Pheasants Forever's 2016 Annual Shotgun Review

b7cc1e10-ed91-4ba1-8034-2253f949dcf3 The year 2016 offers hunters a lot of new shotguns to get excited about. There’s a healthy hatch of new guns, especially for those who pursue America’s gamebird king, the ringneck pheasant. This year sees a couple of continuing trends: there are more guns designed specifically for women and more companies offering inertia-operated semiautos. We also have two huge birthdays – Remington and Winchester – to celebrate in the U.S. firearms industry, with guns to commemorate them. There’s even a gun that may help bring back the 16 gauge, which may be the best upland gauge of all. Whatever your budget or taste, there is probably a gun that came out this year you’ll want to start saving for. Here’s a sampling:
 

Budget: Under $800

 

Stoeger P3000

Stoeger’s new pump shotgun breaks the $300 barrier in price, meaning it will sell for as little as $250 in stores. At that price, it’s hard not to pick one up as a truck or bad weather gun. The P3000 is suited to either role with its black synthetic stock and a matte finish. It has integral swivel studs, too, so it can double as a waterfowl or turkey gun. At a little under 7 pounds in a 28 inch barreled, 3 inch 12 gauge, it’s definitely a gun that you can carry a long way after roosters. The P3000 has a rotary bolt that makes the action very slick for quick follow-up shots, as I found when I took it to the range.
 
The barrel has a red bar front sight and a single modified choke tube, and that is the end of the P3000’s features, because it is a gun that pretty much defines “no frills.” If that’s what you want in a shotgun, this one seems worth a look. $299.


 

Remington 870 – 200 Year Anniversary

With over 11,000,000 made since 1950, the Remington 870 has undoubtedly accounted for more pheasants than any other shotgun. What more can you say about it? How about Happy Birthday! Remington celebrates its 200th anniversary this year with a series of commemorative guns, including an 870.
 
The guns have A Grade walnut stocks with a satin finish and cut fleur-de-lis checkering reminiscent of the pressed patterns on 870s of the ringneck’s glory days. The grip has a bronzed decorative cap as well. In all other ways, the gun looks like the same 870 Express we all know and probably own: it’s a 7 ½ pound, 3 inch magnum 12 gauge with a 28 inch barrel and single modified choke tube. The metal is finished to the familiar matte gray/black as regular Express 870s. $599.


 

CZ Drake

CZ’s newest O/U is the Drake, and in the CZ tradition, it’s a modestly-priced gun that offers a ton of value. My test gun was a 20 gauge weighing in a little over 6 ½ pounds, although it felt heavier due to its weight-forward balance. Although that heft meant it’s not, perhaps, a gun to carry one-handed through the woodcock thickets, it swings beautifully on clays and should work just fine in the open fields and big sky of pheasant country. It has a manual safety, extractors and a mechanical trigger.
 
The gun has a straight grained walnut stock with neatly-laser cut checkering and matte finish. The steel is blacked, as is common with many Turkish guns, and there’s a bit of scroll engraving on the receiver. You get five chokes, a hard case with velvety storage bags, but despite those extras, this is an affordable, hardworking gun that sells for just $629.


 

Stevens S1200

Choices in inertia guns keep growing wider. Stevens introduced its first semiauto shotgun in many, many years in 2016 with the new 1200. It’s a Turkish-made, inertia operated 3 inch 12 gauge and comes in both walnut and synthetic models with 26 or 28 inch barrels as well as two camo patterns. I chose to shoot the walnut version as it’s more appropriate for upland hunting than camo. It came in dark red-brown walnut with some very dark grain and several panels of cut checkering set off by a well-done satin finish. The barrel and alloy receiver are finished in black and unadorned except for the word “Stevens” in white letters, and the vent ribbed barrel has a simple metal bead.
 
Like almost all inertia guns, it features a rotary bolt and, like some, the action spring is underneath the forearm and wrapped around the magazine tube, an arrangement that makes for easy end-of-the-season cleaning. The gun comes with five choke tubes and sells for just $573 in basic black, $629 in camo and $685 in walnut.

