July 2007

Used Shotguns: Which Pumps Should You Buy? — And Avoid?

A test of four slide-actions — Benelli Nova, Mossberg Model 835, Remington Model 870, and Winchester Model 1200 — shows that a bargain price does not always result in a bargain.

A rugged, reliable shooting tool can be any one of a variety of firearms available to the hunter or shooter who just wants a shotgunthat is easy on the wallet and gets the job done.

Purchasing a Used Shotgun

Our used pumps were four models that are among the most popular 12-gauge slide-actions in the country. From left, they were the Remington Wingmaster Model 870, $400; a Winchester Model 1200, $230; the Benelli Nova, $240; and the Mossberg Model 835 UltraMag, $190.

These "bang-around" shotguns can face a hard life of being bounced around in the trunk of a car or stuffed in a pickup toolbox before being brought out for during dove, quail or pheasant season. They often do double duty when waterfowl season rolls around and hunters don’t want to expose a fine fowling piece to the mud and gunk that go hand-in-hand with duck and goose blasting.

Finding a bargain-priced firearm that will hold up to these often harsh conditions can require a trip to the used gun aisle of your local sporting goods store. Sometimes, the result is a shooting treasure that was broken in by another owner.

Our excursion into the used pump shotgun arena resulted in a collection of four models that are among the most popular 12-gauge slide-actions found in hunting fields across the country.

The four included: a Benelli Nova in 90 percent condition and with a price tag of $240; a Mossberg Model 835 UltraMag in 93 percent condition for $190; a Remington Wingmaster Model 870 in 97 percent condition for $400; and a Winchester Model 1200 in 95 percent condition for $230.

Prices and conditions may vary for the same models in other parts of the country, but the quartet does provide a fairly comprehensive representation of hunting tools in use throughout the country.

All of the members of our test team were right-handed, so our comments about access to items such as the action release are limited how we managed with the firearms. None of the pumps we tested offered ambidextrous safeties or action releases.

Hunting loads limited to 2.75-inch shells were selected as the test ammunition for our four pumps to level the playing field. Some of the used firearms would handle 3-inch shells and others would not. The test ammunition included Winchester Super Speed Game Loads of 3.25 drams of powder and 7/8 ounces of No. 8 shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet per second. In addition, we performed patterning tests with some veteran heavy game loads in the form of Federal Hi-Power 3.75 dram shells with 1.25 ounces of No. 7 1/2 shot and a muzzle velocity of 1,400 fps.

Here’s our test report:

Benelli Nova 12 Gauge, $240

The only synthetic model in our four-gun selection, the black polymer stock and forearm of the Benelli earned favorable marks from our team. This shotgun is made for rugged, dependable use in harsh conditions. We could find no fault in that design and functioning ability.

Some of the smaller members of our team were slightly uncomfortable with the bulk of the forearm and found the Benelli to be a little muzzle heavy.

With an overall length of 49.25 inches (only the Remington was longer); a barrel length of 28 inches; and an unloaded weight of 6.25 pounds, the Benelli earned good marks for handling ability. The pump action was very smooth and reliable.

A drop at the comb of 1.75 inches and a drop at the heel of 2.5 inches, with a length of pull of 14.25 inches provided a comfortable shooting set up. Trigger pull was slightly heavy at 6.5 pounds, although not out of the ordinary.

Another plus for this model was a set of screw-in chokes (improved cylinder, modified and full) that were easy to install and remove. This asset provides the buyer with the opportunity to put a used shotgun into a wider variety of shooting situations.

The ventilated rib and red-bar front sight offered a quality shot picture and acquisition of targets was very quick and accurate. Target breaks were smooth, solid and consistent — our team handled this shotgun better than the other guns.

During the patterning tests, the Benelli provided a 60-40 pattern (60 percent of the shot below the center and 40 percent above) at 30 yards with the budget Winchester shells, but a 50-50 pattern with the heavy load Federals. In this case, saving money on shells probably is not the best idea.

There were no functioning problems at all with the Benelli. Overall, we consider the Benelli a favorite among our used shotguns.

