Ultimate Guide to Shotguns for Upland Bird Hunting

Lilsa Lodge Pros doing the research, so you dont have to.

Upland bird hunting shotgun hunters are presented with a plethora of opportunities. From lengthy seasons to a variety of species across states, the excitement never ends. However, amidst all the thrill, one equipment remains indispensable: a reliable shotgun.

Whether you view your shotgun as a masterpiece or a mere tool, its primary purpose remains unchanged. In this review, we delve into the best shotguns for bird hunting, catering to diverse budgets and styles.

Top Picks for Bird Hunting Shotguns

Methodology

Choosing a favorite gun is akin to selecting a preferred breed of bird dog—it’s subjective. With two decades of experience hunting upland birds, I’ve curated this list based on personal experiences and insights from seasoned hunters. While not exhaustive, this list is a culmination of countless days in the field. It aims to cater to every budget and style, ensuring every hunter finds their perfect match.

Best Overall: Browning Citori Gran Lightning

  • Key Features: Break-action O/U, Gauges available: 12, 20, 28, .410, Finish: Blued, Weight: 8 pounds (12-gauge)

Why It Made the Cut:

The Browning’s Gran Lightning Citori is as visually captivating as it is lethal in the field. It’s our top pick due to its impeccable performance and aesthetic appeal.

Pros

  • Well Balanced
  • Chokes can be swapped with ease
  • Ergonomic rounded pistol grip and forearm

Cons

  • Premium price point
  • The 12-gauge variant is notably hefty for field use

Overview

For years, Browning’s Citori series has been the go-to for aficionados of over and under shotguns. Not long ago, I had the privilege of using the Gran Lightning Citori during a classic southern bobwhite quail hunt. It swiftly earned my admiration, standing out as one of the most exceptional shotguns I’ve ever had the honor to use. The specific Gran Lightning I used was a nimble 28-gauge, and it proved devastatingly effective against the darting quail coveys. When it comes to upland hunting, especially alongside pointers, the 28-gauge’s potent combination of power and minimal recoil is hard to surpass.

Browning Citori Gran Lightning
Browning-Citori-Gran-Lightning
The Gran Lightning is as reliable as it visually stunning.

The Gran Lightning isn’t just dependable; it’s a visual masterpiece. Colton Heward

This shotgun showcases a breathtaking oil-finished grade V/VI walnut lightning-style stock, complemented by a gleaming blued barrel and intricately engraved receiver. It’s the kind of firearm that’s so beautifully crafted, you might hesitate to take it outdoors – but that’s precisely where it shines brightest. Its design also incorporates a rounded pistol grip and forearm, ensuring a timeless and comfortable grip when raised.


Best 20-Gauge Over/Under: Weatherby Orion I

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  • Key Features: Break-action O/U, Gauge: 20, Weight: 6.2 pounds, Barrel lengths: 26 and 28 inches

Why It Made the Cut:

The Weatherby’s Orion I 20-gauge over and under offers a reliable option at a fraction of the cost of its competitors.

Pros

  • Features a 3-inch chamber
  • Remarkably light in weight
  • Offers an exceptionally comfortable shooting experience

Cons

  • Limited to a 28-inch barrel length for its 20-gauge variant
weatherby-orion-20-gauge-shotgun-on-hunt-1200x800

Overview

While Weatherby is predominantly recognized for their state-of-the-art centerfire rifles, it would be a mistake to disregard their shotgun range. The Orion I 20-gauge might not be the most eye-catching, but its performance speaks volumes. Many seasoned hunters vouch for its impeccable fit and dependability after rigorous use. Its streamlined receiver, paired with a generously sized forearm, ensures both comfort in handling and ease of shooting. For those seeking a reliable 20 over and under without a hefty price tag, the Orion I is a top contender.


Best Budget Side-by-Side: Tristar Bristol SxS

trisar-bristol-side-by-side-best-budget-hunting-shotgun
  • Key Features: Break-action side-by-side, Gauges available: 12, 16, 20, 28, .410, Single selective trigger, Weight: 5.24 pounds (28-gauge)

Why It Made the Cut:

The Bristol SxS offers the classic side-by-side experience at an affordable price, making it ideal for newcomers.

Pros

  • Multiple gauge options available
  • Flexibility with interchangeable chokes
  • Offers a timeless design and feel without the hefty price

Cons

  • Some enthusiasts might lean towards a classic double trigger

tristar-28-gauge-bristol-side-by-sides-semi-shotgun-1200x800
Tristar Bristol: A commendable introduction to the world of side-by-side shotguns.

Overview

Devotees of side-by-side shotguns are truly in a league of their own, with many, including my father, deeply passionate about them. Given the premium prices attached to many vintage side-by-sides, I had always kept my distance. However, I recently realized that there are several budget-friendly, yet aesthetically pleasing and efficient side-by-sides available. This revelation led me to Tristar’s Bristol.