 

Mid-Range: $800-$1700

 

Weatherby Synthetic Element

Weatherby introduced the Element last year, a Turkish-made inertia operated gun that looked like a classic Weatherby, all glossy walnut and shiny metal. This year’s version of the Element has a toned down gray synthetic stock with matte metal, or you can get it in a Realtree Max 5 finish, which comes with a lower price tag than the walnut stocked model, too.
 
The Element comes in 3 inch 12 and 20 gauges, with a choice of 26 or 28 inch barrels. Like most inertia guns, it’s lightweight (under 7 pounds in a 12 gauge) and lively in hand due to the lack of gas-system bulk and weight beneath the forend. I found it to be comparatively soft-shooting: not as good as a gas gun for recoil, but less than a fixed-breech gun. The synthetic stock has rubberized grip panels. The Element has a triangular trigger which, while not huge, is easy to find, even on cold, late season hunts. $749 in gray, $849 in camo.


 

Mossberg 930 Pro Series

The 12 gauge Mossberg’s 930 semiauto gets a full Pro Series treatment in this new version designed for waterfowlers. Like the three-gun competition versions, this gun features internals coated with boron-nitride as well as a stainless steel action spring. It also features a coat of Mossy Oak blades camo, a bright orange bead for early morning shooting, sling swivel studs and a sling. At 7 ¾ pounds with a 28 inch barrel, it would be a bit of a handful to carry all day for pheasants, but for its intended purpose as a waterfowl gun, it’s just right.
 
The 930 itself is the 3 inch version of the 935, and it’s a solid, somewhat underappreciated shotgun. The gas system is simple, it works and is easy to clean. I recently shot a 930 Pro Series for two days on a video shoot and found it to be reliable, easy to hit clays with and not bad on recoil reduction. I did toss the gun into a pond for a video segment, pulled it out of the water, cleaned it and shot it again, and the gun was none the worse for it.
 
Unlike the 935, which has a barrel bored to near-10 gauge specs, the 930 is a more conventional 12 gauge, threaded for Mossberg’s Accu chokes. The receiver is drilled and tapped in case you want to take this gun to the turkey woods as well. $867.


 

Fabarm XLR Waterfowl

The 12 gauge Fabarm’s XLR Velocity has made a name in clay target games, and this year it comes in a new hunting version. The Waterfowler features an oversize safety and a rubber insert in the comb of its synthetic stock to help this already soft-shooting gun slide along your cheek under magnum recoil. It has an oversized trigger guard to better accommodate frozen, gloved fingers and the entire gun is dipped in Kryptek camo except for the top of the rib, which is left black to improve visibility. That rib, incidentally, has a four inch extension running along the top of the receiver to make it appear longer.
 
I’ve shot the sporting version of the XLR and been very impressed with its ability to cycle a wide variety of loads. Internal parts are highly polished, which may contribute to its reliability. Waterfowlers will appreciate the action spring’s location on the magazine tube, where it is easy to inspect and clean. The barrel is bored to Fabarm’s TriBore specs to improve patterns. In 3 inch 12 gauge with 28 or 30 inch barrels, the TriBore comes in a left-handed version too. $1650.


 

Browning A5 Sweet 16   

Browning’s new A5 Sweet 16 generated plenty of buzz at SHOT Show 2016. Pheasant hunters were among those buzzing the loudest, as well they should. This isn’t the return of the John Browning-designed Auto 5, but an all new inertia gun in 16 gauge. The scaled-down Sweet 16 with its alloy receiver is listed at 5 pounds, 13 ounces in Browning’s catalog. That makes this a 16 gauge as it should be, the gun that “carries like a 20, hits like a 12.” I shot one at Media Day before SHOT Show. It was light and trim and easy to hit with despite its light weight. The gun is available in walnut and blued steel only, because a synthetic stocked Sweet 16 would just be wrong. The gun comes with Browning’s new Invector DS II chokes.
 
Don’t worry about finding ammunition for it, either. Browning also announced Browning Ammunition earlier this year, and the line includes a great pheasant load for the Sweet 16: 1 1/8 ounce of hard, plated 6 shot at 1295 fps. The Sweet 16 comes in 28 inch barrel length only. $1699.

