There have been many pump-action shotgun models manufactured over the years, but these four—the Remington 870 Express, the Benelli Nova, the Winchester SXP, and the Mossberg 500—are probably the most popular low-priced models. I have owned all four guns at one time or another. All are highly affordable, but when you’re paying the lowest possible price for a gun, you have to expect some downside. Here are my thoughts:
Starting price: $417 MSRP
The 870 used to be my default, knee-jerk recommendation for a first shotgun. It still is, if we’re talking about the 870 Wingmaster, but with a list price of $830, the Wingmaster isn’t a budget gun anymore. These days, when people refer to an 870, they typically mean the lower-priced 870 Express. In recent years, Expresses haven’t worked as well as they used to, due to cost cutting measures and rough, poorly finished chambers.
Pros: The design is time-tested. The stock fits almost everyone. There is a world of aftermarket accessories for 870s. You can make one into anything you want to.
Cons: Fired shells stick in chambers of some Express models, among other glitches (a good chamber polishing is said to often solve the problem). The plain metal Expresses starts rusting at the slightest hint of dampness.
Starting price: $449 MSRP
I owned a Nova for a few years as my duck gun and occasional turkey gun. I liked it a lot and shot it well. I abused it pretty badly duck hunting, dropping it on rocks and throwing it into the mud, and it never complained. I traded it for something else—I don’t even remember what—and wish I had it back sometimes.
Pros: Slick rotary bolt action. It’s heavy, at about 8 pounds, which is a good thing in a waterfowl gun, especially one that has a 3 ½-inch chamber so it can fire the big cartridges. The magazine cut-off button in the slide is nice. I like the long forearm that accommodates a “choked up” front hand grip.
Cons: You have to learn to love its looks. The safety button is annoyingly tiny. It’s also located in front of the trigger guard. I like that, but some with smaller hands/shorter fingers may not. Trigger pulls are very heavy. The forearms on some Novas rattle.
Starting price: $406 MSRP
I haven’t shot Mossberg 500s as much as I have 870s and Novas, although I have duck hunted with them some and did kill turkeys for years with its big brother, the 835. Nevertheless, despite the bad-mouthing I hear about 500s, I have never had one fail, nor have I seen one fail in someone else’s hands.
Pros: It is lightweight (an advantage when carrying long distances, but it won’t absorb as much recoil). Model 500s are very slick out of the box. The gun has a top safety that is equally accessible to left- and right-handed shooters. There are a million variations available.
Cons: The integral magazine cap affixed to barrel ring may be impossible to lose, but it can be a pain to turn and loosen when you want to disassemble the gun for cleaning. Some features, like the recoil pads on all the models and the sights on some turkey versions, are depressingly cheap,
Starting price: $400 MSRP
Winchester’s SXP is a newly redesigned Turkish-made version of the old Model 1300. I have been shooting an SXP trap and loaning it to kids on the trap team I coach. It’s been great: it works, it’s easy to shoot, and the action turned butter-smooth after about a 50 round break-in period. The SXP has been getting some bad publicity lately due to a recall of some 3 ½-inch guns prompted by this video, but it’s not the only gun ever to be recalled for slam firing, and I am not afraid to own one.
Pros: The field models are lightweight (again, if that’s what you want). It has the same overbored barrel (which makes for better patterns), Invector Plus chokes and Inflex recoil pad of Browning/Winchester’s better guns. The action is probably the slickest of any current pump.
Cons: It has a very heavy trigger pull. The safety is in front of the trigger guard where it may be tough for some to reach. My trap model has a non-walnut hardwood stock (although if you have to cut costs somewhere, I would rather it be in the type of wood used rather than something that affects the function of the gun).
My bottom line: my main interest in pumps is as waterfowl or turkey guns. If I wanted a waterfowl gun I’d buy a Benelli Nova (or possibly the almost-as-cheap Super Nova). For turkeys, I’d buy a Remington 870 Express and hope I got a good one, or get another Mossberg 835.