A Gun for Birds and Clays?

People often ask me what kind of gun they should buy. Spending other people’s money on guns is one of the great perks of my job.

Today you get to play along at home. I received this recently:

I am a relatively inexperienced upland bird hunter/clay shooter with average financial means. I am looking to buy and hold on to a shotgun that will be suitable for upland bird hunting and amateur sporting clay shooting competitions. I have done my research and due diligence but I am still flummoxed as to what to purchase. This is where your expertise comes in. Do I go for something economical such as a Ruger Red Label, or do I save a little more for a middle-of-the-road Beretta? Do I focus on new or used? Ideally I would like to stay under $2,500, and would like something with longevity and of high enough quality to pass down to my yet unborn children.
-Robb

I’d point out a few things here:

“Yet unborn children” is the key phrase here. You should get as much gun buying done as possible before your children are born. Kids require food and shoes and stuff. Later they need college tuition and string basses that cost as much as the Krieghoff I might own if I weren’t paying off a string bass. Kids are a money pit. You are correct to want to buy now and spend all you responsibly can.

An O/U for hunting and targets represents a compromise. Most O/Us that are good for targets are too heavy for the field, and good field guns are too light for targets. My sporting gun has 32-inch barrels and weighs close to nine pounds. I carry it in the field once a year at a charity clays/preserve shoot and I might as well carry an anchor. It’s almost impossible to miss birds with, though.

In my view, the best crossover sporting/upland gun is a long, light gas semiauto. They are easy to shoot at targets and don’t kick much, but they’re not too heavy to carry in the field. They don’t make heirlooms as nice as an O/U, but a good gas gun like almost any Beretta or Browning will see you through many seasons of hunting and target shooting. Another alternative might be a 20 gauge sporting O/U, which will be lighter and easier to carry in the field than a 12 gauge.

On the other hand, you should probably just buy a hunting gun and shoot clays with it, because if you get seriously hooked on clays you’ll want a dedicated gun for target shooting anyway.

Should you buy a used gun? Absolutely, especially if you are looking for an O/U. People buy and get rid of O/Us all the time before they have too many rounds through them. Let them take the depreciation hit. You can usually judge how much an O/U has been shot by the position of the top lever. If you’re looking down at it from the top and it’s pointing to 5:00 o’clock, the gun hasn’t been shot a ton. If the lever points straight down to 6:00, it’s been shot a fair amount. Past 6:00, it’s been shot a great deal and you should stay away. Also, guns made even just 15-20 years ago are often more nicely fit and finished than many new guns.

My answer in a nutshell: if you want to hunt more than shoot, buy a used Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I sporting gun, your choice of 12 or 20 gauge. If you want to shoot more than hunt, find a used Beretta 682 12 gauge sporter or a used Browning Citori 725 sporter. Or, buy a field gun and a semiauto sporting gun. After all, you said “children” to hand your guns down to, not “child.”

That’s my advice. Who else wants to help Robb spend his money?