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Pump shotguns work when semiautos fail. Cold, wet, gritty, icy conditions don’t matter to a pump gun. They’re durable, reliable, and of great value. They are not fussy about ammunition. You can pick a pump as an entry-level gun or buy one as the only shotgun you’ll ever need. Practice with the right, slick pump gun, and you can shoot it as fast and as easily as a semiauto.

The first pump patent was actually taken out by an Englishman, but the first working, marketable pump was made by Americans. Christopher Spencer, already known for the Spencer repeating carbine of the Civil War, and inventor Sylvester Roper collaborated on a pump gun in 1882. It was a strange-looking gun, with what appeared to be a second trigger that was actually a recocking lever in case you had a misfire and needed to try the shell again.

Inventor-genius John Browning made the first great pump gun. His Model 1893 had an exposed hammer and, like the Spencer, parts that stuck out in all directions when you worked the slide. The Model 1897 was the same gun but made for smokeless powder, and it was good enough that it was still produced long after an exposed-hammer gun should have been obsolete.

Winchester and John Browning’s long relationship soured, leaving Winchester to go in-house for the Model 97’s hammerless successor. The Model 1912 (later Model 12) is arguably the greatest pump ever, a gun that pointed and handled beautifully and worked smoothly. It was made in all gauges (the .410 version was different enough to be called the Model 42), and it served target shooters, upland hunters, and waterfowlers equally well over its long production life.

The modern era of pump guns began in 1950 with the Remington 870. Using mass-production techniques learned during WWII, Remington made a gun that functioned extremely well yet required very little hand-fitting. It could be made and sold for much less money than previous pumps like the Model 12, and it changed the market forever.

Pumps today have lost some of their popularity to semiautos, which have become more reliable, more versatile, and less expensive, but you can still find a slide action for any purpose. Here are the best pump shotguns you can buy.

Pump shotguns are a popular choice among duck hunters for their reliability in the field. Ryan Chelius

How We Made Our Picks

Pump shotguns are hard-working tools, and we kept that in mind as we made our choices. We are very familiar with all of the selections on this list and have broken down our picks into categories. Besides having a best all-around, we also focused on turkey hunting, waterfowl hunting, and youth options. We also based our picks for the best pump shotguns on the following criteria:

  • Reliability: What’s the point of a pump if it doesn’t work? Does the gun shoot without drama?
  • Quality of construction: Is the gun well-built? Inexpensive doesn’t have to mean cheap.
  • Weight and balance:  A gun’s weight and balance dictate what it will be used for. Guns that will be carried a long way should be light. Guns that won’t benefit from extra weight.
  • Ergonomics: A shotgun has to fit and feel good in the hand. Its controls should also be easy to use, and a pump’s stroke should be slick.
  • Price/Value: Pump guns, with a few exceptions, are about value. We looked at these guns to be sure you’re getting a good return for your money, no matter how much or how little you’re spending.

Best Pump Shotguns: Reviews & Recommendations

Best All-Around: 870 Fieldmaster Synthetic

Specs 

  • Gauges: 3 ½-inch and 3-inch 12-gauge, 3-inch 20-gauge
  • Weight: 7.5 pounds (3-inch 12-gauge)
  • Length: 48 inches with 28-inch barrel
  • Barrel: 26- or 28-inch, vent rib, screw-in chokes, white front bead; also 21-inch and 18 ½-inch barrels for Compact and Micro Compact 20-gauges
  • Stock: Black synthetic or walnut
  • Receiver: Matte blue
  • Price: $600

Pros

  • Reliable
  • Soft butt- and cheek pads

Cons

  • Unattractive walnut stock

The 870 is back. America’s pump gun fell on hard times in the earlier part of this century, as cost-cutting measures turned a gun once synonymous with reliability into junk. New owners have committed to making the gun right, even if that means they can no longer compete with their rival Mossberg 500 in price.

For a little more money, you get not only a great recoil pad (Remington’s SuperCell), but also a soft cheek pad. Together, combined with the weight of the gun, they help tame pump gun recoil. The old Express Remingtons shipped with one choke. This one gives you three, and a drilled and tapped receiver. Also, the new finish is more rust-resistant than the old one. It’s still a good value despite a higher price.

The trigger of my test gun was, by shotgun standards, good, at five pounds. Is it perfect? No. The walnut stock is unattractive enough I actually would choose the synthetic, which is rare for me.

