Key point: Semi-auto shotguns don’t kick as hard.
Semi-auto shotguns are the upgraded version of the pump-action shotguns we all know and love. They are prized for their quick firepower and reduction in recoil.
They feel great to shoot. Emptying out a few cartridges in quick succession is a great way to unwind after a long day.
Semi-autos aren’t necessarily as reliable as pump-action shotguns, however, their main advantage is reduced recoil and a very fast rate of fire. If you’re not a big person, a semi-auto shotgun is also a lot easier to shoot.
A lot of us have probably used a shotgun before, being it’s one of the first firearms that new shooters get familiar with. They are extremely simple to use, they’re relatively cheap, and shotgun shells are also fairly cheap.
If you’re in a big rush to see our top picks, here they are:
Benelli M4 (Most Expensive but nicest, ~$1800)
Browning A5 (~$1500)
Beretta 1301 Tactical (~$1,000)
FNH SLP Mark 1 (~$1,300)
Benelli M4 Tactical (~$1,200)
Mossberg 930 SPX (~$750)
Remington Versa Max (~$1,100)
Stoeger 3500 (Best Discount Option ~$650)
Did I miss one?
If so don’t be afraid to leave us a message at the end of this post and I’ll gladly add it.
Remember that these are my own personal recommendations do don’t get angry if you disagree.
HISTORY OF THE SEMI-AUTO SHOTGUN
Before I share my top picks with you, we need to discuss the Browning Auto 5. We need to start with this epic boomstick to know how the modern semi-auto shotgun industry started.
The Browning Auto 5 was originally created in the 1800s with a patent finally put on it in the 1900s after about 100 years of use. From 1903 onward it was mass produced in the US. Despite its popularity, the original Browning Auto 5 was notoriously unreliable.
It would jam, break and explode. After about ten years of production the Auto 5 was revamped by the legendary Browning company. The newer “fixed” model solved all the issues that plagued the older Browning Auto 5 version.
A new shotgun was born.
It was so reliable and powerful that military forces all over the world started purchasing it in bulk.
The Browning Auto 5’s history is almost as old as the 1911 pistol.
It was a favored weapon of tactical units throughout the world and paratroopers dropped into close proximity fighting. The Auto 5 packed some serious firepower utilizing a 12 gauge buckshot to obliterate anyone unluckily enough to get hit.
During both of the World Wars, especially in World War II, the Browning Auto 5 became a standard issue weapon. The unit itself is a recoil operated gun.
The idea is that the energy produced from the recoil is used to seamlessly shoot out the shell and pull a new one into the chamber.
THE RISE OF TACTICAL SEMI-AUTOMATIC SHOTGUNS
Semi-auto shotguns have enjoyed a huge upswing in popularity over the last few years. We suspect that this is largely due to Hollywood where they’ve been featured in more and more action movies.
The increased demand has allowed smaller companies and larger companies like Browning and Mossberg to rethink their designs. Competition breeds innovation and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in the last few years.
A lot of new models coming out with tons of features and some really impressive designs.
THE MECHANICS OF SEMI-AUTOMATIC SHOTGUNS
A pump-action shotgun requires the user to pull its fore-end to eject the spent cartridge, the push the fore-end to load a new shell from the magazine to the chamber. The push-and-pull movement to cycle shells makes it look like the user is “pumping” the shotgun, hence the label “pump-action”.
With a semi-auto, whenever you shoot the shotgun, the internal spring loaded mechanism shoots out the old cartridge and brings in a new one.
A semi-auto shotgun does the work for you. Instead of hearing the “chuck chuck” when you pull the fore-end to eject a spent cartridge then push it to load a new one in, it does the work for you. Using either the recoil or the high-pressure gases from the shells fired, the used cartridge is ejected and a new one is loaded in.
Auto-loading shotguns do it in two ways:
Gas System, like the AR-15
The end result of both the systems is the same. This quick reloading and ejecting allows for the rapid-fire ability of semi automatic shotguns.
