Not long ago, we looked at 10 great handguns. The feature was well received with many comments. Today, we are looking at 10 great shotguns. Since I am a hunter, and interested in personal defense, I may not be able to cover some of the great sporting clay and competition shotguns.
I have a hard and fast rule that may be rare in this business. I don’t write about firearms that I have not personally handled and fired, and I don’t cover experiences I don’t have. With that being understood, let’s look at 10 great shotguns.
The Winchester ’97 is a rugged and reliable piece that was manufactured well into the 1950s. This is an exposed-hammer, pump-action shotgun. The 1897 shotgun looks like it is disgorging its guts as the action is worked but it is reliable. This shotgun was much appreciated in action against the Moros in the Philippines.
Variants include the World War I Trench Gun that was also used as late as Vietnam. Even the Chinese copies are decent guns. It is great fun to ‘machinegun’ a target with the ’97. Just hold the trigger down and pump the action. The shotgun will fire with every pump of the action.
A competitor to the Winchester the Marlin 1898 was regarded by some as an improvement over the Winchester. The Marlin was given several safety features and detail improvement. However, the Marlin isn’t allowed in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) competition because of the bolt unlocking plunger.
It seems that a shooter firing quickly enough could inadvertently unlock the breech and the shotgun would fire when unlocked. Just the same, the Marlin is an important piece. I have fired my example often — and very carefully.
The Ithaca pump-action shotgun was introduced in 1937. By 1968, one million had been manufactured. The Ithaca was manufactured in sporting, military, and personal defense versions including the legendary Ithaca Deerslayer. The Deerslayer features good fitting and adds rifle sights to make the most of slug accuracy.
Ithaca had fits and starts of production and is now back in manufacture. The major claim to fame of the Model 37 is that it ejects shells out the bottom of the receiver. While this makes the shotgun ambidextrous, clearing malfunctions or dropping a shell in the chamber is laborious. Ithaca shotguns are often found at a fair price in the used rack. Famously smooth, they are quite a piece of Americana.
The Remington 870 set the pace for pump-action shotguns with its bottom loading, using dual action bars, enclosed hammer, and an easily removeable barrel. Introduced in 1951 and offered in every gauge available, the 12, 20, and .410 are the most popular. The Remington 870 replaced earlier Remington pump-action shotguns and quickly gained acceptance as a first-class hunting shotgun in the form of the Wingmaster.
The Police Magnum receiver is legendary for its ability to withstand abuse. Wilson Combat bases its combat shotgun on the Remington 870. Pre-bankruptcy guns were sometimes not as smooth as they should have been. Modern production is back at the top.
Where you see the Remington 870, you’ll also find the Mossberg 500. Slightly lighter due to the Mossberg’s aluminum receiver, the Mossberg holds one more shell in its standard configuration. Since 1961, the Mossberg 500 has been among the most popular pump-action shotguns of all time.
The affordable Maverick is an economy-grade version. Heavy duty versions, such as the 535, handle 3.5-inch magnum shells. This is a great go-anywhere, do-anything shotgun, and the first pump-action shotgun I owned.
The 590 is more than just a variant of the Model 500, it is a super-duty pump-action shotgun. There are none tougher. The 590 features a thicker heavy barrel, extended magazine, and heavy duty barrel attachment.
For a while (during the pandemic) all good shotguns were tough to come by. The 590 was coming with a rough action and stiff safety. You can make them smooth with effort. As of July 2023, Mossberg is back on top of its game.
Remington 1100 and 11-87
Introduced in 1963, the Remington 1100 replaced the little heralded 878. The 1100 is a gas-operated shotgun. This shotgun quickly earned status as one of the most reliable shotguns ever built.
It was proven reliable with a wide range of loads. I have used these shotguns in 12 gauge and 20 gauge, and cannot recall an unqualified malfunction. They are solid and reliable, and there seems to be no bad run or production era.
Benelli M1 Super 90
Introduced in 1967, Benelli’s Inertia-driven action is among the most reliable semi-auto shotgun actions. Forgiving of cold, heat, or dust, the Benelli system introduced space age reliability to shotgunning. One of my shotguns is a Heckler & Koch marked Benelli M1.
Benelli shotguns were once imported by HK. This is as reliable a shotgun as I have ever fired. Although I have excellent experience with other makes, including the Remington V3, nothing gives me the confidence of this old warrior.
The Remington V3 is a gas-operated shotgun similar in many ways to the Benelli M4 — Benelli’s gas-operated military variant. The pandemic and Remington’s bankruptcy curtailed the Versa Max shotgun’s acceptance. The V3 Tactical has proven reliable, effective, and fast handling. An extended bolt release, extended cocking handle, and express-type sights are modern features lacking on my older Benelli. The rub is… Will Remington make the V3 available in the near future?
Mossberg 940 Pro
This shotgun is affordable but offers reliability and fast handling in shotgun competition. I love my Mossberg 930, and I am getting into the 940. The two are comparable while the 940 demands less cleaning in the long run.
While I’ll tell you that these are excellent shotguns, don’t ask me. Jerry Miculek, and his daughter Lena, have won many matches with these shotguns. Ordinary mortals (such as I) also put the Mossberg automatic to good use.
These are my 10 greatest shotguns. A trap shooter or a duck hunter will naturally have different choices, and I would love to hear from you!