Top Waterfowl Shotguns
1 BEST OF THE TEST: Benelli Super Black Eagle 3
SCORE: 83.75 • $1,899–$1,999 • benelliusa.com
SPECS: 31⁄2" 12-gauge • Inertia semiauto • 7 lb. • 28" barrel (26" available) Benelli’s newest Super Black Eagle earned the highest score of all models tested, in both categories. Our test gun functioned perfectly with both target and hunting ammunition. Its enlarged safety, bolt release, and bolt handle were easy to manipulate, even while wearing heavy gloves. All testers found the slimmed, lightened SBE3 easy to point and shoot well, and its Comfort Tech 3 stock and soft Combtech comb reduced felt recoil noticeably. Perhaps the biggest improvement is an Easy-Locking Bolt, which features a simple detent and ends once and for all the “Benelli click” misfire that has historically afflicted inertia semiautos. You can bang this gun around the blind or ease the bolt shut in the turkey woods; either way, it will not go out of battery and misfire.
BEST VALUE: Franchi Affinity 3.5
SCORE: 82.25 • $1,029–$1,149 • franchiusa.com
SPECS: 31⁄2" 12-gauge • Inertia semiauto • 7 lb. • 28" barrel (26" available) Franchi’s 31⁄2-inch inertia-operated semiauto scored within 1.5 points of the SBE3, yet it costs $870 less. Two testers, in fact, called it their favorite gun of all, and therefore it earned our Best Value award. The Affinity notched a perfect score for functionality. Like the SBE3, it has an enlarged bolt handle and release that make it easier to use in bad weather, although Franchi should have added a larger safety button, too. The Affinity gained points for featuring an action spring on the magazine tube, where it’s easy to maintain. Balance wasn’t quite as sublime as the SBE3’s, and the gun has a more weight-forward feel, but it handled well for everyone. Lightweight for its intended purpose of shooting magnum loads, it kicks a bit. The hundreds of dollars saved should help soothe the pain, though. 3
Winchester Super X4
SCORE: 81 • $800–$940 • winchesterguns.com
SPECS: 3" 12-gauge (31⁄2" available) • Gas semiauto • 7 lb. 2 oz. • 28" barrel (26" available) Winchester’s Super X4 represents a terrific deal in a versatile shotgun, finishing a nose behind the Affinity for Best Value. Basically, the X4 is Winchester’s successful Super X3 with a larger safety, bolt handle, and magazine release—plus a smaller price tag. Wisely, Winchester didn’t change much from the X3’s innards, which are proven to be reliable and softshooting. Instead it focused on slimming the gun down and lowering the price with “manufacturing efficiencies” and inexpensive parts like the polymer trigger guard. The trimmed pistol grip and fore-end give the gun a sprightly feel. Stock spacers let you adjust length of pull easily. Overall, our X4 was well behaved, handling all the ammo we fed it. Everyone shot it well and agreed that it would make a good all-around gun.