Teal season. Wood-duck hunts. Opening day, when mallards want to land on your head. The list of duck hunts that don't require a shoulder cannon runs long. In fact, the average shot at decoying waterfowl is less than 30 yards, and with improved steel duck loads, a 20-gauge is up to the job on nearly any day of the season. Splurge on Hevi-Shot and a 20 can do anything a 12 loaded with steel can. The light weight and low recoil make the 20 a great choice for newcomers and smaller hunters, too. Here are four new models that suit a range of experience, pocketbooks, and tastes.
1. Benelli M2 Left-Handed Version - ($1,519; benelliusa.com)
THE SPECS: Action: Inertia semiauto; Weight: 5.8 lb.; Barrel Length: 26"
THE SKINNY: A favorite house gun at many high-volume South American dove lodges, the 20-gauge M2 is one of the most durable, reliable smallbores out there. New for this year is a true mirror--image left-handed version that even includes a recoil pad contoured to fit a left shoulder. The gun comes only in black with Benelli's ComforTech stock. Because it has no springs or rings around the magazine tube, the M2 has a very slender fore-end, making it feel more like a trim o/u than a bulky semiauto. I shot a 12-gauge M2 as my main duck gun for a couple of years and found it not too painful to shoot despite its light weight. I expect the same from the 20. Five Crio chokes from Cylinder to Full are included.
2. Beretta A400 Xplor Action with Kick-Off ($1,825; berettausa.com)
THE SPECS: Action: Gas semiauto; Weight: 5.75 lb.; Barrel Length: 26" or 28"
THE SKINNY: Light and also light-kicking, the new 20-gauge A400 Xplor Action seems tailor-made for high-volume dove fields, but it will fit right into the duck blind as well. The gas action of the A400 combined with the hydraulic Kick-Off recoil reducer will take the bite out of 3-inch magnums that would otherwise sting in this very light gun. All the A400s I have shot have been very reliable and easy to clean. This one is no different. The Action's stock is Beretta's Xtra-Grain enhanced walnut with a matte oil finish. The copper-tinted receiver is rather subdued, so despite its good looks this gun won't shine and spook ducks.
Browning BPS Micro Midas and Stoeger Longfowler
3. Browning BPS Micro Midas ($649; browning.com)
THE SPECS: Action: Pump; Weight: 7 lb.; Barrel Length: 24" or 26"
THE SKINNY: This reduced-length version of Browning's reliable pump is perfect for smaller waterfowlers. It has a 13-inch stock and comes with a pair of 1⁄4-inch spacers to adjust length. Thanks to the bottom ejection and ambidextrous top safety, the BPS has long been a favorite of left-handers and double-gun shooters looking for a pump in the marsh. The Micro Midas is heavy for a 20-gauge pump gun, though lighter than the 12, and that extra weight is a recoil-reducing benefit in the duck blind.
4. Stoeger Longfowler ($449; stoegerindustries.com)
THE SPECS: Action: Break-action o/u or side-by-side; Weight: 7 or 7.5 lb.; Barrel Length: 30"
THE SKINNY: With price tags that read like typos, Stoeger's pair of Longfowlers put a 20-gauge o/u (shown) or side-by-side duck gun in anyone's budget. I have had a chance to shoot the 12-gauge o/u version, and frankly it surprised me: Despite its weight and bulk and all-around stiffness, it proved to be smooth handling and surprisingly fun to shoot.
The Longfowlers have matte-finished walnut and metal and come with extended, knurled choke tubes in Improved Cylinder and Modified. They have single, nonselective triggers and extractors only. These are hefty guns, as waterfowl guns should be. No, they are not things of beauty, but when you hunt ducks you want a gun that looks better with mud on it, not worse.