Shotguns for Women: Gun Test

A clays shooter and bird hunter gives a thorough workout to four models designed specifically for the female form. Here’s how each one handled, carried, and shot.

These days, it's good to be a woman getting into hunting and the shooting sports. With the recently reported uptick in hunters and shooters who happen to be of the female persuasion, many outdoor companies are taking notice and developing technical products designed specifically for women. For those of us who got our start wearing boys' hunting clothes or borrowing our brother's shotguns, this is one trend that we can all get behind.

It's all well and good to design clothing that fits women better, but when one company began designing guns that were specifically engineered for women, it was a game changer. Syren, a division of Caesar Guerini and Fabarm, was the pioneer of this market, recognizing that the "shrink it and pink it" mentality of many companies wasn't what most women actually wanted, or needed. Rather than simply cutting a stock down and adding pink accents, Syren completely redesigned their guns, taking into account the difference in female bodies. Syren, working to live up their motto "No More Compromises," now offers a complete line of field and sporting guns for women, and there isn't any pink in sight.

In 2016, Franchi joined the party, offering their Catalyst guns – an over/under and a semi-automatic. There are also women's models by Perazzi, Blaser, Rizzini and CZ. Beretta's A400, while not specifically designed for women, is lightweight and designed to produce low recoil.

Every shotgun I’ve ever owned or shot was an off-the-shelf gun, as is the experience of most women. I typically look for something light and short, but youth guns are too small, and I don’t have the funds to truly customize a full-size gun. So I have to adapt my shooting accordingly. I tilt my head and raise the gun up higher on my shoulder so that my cheek can fully sit on the stock…that is, if I don’t actually lift my head off the stock. The result is often a bruised collarbone, not always being able to quickly see what I want to shoot, and – quite frankly – not the most consistent shooting. The idea of having a gun that fits, right out of the box, is what I and so many other women have been hoping for.

Vive La Différence!

When anthropologists find ancient bones, they can tell immediately if it was a male or female because women’s entire body structures are different. I probably don’t need to describe in detail what is different about the female form, but there are some things that particularly have an effect when we are shooting. Typically, women have longer necks and higher cheekbones than men, and our hands are smaller. Also, when we shoulder a gun, there’s a certain very feminine reason why it doesn’t fit exactly the way it does for a man, if you get my meaning. Often this affects the angle at which we have to hold the gun. And finally, it’s much easier for us to have a lighter gun when we will be carrying it all day in the field or on the clays range.

The designers for women’s shotguns took all of these body characteristics into consideration and made adaptations that are immediately noticeable when shooting. First, the length of pull has been shortened slightly – women’s guns typically come in at about 13 ¾ inches, while standard shotguns are typically over 14 ¼ inches and compact or youth guns are around 12 inches. Some of Syren’s guns also have a trigger that’s adjustable for length of reach, allowing a woman to fine-tune the length of pull even more. The grips on women’s guns are a smaller circumference, making it easier and more comfortable for our smaller hands. To accommodate our longer necks and higher cheekbones, women’s shotguns have a higher Monte Carlo-type comb, and cast (the bend of the stock) and pitch (the angle of the butt of the gun) are optimized. These adjustments make it much easier to immediately get our cheek on the gun and quickly obtain full sight of our target without having to drop our head or raise the stock.

With some help from the good folks at Green Mountain Guns in Lakewood, Colorado early this fall, I had the opportunity to field-test two guns from the Syren line and both of the Franchi Catalyst guns. Overall, I highly recommend that women look first to women's guns when thinking about their first shotgun or a new one. With a variety of them now on the market, there is a pretty broad range of options and price ranges and I believe most women will find the design changes a significant improvement. Here's what I found:

OVER/UNDERS

Syren Tempio Light Field Over/Under

Shotguns for Women: Gun Test
Syren Tempio Light Field Over/Under.mfg photo

Gauge: Available in 20 and 28 gauge or in combination of gauges plus .410

Weight: 20 gauge, 5 lb. 10 oz.; 28 gauge, 5 lb. 5 oz.

MSRP: $5,790 for 20/28-gauge combo; $3,995 for either 20 or 28 gauge; $7,765 for all three gauges plus the .410

The Tempio Light is a stunningly beautiful gun that hails from the Caesar Guerini side of the Syren family. Caesar Guerini is known for their fine Italian firearms that combine performance and reliability with classic elegance, and the craftsmanship is obvious in the Tempio Light. The Turkish walnut stock has a hand-rubbed oil finish and there is high end engraving on the receiver and trigger guard that features Syren's rose embellishment in gold. The stock is built with a higher comb and optimized cast and pitch. Combined with the silver front bead sight on the barrel, you can quickly acquire view of your target.

Shotguns for Women: Gun Test
Syren’s Tempio Light and Syren’s expansive variety of over/under shotguns would appeal to any woman who appreciates an exquisitely crafted, beautifully balanced shotgun, or appreciates a firearm specifically crafted for sporting purposes, and is willing to pay for that quality.mfg photo

The Tempio Light is designed for long days in the field, so it is extremely lightweight and exceptionally well balanced. This makes it easy to carry and to shoulder at the flush of the bird, and it shoots very smoothly.

