Why Your Hunting Shotgun Might Disappoint You

By Randy Wakeman

It is easy to get excited when shopping for a new hunting shotgun only to discover, in practice, that it doesn't work so well. While there are no absolute guarantees, there are something things you can do before pulling the buying trigger to increase your chances of being satisfied.


The way a gun comes up is crucial, particularly so with flushing game. While few would disagree that gun fit is important, a consideration is that shouldering a gun in the shop, or even breaking a few clays with a borrowed example, does not always tell the full tale.

When you are hunting, what are you wearing? All of a sudden the shotgun we thought would make an ideal bird gun can transform itself into a mess in the field. Sure, it felt good in the gun shop, but that was not at 20 degrees F. We were not wearing several layers of clothing, so we were not in an ideal position to judge gun fit.

Breaking clays can offer the same lack of information. Even starting with a low gun is hardly comparable to walking through tall grass or trudging through a ditch. While certainly shooting clays is great practice, when hunting we do not get to see a pair or call for birds. Clay pigeons do not change direction rapidly and always slow down, rather than speed up.

The end result of this may well be that we end up with a shotgun that is too heavy, or with barrels that are too long or too short, with a stock that snags on vests, jackets and so forth. We sometimes end up with shotguns with worthless light pipes at the muzzle that serve only to distract our attention from the bird upon which we should be focused.


Stock shims can help gun fit, in a minor sense, but there are a whole lot of things they do not do. All they really do is make the lump of lumber called a buttstock project from the receiver at slightly different angles. They do not do a thing to change the actual shape of the stock, the shape and position of the pistol grip, or the relationship of the pistol grip to the trigger and safety. We have all heard the expression, "fits like a glove," yet who would rely on hard plastic pieces in order to get their gloves to fit . . . like gloves?


You might have heard the "I need a xx-inch length of pull" routine. Well, that is a definite maybe. Just adding length to a buttstock doesn't just add length to a buttstock. The trigger guard is not moved or changed, but now we have changed our grip on the hand (or pistol grip) and our cheek contacts the comb at a different spot. When we just add or subtract length to a buttstock, we have changed everything. Perhaps not enough to matter, but perhaps enough to destroy the fit and feel we once thought was so good.


Safeties that are clumsy to release invariably save the lives of game birds. It is easy to ignore when considering a new purchase, but we likely are not checking the safety and firing control of a new shotgun with frozen, wet, snow-covered, or gloved hands. That overly thin tang safety that offers minimal purchase to your thumb can be difficult to slide when wearing gloves. The little plastic protuberance called a cross-bolt safety might be okay on the clays field, where safeties aren't needed anyway, but slow and fumble prone in the field. Safety buttons and bolt releases shrink quickly in the field and can quickly put a dismal damper on your day.


Carrying a gun through a round of sporting clays, or to your cart as the case may be, doesn't yield an accurate depiction of what hunting conditions entail. While it isn't easy to discern by just handling a gun at your local shop, it is worth taking into consideration if you plan to do a lot of walking or climbing as part of your typical hunting routine.

One example that come to mind is the Browning Maxus. It is a competent shotgun and I have reviewed five different examples since its release. On most, but not all, Maxus models, when I carry them the side of my right forefinger constantly knocks off the safety. For that reason alone, many Maxus models are not suitable pheasant guns for me.


While one of these considerations may not be a deal-breaker for you, it just as often could be. It is easy to overlook some or all of these areas in our enthusiasm for getting a new shotgun. I sure have. The gun you have to buy twice to be satisfied is no bargain.

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Copyright 2014, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.