You want one shotgun with which you can do it all instead having one for shooting clays and another one for hunting birds? This wish can be fulfilled, but you will have to choose carefully. It is possible to get a target gun that you can use for hunting or a hunting gun that you can use for targets. However, if you want to do this right, you need to understand the differences between both kinds of shooting. To make it easier for you, if one of the two is your main interest, buy a gun exactly for that and use it for the other one. So, if you mostly shoot clays, get a gun for that and hunt with it if needed. If you mainly go hunting, use this gun for shooting clays. That is simple and straightforward. If it is both you are aiming for as your main interest, that becomes a little bit more challenging.
Now you might ask what is the big difference between clay and hunting. That is actually really simple. Going hunting, you carry your gun around for a long time while shooting it not that much. For target shotguns it is exactly the opposite. They get shot a lot and carried a little.
In practice, that means that hunting guns are lighter and come with a shorter barrel to save weight. Shotguns meant for getting clay have longer barrels and are overall heavier. With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand what you have to look for when buying a shotgun that can do it all.
First is the question of gauge. While 20-gauge is the best when you do upland hunting, 12-gauge is the best choice when it comes to all the other tasks. It is much more versatile with a greater variety of ammo being available. This allows you to choose between rounds that almost break your shoulder and are useful for waterfowl and turkeys. At the other end of the spectrum are the light kickers that are great for doves and targets.
On the other hand, the 20-gauge allows you to use lighter, trimmer guns. They are useful for upland hunting, but also skeet, sporting clays, and even going after turkey. However, to be effective, they need the right ammo, especially when hunting turkey, and they do not compare well to a 12-gauge when going for waterfowl or trap shooting. This means for you, as long as upland hunting is not your most preferred choice, go with a 12-gauge.
Then there is the question of the right length of the chamber. Target shooting makes the choice easy. Here it is only 2¾-inch shells, but when you go for longer shots, for example at turkey or waterfowl, you need more punch. In that case, 3-inch loads are the right choice. Guns made for target shooting come just with a 2¾-inch chamber. Hunting guns on the other hand come with a 3-inch chamber.
A 3-inch chamber allows you to shoot both shells with a length of 2¾ inches and 3 inches. Then there are 12-gauge shotguns that have chambers with a length of 3½ inches. While they allow heavier loads, usually 3-inch 12-gauge shells have more than enough punch even for long shots at turkey and waterfowl. This means, for a do it all shotgun, a 3-inch chamber is the right choice.
Be careful if you, for whatever reason, choose a semiautomatic with a 3½-inch chamber. They are known for not cycling well lighter loads for target shooting.
Also, there is the question of the type of action that you choose. For target shooting, semi autos and over unders are the most common choices. Semiautos bring a third, fourth and fifths round to the table. This might not be useful when it comes to target shooting, but this extra might come in handy when going hunting. As a bonus, gas operated semi autos do reduce the felt recoil making it easier to place the shot on target. Over unders on the other hand bring reliability as well the advantage of having two chokes. Also, the spent shells are easy to catch making it convenient if you are into reloading.
This means that over unders are actually a good choice for both, target work ad hunting. Gas operated semi autos are even better as they bring more firepower for hunting and reduce the recoil for target load.
Do not forget the question of barrel length. In fact, speaking from the point of ballistics, the impact is only minimal. What is more important is the weight and the balance. For target guns, the barrels come with a greater length to make it easier to swing them. However, the differences between the barrel lengths are not as pronounced as one would think. Common are 30– and 32-inch barrels. Shorter barrels are preferred for hunting, so go with 30 inches if you want to do both and with 28 inches, if you hunt more than you shoot clays.
Let’s come to the question of balance and weight. For hunting, lighter guns are better, and for target shooting, heavier guns have the advantage. The weight of target guns help with muzzle rise which is increased with a balance that is slightly skewed to the muzzle. Also, the weight helps with the recoil. If you choose over and under, take a heavier one in the range of 8 pounds or more. If you go for 20 gauge, you should pick a gun with 7 pounds. For gas operated semi autos, the weight is less important as the recoil is reduced by them anyway.
Finally, we come to the question of the point of impact. This one is expressed in the form of a ration. Normal are 50-50 or 60-40. This describes where the center of the pattern hits in relation to the point at which you aim. The stock fit and the rib of the gun affect the point of impact. For field shooting as well as skeet and clays, you go for 50-50 or a little bit higher. For trapshooting, 70-30 is preferred.
The Browning Citori CX and CXS can be found for $2319. As over unders, they combine hunting with target shooting. The sport 3-inch chambers and a barrel length of 28, 30, or 32 inches.
The CX model comes with a high, ventilated rib and a slightly high point of impact. It is great for hunting, sporting clays, skeet and trap. The CXS comes with a low rib and in 2 versions, one in 12 and the other in 20 gauge. With a flat point of impact, it is great for hunting, sporting clays and skeet.
The Browning Maxus II Sporting has a price tag of $1859. It comes with nice features, like a soft comb that reduces the felt recoil. The synthetic stock has nickel Teflon coated parts as well as hydro dipped metal parts. This makes it very durable, and it easily survives the worst of weather. Add to this an enlarged bolt handle and release button. The barrel has a length of 30 inches, and it comes with a 3-inch chamber for 12-gauge shells.
3. Benelli ETHOS Cordoba BE.S.T.
The Benelli ETHOS Cordoba BE.S.T. can be had for $2349, and it is excellent for target shooting as well as hunting. It is from the outset designed for high-volume dove shooting while at the same time incorporating target gun features, like barrel porting against muzzle jump and extended choke tubes.
Overall, the ETHOS is a lightweight inertia gun. That makes it easy to carry and very reliable. On the downside is the recoil which can be felt harder than that of gas guns. This is the price for the lower weight of the ETHOS. The synthetic stock reduces vibration, and the BE.S.T. metal coating of Benelli protects well against abrasion and rust. You can choose between 12, 20, and 28-gauge variants. All of them come with 3-inch chambers.
The Mossberg 930 Sporting costs some $1160. It comes with a 3-inch chamber and a barrel length of 28 inches. As a 12-gauge target gun, it can easily be also used for hunting. It sports some nice extras for target shooting. That includes extended choke tubes, a Cerakoted receiver, interchangeable fiber-optic beads, and boron-nitride coated internal parts. The latter improves the function and makes the gun easier to clean.
Setting you back $1100, the Beretta A 300 Outlander Sporting is a very good deal for all around work. It is a modified variant of the Beretta 391, itself one of the greatest semi-automatic target shotguns ever made. The A300 is gas operated reducing the felt recoil, and it is super reliable. It is available in a standard version and a version with a short stock and a reduced overall length. Both of them have a 3-inch 12-gauge chamber. The barrel length is 30 inches for both versions.
These were the best shotguns for hunting and target work. If you want to get a gun that does both equally well, choose wisely, and then have fun with it.