Choosing A Waterfowl Shotgun For Beginners

Shotguns are used on a wide array of animals and in several sports. What used to be the simplest kind of gun now comes in a ton of different specifications. If you’re thinking about going out duck hunting for the first time, or are trying to introduce someone else to it, you could get overwhelmed with all the choices. Here are some things to factor in when looking for the right fowling gun.

Built for steel

Since 1992 hunters have been legally required to use non-toxic shot for waterfowl. Bismuth and tungsten shot are available, but the most common non-toxic shot is steel.

Older guns built for lead shot have tight chokes based on the properties of lead. Shooting steel through that same choke will bulge or burst your barrel, possibly leading to injury or death. If you’re at all uncertain whether your gun is steel-safe, check with a gunsmith. Take this part seriously.


Most stocks are built for adult men, but there are Ladies and Youth models available from some manufacturers. Trying to shoot with a gun made for a larger person is frustrating. But it also prevents a shooter from developing a good form. It’s worth it to take your time and make sure you’ve got the right stock. If you’re buying for someone who is still growing, try to find a model that an adult stock can later be fitted to.

As for the barrel, too short and it can hamper your follow through, too long and it can make it harder to swing. For most adults, a 28” barrel is the sweet spot.


Smaller guns, like what you might give a young shooter, are lighter and can’t absorb as much recoil. They need lighter loads to compensate. There are also some commercially available recoil reduction devices. You can add weight to the stock or the barrel until the whole thing is the right weight and balance.

Chamber length

The length of cartridges affects the range of the shot. Steel is less dense than lead, so it packs less forward energy and loses force faster. To get better range you need larger pellets, and to fit those pellets you need a larger cartridge than with lead. The 3” cartridge is by far the most popular choice for fowling, and many shotguns are chambered to fit both that and 2 ¾”.


For almost all fowling, 12 gauge is the gauge of choice. When lead was still legal for waterfowl, hunters often shot 16 GA, but 12 GA allows more room for the larger steel pellets you now need. If you go out for your first waterfowl shoot with a 28” barreled, 3” chambered, 12 GA shotgun like the Beretta A300 Outlander, you’ll be in good company. Beretta’s A400 Plus has the same configuration but with a whole lineup of state-of-the-art special features. Either way, that configuration is widely trusted.


New semi-automatic shotguns tend to cost more than pump actions. But since in fowling you may have to deliver a second shot fast, the semi-auto action can really pay off.


Whatever you choose, practice is essential to developing good form. Practice with whatever you plan to shoot with, or whatever is closest. With practice a shooter can get used to the weight, balance, recoil, and every aspect of the gun. Getting comfortable with a gun once you have it is as important as choosing the right one in the first place.

If you’re looking for a shotgun, stop by Lake Charles Tackle on Common St. in Lake Charles to see our collection. We have options for everyone from the beginner to the experienced hunter.  You can also see what we have online and call us at 337-479-2999 with any questions.

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