Shotguns are iconic in both the media and modern military for their stopping power. They are devastating weapons at close ranges. The only real drawbacks were their subpar fire rate until semi-auto shotguns came along. The idea of emptying 6 rounds of 12-gauge in 3 seconds may sound silly, but it is a real possibility today.

Unfortunately, semi-auto shotguns are not as famous as their break-action or pump-action brothers. However, shotguns have been around for quite some time and they are excellent firearms for both beginners and expert shooters in home defense situations. But first, a little history lesson.

The History of Semi-Auto Shotguns

Semi-auto shotguns only entered the spotlight recently, but they have a long history. It all began with the Browning Auto-5. This prototype semi-auto was as reliable as a broken car. It was quite terrible and no one really wanted to use it. As time went on, Browning fixed most of the problems with their firearm and the semi-auto shotty started to gain traction with the public and military alike.

As you might expect, having the ability to dump multiple 12-gauge shots in rapid succession is quite handy, whether you are a hunter, practicing, or in combat. The Auto-5 operates based on its recoil. It uses the energy from the recoil to eject the spent shell and cycle a new one into the chamber. Most of the guns I will show you today are also recoil-operated.

From there, we started to see more semi-auto shotties in the market. Major gun manufacturers, such as Browning, Mossberg, and Remington, started pumping this new breed of shotguns into the market. Unfortunately, none of them really found success until recently.

Demands for the semi-auto shotty started to rise and prices started to drop. Athletes in 3-gun and other action shooting sports appreciate the high rate of fire of the semi-auto shotguns.

Pump-action shotguns require you to slide the fore-end, where you cock the gun, which then ejects shells and cycles in a new one using a spring-operated mechanism. A semi-auto shotty does this automatically through either a gas system (similar to that of AR-15) or through recoil.

Pump-Action vs. Semi-Auto Shotguns

With the history out of the way, let’s talk about how the semi-auto compares to the pump-action shotty.

The pump-action is cheaper and accepts most ammo. The system is also simpler, making it easier to maintain, and it is reliable. However, they have a lot of recoil, which further reduces its already low rate of fire even more. You need two hands to operate pump-action shotguns, and they can be short-stroked, which is highly likely in high-stress situations and can lead to malfunctions that are hard to clear.

On the other hand, semi-auto shotguns provide better tactical benefits. For one, it is much easier to operate for beginners. They do not have to worry about staying on the target when cycling rounds nor do they need to worry about the recoil or short-stroking. You can operate the semi-auto shotty with only one hand (although not recommended). The higher rate of fire is also useful in competitions. However, semi-auto shotguns are more prone to jam since their design is more complex. They are heavier and harder to maintain as well. They also cannot accept some low-powered shells since those cannot produce the energy needed to cycle the action.

Both semi-auto and pump-action shotguns have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is up to you to decide which one suits your needs better. Semi-autos are better for competitive shooters and beginners alike. As shotgun technology continues to develop, we may start to see better semi-auto shotguns that can beat their pump-action brother in all aspects.

Semi-auto shotguns are so easy to operate. All you need is to charge the gun via the charging handle and the gun will run until it is empty. When that happens, you will see the bolt locked to the rear. You will see, hear, and feel it when the gun is empty. All of this cannot be said for pump-action shotguns, however. The best you can do is to count your rounds, which is easier said than done in a stressful situation.

But enough with the theory. Let’s look at some of the best semi-auto shotguns you can get your hands on today.

1. Stoeger M3500

The Stoeger M3500 is a recoil-operated semi-automatic hunting shotgun. It is a good all-rounder weapon that comes at around $600. It is initially designed to take down upland game birds, turkeys, and waterfowls. However, if you have the right choke, which is interchangeable, it can take down deer as well.

There are 3 different barrel lengths to choose from, and there is a ribbed barrel. The M3500 is compatible with any shells from 2 3/4s to 3 ½ inch Magnum. It comes with fiber optic sights and a shim kit if you want to make the stock a bit longer. Overall, the Stoeger M3500 is an excellent all-rounder budget shotgun.

2. Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe

The Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe is a gas-operated shotgun from Turkey. It is available in 12, 20, and 28 gauge. This is an excellent mid-range semi-auto shotty as it is reliable and very fun to shoot. The SA-08 is light and gorgeous, not to mention affordable.

Depending on the gauge, the gun weights anywhere between 5.5 – 6.5 pounds, which is why many pigeon and waterfowl hunters love it. Aesthetics-wise, it looks mighty fine with its high-gloss walnut stock.

