Semi-Automatic Shotgun Buyer’s Guide [2021]

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Shotguns are definitely up on the list of the things that come up when people discuss home defense. With the number of models available though, it can be quite confusing for a first-time gun owner to pick one out. Don’t fret though, I’ll show you the most important things to consider in buying the best semi-auto shotgun on the market. Along with my review of the most popular models, you’re sure to make an informed decision on what you want.

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What to Consider When Buying a Semi-Automatic Shotgun

Before you buy a semi-auto shotgun it’s best to familiarize yourself with some of the important features. These weapons can be quite an investment, and it’s a good idea to make sure that when you purchase one, you’re getting the most reliable semi-auto shotgun available to you.

Budget

One of the first things that you should consider when buying a shotgun is how much you can afford to spend. Let’s face it, semi-auto shotguns are expensive. Even the cheapest ones will cost more than most pump action shotguns. The high price does come with an advantage though, as the semi-auto allows users to continuously fire shells at a fast rate. For hunting, this means a better chance of getting a kill, and for home defense, this means a faster means of eliminating threats.

Finding the best budget semi-auto shotgun means balancing the price and the features. Set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend. If you can’t find one that you can afford, consider getting a used one, or go for a pump action instead.

Gauge

A shotgun’s caliber is measured in gauges. The lower that number, the more powerful the shotgun. This is important because not everyone can handle the recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun, though modern semi-auto design has somehow found a way to compensate for this.

The smallest gauge legally available in the US is the 10 gauge, though it has since fallen out of favor. On the other side of the spectrum is the 28 gauge shotgun, which is probably the caliber that still has the strength to still be considered a shotgun, but effective only in short ranges.

The most common gauges available are the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge varieties. All gun stores will have both types of shotgun gauges in stock.

The Stock

A stock that nestles comfortably on your shoulders while aiming is essential if you want to be able to shoot at your target with any accuracy. An ill-fitting stock not only affects your aim, it can cause considerable pain in your shoulder after using the shotgun.

No one standard stock will fit everyone, so be sure to test this out when you’re shopping around for a shotgun. It’s also important to note that most stocks can be modified to suit the needs of different gun owners.

Barrel Length

Although this detail doesn’t really affect the effectiveness of a semi-auto shotgun, it can still be something to consider. If you’re going to be using the weapon for home defense, a long barrel may prove to be a hindrance, as it causes it to be unwieldy in confined spaces. If you’re going to be using the gun for hunting, then this won’t matter, but if it’s for protection try to look for models that have shorter barrel lengths.

Loading System

Semi-auto shotguns come in two different loading systems, either gas or inertia-driven. The gas-driven loading system uses the expansion of gases produced when firing a cartridge to load the next shell. This action reduces the recoil of the shotgun leading to a more balanced and easily controllable aim.

The downside to this is that carbon residue builds up inside the shotgun’s chamber, requiring owners to constantly maintain it or risk a jam. Add to the fact that gas-driven semi-auto shotguns have more moving parts, cleaning can become quite a chore.

Inertia-driven semi-autos, on the other hand, use a recoil spring that is compressed during firing to load the next shell. This eliminates the buildup of gunk, thus reducing the amount of maintenance required. A huge downside though is that inertia-driven shotguns have a rather substantial recoil.

If you’re trying to choose which is the best autoloading shotgun is for you, you’re going to have to choose between constant maintenance and a more noticeable recoil.

Testing Before Buying

One of the best ways to know if a semi-auto shotgun is enough for your needs is to test it out before committing to the purchase. You may be offered the best semi-auto shotgun on the market but if you can’t use it effectively, it wouldn’t really matter.

If the gun store doesn’t have a testing area, they can usually recommend a gun range that offers the model that you want to test out. Go and fire off a few rounds and see if It feels right. Don’t be afraid to ask for the opinions and suggestions of those in the range with you. There’s a good chance that they can offer helpful advice.

Best Semi-Automatic Shotguns

I’m proud to offer up this list of semi-automatic shotguns below that can be considered as some of the best in the market. Along with a short review, I’ll give some of the pros and cons of each model to help you make a decision that you won’t soon regret.

Best Overall – Browning A5 Hunter Semi Auto

Browning was one of the first to come up with a production automatic loading shotgun, and the new model, the Browning A5 Hunter Semi-auto seems to have improved on that legacy. The original humpback sight design allows you to quickly take aim without having to twist your head to get your sights lined up.

Browning A5 Hunter Semi-Auto Shotgun

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The speed loading and unloading feature is a marvel. Being able to quickly chamber a shell is essential whether you’re out hunting or trying to defend your home. The ergonomically balanced design complements both the humpback sights and the speed loading feature, allowing you to be on target at a moment’s notice. Add to it the very secure grip and you’ve got one of the best all-around semi-auto shotgun models in the market.

The downside to all of this though is the hefty price tag. It’s a very expensive shotgun, even for a semi-automatic. But if you’ve got the budget, it’ll certainly last you a lifetime. Quite a great model from Browning.

Pros

  • Original humpback design
  • Speed loading and unloading feature
  • Ergonomically balanced
  • Very secure grip

Cons

  • Rather pricey

Stoeger M3500 12 Gauge Semi Automatic Shotgun

Arguably one of the best 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun for the money, the Stoeger M3500 Semi-Automatic is relatively affordable. Don’t let the price fool you however, as this is certainly a very reliable shotgun. With its lightweight build, it’s perfect both for home defense and outdoor hunting.

