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How to Choose a Shotgun as a Female Hunter

Looking to buy your first (or next) shotgun but not sure which shotgun or gauge best fits your needs?

How to Choose a Shotgun as a Female Hunter

The Syren Elos D2 is a women’s gun designed to work well as both a field and sporting gun, and at 6 pounds, 7 ounces, it is comfortable to carry for long days in the field. The has beautiful wood and engraving for a classy upland gun and is available in both 20- and 28-gauge. (Photo courtesy of Jodi Stemler)

Walk into most gun stores and you will find a wall of shotguns. If you’re just getting started as a hunter, the sheer number and variety can be intimidating. Factor in being a relatively novice female hunter and potentially a less than helpful salesman and you might just walk right out the door empty handed, never coming back.

Buying a shotgun should be a fun and exciting process. Arming yourself with a little bit of knowledge can help you end up with one that will be the source of years of fun in the field. But what are the most important things to consider? Do guns designed specifically for women make a difference? How much do you really need to spend?

There’s a lot to know about hunting shotguns, but there are a few fundamentals that should help start your research process. We’ve talked to a few women who have been working in the firearms industry for years to provide their thoughts on what women should consider when buying their first shotgun.

Set Your Budget

According to Amy Ray, president of Sisterhood of the Outdoors, the first thing to consider is your budget. You can find shotguns that range from a few hundred dollars to the price of a small car. There are improvements that come when you move from the cheaper models to the more moderately priced shotguns that typically land around $1,000. However, eventually some of the increases in price come from higher grade wood or more detailed engraving. This aesthetic may be worth it for you but if you’re on a budget, there are still plenty of options available. Knowing how much you want to spend will allow you to compare the guns and identify what features are most important to you and how those affect the overall price of the gun.


Field or Sporting Shotguns?

What do you plan to do with your shotgun—will you mostly be hunting upland birds or is waterfowl more your thing? You might primarily shoot clay targets at the range but want to also be able to take that gun in the field from time to time. Knowing what you are most likely to use the gun for is the most fundamental consideration—and if the answer is all of the above, you’re not alone and there are some great all-arounders available.

Lynne Green, a firearms dealer in McCall, Idaho, who was a manufacturer’s representative for Syren (the first brand dedicated to shotguns for women) and Fausti, notes that shotguns are generally categorized as “sporting” or “field.”

A sporting shotgun is designed primarily for competitive shooting where the goal is precision and comfort when shooting hundreds of rounds for a score. A field gun is designed primarily for hunting, with adaptations such as reduced weight for carrying on long walks in the upland field or less recoil mitigation since they will not be fired repeatedly.

Woman carries pheasant and <a href='https://www.pntra.com/t/8-11218-286128-147027?utm_source=gundogmag&utm_medium=in-page-link&utm_term=Beretta&utm_content=487861' alt='Beretta' title='Beretta' target='_blank'>Beretta</a> shotgun with her dog
(Photo courtesy of Jodi Stelmer) Jodi Stemler’s 25-year-old Beretta semi-auto in 20 gauge has been her go-to all-around gun for many years. It’s light enough to carry all day in the upland fields, works well on the clays range, and is effective for geese and turkey.

Can you use a sporting shotgun in the field? Of course, and if it’s not explicitly advertised as either field or sporting, it will probably be a good multi-purpose option.


Understanding Firearm Actions

Simply said, the action of a firearm is the way in which the gun cycles between rounds of ammunition. The primary actions in shotguns are break action (most commonly an over/under), pump, and semi-automatic.

Over/unders are the iconic upland shotguns while most waterfowlers will opt for a semi-automatic. In many cases, the reasons for these choices are based more on tradition or personal preference. However, there’s no reason you can’t use an over/under in a duck blind or a semi-auto in the upland fields.

There are some practical reasons—and tradeoffs—for these choices as well. Because a semi-auto cycles shells through a gas or inertia system, it can significantly reduce felt recoil. However, these actions are more complex which can lead to a shell not cycling properly and they also require more attention when caring for the gun as compared to an over/under. A pump action is mechanically less complex and typically cost-effective, but it takes a lot of practice to build the muscle memory on the manual action and they may have more felt recoil.

