Semi-auto shotguns are the upgraded version of the pump-action shotguns we all know and love. They are prized for their quick firepower and reduction in recoil.
For anyone who has shot a semi-auto shotgun you’ll know why.
They feel great to shoot. Emptying out a few cartridges in quick succession is a great way to unwind after a long day.
Semi-autos aren’t necessarily as reliable as pump-action shotguns, however, their main advantage is reduced recoil and a very fast rate of fire. If you’re not a big person, a semi-auto shotgun is also a lot easier to shoot.
A lot of us have probably used a shotgun before, being it’s one of the first firearms that new shooters get familiar with. They are extremely simple to use, they’re relatively cheap, and shotgun shells are also fairly cheap.
If you’re in a big rush to see our top picks, here they are:
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|Product||What We Like||Price||Where To Buy|
|Benelli M4||Best Tactical Shotgun||$$$$|
|Browning A5||Top Pick for Hunting||$$$|
|Beretta 1301 Tactical||Best Semi Auto For the Money||$$$|
|FNH SLP Mark 1||Shotgun of the Year||$$|
|Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe||Best Value||$$|
|Mossberg 930||Second Best Semi Auto For the Money||$$|
|Remington Versa Max||Top Pick for Shooting Competition||$$$|
|Stoeger M3500||Top Budget||$|
Did I miss one?
If so don’t be afraid to leave us a message at the end of this post and I’ll gladly add it.
Remember that these are my own personal recommendations do don’t get angry if you disagree.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of The Semi-auto Shotgun
- 2 The Rise of Tactical Semi-Automatic Shotguns
- 3 The Mechanics of Semi-Automatic Shotguns
- 4 Which is Better to Shoot?
- 5 Semi-auto Shotguns and New Shooters
- 6 Top 8 Semi-Auto Shotguns for the Money
- 7 Best Semi-auto Shotgun for Self Defense
- 8 If You Have the $$ – FNH SLP Mark 1
- 9 What are the Best Shotguns for Competition?
- 10 Conclusion
History of The Semi-auto Shotgun
Before I share my top picks with you, we need to discuss the Browning Auto 5. We need to start with this epic boomstick to know how the modern semi-auto shotgun industry started.
The Browning Auto 5 was originally created in the 1800s with a patent finally put on it in the 1900s after about 100 years of use. From 1903 onward it was mass produced in the US. Despite its popularity, the original Browning Auto 5 was notoriously unreliable.
It would jam, break and explode. After about ten years of production the Auto 5 was revamped by the legendary Browning company. The newer “fixed” model solved all the issues that plagued the older Browning Auto 5 version.
A new shotgun was born.
It was so reliable and powerful that military forces all over the world started purchasing it in bulk.
The Browning Auto 5’s history is almost as old as the 1911 pistol.
It was a favored weapon of tactical units throughout the world and paratroopers dropped into close proximity fighting. The Auto 5 packed some serious firepower utilizing a 12 gauge buckshot to obliterate anyone unluckily enough to get hit.
During both of the World Wars, especially in World War II, the Browning Auto 5 became a standard issue weapon. The unit itself is a recoil operated gun.
The idea is that the energy produced from the recoil is used to seamlessly shoot out the shell and pull a new one into the chamber.
The Rise of Tactical Semi-Automatic Shotguns
Semi-auto shotguns have enjoyed a huge upswing in popularity over the last few years. We suspect that this is largely due to Hollywood where they’ve been featured in more and more action movies.
Movies like John Wick. Stop and watch this for a second.
The increased demand has allowed smaller companies and larger companies like Browning and Mossberg to rethink their designs. Competition breeds innovation and that’s exactly what we’ve seen in the last few years.
A lot of new models coming out with tons of features and some really impressive designs.
The Mechanics of Semi-Automatic Shotguns
A pump-action shotgun requires the user to pull its fore-end to eject the spent cartridge, the push the fore-end to load a new shell from the magazine to the chamber. The push-and-pull movement to cycle shells makes it look like the user is “pumping” the shotgun, hence the label “pump-action”.
With a semi-auto, whenever you shoot the shotgun, the internal spring loaded mechanism shoots out the old cartridge and brings in a new one.
A semi-auto shotgun does the work for you. Instead of hearing the “chuck chuck” when you pull the fore-end to eject a spent cartridge then push it to load a new one in, it does the work for you. Using either the recoil or the high-pressure gases from the shells fired, the used cartridge is ejected and a new one is loaded in.
Auto-loading shotguns do it in two ways:
- Recoil-based reloading
- Gas System, like the AR-15
The end result of both the systems is the same. This quick reloading and ejecting allows for the rapid-fire ability of semi automatic shotguns.
