Budget Pump Shotguns: 870 vs M500 vs Nova vs SXP

The Gun Fight Friday from two weeks ago pitted the Remington 870 against the Mossberg 500 in a battle of budget pump guns. A few of you wrote in and asked "What about the Benelli Nova and/or the Winchester SXP pump?"

So, I thought we should reopen the debate to include those guns as well. The four of them are probably the most popular budget pumps. I have owned all four guns at one time or another. All are highly affordable, but when you’re paying the lowest possible price for a gun, you have to expect some downside. Here are my thoughts:

Remington 870 Express

The 870 used to be my default, knee-jerk recommendation for a first gun. It still is if we’re talking about the Wingmaster, but with a list price of $830, the Wingmaster isn’t a budget gun anymore. Most people, when they talk about 870s, mean the lower-priced 870 Express. In recent years Expresses haven’t worked as well as they used to, due to cost cutting measures and rough, poorly finished chambers.

Pros: The design is time-tested. The stock fits almost everyone. There is a world of aftermarket accessories for 870s. You can make one into anything you want to.

Cons: Fired shells stick in chambers of some Express models among other glitches (a good chamber polishing is said to often solve the problem). The plain metal Expresses starts rusting at the slightest hint of dampness.

Benelli Nova

I owned a Nova for a few years as my duck and sometime turkey gun. I liked it a lot and shot it well. I abused it pretty badly duck hunting, dropping it on rocks and throwing it into the mud, and it never complained. I traded it for something else – I don’t even remember what – and wish I had it back sometimes.

Pros: Slick rotary bolt action. It's heavy at about 8 pounds, which is a good thing in a waterfowl gun, especially a 3 ½-inch waterfowl gun. The magazine cut-off button in the slide is nice. I like the long forearm that accommodates a "choked up" front hand grip.

Cons: You have to learn to love its looks. The safety button is annoyingly tiny. It's also located in front of the trigger guard. I like that, but some with small hands/short fingers may not. Trigger pulls are very heavy. The forearms on some Novas rattle.

Mossberg 500

I haven’t shot Mossberg 500s as much as I have 870s and Novas, although I have duck hunted with them some and did kill turkeys for years with its big brother, the 835. Nevertheless, despite the bad-mouthing I hear about 500s, I have never had one fail, nor have I seen one fail in someone else’s hands.

Pros: It is light (if you want light). Model 500s are very slick out of the box. The gun has a top safety that left-handers and break action shooters like. There are a million variations available. The Lightning trigger that comes on some models is a nice feature for deer and turkey guns.

Cons: The integral magazine cap affixed to barrel ring may be impossible to lose, but it can be a pain to turn. The barrel ports aren't necessary and may irritate those next to you in the blind. Some features, like all the recoil pads and the sights on some turkey guns, are depressingly cheap and the whole gun feels, well, inexpensive.

Winchester SXP

Winchester's SXP is a newly redesigned Turkish-made version of the old Model 1300. I have been shooting an SXP trap and loaning it to kids on our trap team this spring. It's been great: it works, it's easy to shoot, and the action turned buttery after about a 50 round break-in period. The SXP has been getting some bad publicity lately due to a recall of some 3 ½-inch guns prompted by this video, but it's not the only gun ever to be recalled for slam firing, and I am not afraid to own one.

Pros: The field models are light (again, if that's what you want). It has the same overbored barrel, Invector Plus chokes and Inflex recoil pad of Browning/Winchester's better guns. The action is probably the slickest of any current pump.

Cons: It has a very heavy trigger pull. Again, the safety is in front of the trigger guard where it may be tough for some to reach. My trap model has a hardwood, not walnut stock (although if you have to cut costs somewhere, I would rather it be in the type of wood you use rather than something that affects the function of the gun).
Those are my thoughts. I probably should have included the Remington 887 and the Weatherby PA-08 pump in this budget roundup, but I have shot both only a very little bit. I would encourage owners of either to chime in.

My bottom line: my main interest in pumps is as waterfowl or turkey guns. If I wanted a waterfowl gun I'd buy a Nova or possibly the almost-as-cheap Super Nova. For turkeys, I'd buy an Express and hope I got a good one, or get another 835.