Stoeger M3500 12ga 3-1 2in Semi Automatic Shotgun

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With an inertia-driven reloading system, it’s quite easy to dismantle and maintain. It’s a contender for the best semi-auto shotgun for hunting. Its bright fiber optic sight allows the user to aim efficiently, and the wide loading port allows it to shoot 2¾ shells to 3½ inch shells without needing adjustments.

A small nitpick is that the cross bolt safety is located in the rear, making it rather awkward to operate, especially during tense situations. Both the safety and bolt release buttons are also rather small, which can make them easy to miss.

Pro

  • Relatively affordable
  • Very lightweight
  • Easy dismantling and maintenance
  • Front fiber optic sight
  • No adjustments for different shells

Cons

  • Rear cross bolt safety
  • Bolt release button a little small

Mossberg 930 Tactical 8 Shot SPX Semi Automatic

A gas-driven autoloading semi auto, the Mossberg 930 Tactical 8 Shot SPX is one of those auto-load shotguns that are perfect for home defense. It’s quite easy to operate and efficient at target acquisition because of the standard Ghost ring sight that comes out of the box. The front tang safety lets you easily confirm visually whether or not the shotgun is ready for use.

Mossberg 930 Tactical - 8 Shot SPX Semi-Auto Shotgun

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The extended magazine loads seven shells, with one in the chamber. This is great as semi-auto shotguns can unload ammo rather quickly. Because it’s gas-driven, the recoil is generally lower unless you’re using 3½ shells. If you’re using bird or buckshot, however, the recoil isn’t going to be much of an issue.

One thing though is that because it’s gas-driven, constant maintenance will be necessary especially if you use it often. There is also a small issue with the foregrip that feels quite flimsy, though there are aftermarket replacements readily available. All in all, a very good mid-range priced semi-auto shotgun.

Pro

  • Standard Ghost ring sight
  • Front tang safety
  • Extended magazine
  • Low recoil unless shooting 3½ shells

Cons

  • Foregrip can be flimsy
  • Needs constant maintenance

Beretta A300 Outlander

Anyone who’s ever used a Beretta shotgun will be familiar with the feel of the Beretta A300 Outlander. The relatively inexpensive price point, at least for a semi-auto shotgun, makes it a great entry-level choice.

Beretta A300 Outlander True Timber DRT 12ga 3in Semi Automatic Shotgun - 28in

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The lightweight but tough build makes it one of the best semi-auto shotgun available for hunting. It’s very reliable and always ready for action. The self -leaning gas-operated system ensures that you get constant performance even through regular use.

That said, the coating leaves a bit to be desired. Unless you hand oil the outside as soon as you get it, expect corrosion to happen surprisingly quickly. Another downside is that it can’t take 3½ shells, though it handles 2¾ and 3” shells quite well.

There’s also the fact that it can only hold two shells in the magazine with an additional one in the chamber. That’s fine for hunting, but for either home defense or clay shooting, you may want to look into one with a bigger magazine. You can remove the limiter to get an additional shell inside the magazine barrel, but that’s only when you’re using 2¾ shells.

The last minor complaint is that it’s a bit tricky to reassemble. The disassembly is easy, as it’s got only four main parts, but putting it back together will require a bit of getting used to.

Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Lightweight but tough
  • Reliable hunting gun
  • Self-cleaning gas operated system

Cons

  • Prone to corrosion
  • Can’t take 3½ shells
  • Low capacity
  • Rather hard to reassemble

Benelli M2 Field

When it comes to shotguns, Benelli is certainly in a class of its own. The gunmaker’s shotguns are considered to be top of the line, and usually with a price tag that reflects it. The Benelli M2 Field certainly lives up to the reputation.

Benelli M2 Field Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades 20 Gauge 3in 26in Semi Automatic Shotgun - 26in

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With its patented grip design, you’re sure to get a very secure handle on the gun whether in wet or dry conditions. It’s very well balanced, making this gun feel lighter than it actually is, which is great when you’re lugging this around when hunting. Speaking of which, the Benelli M2 Field performs very well even in harsh outside conditions. It certainly is a great hunting shotgun.

The patented recoil pad along with the well-designed stock reduces the amount of recoil that you would expect from an inertia driven auto loader. The maintenance, not that it needs much, is also quite easy with a simple disassembly and reassembly process.

A downside though is that it can’t take 3½ shells, but if that doesn’t bother you, it can take 2¾ and 3” shells very well. It’s also quite expensive, which is expected of a Benelli, you can easily consider it as the best semi-auto shotgun for the money.

Pros

  • Very secure grip
  • Exceptional balance
  • Performs well in all conditions
  • Well-designed stock and padding reduce recoil
  • Very simple disassembly and assembly

Cons

  • Can’t take 3½ shells
  • Quite pricey

The Verdict

After everything is said and done, the clear winner for the title of the best semi-auto shotgun, in my opinion, would be the Browning A5 Hunter Semi Auto. Sure, it’s expensive, but even for that price, it’s sure to exceed all expectations. One of the most important things in a shotgun, whether for hunting or for home defense, is target acquisition, and the A5 Hunter has this in the bag.

The humpback design gets you on target without any additional head movement, meaning that you’re always ready for action at a moment’s notice. The speed loading feature is also very impressive, allowing you to chamber a shell rapidly. This is invaluable whether you’re trying to protect your home or hunting in the field.

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Author

Brady

Hi there, I'm Brady and I'm the owner of GunMade.com. I have been an avid gun enthusiast and hunter since I moved to the Midwest over 15 years ago. It's my passion to share my knowledge and expertise to help you find the best guns in your price range.

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