Gas powered units use gas under high pressure while the traditional pump action uses good ol’ human muscle.
The first Auto 5’s were recoil-based and it wasn’t under later tactical shotguns emerged on the market that manufacturers started to favor the more robust gas-powered design.
WHICH IS BETTER TO SHOOT?
If you want the fast powerful feeling of shooting multiple slugs quickly, then the semi-auto shotgun is for you.
If you want to be a bit more methodical and take your time feeling the mechanism of the gun in your hands, then a traditional pump-action shotgun is what you want.
There are still some other differences though:
Great for beginners
Okay if you’re a bigger person
Super simple to clean, disassemble and maintain
Takes any type of ammo
Relatively more durable because of its more simple utilitarian design
Things to Consider:
Won’t fire as quickly as a semi-auto shotgun (unless the user is highly trained)
Has more “kick” to it (depending on the particular shotgun’s weight and the loads you use)
If you have a shoulder or hand injury, shooting a pump-action shotgun will hurt
Great for tactical situations or competitive shooting
Great for beginners
Relatively better for smaller people
In general, has less felt recoil (i.e. compared to a pump-action with similar weight and using the same loads)
Less recoil leads to significantly faster target acquisition and slightly better accuracy
Feels great to shoot
Things to Consider:
A lot more parts can lead to potentially more problems
Harder to clean
May have issues with certain ammo loads
SEMI-AUTO SHOTGUNS AND NEW SHOOTERS
The shotgun isn’t a complicated weapon to begin with. Using an auto shotgun is even easier than a traditional shotgun.
One of the advantage of using a semi-automatic version is that once all the cartridges are cleared the gun will lock to the rear. This gives newer shooters a very clear visible and auditory cue that the gun is indeed empty and safe.
Contrast this with the pump-action shotgun which doesn’t give any sort of cue that it’s empty. The only reliable method is count the amount of shots you made and make sure they are all done.
If you have the money and want something that is easier to operate I’d recommend semi-auto shotgun. The only issue that might come up is cleaning but if you aren’t sure about that you can always take it to your gunsmith to get it cleaned.
TOP 8 SEMI-AUTO SHOTGUNS FOR THE MONEY
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, these are my top picks. That is also because these are the shotguns I’m familiar with and I even own a few of these.
I’ve tried to blend price with quality here to give you a best of both worlds.
If anyone has another shotgun they’d like to add to the list, drop it in a comment below. Thanks!
TOP SEMI-AUTOMATIC SHOTGUNS FOR HUNTING
These are a great choice for bird hunting or pig hunting. Anything that is fast moving, big or requires lots of shots is easier to hunt with an automatic shotgun.
For elk hunting I still recommend a hunting rifle.
SEMI-AUTO HUNTING SHOTGUN – WEATHERBY SA-08 DELUXE (BEST VALUE )
The SA-08 Deluxe is originally manufactured by a Turkish company and is a gas-operated model. Available gauge sizes are 12, 20 and 28.
This is great weapon to shoot and provides some great power for bird hunting or pig hunting. I would say it’s a good combination of value and price. It’s a little bit pricier than some of the super discount options.
The SA-08 is super lightweight and looks great. The base model weighs 5 ½ to 6 ¼ pounds. Also a great choice for clay shooting or any kind of waterfowl.
If you have a gun lover in your family, this is a really good choice and probably the best price you’ll get at the mid-range level. Walnut stock, engraved logo and polished steel – it looks and feels great.
STOEGER M3500 – THE TOP BUDGET SEMI-AUTO SHOTGUN
Don’t get fooled by the price. The Stoeger is a great choice for a reliable shotgun with great power minus all the bells and whistles of some of the more fancy tactical choices.
The Stoeger runs via inertia meaning that cartridges are pulled into the shell and old ones ejected via recoil.