CA Guns & Hunting: Waterfowl Shotguns

CA Guns & Hunting: Shotguns for waterfowl dependent on your hunting style

By Steve Comus/Calif. Guns & Hunting Guns EditorPublished: Oct 12, 2017

In some ways, discussing shotguns for waterfowling can be fairly simple and pretty straightforward. In other ways, it can be an extremely complex matter. That’s because there are so many different situations encountered in waterfowling.

For example, there are early, mid- and late-season hunts where both the kinds of birds and their behavior can differ greatly. Then there is the weather in that warm, early-season hunts are totally different from late-season, cold and snowy hunts.


ESCORT EXTREME IS a good all-around waterfowling shotgun. As is common with waterfowling shotguns, it has sling swivels and sling so it can be carried to and from the blind, along with all of the other gear it takes to bag ducks and geese.

Basically, a credible waterfowling shotgun needs to be able to knock a duck or goose out of the air at reasonable distances, which I’ll arbitrarily define as anything within 40 yards. Yes, waterfowl can be bagged at greater distances, but not consistently by most hunters. Long distance waterfowling and the gear it requires to be successful is a separate subject unto itself, as is long distance rifle shooting.

Although most shotgun gauges can work on waterfowl, 10-, 12- and 20-gauges are the most commonly encountered. The 12 actually rules in this arena because some consider 10-gauge guns to be too big, heavy and bulky for their tastes, while others consider 20-gauge to be too small.

And, there is no question that the widest choice of waterfowling ammo is in 12-gauge shells. Within 12-gauge, all normal shell lengths can work fine — 2¾-inch, 3-inch and 3½-inch. When in doubt, opt for a shotgun that has at least a 3-inch chamber because steel shot requires more volume per shot payload weight and much of the high-performance waterfowling ammo comes in 3-inch 12-gauge shells.

There is virtually no waterfowling done with heirloom types of guns, so the use of modern guns is the rule. This means that a proper waterfowling shotgun uses interchangeable choke tubes. For most waterfowling with steel shot, opt for improved cylinder or modified chokes.

cgh_comus_mossberg35MOSSBERG 835 ULTI-MAG with its 3½-inch chamber can handle any 12-gauge ammo on the market. For those who want to be able to shoot the heaviest shot payloads, this gun makes sense. But it also works fine with shorter shells.

Many hunters like to match the camouflage pattern of their clothing with the camouflage pattern on their guns. Nothing wrong with making a fashion statement, but the fact is that ducks and geese don’t care. In fact, there is no need to use a camouflaged gun at all. It doesn’t hurt to do so, but so long as the gun doesn’t glare in the sunlight, all is well. A basic black gun with matte/non-reflective finish is fine.

The later the season gets, the harsher the weather. But environmental conditions play huge, regardless when the hunt happens. Face it, waterfowl tend to hang out around water, and that means wet and muddy conditions at all times (even laying out in an open goose field can be wet and muddy). Later in the season, add snow and ice to the equation and the picture becomes clear. A waterfowling shotgun must be able to handle adversity. What this means is that such a gun should be able to be taken apart easily and often to clean out dirt and dry off the water.

Side-by-side doubles may have been the classic waterfowling rigs in the long ago, but they really aren’t as handy as pumps and autos. Same for over/under doubles. Nice guns, but difficult to take apart and clean out the action, etc. Hence, pumps and autos make the most sense for waterfowling. And judging from what I encounter in a lot of waterfowling areas, semi-autos rule supreme. This can make a bunch of sense, because they can shoot follow-up shots as quickly as a double gun, and they also dampen the felt recoil from heavy loads.

But there is no totally free lunch. All semi-autos, whether they are shotguns, rifles or handguns, are, by definition, ammo sensitive. Also, it doesn’t take a lot of dirt and goo, especially in freezing conditions, to turn them into single-shots. The pump shotgun is the most reliable type for just about anything, waterfowling included. And it isn’t difficult to learn how to use a pump gun effectively.

cgh_comus_woodstocksWOOD STOCKS CAN work fine for waterfowling, as shown here with the Dickinson pump gun, bottom, and semi-auto, top. The matte finish of the pump is nice, but even the shinier semi-auto with chrome bolt do not present a problem for waterfowlers.

For those who are cash conscious, there is another advantage to a pump gun. It generally costs less than its semi-auto cousin.

Regardless what type of gun is used for waterfowling, there are numbers of factors to consider and things to address. First, make certain the gun works. Yes, I have known folks who just grab a gun they haven’t shot since the year before and head to the duck blind. It is disappointing to sit there with a gun that doesn’t work.

Hunters who want to increase their success on waterfowl also pattern the same ammo load they plan to use, and they pattern it through the gun/choke they plan to use on the hunt. It is important to know that the complete combination shoots good patterns at the point of aim. By patterning the gun/ammo combo ahead of time, adjustments can be made to help increase the odds for success.

And it never hurts to practice. A box or two of ammo on the sporting clays course or skeet field can do wonders. Swing dynamics and timing sometimes need a bit of a tune-up.

One last thing to think about is stock length. A stock that fits right in the warm, early season may not fit so well in the late season when layers of heavy clothing are added to the equation. There are several ways to address this situation. One can change stocks. But that isn’t practical for many hunters. A good plan is if the stock is a bit short for early season. That way, it only takes a slip-on recoil pad to lengthen the stock for the early season, and then merely take it off for the late season.

Or, with practice, it is possible for the shooter to alter his or her handling of the gun, which can mean that a single stock length can be used in all circumstances. The point is that it is worth thinking about and doing what it takes to make the entire ensemble work well in the circumstances faced on each specific hunt.

And, as always, be safe.

SEMI-AUTOS ARE preferred by many waterfowlers because they shoot fast and dampen felt recoil. Here, a Remington semi-auto is in use.

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