Geese look big at the edge of range. They look huge up close. I waited for huge, and then hung on a couple seconds more until the four geese began to backpedal. I raised the 20-gauge M2, and two of the 12-pound giants folded just as hard as if I’d shot them with a 12.
Twenty-gauge waterfowl guns are in right now. Once considered appropriate only for the small-framed and recoil-shy, they’re now a fad among waterfowlers of all sizes and experience levels. Some clubs require 20-gauges, on the theory that a slightly quieter report helps hold birds on their properties. But far more hunters choose 20s just because they enjoy shooting the smaller guns. They’re light, trim, and easy to point. Loaded sensibly, they don’t pound on your shoulder. And used within their limitations, 20-gauges make short, humane work of ducks and geese, too.
The Best Ammo for 20-Gauge Waterfowl Shoguns
The 20′s limitations aren’t, well, very limiting if you take advantage of some of the newest ammunition. Bismuth shells from a number of makers (I have been shooting Federal and Rio No. 3 shot with good success on ducks and geese this fall) and tungsten-iron HeviShot and HeviX let you shoot a 20 with confidence out to 35 yards and more. If you want to splurge on Apex TSS waterfowl loads, a 20 will kill birds as far away as you can shoot them. Or, you can shoot just a sprinkling of TSS mixed with steel in Federal’s Black Cloud TSS, which combines both No. 3 steel and No. 9 tungsten-iron shot to give you more oomph at longer ranges. There’s nothing wrong with regular steel 20-gauge loads, either. A 3-inch hull sends an ounce of shot at around 1350 fps which, in my opinion, is fast enough. If you like speed, you can sacrifice 1/8 ounce of pellets for 200 fps more velocity. The 20′s drawback is that the smaller hull can’t hold enough big, letter-size pellets, so you are limited to 1s and 2s at the largest.
So, before moving on, let’s get this out of the way: Day in, day out, all things considered, a 12-gauge is still a better duck and goose gun than a 20-guage. That said, the time I’ve spent shooting a Benelli M2 this season convinced me the 20 is a valid choice, especially if, like me, you believe waterfowling should be a game of 20- to 30-yard shots, not long pokes.
The firearms industry is always ready to push a trend, and there are number of excellent full-size 20-gauge waterfowl guns to choose from. Here are 10.
1. Benelli M2
I’ve been shooting the Performance Shop Waterfowl M2 this season. At about 6 pounds, it’s a pleasant gun to handle, and its 28-inch barrel gives it a nice feel. Long, light guns are often easy to shoot, and this one is no exception. The Benelli Performance Shop gives guns an enlarged bolt handle and bolt release, features that everyone but me seems to like, and it has custom chokes from Rob Roberts Gunworks. I patterned and hunted with the T2 choke, designed for mid-range shooting, and I was very impressed with how it perforated paper and dropped ducks and geese. Benelli also offers a M2 Field model that has fewer bells and whistles, but is very similar and cost more than $1,000 less.
2. Benelli Nova
A 12-gauge Benelli Nova served as my duck gun for a few years, and I always liked the long forearm that let me take a short grip on it, and the rotary action, which helped it pump very smoothly. Its polymer-enclosed receiver was tough, too, and withstood a drop onto rip rap among many other indignities while I owned it. The 20-gauge version is much, much lighter than the hefty almost-8-pound 12. The safety is annoyingly tiny, but that’s the end of the gun’s shortcomings, especially given its low price. The 20-gauge comes in black or Mossy Oak camo.
3. Browning BPS
The BPS has long been a favorite of left-handers who like the gun’s top safety and bottom eject, and of anyone that likes a well-built pump gun. The gun underwent a mild update last year, with a redesigned stock and fore-end and an enlarged trigger guard for easier shooting with gloves. It’s hefty for a 20 at around 7 pounds, which helps with recoil management. It’s a durable gun, too, and there are 20-gauge versions in both black and full camo.
4. CZ Redhead Premier All-Terrain
If you’d prefer to shoot an O/U at waterfowl, the CZ All-Terrain line is worth a hard look. The Redhead is the flagship model of the 11-gun lineup. It features matte walnut with swivel studs and olive Cerakote on the receiver and barrel. It comes with a choice of 28- or 30-inch barrels and extended chokes, and—in a genius move—CZ has put tiny magnets in the ejectors that are just strong enough to keep a shell from falling out when you tip the gun to load it. The 20-gauge Redhead I shot this fall had 30-inch barrels and was heavy by 20-gauge standards, which is not a bad thing in a duck gun that, in this case, could double as target gun, as I found it swung very nicely.
5. Franchi Affinity Elite
Positioned as Benelli’s mid-price brand, Franchi has become a favorite of a lot of hunters. The Affinity Elite inertia semiauto comes in a 6-pound, 20-gauge model with a 26-inch barrel and a choice of Optifade Marsh and tan Certakote or Timber/gray. The guns feature englarged bolt handles and releases, and Franchi’s unique and very soft TSA recoil pad.
6. Mossberg 500
Light and extremely popular, the Mossberg 500 comes in a 20-gauge black synthetic version that makes it a good choice as a duck gun you don’t have to baby. Inspired by Remington’s great Model 31 pump, the 500 is just as slick-shucking, and it has the top safety that makes it a favorite with left-handers, as well as the sling swivel studs that belong on any duck gun. It comes in a 26-inch barreled model only and sells for a price so low—$445—you almost can’t afford not to buy it.
7. Retay Masai Mara Waterfowl
The newest name in inertia guns, Retay is quickly gaining a following, especially among Southern waterfowlers. Built in a very modern, high-tech factory in Turkey, they are well fit and finished. Retay has its own take on the click-proof bolt that does away with the dreaded “inertia click” misfire. The trigger group drops out with the push of a button, too. In all, these seem like well-made, well-thought-out guns. Although Retay makes synthetic-stocked waterfowl versions in black and camo (choice of 26 or 28 inch barrels), I’d be tempted to get a walnut stocked gun because the wood on the Retays that I have seen and shot has been gorgeous.
8. Stoeger 3020
If Benellis are Cadillacs and Franchis are Buicks, Stoegers are the Chevys of the Benelli semiauto family—hard-working inertia guns in anyone’s price range. The Turkish-made 3020 is light and handy at under 6 pounds, although that light weight also means it will let you know it’s there when you pull the trigger on a 3-inch shell. It comes in a variety of waterfowling-appropriate finishes, including black; all camo; Cerakote and camo; and Cerakote and walnut if you’re feeling dressy.
9. Winchester SXP Waterfowl Hunter
With its rotary bolt, the SXP is a gun so smooth you can pump it almost without conscious thought, even if you’re not a practiced slide-action shooter. Originally known as the Model 1300, the gun was redesigned, improved, and outsourced to Turkey after Winchester’s New Haven plant closed. The 20-gauge Waterfowl Hunter version with camo synthetic stock is matched with Browning/Winchester’s very effective Inflex recoil pad. It comes in both 26- and 28-inch barreled versions for under $500.
10. Winchester SX4
A good value in a proven, reliable gas gun, the SX4 comes with the enlarged bolt handle and release button waterfowlers favor. It’s also one of the softer-shooting semiautos, so it can take the sting out of shooting 3-inch-magnum loads. The 20-gauge version weighs a bit above 6½ pounds and comes with your choice of a 24-, 26-, or 28-inch barrel. It comes in a wide range of options, from black synthetic to full-camo waterfowl models. All have sling-swivel studs and the stock features length-of-pull spacers, so it can fit shooters of all sizes.