Best Waterfowl Hunting Shotguns (2024-2025 Edition)

Best Waterfowl Hunting Shotguns (2024-2025 Edition)

More people than ever are enjoying the outdoors, which has also brought an influx of new waterfowl hunters to the duck marshes and goose blinds. For many people, waterfowl hunting is the most satisfying of all types of hunting activities. However, it is also one of the most gear-heavy types of hunting, with specialized equipment—and specialized firearms and ammunition—needed to make the most of it.

To keep things organized, we'll review the best waterfowl hunting gear in a separate article. Here, we'll look at some of the best hunting shotguns for waterfowl.

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3: BE.S.T. is best

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3

If you ask ten duck or goose hunters what the best waterfowl hunting shotgun is or what they'd buy if money were no object, chances are 9 out of 10 will say the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3. Benelli began its takeover of the premium waterfowling shotgun world in late 1991 with the introduction of the original Super Black Eagle, which quickly became famous as being the first semi-automatic shotgun chambered for monster 3.5" 12-gauge hunting shells that would also reliably function when shooting 2.75" and 3" loads, including lighter target ammo down to about 3 dram, 1 ⅛ ounce loads. Since shotgun ammunition is available in a wide range of power levels and payloads, creating one shotgun that could handle them all was a tall order. Benelli's inertia-driven operating system utilizes the recoil of the cartridge itself to help unlock the rotating bolt and drive it to the rear, and that inertia cycles the action, whereupon the recoil spring forces the bolt forward, chambering a fresh shell. There are no gas ports or rings to clean, and no friction shims or recoil brakes to tune. You pay a little for this versatility with a bit more recoil than some gas-operated semi-autos, but most hunters will tell you they don't really notice the recoil when the birds are landing.

The SBE series has undergone significant updates over the past 30+ years, keeping it at the forefront of the waterfowl hunting shotgun market. Today's SBE3 benefits from:

  • Larger trigger guard to accommodate gloved fingers
  • Oversized safety, mounted behind the trigger guard
  • Oversized bolt handle
  • More ergonomic, well-shaped grip and forend
  • Enlarged loading port
  • Softer Comb-Tech padded cheek comb (and raised combs are available)
  • Improved ComforTech 3 stock chevrons (a recoil-reduction system that actually works)
  • Three available ComforTech 3 recoil pad options to customize the length of pull to 13 7/8", 14 3/8", or 14 3/4"
  • ~5 pound trigger
  • Benelli's Crio (cryogenically treated) barrel that ostensibly produces a more durable, consistent steel that doesn't warp or flex inconsistently like some cheaper barrels
  • 5 included Crio chokes (C, IM, F flush fit; IC and M extended)
  • 3 included stock shims
  • Included hard case

The SBE3 produced good, consistent patterns for us with quality ammo and good chokes. It does throw its patterns a bit higher than other shotguns, with the majority of pellets hitting above the point of aim, but this is done intentionally to facilitate the European style of shotgun sight picture where the bird hovers just above the barrel rather than being covered by the bead or barrel. Once you get used to it, you might come to prefer it.

The downsides of the SBE3 are few. First is the price, which is the elephant in the room whenever you talk about Benelli shotguns. Today's least-expensive 12-gauge SBE3 comes in with a hefty $2,199 MSRP, and they go up from there, depending on stock configuration, finish (see below), and features. A fully tricked-out Benelli Custom Shop turkey-hunting model will cost you north of 3 grand. Any way you look at it, that's a lot of simoleons. However, over the past 15 years or so, the relative cost of an SBE compared to the dollar value at the time has actually come down significantly. So you might be able to convince your better half that your new SBE3 is a relative bargain.

The other possible downside of the SBE3, compared to heavier and/or gas-operated hunting shotguns, is the increased recoil we mentioned above. It is a thumper, like all inertia-operated shotguns. Since it weighs in at a pretty light (in this class) 7 pounds, you definitely feel it, and the muzzle jumps a bit more than we'd prefer. Of course, in an ideal world, shotguns wouldn't recoil at all, but you can't have everything. At the patterning board, shooting from a bench can be positively unpleasant, particularly with fast 3.5" hunting loads or especially heavy turkey loads. But in the field, we typically don't notice it, particularly as the birds stop dropping. The recoil-reducing stock and buttpad work fairly well.

