Guide to Buying Your First Shotgun

A young woman shooting a shotgun

A shotgun is one of the most versatile weapons you can buy. It’s good for various types of hunting, works well as a home defense weapon, and offers all kinds of competitive shooting options. If you don’t have a shotgun in your home, but would like one, here’s what you need to know and think about before buying.

How Do You Plan to Use Your Shotgun?

Hunting Turkey with a shotgun

The most important thing to think about when buying your first shotgun is its planned use. Do you want a gun you can target shoot with? Are you looking for something to use to hunt? What about home-defense?

All of these are perfect reasons to buy a shotgun, and there are numerous guns designed specifically for these purposes. Once you know how your plan to use your gun, you can more easily decide what type to get.

Shotguns come in different weights and lengths. Heavier shotguns with longer barrels should be used for target shooting because they will help you shoot more accurately. Lighter shotguns work great for hunting applications because you’ll be carrying the firearm a lot and may need to react quickly. Shorter shotguns are ideal for home defense because you’ll be using the weapon in tighter quarters.

Picking a Gauge

Shotgun shells on a table

There are many different shotgun gauges out there. However, for your first shotgun, you should get something that’s common. Avoid odd gauges like 28 or 16 because you might have trouble finding ammunition at times. Stick to the following gauges, and you’ll have no issues.

410 Bore

This is the smallest size you’ll find at a gun shop. The 410 is perfect for younger shooters because it packs a big enough punch for small game and clay shooting without heavy recoil. However, its uses are limited. If you can’t stand recoil and want something easy to shoot, it’s a decent choice, but most shooters would advocate for a different gauge for a first gun.

20 Gauge

The 20 gauge is an excellent all-around size. It can be used for everything from clay shooting and small game to deer hunting and home defense. Recoil is only slightly more pronounced than a 410 bore shotgun, making it an excellent choice for new or young shooters. With that said, many shooters would like something with more power.

12 Gauge

By far the most common, the 12 gauge is the go-to size choice for most shooters. It’s also the size that can be used for any application. It’s good for home defense, hunting, and sports or competitive shooting. However, some shooters find a 12 gauge to have too much recoil.

Picking an Action

A break action shotgun

There are typically three types of actions used in shotguns. All of them have specific purposes and offer pros and cons.


A semi-automatic shotgun action enables quick shooting. Semi-auto shotguns are gas operated, meaning the gas produced by shooting the shell helps load the next shell. This makes shooting quickly easy.

Semi-auto shotguns are excellent weapons all around, but many shooters believe pump-action and break action shotguns are better for beginning shooters, due to the fact that you either have to physically rack every shell or have limited capacity.


You’ve surely seen pump action shotguns in movies. The action is operated by pulling the forearm of the weapon back to eject the spent shotshell and then pushing it forward to load another round.

Pump actions are great for a wide variety of applications, inexpensive, and reliable. However, there’s the chance that a new shooter could short stroke a pump action weapon and fail to load a new shell. For this reason, some shooters prefer a different action.


This classic action design is seen in three different configurations: side-by-side, over-under, and single barrel. No matter how many barrels there are or how they’re positioned, you’ll need to operate a hinge at the breech to eject the shell or shells and reload.

Break-action shotguns are popular for clay shooting and hunting. They’re very reliable and simple weapons, which is a plus for some people. However, they’re not the best for home defense due to their limited capacity.

Finding A Shotgun That Fits You

Hunter holding a shotgun

With the information about gauges and actions in your head and your thoughts about how you plan to use the shotgun, you now need to think about finding a gun that fits you personally. You need to find a weapon that has a stock that fits your body well. You don’t want a stock that’s too long or a weapon that’s too heavy for you to easily hold.

The best way to find this is to go and handle some firearms. Your gun shop is the place to go. The people working there will help you find a shotgun that fits your body well. That will make the shotgun easy and safe for you to shoot.

3 Good All-Around Options

If you’re looking for a shotgun that can do it all, these three shotguns come highly recommended and are not outrageously expensive Any of the three would make excellent first shotguns if they fit your body.

Remington 870 Express Shotgun

Remington 870

The Remington 870 is the shotgun that you’ll see most recommended for just about any application. Hunting? Remington 870. Target and clay shooting? Remington 870. Home defense? Remington 870. It’s tough, reliable, accurate, available in a variety of gauges, and by far one of the best shotguns you can buy for under $350.

Mossberg 500 All-Purpose Field Shotgun

Mossberg 500

Coming in at a close second place to the Remington is the Mossberg 500. This shotgun, like the Remington 870, is reliable and robust. It’s favored by hunters and law enforcement and has been for decades. One of the best things about this Mossberg is it’s affordable. It’s only slightly more expensive than the Remington and you can get it in any of the gauges mentioned above.

Winchester SXP Black Shadow Shotgun

Winchester SXP

The Winchester Super X Pump (SXP) is a fast-loading pump-action shotgun. It’s a good all-around option, and someone who feels a pump isn’t fast enough, but a semi-auto isn’t right for them will love its fast action. It’s also a very affordable weapon and manages to undercut the other two options by just a little.

What are your thoughts on a first shotgun? Leave a comment below.

Guide to buying your first shotgun



  1. Very thorough guide, thank you. Definitely important to find the right fit, thats got to be the most important thing for comfort and function.

    1. Excellent point, Jen. Finding a gun that fits your frame (whatever that may be) is extremely important. If it’s uncomfortable to shoot, you’ll be at a disadvantage.

  2. It’s great to learn that you should go to a gun shop if you want to buy a shotgun. My wife and I are wanting to protect ourselves with guns and we were wondering where we should buy them. I’ll be sure to tell her that we should go to the gun shop for a shotgun.

  3. The perfect guide for me to get into shotgun, Thank you for your effort. I have decided that I would go for Mossberg 500 as they claimed it is very beginner friendly.

    1. Richard, The Mossberg 500 should serve you well no matter what type of hunting you’re doing.

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