Best Shotguns of SHOT Show 2014

Even after 15 SHOT Shows I am still overwhelmed by the sensory overload when I walk into the exhibit hall on the first day. It's really not until I get home and look back that I realize what I have seen. And, in retrospect, 2014 turned out to be a good shotgun year. Sure, there are still too many tactical and 3-Gun guns for my taste (zombie guns, though, were conspicuously absent) but there were a lot of interesting hunting and target guns to see -- some that I had already shot, like the Ruger Red Label and Benelli Ethos, and others that were complete, pleasant surprises, like the 28 gauge A400, the Syren line and the BPS Predator gun. Here's a list of a dozen interesting new guns from SHOT.

Beretta A400 28 Gauge

Beretta introduced its first-ever 28 gauge semiauto with a scaled-down version of the A400 Action. The trim 28 weighs about 5 ½ pounds but it's very shootable. Everyone who picked it up at range day couldn't miss with it. It's one of those rare light guns that balances well and moves easily to the target without being flighty. And, as a 28 gauge gas-operated semiauto, it's nearly recoilless. It's also surprisingly easy to load. Some other 28 gauge semiautos always seem to catch my thumb in the loading port because it's so narrow.

The gun has the same bronze-colored receiver and enhanced wood grain walnut stock as the 20 gauge version. Inside it's Beretta's state of the gas-gun art, a reliable and easy to clean gas system with the action spring on the magazine tube where it's easy to get at. The piston is easier to clean, too, without the nooks and crannies of the 390/391 pistons that were impossible to fully clean. It will list for around $1,600. Berettausa.com

Browning Citori 725 20 Gauge

Browning's Citori 725, with its lighter barrel contour, slimmed down receiver improved on the venerable Citori, making it a much livelier gun. It had mechanical triggers, as well, a feature target shooters prefer. As a result the 725 has been a hit, and this year the line has grown to include 20 gauge field and target models.

The 20 gauge is a perfect platform for the slimmer, lighter contours of the 725 design. The gun has lost about half a pound of weight, tipping the scales at 6 ¼ pounds with 26-inch barrels; 6 pounds, 6 ounces with 28-inch barrels. It's light enough to carry, yet still substantial enough to shoot well. The 725 comes with a silvered receiver and oil-finished walnut stock tipped with Browning's soft Inflex pad. It comes in both field and sporting models. $2,469 field, 26 or 28-inch barrels; $3,199, sporting, 28-, 30- or 32-inch barrels. Browning.com

Benelli Ethos

Benelli's Ethos was another one of the hits of range day. A 6 ½-pound inertia gun, it has confoundingly soft recoil thanks to its "Progresssive Comfort System" buttpad, a shock-absorbing system that really works, especially when paired with a soft comb insert in the stock. The Ethos also features a redesigned bolt that will never, ever frustrate you with the "Benelli click," the misfire that occurs with Benellis when the bolt is bumped out of battery. (I tried and tried to make the gun click when I hunted doves with it at home last fall and couldn't do it).

The gun has lines that are just European enough to look cool and modern without being off-putting, and it helps that it's stocked with nicely figured AA walnut. The 26- or 28-inch barrel has a carbon fiber rib to keep weight down. It has an enlarged bolt release button and a loading port on the bottom that has been widened for easier reloads that don't snag your finger, even when you're wearing gloves. The Ethos comes with either a plain black receiver for $1,999 or a silver, engraved receiver for $2,199. Benelliusa.com

Browning BPS Predator

Browning's BPS Predator gun gives the growing army of coyote hunters a shotgun that will handle surely in thick brush while blending into it. The venerable BPS gets its barrel bobbed back to 20 inches, making it a very compact package. The synthetic stock and forearm are dipped in Mossy Oak Brush and the gun has swivels for a sling for hiking from setup to setup. It comes with an optics rail with an intergral peep sight to help you put your shots on target. The 3-inch 12 gauge comes with IC, Modified and Full chokes. Add a turkey choke and this gun is ready for any game that walks: turkeys, squirrels, deer and predators.

In all other ways this is a standard BPS with the features shooters have come to know over the years: bottom eject, top tang safety, double action bars and an all-steel receiver. MSRP: $869; Browning.com

Caesar Guerini Invictus

Caesar Guerini's new Invictus target gun has been redesigned to be the most durable Guerini ever. The trunnions - the pins that the barrel pivots on in the receiver - have been moved to the monoblock of the barrel and made as easily replaceable pieces. The recoil block in the bottom of the receiver is made the same way. Wear the parts out and you can replace them with new ones, tightening the gun up again and giving it many lives, like a cat. Guerini's Wes Lang says the gun will last a million rounds.

On the outside the Invictus is still a Caesar Guerini, with all the attention to fit and finish the guns have become known for the Invictus comes in target models only, and it will sell for around $6,700. Gueriniusa.com

Syren Tempio Field

"Syren" is a new line of women's guns comprising both Caesar Guerini and Fabarm models. Rather than simply cutting down the stock, dipping it in pink camo and calling it a "ladies model," the folks at Guerini/Fabarm made a stock to fit the average woman, just as most guns have a stock designed for the average man. Syren stocks have a slightly shorter length of pull; Monte Carlo stock because women are longer from cheek to collarbone than men; a tighter grip radius to accommodate shorter fingers; and a stock that is toed out to prevent the pad from digging into a woman's chest.

