In July, Field & Stream hunting editor Will Brantley came up from Kentucky to meet me and three handpicked local shooters at Highland Hideaway Hunting near Riverside, Iowa. We had 14 shotguns, a pile of Federal ammo, and all the five-stand and sporting clays targets we wanted. Comparing shotguns isn’t straight apples to apples. The gun that stars in the grouse woods may stumble in a goose pit, so we broke the test guns into upland and waterfowl categories.
Testing shotguns is as much subjective as it is objective, and gun fit varies from one individual to the next. So our four-man, one-woman test team was compiled to reflect a variety of shapes and sizes. All told, we shot more than 2,000 shells—at least 150 through each gun—to determine the top performers and the best values in each category. Here are the results.
Guns were judged in seven categories, with a maximum possible score of 100 points:
• Ease of Maintenance (worth 10 points): We looked at how each gun came apart for cleaning, how complex it was to care for, and how easy it was to reassemble.
• Ergonomics (10): Here, we tested triggers, opening levers, bolt releases, and more. We loaded and unloaded to see how easy it was to thumb shells into the magazine. Trigger pulls were measured with a Lyman scale.
• Fit and Finish (10): We examined wood-to-metal (or plastic-to-metal) fit, the quality of checkering, metal finishes, engraving, and wood figure where applicable, as well as overall lines.
• Functionality (20): As we shot, we asked: Did it cycle? Did ejectors eject? Were safeties stiff? Did everything work as it should?
• Handling and Recoil (20): We used heavy and light hunting and target loads to gauge how hard each gun kicked. For handling, we shot from a low gun start at sporting clays and five-stand targets.
• Meets Purpose (10): Shotguns are made to fit niches, so we looked at each gun’s performance and its features to determine how well it fit its particular job description.
• Value (10): The standard formula of score divided by price would have penalized high-grade guns, since engraving and good walnut cost so much. Instead, we compared each gun against others in its price range to make a determination.
Federal Cartridge Co. provided several new hunting and target loads for our test. We shot new Grand target loads, which contain a SoftCell cushion wad that softens recoil and helps cushion shot for tighter patterns. And we shot the new High Bird line of field loads, which uses the same technology, including new 1-ounce, 28-gauge loads. We definitely felt the thump while shooting the latter out of a light smallbore, but we thumped targets hard with them, too.
1. Best of the Test: Rizzini BR110
Score: 73.6 • Rizzini USA
Specs: 3" 20-gauge (12, 16, 28, and .410 available) • Break-action o/u • 6 bl. 5 oz. • 30" barrel (28" and 26") available
The slim and shootable BR110 narrowly outscored the competition to finish as the top upland shotgun for 2017. Honestly, it breaks no new ground in design. What sets the BR110 apart is value. By forgoing the laser engraving that so often makes entry-level guns look tacky in an attempt to make them look better, the BR110 appears restrained and elegant, for less. The BR110 compares well with other Italian-made o/u’s that cost a fair bit more. Our test model, a 20-gauge with 30-inch barrels, proved a nice marriage of light weight and disciplined balance.
2. Savage Fox A Grade
Score: 72.2 • Savage Arms
Specs: 2 3⁄4" 20-gauge (12 available) • Break-action double • 6 lb. • 28" barrels (26" available)
Savage has revived one of the great names in American doubles, Fox. The A Grade’s receiver is beautifully case colored, sculpted, and engraved to evoke the original A.H. Foxes, though it’s a different gun internally. With its straight stock, slim fore-end, and double triggers, this well-balanced 6-pounder was an old-school treat to shoot. Stocked to modern dimensions, it’s easy for today’s shooters to handle. Three-inch chambers would make it more versatile. But all told, it’s a steel-friendly, thoroughly modern, American-made, traditional double gun, and that is no small thing.
3. Caesar Guerini Tempio Light
Score: 70.8 • Caesar Guerini
Specs: 3-inch 28-gauge (12 and 20 available) • Break-action o/u • 5 lb. 4 oz. • 28" barrels (26" available in 28 only)
Extensively decorated, the Tempio Light had the nicest looks of all. The alloy receiver and a partially hollowed stock drop the weight to 51⁄4 pounds, putting the gun squarely into “wand” territory. With a pleasing forward balance, it swings as smoothly as a 51⁄4-pounder can. But a target gun it is not. No one shot it particularly well at clays, and we noticed the recoil, but the sporting clays course is not this gun’s natural habitat. It’s a specialty gun, perfect for carrying one-handed through the grouse woods, taking quick pokes at fleeting targets—and looking good on the job.
4. Best Value: Mossberg SA-28
Score: 69.2 • Mossberg
Specs: 3" 28-gauge • Gas semiauto • 5 lb. 12 oz. • 25" barrel
This 28-gauge Turkish semiauto was such fun to shoot that it was Brantley’s favorite gun of the test. There is a lot to like about this gas gun, from its light weight to its nonexistent recoil to the way it smashed clays. The gun did suffer from a heavy trigger and an occasional failure of the bolt to stay open after the third shot.
5. Stevens 555 E
Score: 68.6 • Savage Arms
Specs: 3" 28-gauge (12, 20, and .410 available) • Break-action o/u • 5 lb. 14 oz. • 26" barrels
Everyone enjoyed shooting the 555 E. It’s a very attractive and attractively priced Turkish o/u. The alloy receiver trims the gun’s weight below 6 pounds, making it easy to carry. The 555 E (for Enhanced) is an upgrade from last year’s base-level model, with the addition of an engraved silvered receiver and auto ejectors.
6. Beretta 690 Field I
Score: 64.6 • Beretta
Specs: 3" 20-gauge (12 available) • Break-action o/u • 6 lb. 2 oz. • 28" barrels (26" and 30" available)
The new 20-gauge 690 is a well-balanced field gun. An aluminum fore-end iron helps keep the weight between the shooter’s hands; however, the black anodized metal on this feature didn’t look right on a $3K gun. The 690 is a great shooter, but it could look better for the money.
7. Blaser F16 Intuition
Score: n/a • Blaser USA
Specs: 3" 12-gauge • Break-action o/u • 7 lb. 10 oz. • 30" barrels
Stocked for women, the Intuition didn’t fit the men on the panel, so we chose not to score it. But it’s well worth talking about. Tester Emily Klein praised the gun’s fit and balance. A well-built natural pointer, the sporting model comes with detachable weights that let you add or subtract weight and adjust the balance.
This content originally appeared on fieldandstream.com.