tips for buying a new shotgun
September 26, 2022

How To Find The Best Shotgun For You

You can’t beat a good old scatter gun. With all the different sizes and styles of shotgun shells, there’s not much you can’t do with a shotgun.

Whether you want to buy a shotgun for self-defense, recreational target shooting, or hunting, everything you need to know about shotguns will be covered so you can choose one that’s perfect for you.

Intended Use

How you plan to use your shotgun and what you need it for will be the determining factor for what shotgun you choose in the end.

There are generally three different reasons someone would want to get a shotgun. Shotguns are excellent tools for self defense in the home, and they are also widely used for recreational shooting for sports like skeet and trap shooting. In addition, shotguns are commonly used for hunting many kinds of game species, but mostly for bird hunting.

Your motivations for needing a shotgun may be one or a combination of all these things. While shotguns are a popular choice for home self-defense, many are purchased for recreational shooting and hunting.

Barrel Length

Shotguns come in many different barrel lengths. Ultimately, what you intend to use your shotgun for will determine what barrel length you’ll need.

For example, if you plan to use a shotgun for bird hunting or clay target shooting, the extra range and accuracy from a longer barrel will be necessary for those activities.

On the other hand, if you need a shotgun for home self-defense, a long barrel will limit your maneuverability in tight spaces, so you’ll need a shotgun with a shorter barrel.

For the best of both, shotgun barrels are easy to change, so you can always buy several different barrel lengths for the same gun to increase the versatility of your shotgun. The ability to change barrels and configure a shotgun in different ways is one of the many advantages of owning a shotgun.

Gauge Needs

Unlike rifles and pistols, which are chambered in a specific caliber, shotguns use gauges. The most common gauges are .410, 20 gauge, and 12 gauge. Other less common gauges include 28 gauge, 16 gauge, and 10 gauge. It may sound counterintuitive, but the lower the gauge number, the larger diameter the barrel is and the more shot it can hold in a shot shell.

Depending on what you plan to do with a shotgun and the body size of the shooter, you will need to decide what gauge you need. For youth shooters and people with small body sizes, you may want to use a .410 or 20 gauge because they’re easier to control.

Otherwise, 12 gauge is the best all around gauge for most people. 12 gauge also has the largest variety of different types of shot shells readily available.

Action Type

For shotguns, the three most common action types include:

Pump Action – Pump action shotguns use a tubular magazine that can hold anywhere from 8 or more shotgun shells. The foregrip of the shotgun is manually pumped by the shooter to cycle the new shell into the chamber. Pump action shotguns are very reliable, affordable, and user friendly, making them a great choice for beginners.

Semi-Automatic/Autoloader – Semi-auto shotguns, also sometimes referred to as autoloaders work in a very similar way to semi-auto rifles and pistols. One round is fired after each trigger pull. Once the round is fired, the force and gas from the spent round cycles the bolt and reloads the next round into the chamber.

Semi-auto shotguns are a great choice for bird hunting or self-defense for situations where quick shooting is necessary

Break Action Single or Double Barrel – With break action shotguns, the shells are manually loaded into the chamber. Break action shotguns can have one or up to two barrels.

Double barrel shoguns are either stacked as what’s known as side by side, or over under. Break action shotguns are limited in their ammo capacity, but remain quite popular for hunting, competition shooting, and as collector’s items.

Depending on your intended use for a shotgun, one action type may be of better over another. For the most part pump action shotguns are the best overall option, but if you want quicker follow up shots, you may want to go with a semi-auto.

If ammo capacity isn’t a concern and you want a cool looking shotgun, a high end over under break action shotgun may be of interest to you instead.

Ammo Capacity Needs

For the most part, shotguns can be fairly limited with their ammo capacity. Because shotgun shells are much larger than rifle or pistol cartridges, magazines can only hold so many rounds.

Many pump action and semi-auto shotguns will rarely hold more than 8 rounds in a tubular magazine. If you desire a higher magazine capacity, there are some semi-auto shotguns that use a box style magazine much like an AR-15.

If ammo capacity isn’t something you’re worried about, then you can afford to go with a break action shotgun that can hold 1-2 shells. Double barrel shotguns are great for leisurely clay target shooting and upland bird hunting where you may be prohibited from having more than a few shells loaded at a time anyway.

Beginner Friendly Shotguns

Below are some ideas to get you started choosing your first shotgun. These options are ideal because they are easy to shoot and maintain, even for true beginners.

12-Guage Pump Action – A pump action shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms you can have. A 12-gauge pump with a 28” vented barrel for hunting and clay target shooting and a shorter barrel for home defense is ideal. Also, a set of changeable choke tubes in improved cylinder, modified, and full choke is a must-have.

This shotgun will pretty much be able to do anything, and you’ll have a lot of fun taking it to the range to bust a few clay pigeons every now and then.

If you’re buying a shotgun for your son or daughter or you’re someone of a smaller stature, the same is true, just go with a 20 gauge instead.

12-Guage Over Under Break Action – Alternatively, if you don’t like the idea of a pump action and want a shotgun with a little more visual and collective appeal, a 12-gauge break barrel over under shotgun is a great choice. While you’ll likely pay a whole lot more for an over under, they are beautiful guns and are very dependable.

Again, if you’re buying a shotgun for a smaller individual, you can just as easily find an over under shotgun in 20 gauge.


Every gun enthusiast should own at least one shotgun. Not only are they incredibly reliable and useful tools for home defense and hunting, some of the most fun style of target shooting is going to the clay target range.

Once you’ve figured out what you need a shotgun for, next all you need to do is figure out a gauge and action that is the best match for you. Once you do that, choosing your first shotgun is easy.

If you still have no idea what to choose for your first shotgun, the above beginner friendly shotgun examples are a great place to start.