The Tempio field model is a 20 gauge O/U that has long been a staple of the Guerini lineup. It weighs a little over 6 ½ pounds in 20 gauge, making it a good all-around weight for a field gun. The receiver is decorated with scroll and gold roses on the receiver, and the Syren model has roses carved into the wrist of the stock as well. The Syren lineup features 12 and 20 gauge sporting O/Us, the 20 gauge Tempio field and a 12 gauge semiatuo. MSRP: $3,950; Gueriniusa.com

Remington Versa Max Waterfowl

Already a reliable, supremely soft-shooting semiauto, the Versa Max Waterfowl Pro borrows some features from the world of 3-gun shooting to become an even better duck and goose gun. It features an enlarged bolt handle, bolt release button and safety for easier manipulation with gloves on. The loading port at the bottom of the receiver has been enlarged for faster, easier reloads and less snagging of gloved fingers and it includes a sling.

The 28-inch barrel is threaded for Remington's new ProBore choke system. The gun comes with shims to customize fit and a hard case. The Versa Max handles all 2 ¾-inch, 3-inch and 3 ½-inch shells (including very light target loads) without adjustment. The simple gas system consists of two very short-stroke pistons housed just below the chamber and it can go many, many rounds between cleanings. MSRP: $1,730; Remington.com

Ruger Red Label

Ruger's made-in-the-USA Red Label O/U disappeared from the catalog two years ago to the dismay of its strong cult following. For 2014 the Red Label has returned after its hiatus, and it's lighter and less expensive than before. With some internal parts re-engineered and others simply done away with, the new Red Labels cost much less to produce than the originals, which debuted in 1977. The side ribs have been eliminated and the barrels are struck to the thinner contour, reducing weight and improving the gun's handling. Internally, the barrels are overbored and have a longer forcing cone to improve patterns and reduce felt recoil.

The Red Label has the same familiar, unadorned stainless steel receiver and stain finished walnut stock as previous models, although this time the stock is tipped with a soft Pachmayr recoil pad. The gun is available in 12 gauge only (for now, a 20 is in the works for later this year) with a choice of 26, 28 or 30-inch barrels. MSRP: $1,399; Ruger.com

Franchi Intensity

Franchi's Intensity is the big brother to the Affinity semiauto, and it's chambered for 3 ½-inch shells. Both guns use the same inertia action pioneered by parent company Benelli but with different cosmetics and a lower price point. The Intensity comes in synthetic stocked versions only as befits its intended purpose as a gun for waterfowl and turkeys. It's very slim and light, weighing under 7 pounds even as a 3 ½-inch 12. Fortunately Franchi's TSA contains a recoil-absorbing gel insert to ease some of the pain of shooting a light inertia gun with heavy magnums.

Franchi offers the Intensity with 26-, 28- and 30-inch barrels in black, Max-4, Xtra Green and the throwback Mossy Oak Bottomland, which is popular with southern timber hunters. Starting at $1,099 in black. Franchiusa.com

Fabarm Axis Interchangeable Rib

Fabarm's latest model of the Axis Sporting Clays O/U comes with two instantly interchangeable ribs - one high, one low - allowing you to use one gun up for trap, skeet and sporting clays. Remove one pin near the muzzle, slide one rib off and the other goes on.

The Axis clays guns debuted last year. They have a distinct Euro-styled look to the stock and receiver and inside they Fabarm's Tri-Bore, essentially a very long tapered forcing cone said to improve patterning and reduce recoil. The gun weighs around 8 ½ pounds thanks both to wider, heavier receiver and a recoil reducer in the stock. It comes in a hard case that holds both ribs and five extended choke tubes. MSRP: $3,900; Fabarmusa.com

Perazzi MXS

The MXS is Perazzi's "off-the-shelf" gun, designed to put the legendary target crusher into the price range of shooters that don't have $10,000 for a made-to-order gun. It retains the same low-profile action, lively feel and clean trigger that has made Perazzis so popular among target shooters but it comes in only a few configurations. You can buy a silver or blued receiver, in 12 gauge only, with 28 ¾-, 30- or 32-inch barrels. The base model offers fixed chokes. Choke tubes are available as an upgrade. MSRP: $6,700; Perazzi.com

Mossberg 930 High Performance 13-shot

The spring conservation order snow goose season continues to try to reduce the flocks to the level where they will stop destroying their acrtic breeding habitat. Hunters are allowed electronic callers and unplugged guns and no bag limits during the spring hunts. Mossberg's 930 High Performance 13-shot semiauto is the first gun aimed specifically at spring snow hunters. Dipped in white Kryptek Yeti camo, the High Performance has a 12-round magazine extension to keep you shooting when 1,000 geese come into the decoys.

The gun comes with parts to remove the extension in case you want to use it for late Canada goose or coyote hunts when you need to blend in with the snow. The 930 is a gas-operated semiauto with a tange safety. It weighs around 7 ¾ pounds unloaded and lots more with 13 shells on board. MSRP: $945; Mossberg.com