Semi-automatic shotguns tend to outperform others because they can fire quicker and require less shooter movement for follow-up shots. The fact that they rely on as or recoil operating action also helps to reduce recoil. Other shotgun varieties can also be more prone to malfunction due to fouling.
If you’re searching for a new shotgun, our list of the Top Ten Semi-Automatic Shotguns will help you narrow down your options so you can make the best choice for your needs. Also, be sure to read through our Buyer’s Guide and Frequently Asked Questions sections for all the information you need to make an educated decision.
1. Benelli M2 Tactical
This is an excellent lightweight semi-automatic shotgun designed for fast-handling and rugged performance. It is built around the reliable Inertia Driven system, which allows 12-gauge and 20-gauge M2s to cycle nearly any cartridge, from target loads to heavy 3-inch magnums.
The Benelli M2 Tactical includes the trademarked ComforTech recoil-reduction system with gel recoil and combo pads. This system significantly dampens recoil by up to 48 percent, as well as decreasing muzzle jump. This semi-automatic shotgun also includes a fiber optic red-bar front sight, a set of shims to customize the gun’s drop and cast, and C, IC, M, IM, and F Crio choke tubes.
2. Beretta A300 Outlander
The Beretta A300 Outlander is a showcase of Beretta’s legendary performance and sleek design capability. It features only four major components, which means it can be disassembled quickly in the field or at the range. The gun’s compensating gas valve and self-cleaning piston guarantee smooth, reliable operation.
This semi-automatic shotgun boasts a lightweight, Mallard Green anodized aluminum-alloy receiver that handles 2.75-inch and 3-inch shells. It comes with a matte-black synthetic stock with an adjustable length-of-pull and adjustable shim system designed to withstand rain, snow, dust, and mud. It also features a fitted rubber recoil pad, cross-bolt safety, and mobile choke system with three choke tubes.
3. Remington Versa Max Competition
This semi-automatic shotgun features Remington’s revolutionary VersaPort gas system to ensure reliable cycling for any load, anywhere, at any time. It’s built to last with the receiver, barrel, and internal components all being nickel-plated for extreme corrosion resistance.
The Remington Versa Max Competition disassembles easily for rapid cleaning. It offers an enlarged feeding port, bolt-closure button, cocking handle, trigger-guard opening, and cross-bolt safety for ease of use. It also boasts an adjustable XS rear rifle sight, HiViz interchangeable sights, and length-of-pull kit, as well as a fully adjustable stock.
4. Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical
The Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical is an excellent semi-automatic shotgun for close quarter situations. It comes with an 18.5-inch barrel and fixed, tubular magazine. Magazine extensions allow for a 7-round (plus one in the chamber) capacity and it comes with a plain muzzle.
This 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun features a full-length black synthetic stock with a pistol grip and a top rail-mounted XS ghost ring rear sight with an M16-style fiber optic front. It also boasts a total length of 39-inches and is available with a tan or black metal finish.
5. Stoeger 3500
The well-known Stoeger 3500 semi-automatic shotgun offers magnum performance and reliability at a value-driven price. This shotgun features Stoeger’s Inertia Driven operating system, which assuredly cycles through 2.75-inch, 3-inch, and 3.5-inch shells for maximum versatility in the field or at the range.
This semi-automatic shotgun comes with a red-bar fiber-optic sight to help you quickly and easily acquire targets, even in low light conditions. It also included a stock-integrated recoil reducer, a receiver drilled and tapped for Weaver-style scope bases, three choke tubes, and a choke tube wrench.
6. Browning A5 Hunter
This 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun boasts the iconic humpback profile. It is designed to be the most reliable, fastest cycling, best performing, and softest shooting recoil operated autoloader available. It is balanced from buttpad to muzzle to feel light in your hands and make target acquisition fast and easy.
The Browning A5 Hunter features the A5 receiver, which seamlessly melds into the rib to extend your sight plane and aid in target alignment for more accurate shooting. It also features a comfortable grip and a compact and narrow forearm that places your front hand closer to the bore line for superior hand-eye coordination.
