Each American hunting season carries its own theme, whether that be the grit and determination associated with a backcountry big-game hunt, the preparation and patience of a whitetail deer hunt, or the spring fever of a turkey hunt. Upland bird hunting is no different, but seemingly falls into its own niche. The relationship between a hunter and his gun dog, complemented by the legacy of a double-barrel shotgun busting through cover, creates an indescribable sense of romance that trumps the desire to fill a freezer. Perhaps it's the kind of hunter who seeks these paths to fulfillment, or maybe it's simply the picturesque culmination of each element that can't be ignored. Either way, however, few hunters embark on any upland hunting adventure with any old pump-action shotgun. And, regardless of the disparity in class, the weight distribution of a double-barrel gives upland hunters an advantage they inherently need, as these birds are arguably the most difficult of any to bag.
For both the seasoned uplander and the newcomer, we've compiled a list of 12 shotguns that have staked their claim within the upland fold, finding a healthy balance of performance and affordability and offering everyone a practical option. In order to experience this time-honored tradition correctly, make sure you're equipped with something that can handle the ebbs and flows of grouse, pheasant, and quail country. Whether you choose to go with a side-by-side, an over-under, or a semi-automatic, each of these choices will serve you well.
Widely regarded as one of the best-looking over-and-under shotguns ever built, the Browning Citori offers far more than just a visually pleasing design. It features a 28-inch barrel on both 12-gauge and 20-gauge offerings that has proven its ability to deliver consistent, accurate patterns. Whether you're hunting in the field or busting clays at the range, the Citori has earned perpetual praise for its perfect weight distribution for quick point-and-shoot moments, as feels extremely light when you're putting on those extra miles for one more flush, particularly in the 20-gauge configuration.
Savage Arms Fox A Grade
If your style is an old-school side-by-side, the Savage Arms Fox A Grade is one of the best options on the market. It's a little pricey, but not without a good reason. Not only does this shotgun carry on the name of one of the most famous double-barrel shotguns of all time, but it'll likely hold its value long after it's passed down into the hands of your grandchildren. It comes chambered in either 20 or 12 gauge. With the latter option you have a choice of a 28- or 26-inch barrel. It has a 14.5-inch length of pull and a beautiful walnut stock.
Stevens Model 555
Here's an ultralight upland shotgun option at a great middle price point. The heaviest Stevens 555 weighs just 6.2 pounds, perfect for those long days walking the fields following your dogs and bagging pheasants. The Turkish walnut stock is gorgeous and is offset nicely by a matte black/silver finish. This firearm has a tang safety that also acts as a barrel selector. The Model 555 comes in a variety of gauge options including 12, 16, 20, 28 and even .410.
Stoeger Uplander Side-by-Side
This one's a solid option for upland hunters on a budget. The Uplander is just $400, but it comes with some nice features like a tang-mounted automatic safety and modified screw-in choke tubes for both the 12 and 20 gauge models. This is a simple, no frills firearm designed to get the job done. It's perfect for anyone looking for the nostalgia of a good, old-fashioned double barrel.
If you're looking for an upland hunting autoloader, the Benelli Ethos is a good choice. It's a sharp-looking firearm with its satin walnut stock and nickel or blued finish. It's also very light at around 6.5 pounds, which is a factor to consider if you're going to be walking all day in pursuit of woodcock, pheasants or more. You get a lot for your money here with a hard case, extra chokes and a shim kit to adjust the stock coming standard with every Ethos. The gun comes in 12, 20 and 28 gauge.
The Remington 870 is a classic "all-purpose" gun that you can use all year-round for just about any species you can think of from quail to waterfowl to big game like whitetail deer. It comes with either a 26 or 28-inch barrel length, a vent rib barrel with modified choke and a wood laminate finish that is resilient to the elements. I own one of these myself. The only downside is they are a little on the heavy side, but you do get a lot of bang for your buck with a price close to $350.
A semi-auto upland gun option with a durable synthetic stock, the Winchester SX4 is designed for extremely smooth shooting. This gun features a self-adjusting active valve gas system, an improved recoil pad, three choke tubes and TRUGLO fiber-optic sights. This is a 12-gauge shotgun with an option for a three or 3.5-inch chamber. That longer chamber means you could use magnum turkey and goose loads out of this gun to get more for your money. This is also a good skeet shooting gun.
Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
This gorgeous Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon over and under really pops thanks to the blued barrel and nickel receiver offset by a walnut stock. Your friend's eyes will be green with envy. This gun comes with an extremely low profile and is built for speed. It's perfect for small, fast-moving birds like woodcock or snipe. It comes with an interchangeable choke tube system and a safety that doubles as a barrel selector. The Silver Pigeon comes with ammo options. It's chambered in 12, 20 and 28 gauges. There is even a .410 option available.
Franchi Instinct L
Italian gunmaker Franchi has been in business since 1868. It's safe to say they've learned a thing or two about building a quality shotgun for bird hunters since then. The Franchi Instinct L comes chambered in 20 or 12 gauge and features a fiber optic sight, gold-plated single trigger, vented ribs and checkering on both the Prince of Wales walnut stock and forend. Another bonus of this gun is that you can use most Beretta chokes interchangeably with it.
CZ Redhead Premier
CZ-USA has built up their reputation in recent years for their ultra-reliable handguns in recent years. But some people forget they make incredible hunting shotguns too. The CZ Redhead Premier is one of them. Chambered in 12 and 20 gauge, it features a one-piece receiver that is CNC-machined. The chrome finish of that receiver looks great with the Turkish walnut stock. This is also an ambidextrous firearm with automatic ejectors and five choke tubes standard. Not bad for just under $1,000.
Mossberg Silver Reserve
O.F. Mossberg's company came to fame for their pump-action and semi-automatic guns, but Mossberg does make a fine over and under that is budget-friendly at around $660. Mossberg offers the Silver Reserve in 12, 20, 28 and .410 bore. You can get it with a fixed choke or with a set of five interchangeable ones. The vent rib barrels feature bead sights and will swing well on your favorite game birds.
The Weatherby name is usually associated with rifles and for good reason, they build fine ones. However, they also have a winning ambidextrous over-and-under with the Orion that combines classic good looks with automatic ejectors, chrome lined bores and a beautiful walnut stock at an affordable price, this is the gun you're looking for.
For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis Youtube channels.
READ MORE: SHOOTING SPORTING CLAYS AND WHY ITS MAKING YOU BETTER
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