The Best Shotguns of 2012

**The Action: Beretta A400 XPLOR
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Beretta's latest version of its new flagship semiauto, the A400 XPLOR, now comes in a field version with a copper-bronze colored receiver. Dubbed, the "Action," it weighs around 6 ¾ pounds and is chambered for 2 ¾ and 3-inch loads. Based on what I have seen from other Beretta A400s I've shot, this gun will cycle everything you feed it, down to the lightest sub-one ounce reloads and it will run for a few thousand rounds (or more) between cleanings. The walnut has Beretta's enhanced Xtra wood grain with an oil finish. The Action offers the option of the very effective Kick-Off recoil reducer and Beretta's Grip Pod, a counter that keeps track of the rounds you fire, relative recoil, and temperature. The Grip Pod counter will come in handy for high volume South American dove shooting, but for those of us who don't jet off to Argentina every weekend, non-grip pod versions will be available soon. $1825 with Kick-Off $1620 without Kick-Off. --Phil Bourjaily
**Benelli Ultra Light 28 Gauge
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The Benelli Ultra Light may be the greatest upland semiauto ever. For this year, Benelli adds a 28 gauge version to the existing 12 and 20, an announcement that will thrill the small but devoted cult that loves the 28. The new 28 UltraLight is listed at a mere 4.9 to 5 pounds. Like its bigger 12 and 20 gauge siblings, it has a magazine tube shortened to 2-shot capacity and a carbon fiber rib on its 26-inch barrel to save weight. The stock is walnut with Benelli's tough Weathercoat finish. The gun comes with three choke tubes and promises to figure prominently in the nightmares of grouse and woodcock everywhere. MSRP: $1799. _ --PB_
Franchi Instinct Series Franchi's rebranded, redesigned, repriced O/Us may have been my favorite new guns of SHOT. The Instinct line is comprised of L and SL models. Gone are the over-decorated Franchi O/Us of past years with their ugly futuristic recoil pads. These new guns have a more restrained aesthetic that includes a classic pad, little engraving, and a rounded Prince of Wales grip. The L version has an unadorned case-colored steel receiver and weighs just 6.4 pounds in the 12 gauge, 6.1 in 20. The SL, with a bright silver finished allow receiver, scales under 6 pounds in 12 gauge (I'd stick to ounce and 1 1/8 loads if it were my gun) and about 5.4 pounds in 20 gauge. Best part? You can't guess the prices. The SL sells for $1349 while the L lists for a mere $1149, which makes it one of the best deals in an O/U I've seen in a while. --PB
Weatherby PA-08 Synthetic Slug Gun Combo For just under $500 this 12-gauge pump comes with a 28-inch field barrel and a 24-inch rifled barrel. The rifled barrel has a 1-28" twist rate and comes with a Weaver-compatible cantilever scope mount. For the field barrel, the gun comes with three chokes: Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full. It's a fairly light gun, 6.75 pounds, and is chambered for three-inch shells. --Alex Robinson
Browning Citori 725 OU Browning's Citori comes in a brand new version this year, with a lowered receiver profile and lighter, slimmer barrels. Overall, the 725 weighs nearly ¾ pound less than a standard Citori. I shot pheasants and doves with a 725 last fall and I pronounce it the liveliest Citori ever. As a bonus, the 725 has mechanical triggers in place of the inertia models, and they have a nice clean pull. The 725 comes in both Field and Sporting models, in 12 gauge only. The sporting gun has 3-inch chambers, a departure for Browning target guns, meaning it will make a nice crossover target/hunting gun. Field model: $2,469; Sporting gun: $3,313. --PB
Mossberg FLEX Platform Mossberg has long championed the "system" approach, offering accessories allowing you to convert a gun for almost any purpose. With the Flex, Mossberg just got more modular. The Flex system features three unique TLS ("tool-less") fasteners: a socket arrangement that lets you switch stocks instantly; a forearm latch, like that on an O/U, and a pair of buttons at the toe of the stock that enable you to pop recoil pads on and off. The result is gun that can be switched to a configuration for almost any shotugnning purpose in under a minute. There are 11 different base FLEX models, but you can buy into the FLEX system for as little as $593 for a basic black synthetic stocked hunting gun with a 28-inch vent rib barrel. From there, you can buy and mix and match parts to make any kind of pump gun you want, from waterfowl to deer to tactical.