7. Mossberg 930 JM Pro
The Mossberg 930 JM Pro is built to the exact specifications or world-renowned competitive and speed shooter Jerry Miculek (JM) (1). It is equipped with a high-capacity, nine-round extended magazine tube that’ll keep you in action longer and a beveled loading gate and shorter forend to help you load faster than the competition.
This semi-automatic shotgun also includes a barrel clamp to yield maximum stabilization and a dual gas system that reduces felt recoil and increases ease of cycling. Finally, it features an over sized bolt handle and bolt release, logo-engraved receiver, front fiber-optic sight, and extended charging handle.
8. Winchester SX4 Field CMPT
The Winchester SX4 Field semi-automatic shotgun features a satin oil-finished walnut stock with classic-cut checkering. It is designed for a more controlled feel and perfect balance, with a slimmer and lighter pistol grip and forearm. It boasts a super light alloy magazine tube and recoil spring system that serve to further reduce its overall weight.
This semi-automatic shotgun is equipped with a new lightweight barrel that provides a narrower profile and a machined vent rib. It also boasts back-bored technology that provides optimum shot patterns and a hard chrome-plated chamber and bore that are both highly resistant to wear and corrosion. Finally, this gun offers a larger bolt handle and bolt release button, a lightweight aluminum-alloy receiver, and a removable drop-out trigger for easy cleaning.
9. Benelli Super Black Eagle 3
Like the M2 Tactical, this semi-automatic shotgun is equipped with the proven Inertia Driven system that shoots 2.75-inch, 3-inch, and 3.5-inch shells without adjustment. Material improvements in this model have resulted in one of the most lightweight semi-automatics on the market. In fact, it weighs between 13 and 15 percent less than similar shotguns.
The Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 includes a third-generation ComforTech 3 stock and recoil pad with extra-soft cheek pad that reduces recoil by as much 48% and muzzle climb by 15%. It accomplishes this without any additional moving parts or added weight. It also comes with a funneled loading port, two-piece shell latch, easy drop lever, ergonomic magazine cap, and a host of additional features.
10. FN SLP Mark I
The FN SLP Mark I is a gas-operated 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun with a 22-inch barrel and an 8+1 capacity. It is equipped with an alloy 3-inch magnum receiver and the barrel comes with the Standard Invector choke tube system to deliver optimum performance with any payload.
The metal work on this semi-automatic shotgun is protected by matte black manganese phosphate or anodizing to improve durability and reduce reflectivity. The gun’s matte black, checkered synthetic stock includes a premium recoil pad and steel sling swivel studs. Finally, this semi-automatic shotgun boasts an adjustable folding rear sight, red fiber-optic front sight element, and Weaver-pattern cantilever optics rail.
While some of the earliest shotguns (called ‘breechloaders’) were employed by England’s King Henry VIII more than 450 years ago (2), today’s tactical semi-automatic shotguns hardly resemble their early ancestors, both in form and function. Materials have vastly improved and demands for increased functionality have led to some incredible breakthroughs.
As a buyer, the new technologies available in some of today’s best semi-automatic shotguns can be quite attractive. It’s important to remember what’s truly important when buying a new semi-automatic shotgun. To aid in your decision, this Buyer’s Guide will focus on several major factors you should consider before you buy.
Understanding the Action
With any shotgun, the spent shell must be ejected after firing before a second shot can be taken. In a pump-action shotgun, the user has to manual cock the gun to eject the spent shell and load up a new one. In semi-automatic shotguns, this action takes place automatically, greatly reducing the amount of time spent between shots.
Most semi-automatic shotguns use either a gas-driven system or an inertia-driven system to automatically eject a spent shell and load up a new one. In some cases, inertia systems are also referred to as ‘recoil-operated’ systems.
While both systems use energy to start the action and reload the gun, there are some important differences between how they operate. After ample experience with both, many shotgun owners come to prefer one or the other, but their ultimate choice largely comes down to personal preference and desired performance.