My only personal challenge with this gun was its wood butt plate, which didn't help absorb the gun's relatively light recoil. Admittedly I was shooting at a clays range while wearing only a thin shooting vest, but even with 20-gauge target loads, I still felt the impact with each shot. If we'd actually found grouse while I was carrying this gun on a hunt, I doubt I would have noticed any recoil at all, and this is a gun designed for the field, where one expects to shoot less frequently than at the range. However, a recoil-reducing pad can be added to the Tempio Light through Caesar Guerini's Custom Shop, and all of the Syren sporting guns and the Syren Elos Venti have rubber recoil pads if kick is a concern.

Who Should Buy: Syren’s Tempio Light and Syren’s expansive variety of over/under shotguns would appeal to any woman who appreciates an exquisitely crafted, beautifully balanced shotgun, or appreciates a firearm specifically crafted for sporting purposes, and is willing to pay for that quality.

Franchi Instinct Catalyst Over/Under

Shotguns for Women: Gun Test
Franchi Instinct Catalyst Over/Undermfg photo

Gauge: 12

Weight: 6 lb. 9 oz.

MSRP: $1,599

The Instinct Catalyst is part of Franchi's popular Instinct line, which offers both field and trap guns, yet it is altogether different from them. In fact, my husband shouldered this gun and immediately noticed (and didn't like) the differences in the comb, pitch, and cast. Of course, those are the changes that make it a distinctive women's gun – yes, it's not your husband's gun!

The Instinct Catalyst stock is made of A-Grade walnut in a satin finish and it has a unique and lovely color-case receiver. With red fiber-optic sights on the barrel it was very easy for me to pull up and set the gun and acquire the target quickly. This is a 12-gauge gun, so it has ballistic advantages in the field, but it is a bit heavier, coming in at 6 pounds 9 ounces.

Who should buy: The Franchi Instinct Catalyst would be perfect for a woman who prefers an over/under shotgun in the field or on the trap range but is looking for a more economical option than the Syren.

SEMI-AUTOMATICS

Franchi Affinity Catalyst Semi-Automatic

Shotguns for Women: Gun Test
Franchi Affinity Catalyst Semi-Automaticmfg photo

Gauge: 12

Weight: 6 lb. 6 oz.

MSRP: $995

The Franchi Affinity Catalyst has definitely hit a sweet spot. It is the most affordable of the guns that I tested, but offers women-specific design elements that make it very easy to shoot right out of the box. It is definitely a more modest looking gun than the others, with no engraving or special finishes, but the stock is built with a Grade A Walnut stock in a satin finish, and to my eye is lovely in its simplicity. Similar to the Instinct Catalyst, The Affinity Catalyst is based on an existing and popular line of standard shotguns but with a stock that has a cast, pitch, and length of pull adapted for the female shooter.

It is a 12-gauge gun, offering effective firepower in the field and on the clays range, but at 6 pounds 6 ounces it is light enough to be able to carry all day and mount smoothly – spoken with experience after I carried this gun over 6 ½ miles in rough terrain on our sage grouse hunt this year.

The gun uses Franchi’s Inertia Driven system that reduces felt recoil, but lighter target loads are not recommended because they may not cycle the action, so the Affinity Catalyst might not be appropriate for the most recoil-averse shooters. However, I was never bothered by the recoil and felt this gun had outstanding balance and adapted well to use both in the field and on the range.

Who should buy: The Franchi Affinity Catalyst is the right choice for a budget conscious or new shooter, or the woman who would like one dependable gun that she can carry both in the field and on the clays course.

Syren XLR5 Sporting Semiautomatic

Shotguns for Women: Gun Test
Syren XLR5 Sporting Semiautomaticmfg photo

Gauge: 12

Weight: 7 lb. 6 oz.

MSRP: $1,995

The Syren XLR5 Sporting is a 12-gauge semi-automatic gun designed for shooters who spend a lot of time on the clays range. As a result, it is a slightly heavier gun than the others, but that 7-pound 6-ounce weight helps to reduce felt recoil. The gas operated system is calibrated for target loads, allowing the shooter to use lighter ammunition which in turn allows her to go through several boxes of shells without feeling a thing.

The XLR5 is from the Fabarm side of the Syren family and comes in at a more economical price point (along with the Syren Elos over/under). It has a stunning Turkish walnut stock using Fabarm’s proprietary Triwood finish that enhances the walnut grain and provides waterproof protection. The receiver has tasteful but not extensive engraving, and carving on the grip adds the Syren rose emblem. The XLR5 has an adjustable trigger that can help make the length of pull just right for each shooter.

This gun was definitely the softest-shooting gun that I tested and would make an excellent clays gun. Syren also offers a similar model, the XLR5 Waterfowler, which is built with a synthetic stock that drops the weight to just over 7 pounds.

Who should buy: The Syren XLR5 is a great choice for a woman who definitely does not want to feel a gun's recoil, and is mostly focused on shooting lots of rounds at the clays course.