Upon handling the 28-gauge Bristol side-by-side for the first time, I was genuinely taken aback. The integration of wood to metal was decent, with the Turkish walnut English stock being simple yet elegant. The case-colored receiver lent a nostalgic, countryside charm. A notable advantage of modern side-by-sides like the Bristol is the convenience of swapping chokes as required. This model comes equipped with five standard Beretta style chokes (skeet, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified, and full). Priced under $1,200, the Bristol is an ideal gateway into the expansive universe of side-by-side shotguns.

Best Side-by-Side: CZ Bobwhite G2 Project Upland

cz-bobwhite-g2-project-upland-best-side-by-side
  • Key Features: Break-action side-by-side, Gauges available: 12, 20, 28, Chamber: 3-inch, Weight: 6.2 pounds (28-gauge)

Why It Made the Cut:

The CZ Bobwhite G2 Project Upland combines the classic Bobwhite frame with upgraded features, making it a top choice for side-by-side enthusiasts.

Pros

  • Traditional double trigger
  • Aesthetically pleasing case-colored receiver
  • Ergonomic straight English stock

Cons

  • At $1,700, it’s on the higher end for a Turkish-crafted SxS

Overview

In a joint venture with Project Upland, CZ introduced the Bobwhite G2 Project Upland shotgun. This contemporary side-by-side is crafted on the foundation of one of the premier bird hunting shotguns – the iconic Bobwhite frame from CZ. It’s further enhanced with luxurious details that elevate its charm and allure.

in-hand-display-cz-bobwhite-g2-project-upland-voted-best-side-by-side

The Bobwhite G2 Project Upland side-by-side boasts an elegant straight-English stock, carved from premium grade Turkish walnut, and is complemented by a beautifully engraved case-colored receiver. Enthusiasts of traditional side-by-sides will appreciate the preservation of the classic double trigger and the case-colored manual tang safety in this modern interpretation of CZ’s timeless side-by-side. As a wise individual once penned, “Life is too fleeting to utilize an unattractive firearm.” I wholeheartedly concur. Fortunately, this firearm’s functionality is as impressive as its aesthetics.


Top Pump Shotgun: Remington 870 FieldMaster


RemArms-Remington-870-FieldMaster-on-wood-display

Key Features

  • Action: Pump
  • Gauge: 12 or 20
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds (12-gauge)
  • Enhanced metal finish compared to the now-discontinued Express model

Reasons to Buy


The Remington 870 series is renowned for its unwavering dependability. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned gun enthusiast, the Remington 870 deserves a spot in your collection.

Pros

  • Peerless reliability
  • Simple to disassemble and maintain
  • Finish resistant to rust

Cons

  • Lacks shims or spacers for stock customization
top-pump-shotgun-review-RemArms-Remington-870-FieldMaster-on-wood-display

Overview


Since its debut in 1950, over 11 million Remington 870 shotguns have been sold, making it the most popular shotgun ever. The 870 FieldMaster shares internal features with the Wingmaster but boasts a more durable, corrosion-resistant exterior finish. This year, the FieldMaster took the place of the 870 Express. If you favor pump-action shotguns, the Remington 870’s versatility and reliability are hard to ignore. It’s understated, but its efficiency is unquestionable.


Best for Beginners: Benelli Nova


benelli-nova-best-shotgun-for-beginners

Key Features

  • Action: Pump
  • Gauge: 12 or 20
  • Weight: 8 pounds (12-gauge)
  • Barrel length: 24, 26, and 28 inches

Reasons to Buy


Priced under $500, the Benelli Nova is the most wallet-friendly option on this list. Its consistent performance and reliability make it an ideal choice for those exploring upland hunting without a hefty investment.

Pros

  • Cost-effective
  • Highly dependable
  • Variety in barrel lengths and colors

Cons

  • Pronounced recoil
benelli-nova-best-shotgun-for-buget-review

Overview


Any shotgun bearing the Benelli brand warrants attention. The Benelli Nova offers bird hunters a cost-effective yet high-quality option. Its synthetic stock is ideal for rugged terrains, and the capacity to hold four shells (where permitted) is a significant advantage. While its finish might not be showy, the Nova is a versatile choice for those new to wingshooting.


Top Semi-Automatic: Browning Maxus II Hunter


browning Maxus II Hunter on diamon plate

Key Features

  • Action: Semi-Auto (Gas)
  • Gauge: 12
  • Barrel length: 26 and 28 inches
  • Weight: 7 pounds

Reasons to Buy


The Browning Maxus II Hunter is designed for upland bird hunters seeking a semi-auto shotgun with more than two shots.

Pros

  • Trustworthy Power Drive Gas System
  • Customizable LOP, cast, and drop with adjustable shims
  • Fiber-optic front sight

Cons

  • Exclusively available in 12-gauge
browning-blog-maxus-ii-cover-top-semi-automatic-shotgun

Overview


Browning’s original Maxus, launched over ten years ago, was a game-changer. The Power Drive Gas System, introduced in the original Maxus, remains a key feature in the Maxus II. This model also showcases aesthetic upgrades and a redesigned stock for enhanced comfort. The Inflex recoil pad minimizes recoil, facilitating rapid subsequent shots. And while some traditionalists might be skeptical, the Invector-Plus choke system adds versatility to this shotgun.