The SBE3 is available in a left-hand model, as well as in 20 and 28-gauge chamberings, in several popular camouflage finishes. However, for salt-water hunters or those who want the ultimate in corrosion resistance, Benelli's groundbreaking BE.S.T finish offers significant benefits.

So, what is the Benelli BE.S.T. or Benelli Surface Treatment, and why should I care?

Around 2020, Benelli began offering a premium new finish on some of its firearms. Cleverly given the BE.S.T. acronym, the new Benelli Surface Treatment uses high-tech physical vapor deposition (PVD) and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) to create a graphite barrel coating that is exceptionally durable and corrosion-resistant. PECVD applications use plasma (the fourth state of matter) to excite the graphite inside a specialized vacuum chamber, forming a vapor. A reactive gas is introduced to form a compound with the vaporized graphite, and that resulting compound is then deposited on the surface of the metal object inside the chamber.

This results in a surface treatment that is durable, stable, corrosion-resistant, scratch-resistant, and low-friction (high-lubricity). Benelli tests have shown their new barrel coating survived an incredible 3 months of saltwater exposure with no corrosion, while competitors' blued steel barrels were covered in rust after just 48 hours.

The SBE3's BE.S.T. model includes the following treated parts:

  • Barrel
  • Barrel extension
  • Bolt
  • Bolt handle
  • Trigger
  • Safety button
  • Included extended IC and modified chokes
  • Sling Stud

Currently the SBE3 with the BE.S.T. treatment is only available in a classic, attractive, but not particularly camo-friendly black finish, and carries a $300 premium over the already pricey standard models. However, if we spent a significant portion of our waterfowl hunting on or near salt water, we'd choose this durable, salt-corrosion-resistant finish every time. Benelli backs the BE.S.T. finish with an impressive 25-year warranty against rust and corrosion.

Franchi Affinity 3.5: Benelli tech at half the price

Franchi Affinity 3.5

Franchi (FRON-key) is a storied firearms manufacturer founded in Brescia, Italy in 1868. However, the relevant point here is that Beretta acquired Franchi in 1994, who also bought Benelli in 2000. Corporate finagling aside, the upshot is that Franchi and Benelli can now share designs and technologies. Effectively, Franchi now offers semi-auto shotguns with a similar operating system and many of the same benefits and performance as the more premium Benelli brand but at a much more approachable price.

At an MSRP starting around $1,129, the Franchi Affinity 3.5 is certainly not a budget or entry-level hunting shotgun, but at roughly half the price of a Benelli, it's a relative bargain. You get the ultra-reliable Benelli-style inertia-driven operating system, a TSA recoil pad (no, not that TSA) claimed to reduce felt recoil by 50%, an oversized bolt handle and bolt release, a beveled loading port, stock shims, a chrome-lined barrel, 3 chokes/wrench, and a 3.4-ounce stock counterweight that you can tailor to your specific preferences. An optional short length-of-pull buttstock with spacers helps you tailor the gun to smaller, younger, and/or female hunters. With a street price of just under a grand for the basic black model, the Affinity 3.5 offers a lot for the money.

Stoeger M3500: Budget-minded bruiser

Stoeger-M3500 SnowGoose

Like Franchi and Benelli, Stoeger is owned by the Beretta parent company. This is a good thing because the proven Benelli-style inertia-driven action that has become so popular in the waterfowl hunting community can be utilized in the budget-friendly Stoeger semi-auto shotgun line. So how does Stoeger offer the M3000 (3-inch chamber) and M3500 (3.5-inch chamber) shotgun line at a street price occasionally as low as $350? They're made to a price point, and are made in Brazil (for Stoeger's over-under and side-by-side double-barrel shotguns) or Turkey (for Stoeger's pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns, except for the barrels which are made by Beretta in Italy and shipped to Turkey for assembly). The M3500's most basic model has an MSRP of $699 (but is almost always available from discount retailers for much less), with camouflaged waterfowl editions starting around $899. The Snow Goose edition pictured above is also $899 MSRP, and features an attractive and effective distressed white cerakote finish and an extended 10-shot magazine tube (using 2 ¾" shells), so you can engage a whole flock of honkers where legal.

