November 02, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Growing up in the Midwest thirty years ago meant hunting everything with a shotgun. Most teenage kids growing up in the country could afford one gun, and since state law where I grew up in Ohio prohibited the use of centerfire rifles for deer hunting until 2014 almost everyone owned a scattergun. Despite their perceived shortcomings by some hunters, we managed to bag a wide variety of game with our inexpensive shotguns purchased from the local Wal-Mart. With wages from a summer spent baling hay and cutting tobacco, we had inexpensive, well performing and reliable shotguns; for the most part. From ducks to deer they did it all; and that old adage about “fearing the man who owns one gun” was very true. When you hunt everything with a single firearm you became proficient with that weapon.
I’ve encountered some seriously impressive shotgun shooters who never carried a gun worth four figures. In college, while shooting for my university team, I watched a coach at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio smash hard-crossing skeet targets with a pump gun—all while standing in the third row of bleachers behind the course. That still ranks among the most impressive feats I’ve seen with a shotgun, and it was accomplished with a pump gun purchased at the local hardware store shooting cheap factory ammo.
Today you can still buy a versatile hunting shotgun for under five-hundred bucks. It won’t be a fancy gun with an embellished stock and intricate engraving, and you may have to cycle the action yourself if you want a repeater, but those are minor drawbacks when you consider all the days you’ll spend making memories in the field with a shotgun.
Whether you’re saving your summer wages to buy a gun or simply want an affordable pump or semi-auto to round out your hunting arsenal this list will have something for you. You can’t expect to get a lot of added bells and whistles while shopping for the most affordable shotguns on the market, though. There’s no fancy walnut or gold inlay here, just good, reliable shotguns that get the job done—all without breaking the bank.
Winchester’s 1200/1300 pump shotguns (progenitors to the current SXP) got a bad wrap because they were developed as a more affordable and modern alternative to the storied Model 12. But the Model 1200 was a great gun that was ahead of its time with its aluminum alloy receiver, and today’s SXP shares many of the same features that made the 1200/1300s such great guns. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking for it’s hard to tell the new SXP from a classic Model 1300.
My first repeating shotgun was a Winchester 1300, and so was my second. So when the company announced the release of the SXP I felt right at home behind this scattergun. The inertia-operated pump is fast if you’ve practiced with it, and a trained SXP shooter will hit more birds faster than an untrained shooter with a semi-auto. I still like the Winchester’s forward-mounted crossbolt safety and these guns are available in a wide range of configurations for trap and sporting clays shooters, upland, deer, turkey and waterfowl hunters, and even home defense. Odds are there’s an SXP available in your favorite camo pattern and configurations, and Winchester offers a number of accessories for these guns including extra chokes.
Bottom Line: A reliable pump gun that’s as fast as a semi-auto in trained hands.
MSRP: $389.99 and up
Tristar’s Raptor offers everything you need in a versatile semi-auto shotgun without all the extra bells and whistles that drive up price. The molded plastic stock comes in basic black (there’s a camo dipped model, but it costs $540) and most guns come with three Beretta Mobil Choke interchangeable choke tubes. Available in 12 and 20 gauge as well as a 20-gauge youth model, the Raptor holds five 2 ¾-inch shotshells in its tubular magazine. A plug comes standard to prevent you running afoul of the law while waterfowl hunting, but removing the plug is fast and easy.
The gas operation system helps reduce felt recoil and there’s a magazine cutoff which is perfect when you’re crossing fences or creeks or handling your hunting dogs. Both the chamber and bore are chrome lined and the ventilated top rib is matte finished to reduce glare, and the gun’s black matte finish won’t alert game to your presence. If you enjoy (or would like to try) shotgun sports like trap, skeet, and sporting clays the Raptor is a great gun for these sports because it softens the recoil blow and offers very fast follow-ups when shooting pairs of targets.
Bottom Line: It’s worth putting up with a plasticky stock and few creature comforts to own a functional semi-auto that will serve reliably for years to come.
Sometimes an affordable single-shot is the only shotgun you need, and in that case the Stevens 301 is the perfect gun for you. The single-shot Stevens 301 12-gauge weighs in at less than 6 pounds and its durable black polymer stock is basic but durable enough to stand up to the elements. The 26-inch barrel comes with a 3-inch chamber and a single modified Winchoke tube, but because the 301 has such a short action overall length of this gun is just 41-inches, which is perfect for the cramped spaces like a blind. The break-action design features an exposed hammer as well as a manual safety so these guns are safe and simple to operate.
They’re great mountain guns that will allow you to pot a grouse for dinner and defend yourself against bears, and the 301 is also effective on ducks, deer, and gobblers if you make your shots count. The Turkey version of these guns comes with a Mossy oak camo stock, an extra full choke tube, and a top rail for mounting optics. There’s even a .410 version of the 301 Turkey designed for use with high-density TSS shot which turn this five-shot shotgun into a turkey slayer. Best of all MSRP the starting MSRP is $206 for these guns so you can typically pick one up for under two-hundred bucks at the gun store.
Bottom Line: If you can live with its one-and-done capacity the 301 is an unbeatable value.
There are few shotguns with as solid a reputation as the 500. This American-made pump been in production for over six decades, and during that time it has served hunters, homeowners, and law enforcement professionals. It’s interesting to note that during the 500’s long lifespan it has remained virtually unchanged, and that’s because the original design was so darn good. Perhaps that’s why an incredible twelve million of these shotguns have been sold since they were first released, making the 500 one of the most popular firearms of all time. Dual extractors wrench even the most stubborn shell casings free of the action, and the tang-mounted safety allows for easy use with either hand.
These guns come with dual action bars for a smooth stroke and the robust steel-to-steel lockup in the action ensure that the 500 can withstand years of hard use. The 500 Hunting All-purpose Field is available with either a walnut or black plastic stock in 12 or 20 gauge, and each of these guns comes with a six-round capacity and a set of three AccuChokes. The Model 500 is anything but fancy, but it’s also one of the most reliable and enduring shotgun designs of the twentieth century. It’s also an affordable gun that’s guaranteed to survive some very rough handling.
Bottom Line: The American-made 500 is a pump gun without peers.
A lot of hunters are looking for the one-two punch of a double gun, and the Stoeger Condor is a great over/under options in the sub-$500 range. These guns are available in 12, 20, and 28 gauge and .410, and except for the .410 version which has fixed full chokes top and bottom all Condors come with interchangeable choke tubes (IC and M, but additional flush fit and extended chokes are available through Stoeger’s website). These guns are also available with either a black synthetic or A-grade satin walnut stock. Weights range between 6 and 7.3 pounds, and these guns are well-balanced and operate smoothly.
Are they as refined and robust as some competing stackbarrel shotguns? No, but the Condor costs considerably less and makes a great field gun for upland game, waterfowl, and turkey. These guns come with extractors instead of ejectors, which is one way of saving on cost. That means you’ll have to manually remove spent shells, but deleting the ejectors from this design also eliminates one moving part with the potential to fail, and most field guns don’t require ejectors. Neither do sporting guns, for that matter, and the Condor makes an ideal gun for shooting trap, skeet, and sporting clays. If you’ve ever thought of trying out these shotgun sports a Stoeger over/under is an affordable way to get started.
Bottom Line: The versatile and reliable Condor has been ruling the affordable over/under roost for many years, and it’s easy to see why.
MSRP: $349 to $449
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.