The Background In many duck blinds and on quail hunts I’ve heard some pump-gunner spout: “A good pump gun in trained hands is just as fast as an semi-automatic.”
Well, being a fan of semi-automatic shotguns like the Benelli Super Black Eagle, or an M4 that can fire 8 shots in under a second, or nearly any other one, my BullShoot-O-Meter registered red faster than a Porsche’s tachometer in a drag race. So I had to ask: Is a pump really as fast as a semi?
The Initial Thoughts Certainly it would seem that a mechanically operated semi-auto shotgun would have the advantage over a pump, which requires a brain to tell the shooter's muscles to pump it. But in reality, muscle memory can bypass cognitive thought with enough practice, saving time. Still, it’s tough to see how a pump could be faster.
The Expert Deferral Jeff Cramblit is a professional 3-gun competitor who shoots for Team Benelli. His strong suit is the shotgun discipline.
“If there is a little distance between targets you can just about shoot a pump as fast because you can work the action while the gun is in transition between targets,” he said, “But if you’re shooting something like a plate rack, a pump has no chance at all.”
Perhaps the most famous and best all-around shooter in the world, Jerry Miculek, said: "I've shot .11 and .12 [second] splits out of my Mossberg 930 shotgun. I can't come anywhere close to that [with a pump.]"
The Hunting Angle While a semi-automatic is capable of cycling loads faster than a pump, that doesn’t necessarily mean that an expert pump-gunner can’t be just as fast and effective on ducks or game, where birds must be picked out and individual shots must be aimed before firing.
In essence, a semi-auto’s cycle time advantage is negated by the time it takes the brain to see a bird fall, pick another one, calculate lead, move the gun barrel to the correct point in space and pull the trigger. By that time, both the pump and semi-auto are fully ready to fire again, and so the effectiveness has little to do with the cyclic speed, but the skill of the shotgunner. So in a purely pragmatic hunting sense, a pump shotgun can be just as fast as a semi-auto.
The Answer Due to the eye-blinking speed and consistency of modern semi-automatic shotguns, they are physically capable of faster cycling. So in purely mathematical terms, the myth is busted. But while hunting where shots must be aimed with an inherent delay between shots, expert pump gunners have proven to be just as effective.