Best Turkey Gun: Mossberg 835 Holosun Package

Specs

  • Gauges: 3 ½-inch 12-gauge
  • Weight: 7 pounds with 20-inch barrel (24-inch gun optic-ready gun without sight also available)
  • Length: 40.75 inches with a 20-inch barrel
  • Barrel: 20- or 24-inch vent rib, fiber-optic sight with turkey choke
  • Stock: Synthetic
  • Receiver: Mossy Oak Greenleaf
  • Price: $895

Pros

  • Optic cut lets you maintain cheek weld with the red dot
  • Overbored barrel for better patterns
  • 20-inch barrel saves weight, makes gun compact

Cons

  • Plastic safety
  • Flimsy fiber-optic

The first gun chambered for the then-new 3 ½-inch 12 gauge back in 1989, the 835 makes a great turkey gun with any length 12-gauge shell. I shoot an older one and love it. This new model features a cut-out in the receiver for low-mounting of a micro red dot, and it comes with said red dot—a Holosun 407, already installed.

Although basically a super-sized Model 500, the 835 has a standard magazine cap, which I much prefer to the nut on the Model 500. While the 20-inch barrel can be a bit finicky to get to pattern right, once you do, it’s lights out, and the short barrel makes the gun compact and easy to manage. I would recommend replacing the plastic safety with an aftermarket tactical safety. And, the fiber-optic bead, which you won’t be using anyway since you have the red dot, is flimsy. Otherwise, this gun is ready for the woods and, in my 12-gauge-loving view, pretty close to turkey-gun perfection.

Best-Shucking Pump: Winchester SXP

Specs 

  • Gauges: 3 ½-inch 12-gauge, 3-inch 12-gauge, 3-inch 20-gauge
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 14 ounces (3-inch 12-gauge field gun, 28-inch barrel)
  • Length: 48.5 inches with 28-inch barrel
  • Barrel: Vent rib, three chokes (field model)
  • Stock: Hardwood
  • Receiver: Matte black
  • Price: Starting at $409

Pros

  • Great value
  • Lightweight
  • Very smooth action

Cons

  • Safety can be hard to reach with small hands

Winchester changed the name of this gun a few times: the SXP was originally the 1300, and briefly, the “Speed Pump.” Of the three names, “Speed Pump” was the most fitting. The gun has a rotary bolt that makes the action extremely slick. It seems to pump itself. During its Speed Pump phase, Winchester billed it as “the pump that thinks it’s an autoloader.”

In addition to being very smooth, the SXP is very affordable. The Turkish-made gun incorporates several engineering improvements, and it starts at just $400. It comes in a version for almost everything, from compact guns to 3 ½-inch waterfowl guns, turkey guns, deer guns, and a trap model. Following Winchester tradition, it has a safety button at the front of the trigger guard, which some people don’t like.

Best All-Weather Waterfowl gun: Benelli Nova

Specs

  • Gauges: 3 ½-inch 12-gauge, 3-inch 12-gauge, 3-inch 20-gauge
  • Weight: 8 pounds (3 1/2-inch 12-gauge field gun, 28-inch barrel)
  • Length: 48.5 inches with 28-inch barrel
  • Barrel: Vent rib, three chokes
  • Stock: Synthetic
  • Receiver: Synthetic, camo versions available.
  • Price: $499

Pros

  • Polymer-covered receiver is tough
  • 8-pound weight absorbs recoil
  • Long forend
  • Smooth stroke

Cons

  • Heavy trigger
  • Small safety button ahead of trigger guard

The Nova’s unique one-piece stock and receiver is built around a steel cage that adds strength where it’s needed. It also makes the gun impervious to all kinds of abuse. The Nova has other strengths. It’s heavy, for one, as a waterfowl gun should be, and few are anymore. Its 8-pound weight smooths your swing and soaks up recoil. The forend extends all the way back to the receiver, so those of us who like to take a short hold on a shotgun can cycle it comfortably.

The Nova I used to own had an extremely heavy trigger pull, and while mine was an outlier, Nova triggers can still use a visit to a gunsmith in order to make lighter. Also, the safety button is tiny and located ahead of the trigger guard. I never actually had a problem finding mine in a hurry, but I always worried that I would.

