types of shotguns

Types of Shotguns

When you hear the word “shotgun” what’s the first image that pops into your mind? For me, it’s a high-action shootout in a Western movie. Have you ever wondered just how many types of shotguns there are and what they’re used for?

There are three main types of shotguns: 

  • Break-action
  • Semi-automatic
  • Pump-action

Different shotgun types can be used for anything from sport shooting to self defense and even hunting. Today we will specifically look at the best types of shotguns used for hunting.

Break-action Shotguns

break action shotgun type

A break-action shotgun works where the barrel (in some cases, barrels) operate on a hinge. It works exactly the way it sounds – essentially you “break” the weapon in half in order to load the cartridges.

This type of shotgun can be single barrel or double-barrel. Generally, you’ll find most hunting shotguns to be double-barrel, with either side-by-side barrels or top and bottom (also known as over/under) barrels.

Some of the advantages to hunting with a break-action shotgun include: 

  • Ease of use – even the newest hunter will be able to operate this type of weapon with few to no issues
  • Lightweight – this weapon can be carried over a long distance and is easy to maneuver
  • Safety – by simply keeping the shotgun in an open position, fellow hunters can see that the firearm is in a safe position and there is little danger of an accidental discharge. This makes this style shotgun a favorite for younger hunters as well.

The break-action shotgun is popular among waterfowl hunters.

There are also some disadvantages to the break-action style shotgun for hunting. Users will find that they are limited to only being able to load one or two shots at a time and these types of shotguns can be more expensive. 

Semi-automatic Action Shotguns

A semi-automatic shotgun operates in the same way as any other semi-automatic weapon – the gun fires each time you pull the trigger.

One of the advantages for hunters is that a semi-automatic shotgun can hold anywhere from three to nine shells, giving the user much more flexibility and the ability to spend less time loading. This increases the chances of the hunter making his or her shot and bagging his or her game.

Of course, you definitely want to check the rules and regulations in your area for the number of rounds you are allowed to have loaded when hunting. In many cases, states have a 3 shell maximum.

There are several advantages to hunting with a semi-automatic shotgun. Including:

  • Low recoil – Recoil is the push back the user experiences when the gun is fired. Given the basic laws of physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When the gun is fired, the force required to push the round out of the gun also pushes back on the gun. This is the force or “kick-back” the user will feel after firing. Semi-automatic shotguns tend to have lower felt recoil than that of a pump-action shotgun and break-action shotguns.
  • Quick firing – Because semi-automatic weapons allow for a shot to be fired every time the trigger is pulled, the user is able to fire a lot more quickly. Let’s say you’re aiming at that perfect buck you’ve been stalking for hours. Your first shot misses. Rather than having to manually reload the weapon, you’re able to fire off another shot quickly and reduce the chances of missing out altogether.
  • Efficiency – The semi-automatic shotgun allows for follow up shots to be far more efficient because you don’t have to take your eye off of your target, reload, and then realign the gun. These guns will fire as quickly as the user can pull the trigger, making it a far more efficient option when chasing down that prize.

As with everything else, there are also some disadvantages to choosing a semi-automatic shotgun for hunting. Just a couple may be:

  • Safety concerns – if a newer hunter is unfamiliar with the mechanics of the weapon, the lack of a safety may increase the chances for accidental discharge if the user fails to remove his or her finger from the trigger after firing. 
  • Ease of use – a semi-automatic shotgun may not necessarily be considered user friendly. There are a lot more details involved when it comes to maintenance and assembly of the weapon. My advice would be to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the mechanics of the gun before selecting this type of shotgun for hunting.

Pump-action Shotguns

Arguably, the most familiar and popular style of shotgun is the pump-action. As its name suggests, the pump-action is designed where the user (you guessed it) “pumps” the handguard back and forth in order to expel and load a new round into the chamber. These types of shotguns are popular among hunters because while the standard number of shells it will hold is three, most can be adjusted to allow for five or more.

Advantages to hunting with a pump-action shotgun:

  • Simplicity – the function of a pump-action shotgun is easy to figure out, even for the inexperienced shooter. 
  • Durability – hunting can involve lots of walking, sometimes through rough terrain. You may encounter streams to cross, mud, etc. It’s best to be prepared for anything. The great thing about a pump-action shotgun is if you happen to bang it on a tree or drop it on the ground, it’s durable enough to take a little bit of abuse.
  • Reliability – In general, the pump-action is reliable and you can usually always count on it to fire when it’s supposed to. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, but firing issues are rare. This is excellent news for the hunter because when you’re ready to take the shot, you don’t want to miss out on the game you have been stalking for hours or, in some cases, days.
  • Reasonably priced – The price point for the pump-action shotgun is extremely attractive for hunters. On average, you can get a high quality weapon for less than $500. That’s to say, you can expect to get a lot of bang for your buck.

Of course there are some disadvantages to using the pump-action for hunting as well. A newer hunter may find it troublesome to get shots off fast enough due to the fact that the gun needs to be manually cycled. Seconds are precious when hunting and it may take some time for a newer hunter to get used to the weapon.

Why use a shotgun for hunting?

A shotgun is a great choice for hunting because of its versatility. Modern shotguns can be used to hunt a variety of game – small game, deer, bear, etc. The difference is in the type of ammunition.

The best ammunition for hunting small, fast-moving game is buckshot. Buckshot is a cylindrical casing loaded with multiple small pellet-like projectiles. When fired, the pellets spread, giving you a better chance of hitting your target.

For larger game such as bear, slugs are preferred. Slugs are a larger, solid projectile designed to stay in one piece when fired.

Local Laws for Shotguns

As always, it is important to check with your local Wildlife Resources Commission to get the latest information on regulations and guidelines in your specific area.

You will find that certain areas only allow certain types of guns for specific seasons and some will regulate the amount of ammunition that can be loaded at one time when hunting. It is important to be familiar with these laws before heading out to hunt with your shotgun.


How Many Types of Shotguns Are There?

There are several types of shotguns, including pump-action, semi-automatic, break-action, and bolt-action. Each type has distinct mechanisms and applications, designed for various shooting conditions and purposes.

What Are the Three Types of Shotguns?

The three main types of shotguns are pump-action, semi-automatic, and break-action. Pump-action requires manual cycling of rounds, semi-automatic automatically ejects and loads shells, and break-action opens at the breach to allow manual loading.

What is the Most Popular Type of Shotgun?

The pump-action shotgun is the most popular due to its reliability, simplicity, and affordability. Its manual operation allows shooters to control the pace of firing, making it a preferred choice for various shooting activities.

What Type of Gun is a 12 Gauge?

A 12 gauge refers to a specific caliber of shotgun characterized by the internal diameter of its barrel. It is one of the most common shotgun sizes, known for its versatility and effectiveness in hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense.

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