Duck Gun Opinion

Dear Technoid,

I have been having a nightmare finding anyone in my area that knows much about shotguns.

I wish to purchase a 12 ga 3 1/2 in semi auto for duck hunting. Some people have told me to buy gas operated, some say mechanical (recoil) is the way to go. Is there much of a reliability or other difference? Is Benelli the only recoil operated 3 1/2 in auto? I have also heard that Browning is notorious for rusting quickly. Is this true?

Thank you for any assistance in finding answers and choosing a shotgun.


Dear Dan,

Opinions are like noses. Everyone has one. Here’s mine on the best duck gun. My first choice for duck hunting is always the 3″ Remington 870 pump with synthetic “wood”. I don’t really see any need for 3-1/2″ chambers, but if you really want them, 870 has a synthetic Super Express so chambered. It is a little heavier than the standard gun and will obviously recoil more. It’s big advantage is that will happily shoot the lightest load when you have tired of kicking yourself silly with the Roman candles. Yes, it’s not a semi-auto, but you can learn to pump a gun in about two seconds of practice and, like riding a bicycle, you will never forget. The reasons that I like pumps in the duck swamp is that they don’t break and they don’t jam. They will work covered with ice and mud, or full of water. You can pile Labs and decoys all over them and they will still shoot.

You don’ t need all that shot anyway, once when I was down in Argentina, one of the guys was using a 20 gauge with #7-1/2 lead shot and took many, many ducks one morning. Understand, I don’t like 20 gauge for duck (especially with steel) and I definitely don’t like #7-1/2 lead for ducks, but this just shows you what you can do when you know what you are doing.

If you simply must have 3-1/2″ chambers in a semi-auto, my first choice would be the recoil operated Benelli Super Black Eagle. They are quite reliable, though the recoil operated guns do kick a lot more than the gas operated guns. The superlative Belgian Browning O/Us do indeed rust while you look at them, but the Japanese-made gas guns are made of a different steel and are at least average when it comes to rust.

One of the problems with 3-1/2″ autos is that you can’t use standard target loads in them for practice at the range. You will get a lot more ducks by practicing on clay target with your duck gun than you will by heaving an extra 1/4 oz of shot at them.

I think that my first choice for a pure duck gun, after the 870, would be a 3″ Benelli. They are expensive and the stocks don’t seem to fit anyone larger than a circus midget, but that can be cured with a little Bondo and fiberglass.

The 3″ Beretta 390 [called the 3901 from 2005-2011] (which happily shoots light target loads in addition to all 3″ shells) is a far better all around gun than the Benelli, but the 390s don’t do quite as well in driving rain and sub-zero temperatures. [Currently, Beretta has in their lineup, the A400, A350, and A300 in various models to fill your duck hunting needs. If you absolutely need to shoot 3.5″ shells, the A400 and A350 models will fill that need.] The Benelli is the semi-auto king for dependability under miserable conditions. Depends on where you hunt your duck.

I still like the 870 going away for ducks. Did I already mention that?

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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