Fabarm XLRS Velocity Earlier this year Caesar Guerini, known for its excellent O/Us, took an equity stake in another Italian gunmaker, Fabarm. The first result of the two companies' integration is the Fabarm XLRS Velocity semiauto. It's a nicely decorated crossover target semiauto for trap and sporting clays that, if you told me to imagine a Caesar Guerini semiauto, is the gun I would have envisioned. The gun has an adjustable comb and a high post rib that adjusts from a flat 50/50 point of impact for sporting clays up to aggressively high for trap. I haven't shot one but the action is so beautifully polished and finished inside you have to believe it's going to work very well. With its $3,200 pricetag, the XLRS Velocity is a gamble, but there is nothing like it on the market right now. _ --PB_
Winchester Super X Pump Turkey Hunter Winchester's SXP pump now comes in several 3 ½-inch versions, including this turkey gun. It has a 24-inch barrel, turkey choke, camo finish and fiber optic sights, all for a very attractive price. The SXP is a Turkish-made redesign of the old underappreciated M1300 and it retains every bit of its predecessor's slickness while bearing a strong family resemblance to the SX3 semiauto. At a listed 6 5/8 pounds - and it feels every bit that light - this is an easy carrying gun, as a turkey gun should be. It will also rock you with 3 ½-inch shells in the chamber, but remember, just because they fit in the gun doesn't mean you have to shoot them. Even with 3-inch shells this gun has the features to bring home the gobblers this spring. Price: $599. --PB
Browning A5: Return of the Humpback There is more to the return of the humpback than meets the eye: underneath the familiar receiver profile inspired by the classic Auto 5 you find Browning's version of the inertia system made popular by Benelli. I had a chance to shoot A5s this fall at pheasants and ducks and found it to be an excellent hunting gun. The new A5 comes in a 3-inch 12 gauge version in camo, black or walnut. The alloy receiver keeps the weight down and shim kits make it possible to tweak stock fit (unlike the old Auto 5 which had a ton of drop, this gun is stocked to more conventional dimensions). The A5 has Browning's long Vector Pro forcing cones, overbored barrel, and the new Invector DS choke system which has a brass band at the bottom to help seal gunk and plastic out of the threads. Starting at $1400. --PB
Franchi Affinity Unlike Franchis of the past, this autoloader works off of an inertia-driven action. While it's not exactly the same system that Franchi's sister company, Benelli, utilizes, it should still prove reliable. The Affinity is available in 20 gauge and 12 gauge and comes dressed in Advantage Max4 camo. Franchi held back and built this autoloader to be a three-inch gun and because of it, it's lighter and handles easier than most 3 1/2-inch duck guns. For $850 you get the gun and three choke tubes. --AR
Winchester SX3 With a New Pricetag One welcome way to make an already good gun better is to lower the price. Winchester's Super X3 semiauto is still the same light,fast, reliable semiauto it has always been, but by making some cosmetic changes, Winchester has been able to significantly diminish the price. Doing away with the Dura Touch finish on the synthetic stock and the Perma Cote UT metal finish on some guns means, for instance, that a 3 ½-inch Waterfowl model that cost $1,479 last year has dropped in price to $1,199 this year. The SX3 still has a weight-saving alloy magazine tube and the same reliable action that powered the Super X2 and Browning Gold and Silver semiautos. Its very soft shooting gas system combined with the Inflex recoil pad make this light gun comfortable to shoot and a great choice for an all-around gun. --PB