 

High End: $1700 and up

 

Syren ELOS Sporting – 12 Gauge

Caesar Guerini/Fabarm’s Syren line are the first shotguns to abandon the “shrink it and pink it” approach to guns for women and instead design stocks that actually fit a woman’s body. They have started an industry trend. They still have the largest lineup of guns for women, and new this year is the ELOS sporting clays, a target gun that’s competitively priced with Browning and Beretta versions.
 
The Syren stock is shorter; has a Monte Carlo comb to accommodate a woman’s longer neck; a tighter pistol grip to suit smaller hands; and a stock that is toed out to fit more comfortably into the shoulder pocket. Incidentally, many stocky men find the Syrens fits them well, too. Syrens don’t fit me well at all, but even so I found it an easy gun to shoot.
 
The ELOS has 30 inch barrels, five extended chokes and Fabarm’s TriBore barrel, which is supposed to give better patterns and reduce felt recoil. The metal is finished in a matte black, with roses engraved in the receiver. The rose pattern is repeated on the wrist of the stock as well. The wood has artificially “enhanced” grain, which is, frankly, an acquired taste. The gun weighs just a hair under eight pounds. That heft, along with a soft pad, help it soak up recoil. $2595.


 

Winchester 101 – 150 Year Anniversary Grade

Winchester’s “new” 101 has flown under the shotgunner’s radar for too long. Perhaps this year’s 150th anniversary model will attract some deserved attention. A totally different design than the classic Japanese-made 101s of the 60s and 70s, this 101 features a completely different, low-profile action that makes up into a trim O/U that weighs about 7 ¼ pounds in 12 gauge with 28 inch barrels. Weight-wise, it hits that sweet spot between light enough to carry and heavy enough to shoot stout pheasant loads.
 
The anniversary model has very nicely figured walnut (almost striped on my test gun) under a gloss finish on a stock and forend shaped to look like the 101s of old. An old school pad with a white line spacer covers the butt. The silver receiver is decorated with deep-relief scroll engraving with gold highlights. The barrels are deeply blued, and on the inside, over-bored and fitted with the Browning/Winchester Invector Plus choke system. $3069.99.


 

Blaser F16

Blaser’s new F16 aims to put Blaser quality within reach of more hunters. Priced far below Blaser’s F3 hunting and competition gun, the F16 still delivers many of the desirable features of the F3. It shares the same very trim, low profile receiver that helps the gun sit low in your hands and point naturally. It has an excellent, crisp mechanical trigger. A small tab just ahead of the trigger serves as a convenient barrel selector. The barrels are bored to Blaser’s “Triplex” design, a taper which results in a very long forcing cone, in theory reducing recoil and improving patterns.
 
The Blaser’s features aside, it’s one of those guns that begs to be shot when you pick it up. My test gun, a field model 12 gauge with 30 inch barrels, had a lively feel that made it seem to weigh less than its 7 pounds, 5 ounces. It’s easy to imagine taking it afield after ringnecks. Overall, the gun has a restrained good look with handsome walnut and grayed metal. $3795.


 

Merkel 40E – 20 Gauge

In big news for bird hunters – bird hunters of a certain income bracket anyway – German manufacturer Merkel introduced its first new gun in 10 years. The 40E is a “budget” double, and, while plenty pricey at $4500, it’s essentially a no-frills version of Merkel’s deep-relief engraved, hand-rubbed oil finished doubles that sell for $8000. If you want Merkel quality at a few thousand dollars under the price of a Merkel, this is a gun for you.
 
The 40E shares the same bulletproof, Greener style, cross-bolt action of higher-grade Merkel boxlocks, and, like all Merkels, it is built to last for generations. It has plain, straight grained walnut with a satin finish and a silver nitride receiver decorated with lasered scroll engraving. Merkel shotguns are known for the quality of their barrels, and the 40E’s barrels are not only Merkel quality, they are approved for steel shot, so this is a gun you can take after ringnecks even where non-toxic shot is required. I had the opportunity to hunt with a 40E during the last week of our Iowa upland season last year and appreciated its light weight and sure pointing qualities as I put the last few pheasants and quail of the year into the bag.
 
The 40E comes in every permutation of straight or pistol grip and single or double triggers. It’s available in 12, 20 and some 28 gauges. My test 20 gauge weighed a little under 6 ½ pounds. $4595.
 
 
Written by Phil Bourjaily
Photo by Todd Sauers, Pheasants Forever