Best Youth Pump: Mossberg Bantam

Specs 

  • Gauges: 20-gauge, .410 bore
  • Weight: 6.5 pounds (20-gauge with 22-inch barrel)
  • Length: 40.75 inches with 22-inch barrel
  • Barrel: Vent rib, three chokes
  • Stock: Hardwood
  • Receiver: Blue
  • Price: $518

Pros

  • EZ-grip forend, tight-radius pistol grip and short LOP for smaller shooters
  • Reliable Model 500 action
  • Full-size stocks and barrels are available

Cons

  • Poor recoil pad

No one offers more compact/youth shotguns than Mossberg. Countless kids take their first shots with a Bantam, and you can add full-size stocks and longer barrels so the gun can grow with the shooter. A scaled-down version of the popular Model 500, the Bantam comes with a 13-inch length of pull and a 22-inch barrel to make it easy for smaller shooters to handle. The pistol grip has a tighter radius, and the EZ-Reach forend on some models is easy to reach. Don’t think there won’t be recoil just because this is a 20-gauge. The gun could use a softer pad to keep new shooters from learning a flinch.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Pump Shotgun

A pump gun can last two or three generations. Stretch your budget and get the one you want. Even so, no pump will cost as much compared to a decent semiauto or break-action gun. Be sure the gun’s controls and ergonomics work for you. Some pumps have forends located such that you have to take a long hold on the gun, which not everyone (me included) prefers.

Think about what you will use this gun for. In general, a heavy gun is a better choice for any kind of shooting in which the gun won’t be carried far. If it’s for a special purpose, look for features like drilled and tapped receivers or sling swivel studs that you will need. And you can always buy extra barrels to make a gun more versatile.

As far as accessories go, you’ll find far more aftermarket parts and accessories for the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500/835 than for any other guns, many of which require no gunsmithing. That’s something to consider if you like customizing your shotguns.

Short-shucking

One of the few ways to make a pump gun malfunction is to not fully pull the slide back when you’re ejecting a shell. If you don’t, you “short shuck” the gun. When you do, the empty shell won’t travel far enough back for the ejector to kick it out of the gun. Meanwhile, the shell lifter picks up and elevates the next shell out of the magazine, but there’s no place for it to go with the empty in the way, and you’re stuck.

It’s easy enough to clear this malfunction. You just pry them empty hull out, but it does put the gun out of commission when you probably need it to fire again. The remedy is to teach yourself to pull back hard on the slide and to slam it shut. Pumps are made to be cycled roughly.

FAQs

Q: Is a pump good for clay target sports?

Most clay shooters learn toward O/Us and semiautos to eliminate the need to work the action between shots, so pumps are rarely seen on skeet fields and on sporting clays courses. In the 1930s-1950s, though, the Winchester Model 12 and Remington Model 31 pumps dominated skeet shooting, so it is very much possible to cycle the action between shots at a pair of targets in the air at the same time.

Q: Is a 20-gauge pump a good hunting gun?

A 20-gauge pump makes a fine choice for someone who might not want the weight and bulk of a 12-gauge. There is no upland bird that can’t be hunted with a 20. Tungsten Super Shot makes the 20-gauge a potent turkey gun. Used within reasonable ranges, a 20 makes a good duck gun. The only thing it can’t do is hold payloads of BB and larger shot for longer-range goose or predator shooting.

Q: Do I need a 3 ½-inch 12-gauge for waterfowl and turkeys?

The short answer is no, you probably don’t need a 3 ½-inch gun. The first 3 ½-inch 12-gauge was a pump gun, the Mossberg 835. It was designed for one purpose, which was to hold large payloads of recently mandated big steel pellets for goose hunting. Ammunition makers began loading 3 ½-inch shells for turkeys and in smaller steel sizes for ducks. Despite owning pumps chambered for 3 ½-inch shells, I never shoot anything more than a 3-inch shell. Although the 3 ½-inch shell does give you a few yards of extra range, the shells cost more money, and they kick much harder.

Best Pump Shotguns: Final Thoughts

The pump shotgun has a long history in the United States, and it remains a functional, viable action type for many kinds of shooting. It’s still the preferred gun for home defense, law and enforcement and most military applications because it is so reliable and not finicky about ammunition. Pick the right pump, and it will give you a lifetime of faithful service. Even if you later move on to semiautos and break actions, a pump makes a great backup and bad weather gun.