3. Browning A5

This is the gun that started it all. The recoil-operated Browning A5 is a classic. Other than the extensive history behind this weapon, the new and improved A5 is better than ever thanks to modern technology. It shares the same vintage look but comes with a modern system that allows it to be lightweight and reliable. Unlike the first A5, the modern A5 is a shotgun that you can trust with your life.

4. Mossberg 930 Tactical

The Mossberg 930 Tactical a gas-operated shotgun that I would recommend for a home defense situation. From the outside, the 930 looks pretty bare. However, aesthetics has no bearing on the gun’s performance. It is affordable and reliable. It holds 7+1 shells and has a cylinder choke bore. Another thing worth pointing out is that this gun may have problems cycling low-brass shells, so make sure you use high-brass variants.

5. Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical

This is another variant of the 930 series. The Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical has greater ammo capacity, 8+1, a pistol grip, and a sleek look. It is a bit more expensive than the 930, but I would recommend using this one if you have the money.

6. Beretta TX4 Storm

Beretta is one of the few gun manufacturers that can design a gun that is sleek, reliable, and ergonomic at the same time. The Beretta TX4 Storm is a gas-operated, 12-gauge semi-auto shotgun that can handle both reduced-power and full-power loads.

The TX4 has many innovative features that make it stand out from the crowd. It is perfect for both home defense and crowd control situations. The only downside is that the barrel is 18.5 inches long, so it is not ideal for 3-gun competitions. For that, you need the SLP Mark 1.

7. FN SLP Mark 1

The FN SLP Mark 1 is a gas-operated, 12-gauge semi-auto shotty that is a strong contender for both home defense and competitive shooting. One of its strongest points is that it is very durable. It can withstand harsh environments and still function flawlessly as if it is brand new. It is dependable and also a bit pricey, but it is worth every penny.

8. Benelli M4

Sommelier did not suggest the Benelli M4 to John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 2 for no reason. Superlatives aside, the M4 is a masterpiece of a shotgun, which explains its price ($1800). It is perhaps the best high-end shotgun you can get your hands on today. It performs flawlessly anytime, anywhere, in any situation, be it home defense, hunting, or competition. This gun has made an appearance in many video games and has seen combat on six continents as it is the U.S. Marines M1014 Joint Service shotgun.

The Benelli M4 utilizes an auto-regulating gas operating system, ARGO for short. It allows the gun to remain reliable even after long periods of shooting. The ghost ring sight is adjustable, but you can mount your optics of choice if you want.

9. Mossberg 930 SPX/JM Pro

The Mossberg 930 SPX/JM Pro can be considered to be a more refined variant of the 930. It comes with a set of ghost ring sights and 10+1 ammo capacity. It is compatible with optics for AR-15 is the front sight is AR-15 height. The rear sight is adjustable. If you get the JM variant, you would get an extended mag tube, a beveled mag well, quick detach sling mounts, and a bunch of other high-end features that are only found on expensive guns.

10. Benelli M2 Tactical

The Benelli M2 Tactical is, as the name suggests, a tactical semi-auto shotgun. It looks sleek and comes with 3 stock configurations: Standard, pistol grip, and the amazing ComforTech stock that reduces felt recoil drastically. Similar to the M4, the M2 is dependable.

The ComforTech stock is said to reduce felt recoil by 50%, allowing you to put more shots down range rapidly without compromising accuracy as much. In addition, the gun is lightweight and the frame is Wet/Dry finish, courtesy from Benelli, allowing you to handle the gun quite comfortably in all conditions.

11. Remington Versa Max Competition Sportsman

The Remington Versa Max Competition Sportsman is designed for competitive shooting, especially 3-gun competition. It is a 12-gauge semi-auto gas-operated shotgun that utilizes Remington’s Versaport tech. This system allows the gun to regulate gas pressure depending on the ammo you feed it. That means it is compatible with 2 ¾ – 3-inch cartridges. Even if you load different ammo, the recoil feels the same which allows for a more consistent shooting experience. Overall, the Versa Max is a well-rounded semi-auto shotgun that is easy to use.

Conclusion

And there you have it. The only thing you need to worry when it comes to semi-auto shotty is maintenance. A poorly-maintained gun is more prone to jamming or other failures, especially if you get a gas-operated shotgun. The lower recoil and higher rate of fire make the semi-auto shotgun worth every penny. With a bit of diligence, a semi-auto shotgun is a powerful and versatile weapon in the hands of both veteran and novice shooters alike.

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