By: Earl Mclean

Here are some of the answers I get when I ask shooters I instruct, “Why did you buy that particular gun?”

“Uncle Joe is a great turkey hunter and says this one will break a target anywhere!”
“My brother has one like this and he likes it!”
“The guy at the gun store said this was a good gun!”
“I saw this one at the local department store at a great price!”
“This is the brand the U.S. champion/local hot shot shoots.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? They represent common, honest mistakes shooters who just don’t know any better make when they go to purchase a shotgun. Chances are, though, if you bought a gun based on these suggestions, you can’t hit a thing.

Of course, all of us are different, and there is no “one size fits all” shotgun, anymore than there is one pair of shoes that suits everybody. Shotguns come in many configurations, over/unders, side-by-side double barrels, semi-automatics, and pump or slide action. Until recently, there were basically two major types of shotguns: one for adults and one for youth.

Today, there are many more and better options, including guns and stocks made specifically for the lady shooter, but sometimes this makes choosing a gun much more confusing. I will attempt to make shotgun shopping mistakes occur less often.

Choosing the Right Gun for YOU
The big question to ask when shopping for a gun to break clays with is, “How do I know which is the right gun for me?” You should also ask yourself, “Which of these guns will fit my budget?” “How much trouble is it to maintain?” “How do I know if I can shoot it properly?” and Where is the best place to buy a gun?”

Gun fit is the most important thing, followed by price and then maintenance.

Let’s elaborate on gun fit. This aspect of gun buying consists of several things. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say if you have to stretch, your thumb hits your nose, your cheek bones get sore, your shoulder hurts, you can’t see down the barrel, or you see too much barrel, your gun doesn’t fit you if you are mounting properly.

Another thing to consider is that shotguns made in the U.S. generally have straight stocks from the factory and can be shot properly from either shoulder. If you shoot from your left shoulder, beware. Guns made outside of the U.S. are usually right hand only, unless special order. Some of the higher-priced auto loaders and pumps have adjustments that can take care of this problem. Be sure to ask.

Also remember that if you buy your firearm at a department store, when you walk out of the store, your help is over. If a problem arises, you have to do the leg work on warranty repair etc. If you buy at a gun dealership, however, they will usually help with any issues you encounter. Believe me, it can make life much easier. They will typically steer you away from anything problematic, too, because your problem becomes their problem.

Here are a few more rules of thumb to keep in mind:


  1. Over/unders and side-by-sides (quality) start at $1,000.00 and go up.
  2. Semi-autos cost $500.00 and up.
  3. Pumps are $300.00-plus.


  1. Over/unders are usually the easiest to maintain.
  2. Pumps are next easiest.
  3. Semi-autos are the least easy.

The best way to avoid buying mistakes and problems is to hook-up with a good coach and ask questions BEFORE purchasing your shotgun. There are a lot of options out there, and the good news is you can find a shotgun for most any person on any budget. If you have a question, send it in to Gunpowder Magazine and I will try to get it answered for you.
Earl Mclean is a coach and target setter at Drake Landing and is the owner of Heads Up Shooting System LLC, writing from Fuquay Varina, North Carolina.