Gas powered units use gas under high pressure while the traditional pump action uses good ol’ human muscle.
The first Auto 5’s were recoil-based and it wasn’t under later tactical shotguns emerged on the market that manufacturers started to favor the more robust gas-powered design.
Which is Better to Shoot?
Well, that’s up to you really. I like both. 🙂
If you want the fast powerful feeling of shooting multiple slugs quickly, then the semi-auto shotgun is for you.
If you want to be a bit more methodical and take your time feeling the mechanism of the gun in your hands, then a traditional pump-action shotgun is what you want.
There are still some other differences though:
- Relatively lower-priced
- Great for beginners
- Okay if you’re a bigger person
- Super simple to clean, disassemble and maintain
- Takes any type of ammo
- Relatively more durable because of its more simple utilitarian design
Things to Consider:
- Won’t fire as quickly as a semi-auto shotgun (unless the user is highly trained)
- Has more “kick” to it (depending on the particular shotgun’s weight and the loads you use)
- If you have a shoulder or hand injury, shooting a pump-action shotgun will hurt
- Great for tactical situations or competitive shooting
- Great for beginners
- Relatively better for smaller people
- In general, has less felt recoil (i.e. compared to a pump-action with similar weight and using the same loads)
- Less recoil leads to significantly faster target acquisition and slightly better accuracy
- Feels great to shoot
Things to Consider:
- A lot more parts can lead to potentially more problems
- Harder to clean
- May have issues with certain ammo loads
Semi-auto Shotguns and New Shooters
The shotgun isn’t a complicated weapon to begin with. Using an auto shotgun is even easier than a traditional shotgun.
One of the advantage of using a semi-automatic version is that once all the cartridges are cleared the gun will lock to the rear. This gives newer shooters a very clear visible and auditory cue that the gun is indeed empty and safe.
Not to mention traditional pump-action shotguns have a hell of a lot of kick.
Contrast this with the pump-action shotgun which doesn’t give any sort of cue that it’s empty. The only reliable method is count the amount of shots you made and make sure they are all done.
If you have the money and want something that is easier to operate I’d recommend semi-auto shotgun. The only issue that might come up is cleaning but if you aren’t sure about that you can always take it to your gunsmith to get it cleaned.
Top 8 Semi-Auto Shotguns for the Money
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, these are my top picks. That is also because these are the shotguns I’m familiar with and I even own a few of these.
I’ve tried to blend price with quality here to give you a best of both worlds.
If anyone has another shotgun they’d like to add to the list, drop it in a comment below. Thanks!
Top Semi-Automatic Shotguns for Hunting
These are a great choice for bird hunting or pig hunting. Anything that is fast moving, big or requires lots of shots is easier to hunt with an automatic shotgun.
For elk hunting I still recommend a hunting rifle.
Semi-auto Hunting Shotgun – Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe (Best Value )
The SA-08 Deluxe is originally manufactured by a Turkish company and is a gas-operated model. Available gauge sizes are 12, 20 and 28.
This is great weapon to shoot and provides some great power for bird hunting or pig hunting. I would say it’s a good combination of value and price. It’s a little bit pricier than some of the super discount options.
The SA-08 is super lightweight and looks great. The base model weighs 5 ½ to 6 ¼ pounds. Also a great choice for clay shooting or any kind of waterfowl.
If you have a gun lover in your family, this is a really good choice and probably the best price you’ll get at the mid-range level. Walnut stock, engraved logo and polished steel – it looks and feels great.
Stoeger M3500 – The Top Budget Semi-auto Shotgun
Don’t get fooled by the price. The Stoeger is a great choice for a reliable shotgun with great power minus all the bells and whistles of some of the more fancy tactical choices.
The Stoeger runs via inertia meaning that cartridges are pulled into the shell and old ones ejected via recoil.
Comes with interchangeable chokes a couple of different lengths of barrels. Shells range from 2 ¾ to 3 ½ for the bigger slugs. You can easily fit a shotgun sight onto this.
You can shop around and find the Stoeger for pretty cheap.
Top Pick for Hunting Semi-auto Shotgun – Browning A5
For anyone who has shot this, they’ll know why we picked it as our top choice.
If you’re thinking isn’t this the A5 from World War 2? Don’t worry, I’m not recommending you to use some antique weapon for your hunting trips.
The A5 is a new and improved version of the old vintage model. It comes with all the old functionality plus a very expanded design. The new A5 is lighter and utilizes a patented recoil system known as “Kinematic Drive”, this feature lets you pick between lighter or heavier loads.