In a gas-driven system, the shotgun takes high-pressure gas that is released after firing and utilizes that to cycle the ammo. In an inertia-(or recoil) driven system, the shotgun utilizes kinetic energy from the recoil to perform the same operation. Although gas-driven systems tend to be more popular today, recent history suggests that the two systems have been widely employed for a variety of purposes.
Choosing the Gauge
Understanding gauge and what that means for functionality is an important part of choosing the right semi-automatic shotgun. You’ll find shotguns on the market today with a range of gauges falling between 10 and 28. For all intents and purposes, the most common shotguns available are 12, 20, and .410 gauges.
The perfect balance between power and accuracy that you’ll find with a 12-gauge shotgun is responsible for them being the most popular type of shotgun available today. Ammunition for 12-gauge shotguns is also the most readily accessible ammo out there.
The 20-gauge shotgun is the second most popular type on the market. A 20-gauge shotgun will perform very similarly to a 12-gauge, but it will offer a greatly reduced recoil level. For this reason, 20-gauge shotguns are increasingly popular amongst younger and smaller shooters.
The newbie on the scene is the .410-gauge shotgun. It features an even further reduced recoil level when compared with most 20-gauge shotguns. However, what you improve from a recoil standpoint comes with a caveat. It’s much more difficult to get the best shot with a .410-gauge because its ammo contains fewer pellets per shot. The translation means that the .410 is considerably less powerful.
Best Barrel Length
Choosing the best barrel length depends on your exact intended purpose for buying a semi-automatic shotgun. In general, longer barrels are better for long-range shooting and shorter barrels are more effective in close quarters.
If you’ll primarily be using your semi-automatic shotgun for long-range purposes, you’ll want a barrel length somewhere in the range of 24 to 36 inches. While a longer barrel means better accuracy and precision over long distances, keep in mind that it also means decreased maneuverability in a dense forest and increased overall gun weight.
If you intend to use your semi-automatic shotgun in close quarters or for home defense, you’ll want a barrel in the 18 to 21-inch range. These barrels will still be accurate enough for your intended purpose, but not so big that they’re too heavy or cumbersome to operate.
The type of stock you choose for your semi-automatic shotgun will play a large role in your comfort with the gun. As such, it largely impacts whether or not you’re actually able to use the gun effectively to fire accurate shots. In short, you need a shotgun to feel good in your hands and in the shooting position if you want it to work for you.
Most shotguns today offer a “classic grip” stock or a “pistol grip” stock. Most classic grip stocks are made of wood and contain a curved grip that helps you keep the gun steady as you take aim. In contrast, pistol grip stocks are usually made from some type of durable plastic polymer. This material keeps the gun lightweight, and the pistol grip is better designed for holding with a single hand when not shooting.
When selecting the right stock for you, there is also a variety of features to consider, including the length of pull, comb, drop, pitch, and the material used to construct the stock. Ideally, you’re looking for a stock that is both lightweight and extremely durable.
Types of Cartridges
Considering the types of cartridges you’ll use is also important before you buy a new semi-automatic shotgun. Some guns will only work with a certain type of cartridge and if those cartridges are tough to find, you won’t be able to use the gun as much as you’d hope. As we mentioned earlier, 12-gauge ammunition is the most common today, so you really can’t go wrong there.
That being said, there are three distinct types of cartridges that are best used in varying scenarios. They are birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. As you might imagine, birdshot is utilized for hunting birds and other small game. Shell size can vary from small to large, as can the number of pellets contained within each shell, but these cartridges are excellent for hunting waterfowl.
Buckshot is much like birdshot in that each shell contains a number of smaller pellets. In this case, however, the pellets themselves are much larger. Inversely, buckshot shells tend to contain fewer pellets overall. However, because of their size, these pellets are more powerful and capable of inflicting greater damage. This makes them a great choice for hunting deer and other large game.
Lastly, we have slugs. Unlike buckshot and birdshot, where shells contain multiple pellets, a slug is a single large projectile. Slugs pack a devastating punch and are the most powerful of the three. For this reason, they are a preferred choice for hunting large game in populated areas.