Mossberg Model 835

UltraMag Pump 12 Gauge, $190

Sporting the lowest price tag of our four test pumps, this Mossberg and its brother models are arguably among the most common slide-action shotguns found in dove fields each fall.

However, there is a reason for the low price tag. This is a very basic, no-frills shotgun with a plain hardwood stock and forearm and a loose feel to the action. It has the loudest action of all the test pumps and failed to feed several times during our test sessions.

With an overall length of 48 inches (the shortest of the group) and a 28-inch ventilated rib, the Mossberg had a drop at the comb of 1.75 inches and a drop at the heel of 2.5 inches. The length of pull was 14 inches and the trigger pull was 5.5 pounds.

Surprisingly, this was one of the heavier shotguns in the test, tipping the scales at 7 pounds, and the handling ability suffered from its weight distribution that was mainly in the forearm and muzzle. Some of our team described the shotgun as "clunky" and noted a lack of smoothness while acquiring targets.

We did like the safety located on the top of the receiver, but the action release button behind the trigger guard was considered unwieldy.

Recoil was among the heaviest of all the test guns, even with the lighter loads. Patterns with both the Winchester and Federal ammo produced 50-50 results. As noted, the Mossberg failed to feed a second round into the chamber on several occasions during our test sessions.

If price is your major determining factor, this shotgun might be worth considering despite its function and handling problems.

Remington Magnum

Wingmaster 870 Pump

12 Gauge, $400

Quality feel, function and appearance are among the reasons that this slide-action shotgun is considered a classic among the shooting community. Each of our test team members had the same comment when first bringing the Remington into shooting position: "This just feels good.’’

Good balance; a slim grip and forearm; and a ramped rib that puts your shooting eye right down the barrel are all quality features that make this firearm a "shooter."

The overall length of the Remington is 50.25 inches (the longest of the test guns) because of its 30-inch, Full-choke barrel. Drop at the comb was 1.5 inches and drop at the heel was 2.0 inches, with a 14-inch length of pull. The trigger pull was an excellent 4.0 pounds and the weight, unloaded, was 7 pounds.

About the only down side to this shotgun is the fixed Full choke. It would be great for high-flying doves or wild-flushing quail and pheasants. However, to expand the Remington’s usability, we would recommend either the installation of choke tubes or the purchase of another barrel that is choked IC or Modified.

The Remington was a pleasure to shoot with both test loads, providing the least amount of felt recoil, and patterns were a very solid 40-60 (our trap-style shooters were particularly pleased with the higher shot density above the center of the target) with both types of ammunition.

While you are paying a little more for this model, the improved handling, functioning and appearance are worth the additional cash.

Winchester Model 1200 Pump

12 Gauge, $230

At one time in history, the pump shotgun that dominated the shooting world was the Winchester Model 12. This is not a Model 12.

A much less expensive offering by Winchester, the Model 1200 sports a plain, 28-barrel with a fixed Modified choke and has an overall length of 48.5 inches. Drop at the comb is 1.5 inches and the drop at the heel is 2.25 inches, with a 14-inch length of pull. The trigger pull was a very heavy 9.25 pounds

Overall, this pump just felt uncomfortable to shoot with its bulky forearm and stock dimensions that did not fit many of our test team members. The action-release button behind the trigger guard was small and hard to work.

We did not like the way this shotgun pointed, and the felt recoil was nearly as heavy as the Mossberg. Its light weight, 6.25 pounds, was not well distributed and the balance of the Winchester provided an unwieldy target acquisition.

As noted with both the Mossberg and Winchester, when a shotgun is not balanced well, the shooter will miss targets because there is no smoothness to his or her swing.

On the patterning board, the Winchester did not seem to like either of the test loads, producing a 60-40 pattern with multiple empty spaces in the 30-inch circle.

While there were no functioning problems during the testing, target hits in many cases were not solid.

Although it can be picked up for a bargain price, this is the kind of shotgun that would leave a hunter wondering why he or she was missing so many birds or targets.