Shotguns & Shooting  |  05/20/2021

Choosing a Shotgun Action: Semiautomatic


The case for a semiautomatic as the ideal upland shotgun 

By Tom Carpenter

It may well be the very first question to decide when you are ready to purchase your first shotgun for upland bird hunting: What shotgun action shall I get? From there you can start narrowing down to topics such as gauge, make, model and barrel length.

You have four basic choices: side-by-sides, pumps, over/unders, and my recommendation, the semiautomatic.
To be clear: every shotgun action has its advantages and its devoted fans. Some of those fans in the side-by-side and over/under camps will wax eloquent to you about tradition and simplicity and beauty, and those are all relevant factors to be sure. And I hunted with a pump for 30 years, so there is love in my heart there.  But if you are looking for a versatile, one-gun-does-it-all hunting machine that will help you bag birds, you must pick up and try semiautomatics in your search. Here is why.


Today’s semiautos are sleek, handsome and often very light. For upland hunting, stay away from heavy old guns. You need something new and light (think around seven pounds or better yet less) that you can carry all day and that will swing almost as easy at sunset as it did at day’s start.

Natural Swing

A single barrel swings easier, to me, than two. Two barrels are what makes double-barrels heavier than you would think they should be.


Forget old wives’ tales that semiautos are prone to jamming. These days, you are much more likely to jam up or mis-work a pump (it’s called human error) than you are to get clunked up with a newer or new semiauto. Modern engineering works better than your arm for cycling shells, especially when the bird is getting away and that arm is excited.

Low Recoil

Semiautos operate in one of two ways: Either the gas from the shell cycles the action to shuck a new shell in, or the recoil from the shell you shoot pushes a spring that operates the action. Either way, energy is going into that work and not your shoulder.

Fire Power

Niceties aside, sometimes you need more than two shots at a bird. Good for you if you never do, or if you think it’s unfair to shoot more than two shells at a bird (and if that’s the case, what made you settle at two as fair and not one?). Me, I probably put a half dozen extra roosters in my gamebag each fall and winter because I have a third shell for a bird on which I became particularly unglued. I like to eat rooster, and if you don’t come unglued once in awhile when a bird flushes, why are you out hunting?


Although I own more than one shotgun, I shoot but one over the course of an autumn, and that is a semiautomatic. Oh add springtime in there too: I use the same gun for everything from 6-ounce doves to 20-pound gobblers.


No knocks on any other shotgun action here. Just a case for the wonderfully streamlined, amazingly reliable, natural-swinging and extremely versatile semiautomatic. Keep it clean, take it to a gunsmith twice a year (before summer shooting and before fall hunting) for a full takedown and cleanout, and you will have a fine shotgun companion for all your upland adventures.

Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever and likes to hear guns go Boom.

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