When it comes to the length of cartridges, many of these semi-automatic shotguns are compatible with a number of lengths from 2.75 inches to 3.5 inches. The main benefit of a longer shell is that they hold more shot for cleaner long-range kills. The downside, however, is that longer shells tend to be considerably more expensive than shorter versions of the same model.
Types of Choke Tubes
A choke tube works to constrict a shotgun’s shot charge in order to hold it together longer before the shot spreads. This functions to provide a denser shot pattern at a longer range. Choke tubes also play a role in determining a shotgun’s effective range. In general, more constriction means a greater range. There are six common types of choke tubes: super-full (or extra-full), full, modified, improved cylinder, cylinder, and skeet.
Super-full (or extra-full) choke tubes are ideally suited for the headshots that you’ll need when turkey hunting. As such, they are commonly referred to as “gobbler getters.” They provide extra-tight constriction and the densest shot patterns.
Full choke tubes also have a tight constriction and dense pattern. They are capable of delivering about 70 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle from 40 yards out. This makes them a great choice for trap shooting, waterfowl pass shooting, turkey hunting, and buckshot loads.
Modified choke tubes have less constriction than a full choke, but are still capable of delivering about 60 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle from 40 yards. The best uses for modified choke tubes are in hunting distant-flushing upland birds and small game animals like pheasants and rabbits.
Improved cylinder choke tubes are even less constricted than modified tubes. They will deliver about half of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards distance. They are the preferred choice of hunters shooting waterfowl close over decoys or in pursuits of close-quarters upland birds like quail and grouse. Improved cylinder choke tubes also perform well with rifled slugs.
Cylinder choke tubes offer no constriction. They can deliver approximately 40 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. These types of choke tubes are most commonly used by law enforcement for service shotguns.
Lastly, we have skeet choke tubes. These tubes deliver about 50 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at a distance of 25 yards. As their name suggests, these tubes are optimized for the tight patterns necessary for close-range skeet shooting.
Frequently Asked Questions
John Browning and his brothers built the first testing models of the semi-automatic shotgun in 1898 (3). Although an avid gunman well before the invention of the A5, Browning would later admit that it was “the most difficult gun to design of his career.”
Today’s guns feature even more complex and intricate systems than Browning’s earliest designs. Keeping that in mind, we’ve designed this Frequently Asked Questions section to help you better understand the inner workings of today’s best semi-automatic shotguns.
What is ‘length-of-pull’?
Length-of-pull refers to the distance between the center of the trigger and the center of the recoil pad on the butt of the stock where it contacts your shoulder.
What is ‘comb’?
The comb of a shotgun is the widest part of the stock that is encompassed by your cheek and shoulder.
What is ‘drop’?
Drop is defined as the distance between the top of the comb to the center point of the butt that helps determine the elevation of your eye in relation to the barrel. Too much drop will cause the user to shoot low and too little drop will cause you to shoot high.
What is ‘pitch’?
Pitch refers to the angle that the butt has against your shoulder when mounted. It is a very important factor because too much pitch will cause the butt to dig into your shoulder, which will make recoil feel worse than it actually is. On the other hand, too little pitch will allow the gun to slide up and down with every shot.
What is a ‘back-bored barrel’?
A back-bored barrel is a shotgun barrel with an internal diameter great than nominal for the gauge, but still less than the SAAMI (4) maximum. This is done to reduce felt recoil, improve patterning, or change the balance of the gun.
What is a gun’s ‘receiver’?
The receiver is the part of the shotgun that houses all of its critical operating parts.
What is ‘fouling’?
Fouling refers to the accumulation of unwanted material on solid surfaces. The fouling material can consist of powder, lubrication residue, or bullet materials, such as lead or copper.
What is a ‘charging handle’?
This term defines a device on a shotgun (or another firearm) that, when operated, results in the hammer or striker being cocked or moved to the ready position.
The right semi-automatic shotgun will improve your hunting accuracy or help you defend your property against unwanted intruders. We hope you’ve found this review of the best semi-automatic shotguns useful and we wish you the best of luck in choosing the one that’s right for you!