The Stoeger guns are certainly not as smooth or refined as a Benelli, and you may have to allow for a few boxes of shells to break in some sharp or rough edges internally before your Stoeger is fully reliable. The controls might feel a bit stiff and the finish may not be flawless. However, we've had good luck with our Stoegers, particularly when shooting full-power hunting loads (which is kinda the point of a waterfowl hunting shotgun). Several gun-journalist tests have demonstrated that the Stoeger semi-auto shotguns were at least as reliable as the Benelli, and in some cases more reliable (at least in these limited, non-scientific evaluations). And the money you save will pay for quite a few boxes of shells and duck stamps.

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus: The soft shooter

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus

Another premium waterfowl hunting shotgun, the Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus is often a frontrunner in any Best Of comparison, along with the Benelli. At 7.8 pounds the A400 Xtreme Plus is about 12% heavier than the Benelli, but with hard-recoiling magnum waterfowl loads, a little extra weight can be a good thing. Further softening the A400's felt recoil is Beretta's proven B-Link (or fast as a blink, get it?) gas system that Beretta says makes for the fastest-cycling semi-auto operating system on the market. The system automatically bleeds off any combustion gases that are not needed to cycle the action, so you experience the bare minimum of felt recoil. The Xtreme Plus also features Beretta's exclusive Steelium Plus barrel, a first for their hunting shotguns. Beretta's Steelium plus barrel is hardened and back-bored, providing the best patterning possible from all hunting loads, along with further felt-recoil mitigation.

But wait, there's more! Or, when it comes to recoil, less. On the A400 Xtreme Plus, Beretta also installs their Extralight recoil pad, integrated Kick-Off hydraulic recoil reduction system, and the innovative (and functional) B-Steady buttstock (variously also called the Kick-Off Mega Stock, depending on which Beretta promotional materials you consult), which divides the stock into two sections separated by a flexible, recoil-absorbing unit between. This leaves the forward portion and action free to move while maintaining the stock portion more stable and avoids transferring excess recoil to the shooter's cheek. So… does all this anti-recoil voodoo actually work? Heck yes, it does.

Most people who shoot the A400 Xtreme Plus agree that it's the softest-shooting waterfowl hunting shotgun ever available off the shelf. That's a bold claim, but we challenge you to shoot the top contenders back to back. We think you'll agree.

You also get enlarged controls, a durable water- and corrosion-resistant finish, a hard case, and 5 included Optima HP extended chokes. One more plus for the most recent A400 Xtreme is the new Pro Lifter, which stays elevated once you load your first shell. No more pinched thumbs and loading is much easier. So how much do you pay for this attractive, innovative, reliable, and soft-shooting hunting shotgun? The basic black synthetic-stocked model starts at $1,949 MSRP, and many good-looking camo patterns are available starting at $2,049. A left-hand model is available for your southpaws, and 20-gauge version is also newly available for 2024. The only thing we don't love about the A400 is the location of the safety, which is in front of the trigger guard. We prefer our cross-bolt safeties to be mounted behind the trigger guard so they can easily be pushed to the FIRE position as our finger enters the guard. But that's a matter of user preference and is certainly not a deal-breaker.

Honorable mention super-premium Italian semi-auto: FABARM XLR5 Waterfowler ($2,250).

Winchester Super X4 Waterfowl Hunter: Best gun for the money

Winchester SX4 Waterfowl Hunter

Winchester and Browning are sister companies these days, with both brands manufactured by the same factories. This is a good thing, as Browning has a century-old reputation for building reliable hunting semi-autos for in-the-know hunters. Winchester's Super X4 Waterfowl Hunter is a 3.5" chambered variant of the proven and well-liked Super X4 gas-operated semi-auto. At a street price of under a grand ($1,169 MSRP), you can get a relatively lightweight (7 pounds with a 26" barrel; 7 lbs 2 oz with a 28"), soft-shooting, slim-feeling hunting shotgun that will last for decades. The new Waterfowl Hunter model features an attractive True Timber DRT camo pattern on both the furniture as well as the receiver/barrel, so your gun will truly disappear. Don't set it down in the reeds or you might not find it again! If you don't prefer the True Timber camo, several other camo patterns are available, as well as several left-hand models and 20 gauge chamberings. You also get:

  • Hard chrome chamber and bore for durability and good patterns with steel/hevi-shot
  • Back-bored .742" barrel and lengthened forcing cone for reduced recoil and better patterns
  • 3 flush fit Invector-Plus chokes and wrench
  • Spring-loaded ejector for more reliability with different-length shells
  • Active-Valve gas piston and Quadra-Vent ports near the front of the forend for reliable cycling and cleaner operation
  • Length-of-pull stock spacers
  • Inflex technology soft recoil pad
  • Oversized controls including a reversible safety
  • Enlarged trigger guard for gloved fingers

The Winchester Super X series has become well-known for reliable, fast cycling with multiple lengths and types of shells, from 2 ¾" field loads to the big-daddy 3 ½" magnums. There are left-handed and 20-gauge models available as well. So if you want a quality, soft-shooting, fast-cycling semi-auto shotgun that can do it all for a price that's attainable, the SX4 might be the one for you.

