using shims. That means that you can make the stock fit you for height and cast. If the stock doesn’t fit, you’ll never hit anything. O/Us aren’t adjustable, so if the one you pick doesn’t fit, you are pretty much sunk.
4) gas guns have less recoil than O/Us. You may not think that recoil matters because you are a new shooter, but it does and it is cumulative. Why do you think that all these shooters are trumpeting the magnificence of the one ounce load? Because it kicks less than the 1-1/8 oz and they can’t take the recoil in their O/Us. The one ounce load certainly isn’t a better shell than the 1-1/8 oz. In a gas gun, you don’t care how big a shell you use because the gun absorbs most of the kick. I can’t emphasize how important low recoil is. It allows you to keep your head into the gun better. It lowers fatigue. Anyone who tells you that recoil doesn’t bother him simply hasn’t shot enough. Trust me on that.
The downsides to gas guns are
1) More prone to jamming and malfunctions. My gas guns over the years (Remington 1100s, Ithaca 51s, Beretta 303s, 390s, 391s, Browning B-80s and Golds) have averaged 3 malfunctions per 1000 rounds.
2) Cleaning: The old gas guns like the Remington 1100s wouldn’t work if dirty. The new 390 and 391 Berettas work fine dirty. You may choose to clean them often, but they really don’t need it. Gas guns do take more maintenance than O/Us, but not as much as people tell you.
3) One choke vs two for sporting clays. If you have a station in sporting with a near and far shot, an O/U can be choked correctly because you can use two different chokes. The gas gun only has one choke, so you have to choke for the longer bird. You can fudge this slightly by selecting shells that shoot tighter or more open, but most people don’t bother.
4) (Editor’s Note) Picking up your empties. If you intend to reload your shells, or if you belong to a club that requires you to pick up your shells from the ground, it is a royal pain to have to clean up after shooting. I say after shooting, because it is annoying to have a shooter scooting around picking up their hulls when someone is in the box and ready to shoot. A shell catcher will work with single targets, but on doubles, the empty hulls hit the ground. There are guys who use mechanics magnets on a telescoping rod, there are golf ball retrievers that work for picking up shells, and there are all sorts of ways to gather up your empties. Most shooters simply address the issue by shooting a double gun.
All the shotgun disciplines tend to respond to fads. Invariably there is the “hot” gun of the year that everyone wants. The next year it is something else. Currently I’m seeing about 1/3 of the better shooters at the major sporting clays matches using autos, almost all Beretta 391s. 2/3 of the good guys use O/Us.
In trap, especially for 16 and handicap, most shooters use single barrel breech loading guns like the Browning BT-99. I see few autos or O/Us in 16 and handicap, though obviously there are more in doubles where it is mostly O/U. I’ve always wondered about this because when you go to the Grand, just about every one of the vendor booths sells something intended to reduce recoil. Trap shooters shoot more shells and lock into the guns tighter than other shooters, so recoil is more of an issue. I’m surprised that more of them don’t choose the soft shooting auto. But they don’t so what do I know.
Personally, I shoot both O/Us and autos because I’m not smart enough to pick one gun and stick with it. My scores show it too. I love the mechanics and balance of the O/Us, but when I go back through 30+ years of log books and check my scores, I note that I usually shot the gas guns better, certainly more consistently. For me, the gas guns are just easier guns to shoot and I have learned not to let the occasional malfunction bother me. But, as I said, that’s just one guy’s opinion. More people shoot O/Us for clays than use gas guns, so make sure to talk to some of those guys at your gun club.
Remember too, as a new shooter the first gun you get for clay targets won’t be your last. A 30″ Beretta 391 sporting clays gun would be a good choice. 30″ is very popular for autos at sporting and would work well at trap. If you need a higher stock, you might prefer the trap model, though I’m not enthusiastic about its stepped rib. Also, don’t be afraid to get a used gun if it appears to be in good condition. There is little inside that you can’t repair or replace.
Shotgun Report’s Technoid