When you describe a typical day of waterfowling—out before dawn, crouched in a crowded blind, thrilled that a cold front with heavy winds has moved in—to a non-hunter you’ll likely see some skepticism on their face when you try to convince them it’s a thrilling pastime. But for those of us who are passionate about duck and goose hunting there’s very little that can hold you back. We’ll sit through the worst weather, blow a reed call into to a bleak and empty sky, shiver against the cold, spend countless hours preparing for the season and countless thousands of dollars on equipment. And yes, it sounds awful to anyone listening who hasn’t experienced one good sit. But oftentimes a single successful hunt is enough to make you a waterfowl addict for life.
One of the main problems that die-hard duck and goose hunters have is that it’s not an inexpensive sport. By the time you invest in a new gun, clothing, decoys, calls, licenses and stamp, and the myriad of other things you’ll need before you can hunt there’s oftentimes not enough cash left in the till to fill the gas tank on your pickup to take you to the field. But if you know what to look for you can buy a well-built duck and goose gun at an affordable price. Here’s a look at eight of the best waterfowl shotguns that will cost you less than $500.
No rundown of the best budget waterfowl guns could be complete without mentioning the 500, so that’s where we’ll start. With a 50-year production history and widespread acceptance by both hunters and law enforcement professionals there’s no question about the workaday 500’s reliability and robust design. The action is solid and durable, the new LBA trigger is smoother and lighter than previous generations, and the top tang safety is well-positioned for both right and left-handed shooters. There are abundant aftermarket choke options and your $500 allows you to buy the waterfowl version of the 500 that is camo dipped. Stories abound of hunters who abuse and continue to use their 500s season after season in some of the worst conditions without a failure. No wonder they’ve sold 10 million of these guns.
CZ 612 Magnum Waterfowl
Unlike the Mossberg, with its loyal following of longtime fans, the 612 is relatively new. But it’s gaining ground quickly thanks to a long list of features, solid build quality and a reasonable price. The 612 Magnum Waterfowl has an MSRP of $429, but that buys you a 12 gauge gun with a 3 ½ inch chamber and a full Realtree MAX-4 camo dip. The 612 comes with five choke tubes and they are extended so that they can easily be removed and swapped, perfect for those cold days when you want to swap constriction but left your wrench at home. Other thoughtful add-ons include a large forearm for easy action manipulation, an easy-to-find action release lever and a generous recoil pad that’s built to absorb the thump of even the most powerful 12-gauge duck and goose magnum loads.
The majority of the guns on this list are pumps, but the Longfowler Over/Under deserves a mention. Stackbarrels aren’t often seen in duck blinds, but these guns do have advantages; they are well-balanced, offer a fast follow-up shot and you never have to wonder if you remembered to put the plug in your magazine to stay within the limits of the law. The Longfowler has 30 inch barrels so it is one of the smoothest-swinging shotguns at this price point yet its overall length is roughly about that of a 26-inch-barreled pump. The satin walnut stock looks good and is surprisingly durable, and the simple break-action design is reliable and easy-to-use in cold conditions. It’s easy to swap the choke tubes with gloved hands and the ambidextrous design works for both right and left-handed shooters. At $499 the Longfowler is almost too expensive for our budget gun roundup, but thankfully it makes it under the cutoff because it is one of the best waterfowl guns in this price range.
Like the Mossberg 500, the Remington 870 is a virtual lock for the best budget shotgun category. In terms of sales it’s the Mossberg’s main rival and both guns have served multiple generations of hunters. The 870 has a steel receiver and is available in both the Express and Super Magnum Express versions for less than $500. From there you can swap out barrels and virtually every other component on this gun, and there are more aftermarket accessories available for the 870 than just about any other shotgun. With a durable steel receiver and twin action bars the smooth-cycling 870 is a gun that functions flawlessly for years and years despite the most awful conditions imaginable. If you doubt that ask one of the more than ten million 870 owners what they think about these guns.
Winchester SXP Waterfowl
The SXP traces its heritage back to the legendary Model 12, one of the most highly regarded guns of all time. Unlike the Model 12, which had a steel receiver, the SXP has a light yet durable aluminum alloy receiver that has proven to be robust ad reliable while minimizing bulk. This is also the fastest pump gun on the market thanks to the inertia-assisted slide-action which, according to Winchester, allows for three shots in a half-second. I don’t think I’ve ever matched that number but I will tell you that this is certainly one of the slickest, smoothest pump guns ever produced. In fact, the SXP is solidly-built from buttstock to muzzle, so you can count on this gun to ring up ducks for decades without any glitches. At $499.99 this gun just squeaks under the wire, but that gets you extra features like a 3 1/2-inch chamber (12 gauge), Inflex Recoil Pad, a hard chrome chamber and barrel, and a full camo dip in your choice of Mossy Oak Bottomlands, Realtree Max-5 or other patterns. Check out the new 20 gauge versions that hit the market last year if you’re looking for high build quality with low recoil.
Weatherby PA-08 Waterfowler Max-5
The PA-08 Waterfowler is a departure from the high-end Mark V rifle that made this brand famous with American hunters. Whereas the Mark V was an expensive gun with a long list of fancy features the PA-08 is your basic duck and goose hunting shotgun, an everyday hunting weapon that everyone can afford. It comes in 12 gauge with a 26 or 28-inch barrel, has three choke tubes, a drop-out trigger assembly, chrome bolt, Max-5 stock and forearm, and a basic black matte finish. But despite the fact that the gun seems austere compared to the company’s fancy rifles this pump gun is a bird-killing machine. It weighs seven-and-a-quarter pounds and has a nice, even balance. It functions reliably and although it has a three-inch chamber that will cover a wide range of waterfowl hunting situations. If you choose the all-black synthetic version MSRP is just $399.99. The camo-stocked version will run you an extra thirty bucks, but both guns represent a real bargain.
The TriStar Raptor is made in Turkey and is one of the few semiautos to ring in below $500. There have been questions about Turkish guns in the past, but those are largely resolved and the TriStar shotguns I’ve tested—including the Raptor—functioned without any hitches, eating, firing and spitting out shells with the same resolve as guns costing twice as much. The basic black version carries an MSRP of $410, the Vista Camo version runs $490, and there’s a short length-of-pull youth version as well. The gas-operated action cycles a wide range of loads and the fiber optic front bead is easy to see in dim light. Three choke tubes are included, but the Raptor is threaded to accept Beretta-style chokes, so finding a tube in any constriction you’d like won’t be a problem. There’s a magazine cutoff—a handy feature on a semiauto when crossing fences or getting situated in the blind—and the crossbolt safety is designed to block the hammer, hammer lever and trigger for added security.
Five hundred bucks won’t buy you a Super Black Eagle, but it will purchase a Benelli Nova, and this Italian slide-action is perfectly capable of dropping ducks and geese all day long. Compared to most pumps the Nova has a rather avant-garde look, with artistic lines and radiating lines in the pistol grip in place of more familiar checkering. But the most apparent difference between this and other pumps is the one-piece stock/receiver configuration, the result of a steel skeleton that has been overmolded with polymer. The resulting gun is ultra-tough and weatherproof—two great qualities in a duck gun. There’s a clever shell stop button on the foreend for safety and the extra-long, textured forearm is comfortable to hold and easy to manipulate with wet gloves. Though it may look a bit radical compared to other guns on the list the Nova is actually a very comfortable shotgun that points naturally. MSRP for the basic black model is $449 with a 3 ½ inch chamber, and although the camo versions carry an MSRP of $569 you can probably find one for about $500 in gun stores.