Why Gun Weight Matters

Many women think that lightweight gun sounds like a perfect choice, but heavier guns help absorb recoil. If you anticipate regular, multi-mile days in the uplands, this is a tradeoff worth making because hefting a heavier gun will probably end up being more uncomfortable than the recoil on the handful of shots you will take that day. However, if you’re sitting in a blind and anticipate a full bag limit of ducks and geese or are upland hunting at a preserve with smaller fields and more guaranteed birds, a heavier, soft-shooting gun might be right for you.

The materials that are used to make the gun can factor into the weight. While a wood stock is beautiful, it can add more weight than a synthetic stock. If you like the aesthetic of a traditional over/under with a wooden stock, look for one with a thicker butt pad to reduce felt recoil. Synthetic stocks can also be a benefit in the waterfowl blind where inclement conditions are more likely.

Check Your Gauges

There are a lot of people who think that women always prefer a 20-gauge, and this might be true if you are particularly sensitive to recoil. A sub-gauge shotgun (think 20- or 28-gauge) will have some benefits in the field because it is lighter and has less “kick” due to the smaller shells. In most situations, a 20-gauge (particularly using the right ammunition and choke tube) will provide enough power for lethal shots on most game birds, working well on smaller birds like doves and quail while still knocking down geese. As a result, it can be an effective gun for many women, particularly as your shotgunning skills improve.

female-hunter-franchi-affinity-catalyst-shotgun
Franchi’s Affinity 3 Catalyst takes the company’s popular Affinity inertia-driven semi-automatic and optimizes it for women. The shorter 13 7/8” length of pull and higher comb make it comfortable to shoulder and ensure proper eye alignment with the easy-to-see fiber optic front sight. (Photo courtesy of Jodi Stemler)

However, ask most more advanced hunters, and they will often tell you that a 12-gauge is their go-to all around gun. Current recoil reduction systems can significantly improve how a 12-gauge feels when you shoot. In addition, hunting situations where you may only fire a box of shells intermittently throughout the day may not leave your shoulder as sore as it would if you were shooting 100 rounds at the clay range.

Get the Shotgun That Fits You

Shotgun design might look very similar, but a small change in length of pull or the shape of the stock can make a big difference in how it fits you—and if your gun doesn’t fit right, you probably won’t shoot as well, and it can actually hurt. This is why women’s models were developed and if you are an average-sized woman these guns might fit you best off the shelf.

Women’s shotguns like Syren and specific models by Fausti, Beretta, Franchi, and others have a length of pull (the distance between the middle of the butt stock and the trigger) that falls between a youth model and a standard model that is made for the average man. The stocks on these guns are also adapted to have a higher comb to accommodate women’s longer necks and shaped to help angle the gun better in our shoulders. However, if you are very petite a youth model might suit you better, and a tall woman or one with a long wingspan might be fine with a standard size shotgun.

The goal is to have a shotgun that naturally pulls up to your shoulder and your cheek to ensure a clear line of sight and it feels balanced when you are swinging with your target. The only way to know if it fits is to shoulder it, and if possible, try it before you buy it. Don’t be afraid to borrow friends’ shotguns or try loaner guns at a demo day at your local range.

Shaundi Campbell, senior marketing manager with Browning agrees, “If you are very new to hunting and shooting, the best thing you can do is take a lesson, join a women’s event, or do a demo to make sure you are using the proper stance and hold. This way you will know what it feels like when the gun fits right when you shoulder it at a store.”

a Brittany dog with female handler holding Beretta shotgun
Jodi Stemler’s 25-year-old Beretta semi-auto in 20 gauge has been her go-to all-around gun for many years. It’s light enough to carry all day in the upland fields, works well on the clays range, and is effective for geese and turkey. (Photo courtesy of Jodi Stelmer)

The bottom line is that if your gun is comfortable and fun to shoot, you’re more likely to practice and spend time in the field. And if you’re in the camp of looking for that all around gun to be used for all purposes, don’t worry, there are plenty of options for you. Be prepared however, as Amy Ray says, once you are hooked on hunting with a shotgun, your first gun will not be your last!

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