Benelli Nova: Best pump shotgun for duck hunting

Benelli Nova

Sharp-eyed readers will note that we aren't recommending the SuperNova here. The standard Benelli Nova is a reliable, durable, and no-nonsense pump shotgun developed for maximum function and corrosion resistance for a very low price. The polymer buttstock material is over-molded and integral with steel skeleton receiver inserts, similar to how the Glock pistol is constructed. This makes for an inexpensive-to-make yet extremely strong shotgun. However, since pump and break-action shotguns don't use any of the energy of the fired cartridge to operate the gun, all of that recoil is directed back into the shooter's shoulder and cheekbone. It can be positively unpleasant with 3.5" magnums, even with the hotter 3" hunting loads. So, rather than the 3.5" chambered SuperNova with its more expensive ComforTech stock, we'd stick with the 3" standard Nova and save our shoulders (and wallets) some discomfort. If we were going to step up to the SuperNova's price bracket, we'd probably opt for a semi-auto.

Starting at a very reasonable $499 MSRP for the basic synthetic/blued finish and $629 for camo patterns, the Benelli Nova will serve the bargain-hunting (or pump-preferring) waterfowl hunter well for years.

Honorable mention pump-action hunting shotgun excellence: Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Waterfowl ($635).

Browning Cynergy Wicked Wing: The double-barrel Gucci flex

Browning Cynergy Wicked Wing

In the days of your great-grandpappy, a double-barreled shotgun was likely the waterfowl hunting gun of choice. Today, side-by-side (SxS) and over/under (O/U) double-barreled, break-action shotguns are relatively rare in the duck boat or goose blind. However, there are still hunters who prefer the two for sure reliability of double guns, or the mechanical, tactile nature of their handling and manual of arms. For those hunters, Browning offers its excellent Cynergy O/U shotgun in an attractive Wicked Wing cerakote/graphic and camouflage model for $2,579.99 (MSRP).

One look at the sleek, ultra-modern styling of the Cynergy will tell you this is not your great-granddad's crusty double barrel. The lines are all angular, the composite stock is aggressively inlet to allow for the very effective Inflex recoil-absorbing buttpad, and the receiver is super low-profile. The Reverse Striker mechanical trigger system and double Impact Ejectors produce ultra-reliable function in all conditions.

One potential benefit of double-barreled hunting shotguns is you can run different chokes in each barrel and optimize them for closer or longer shots. For waterfowl hunting, we typically run the same or similar chokes in both barrels since most of our shots are at birds that are around the same distance away. But if your quarry or hunting style has you taking some closer shots and some at high crossers, this might be an advantage to consider. The Cynergy Wicked Wing is certainly not an entry-level hunting gun, but if you're an O/U type of guy or gal, it will likely last you a lifetime.

Note: Browning also makes three excellent semi-automatic waterfowl hunting models: the Maxus II (which is mechanically nearly identical to the Winchester SX4 above; $1,949); the A5 ($2,049; an inertia-operated shotgun similar to the Benelli system), and the Silver ($1,349; a more traditionally styled gas-operated shotgun that has earned quite a few loyal fans). Also check out the pump-action Browning BPS.

Honorable mention O/U waterfowl guns: Benelli 828 U (BE.S.T. finish; $3,399), CZ Drake All-Terrain ($799), Mossberg International Silver Reserve Eventide Waterfowl (that's a mouthful! $956).

Secure your hunting shotgun in a Liberty Safe

So there you have it… some of our picks for the best waterfowl hunting shotguns available today. Whatever you choose, whether you have one shotgun or many (you lucky dog!), be sure to keep all of your firearms and valuables secure from theft, fire, unauthorized access, and environmental damage in a quality US-made gun safe from Liberty. If you take care of them properly, your guns—and your safe—can be handed down to your children, and your children's children.

*Made in the U.S.A. from U.S. and Global Parts.


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