The Top 5 Softest Kicking Semi-Auto Shotguns

Plus three more shotguns for deer hunting with reduced recoil

The author after a successful hunt with a soft-kicking shotgun.
The author after a successful hunt with a soft-kicking shotgun.Field & Stream Online Editors

Whenever I post about semiauto shotguns, the subject of recoil reduction and which gun shoots the softest comes up.

Strictly speaking, semiautos don't reduce recoil. Recoil is a function of the weight of the ejecta (shot, wad and powder) weight, the velocity of the ejecta and the weight of the gun. You can reduce recoil by shooting a heavier gun, or choosing lighter shot charges and/or lower velocity ammunition.

However, semiautos reduce felt recoil (aka "kick") by spreading the recoil impulse out over a longer period of time. Generally speaking, gas operated semiautos offer the most recoil reduction although not all reduce felt recoil equally. Here's my list of the softest shooters. Your shoulder may disagree with mine. For instance, I shoot Beretta 391s a lot and like them, but I don't think they reduce recoil as much as do other gas guns. I also think Benelli's inertia guns get a bad rap for recoil and aren't that painful to shoot unless you insist on firing 3 ½-inch shells out of them at which point they hurt, because they are light guns. Anyway, here are my picks:

Honorable Mention – Benelli M4

Not a sporting gun, Benelli's gas operated combat shotgun is very soft kicking. I have only fired one once but when I did I emptied an extended magazine-full of high velocity buckshot and was surprised how little it kicked and how easy it was to keep on target.

5. Winchester Super X2

The whole Browning and Winchester Gold/Silver/Maxus/Super X2/Super X3 family are almost as soft-shooting as Remington 1100/11-87s. The X2 always felt the mildest to me because it weighed more than any of the others.

4. Beretta A400

With the optional Kick-Off recoil reduction system, the A400 (especially the heavier Extreme waterfowl gun) comes close to being the softest shooter. Without Kick-Off, no so much.

3. Remington 1100/11-87

The 1100/11-87 series are heavy guns with a gas system that reduces recoil noticeably more than almost any other. The 1100 is the original soft-shooting gas gun. Almost 50 years after its introduction it's still among the most pleasant of semiautos to shoot.

2. (tie) 10 Gauge Gas Guns The Browning Gold 10 and Remington SP 10

Weigh 10-11 ½ recoil-soaking pounds, feature gas operation, and don't hurt in the least to shoot. Pull the trigger, and you feel a gentle but powerful push, as if a giant has laid a finger on your shoulder while asking you to take a step backward. When my younger son was 12 I let him shoot a bunch of clays with an SP 10 and hunting loads. He giggled at the way the targets disintegrated but the gun didn't hurt.

And the winner is:

1.Remington Versa Max

Perhaps because it is a heavier (near eight pounds) gun, and because its gas ports are located in the chamber (the system is inspired by Benelli's M4, see above) where they bleed off a lot of expanding gases quickly, and because it has a very thick recoil pad on the butt and in the comb, the Versa Max is the softest-shooting semiauto I have ever tried. It's a homely gun, but its powers of felt recoil reduction are astonishing.

Three Reduced-Recoil Shotgun Slugs for Deer Hunting

I shot the slugs at 50 yards off my trusty Lead Sled shooting rest for accuracy, then offhand to get a feel for their kick. My test medium was the very useful Bullet Test Tube (thebullettesttube.com). I'd say anything that goes more than 4 inches into the tube is going to kill a deer very dead. Here's what I found:

Federal Vital-Shok Truball Low Recoil

Standard Truballs weigh 1 ounce and have a muzzle velocity of 1600 fps. The low-recoil versions weigh the same but depart at a milder 1300 fps, generating about 17 foot-pounds of recoil in an 8-pound gun.

Accuracy: The low-recoil version proved every bit as accurate as the regular TruBalls in my smoothbore Ithaca 37 Deerslayer. I could put three in just under 2 inches at 50 yards with ease.

Penetration: At 50 yards, the standard slug penetrated 8¼ inches into the Test Tube; its counterpart went in 5¾ inches.

Ouch Factor: There was a perceptible lag between the boom of the gun and the thump of the low-recoil slug 50 yards away--almost enough time for me to think, Hey, that didn't hurt.

Conclusion: TruBalls are ideal if you hunt deer with a smoothbore. Figure 75-80 yards as the maximum effective range of the low-recoil ones, which I believe is about the maximum range for Foster slugs and smoothbore guns anyway.

Remington Managed-Recoil Copper Solid

This is an all-copper sabot slug designed for a rifled barrel.

Accuracy: Both the regular and the Managed-Recoil types turned in tight groups, with all the holes touching at 50 yards, when shot from a fully rifled Ithaca 37.

Penetration: The regular copper solids have a muzzle velocity of 1450 fps. When I shot one at the Test Tube it passed all the way through, popped the lid off the bottom, and fell into the dirt of the backstop. The lower-velocity version penetrated 7½ inches. Both slugs expanded perfectly.

Ouch Factor: At 1 ounce and 1200 fps, the Managed-Recoil Copper Solids were the softest-kicking slug I tried. The sensation wasn't much different from shooting a light target load.

Conclusion: It's a great choice for the recoil-conscious shooter who wants the utmost accuracy from a rifled gun. I wouldn't hesitate to shoot a deer at 100 yards with a Managed-Recoil Copper Solid.

Remington Managed-Recoil Buckhammer

A full-bore, attached-wad slug designed for rifled barrels, Remington's standard 2¾-inch BuckHammer weighs 1¼ ounces with a muzzle velocity of 1550 fps and generates well over 35 foot-pounds of recoil. This puts it in the same class, kickwise, as a midbore magnum rifle like a.338. The Managed-Recoil BuckHammers shoot a 1 1/8-ounce slug at 1350 fps and produce about a third less recoil.

Accuracy: The light BuckHammers grouped around 1 5/8 inches at 50 yards.

Penetration: The standard BuckHammer blasted a cavity about 4 inches wide upon hitting the Test Tube before passing all the way through. The Managed-Recoil BuckHammer didn't make nearly as violent an entry, but it, too, zipped out the end of the Test Tube.

Ouch Factor: While these Managed-Recoil loads are lighter and slower than the regular BuckHammers, they still kick much harder than the other two low-recoil loads I tested.

Conclusion: It's a devastating and accurate performer from rifled-barrel guns but not a light kicker. These are definitely 100-yard slugs with power to spare.

Any of these low-recoil slugs will kill deer at reasonable ranges. They might even kill better than faster slugs, because it's easier for the average shooter to put them on target. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race after all.

Impact Photos: See how these slugs penetrated and expanded at fieldandstream.com/slugfest