Best Sub-Gauge Semi-Auto: Benelli SBE 3 28-gauge

benelli-super-black-eagle-3-28gauge-shotgun-review-best-sub-guage-semi-auto-shotgun

Key Features

  • Action: Semi-Auto (Inertia)
  • Gauge: 28
  • Weight: 5.6 pounds
  • Barrel length: 26 or 28 inches

Why It Made the Cut


The Benelli SBE3 28-gauge shotgun is the pinnacle of sub-gauge semi-autos. With its 3-inch chamber, it offers payloads akin to a 20-gauge but with the compactness and minimal recoil of a 28-gauge.

Pros

  • Minimal recoil
  • 3-inch chamber
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Limited availability
shotgun-in-hand-benelli-super-black-eagle-3-28gauge-shotgun-review-best-sub-guage-semi-auto-shotgun

Product Description


Sub-gauge shotguns have recently surged in popularity. Recognizing this trend, Benelli introduced their Super Black Eagle 3 28-gauge shotgun, setting a high standard. This firearm is tailored for hunting elusive coveys of quail and chukar, where multiple shots are often required. The Comfort Tech stock significantly reduces recoil, making follow-up shots even smoother. With the right load and choke combination, the 28-gauge can rival the performance of a 20-gauge without the added recoil and weight. Once you experience the 28-gauge, you might just be smitten. Consider yourself warned.


Best Bang for Your Buck: Winchester SX4 Field

Best Bang for Your Buck-Winchester SX4 Field

Key Features

  • Action: Semi-Auto (Gas)
  • Gauge: 12, 20
  • Barrel length: 26- and 28-inch
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 12 ounces (12-gauge, 28-inch)

Why It Made the Cut


The SX4 Field offers a classic upland design based on the tried-and-true SX4 platform. Priced just under a thousand dollars, this shotgun provides exceptional value for money.

Pros

  • Ambidextrous safety
  • Comfortable pistol grip
  • Reliable across various shell types

Cons

  • Sticky bolt can be challenging to open
  • Stiff load gate, especially in cold conditions
review of shotgun Best Bang for Your Buck-Winchester SX4 Field

Product Description


The SX4 Field’s classic matte-black receiver, combined with a satin oil-finished walnut stock, exudes a timeless upland aesthetic. This shotgun is not only visually appealing but also performs reliably across a range of payloads. Winchester has incorporated an oversized safety and bolt release, making operations with gloves seamless. The Inflex Technology Recoil Pad ensures minimal recoil from the 12-gauge SX4. Its compact pistol grip is suitable for hunters with both small and large hands. If your budget tops out at $1,000, the SX4 Field should be your go-to choice.


Best Youth: Mossberg International SA-20 Youth

youth-hunter-with-first-shotgun

Key Features

  • Action: Semi-Auto (Gas)
  • Gauge: 20
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Weight: 6.25 pounds

Why It Made the Cut


The SA-20 Youth shotgun from Mossberg is the ideal starter shotgun for young enthusiasts. It allows them to focus on barrel control and safety operations.

Pros

  • Compact design tailored for youth
  • Comfortable handling
  • Low recoil

Cons

  • Fixed Length of Pull (LOP) means it might be outgrown
Best Youth Shotgun review Mossberg International SA-20 Youth

Product Description


Introducing younger generations to hunting traditions is vital for the sport’s continuity. Bird hunting serves as an excellent entry point. Youth-specific shotguns, like the SA-20 Youth, offer a lightweight, low-recoil, and comfortable option for budding bird hunters. Its affordable price tag ensures value for money, especially when introducing youngsters to the sport. While the fixed LOP means the shotgun might be outgrown, it’s perfect for their formative years, setting them on the path to becoming seasoned hunters.


FAQ’s

What makes a good bird hunting shotgun?

A good bird hunting shotgun is one you can shoot proficiently. A high-priced shotgun is of no use if you can’t aim accurately with it. Conversely, if you never miss with a handed-down pump, that’s the one to take to the field. The best gun is the one you’re most comfortable and accurate with.

Is 12- or 20-gauge better for upland bird hunting?

In most cases, a 12-gauge can be overkill for upland birds. However, for late-season roosters with longer shot distances, a 12-gauge is preferable. Otherwise, a 20 or 28-gauge is often ideal.

What can you hunt with a 20-gauge?

From large sage grouse to small quail, a 20-gauge is versatile. It strikes a balance between the power of a 12-gauge and the lightness of a 28-gauge, offering sufficient knockdown power without the hefty recoil of a 12-gauge.



Final Thoughts

In terms of performance and reliability, the shotguns listed here are among the best for bird hunting. However, individual preferences vary. What works for one person might not for another. Regardless, all the options listed are more than capable for bird hunting. Choose a shotgun within your budget, master it, and venture into the fields. The joy of hunting transcends the mere act of downing a bird. When the moment arises, ensure you’re wielding a shotgun you trust implicitly.

Dexter Derelict
Dexter Derelict
Director of All Things Digital

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