This is a great gift for a gun lover and also makes one of those timeless pieces that you can keep in your family for years.
Best Semi-auto Shotgun for Self Defense
Right off the bat I’ll mention that I’m not a fan of traditional shotguns for home defense.
The reasons are simple. They fire slower and have a higher possibility of jamming which is not something you can afford in a home invasion.
Semi-auto shotguns provider serious power, increased ability to shoot multiple rounds and a very small likelihood of jamming.
We all know that in self defense situations reaction time is vital. Even a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death. Using a traditional shotgun isn’t something you can really afford when the stakes are that high.
Best Semi-automatic Shotgun for the Money – Beretta 1301 Tactical
It is a gas powered 12 gauge semi-auto that fires extremely powerful and slightly reduced loads. The 1301 Tactical is one of the most recommended and used tactical auto shotguns out there. It’s a favorite of tactical teams and special forces units worldwide.
I wouldn’t recommend this as a shotgun for shooting competitions — the slightly more expensive variant, the 1301 Comp, is the better choice for that purpose. However, if personal defense or home protection is what you’re concerned about, then the 1301 is a VERY good choice.
Second Best Semi-Auto for the Money – Mossberg 930
Another great choice for home defense. I didn’t put this as number one just because I’m biased towards the Beretta 1301, (which superseded the TX4 that I’ve had for a few years).
The Mossberg is like a Ford 150 – functional, reliable and easy to use. There is nothing fancy about it but it’s pretty cheap considering the build.
Great for a backup gun for home defense or even a backup gun for hunting. For shells I’d recommend Hornady Critical Defense shell. You can read about it in our shotgun ammo article.
If You Have the $$ – FNH SLP Mark 1
If you want durability than the FNH is what you want.
It’s built specifically for military units so its design allows for a lot of damage. It still has the same autoloading functionality as all the other semi-auto shotguns. The FNH is also the recipient of the Shotgun of the Year Award.
You know I wasn’t going to leave this out.
I got one of these three years ago as a Christmas present from my wife. I’ve never looked back since and I recommend it to anyone looking to spend a bit more money on a VERY solid and reliable semi-automatic shotgun for home defense.
The M4 is the top pick for the US Marine’s special forces units. The M4 is also not inertia operated rather it runs on a gas powered system.
Since the M4 is so well designed it rarely gets jammed and requires a lot less cleaning than some of its cheapest counterparts. It comes with a platform to add an adjustable scope and works well with a few different models of gun slings.
If you’re looking for the top notch, king of all shotguns than the M4 Benelli is your choice. Only downside is the price.
What are the Best Shotguns for Competition?
Anyone who has been skeet shooting knows that using a semi-automatic shotgun is a lot more fun than a pump action piece.
Faster shots equal a lot higher chance to hit your target and avoid dealing with jams.
Our Top Pick – Remington Versa Max
The Versa Max was designed with competitions in mind.
It’s a 12 gauge auto-loader that was built with competition in mind. This is a great choice for 3-gun shooting comps.
The Versaport system handles gas pressure and modifies pressure based on the size of the shotgun shell. The idea behind the Versaport was that shooters should be able to have recoil that is consistent and not affected by the load.
Priced a little higher than some of the other models. It’s a great choice for anyone who is serious about competitive shooting and wants a shotgun that they can use reliably for the next twenty years.
Benelli M2 Tactical
If you read my previous review of the M4, you’ll know that I love Benelli.
This one is no exception to the rule. It comes in a few different designs: Standard, Pistol Grip and specially designed and patented ComforTech which reduces recoil by a massive degree allowing for enhanced control.
The M2 is also surprisingly light and built using high quality finishes and metal.
I won’t pigeonhole the M2 and say it’s only good for competitive shooting. It’s a great choice for hunting, self defense and competition.
Since the days of the Browning A5, the semi-auto shotgun has come a long way. Originally produced as military weapon, it has now transitioned into competitive shooting and self defense.
The biggest advantage of the semi-auto shotgun is that it’s just easier to use. While shotgun “purists” swear by the reliability, simplicity and aesthetics of the classic pump-action shotgun, and given enough time in the range it can be fired as fast as any semi-auto, the features of semi-autos make it the better choice for novice users.
Semi-auto shotguns don’t kick as hard. You’ll avoid the huge recoil that you get with a regular shotgun. Less recoil equates to a marked improvement in your ability to aim and shoot your boomstick.
I would recommend any of the shotguns we discussed for new shooters, people looking for tactical firearms for home defense or competitive shooters.
If you have anything you’d like to add to the list, just drop a comment below.