The Good Pump Action Shotgun

It is hard to call the slide-action shotgun under-rated, for the pump action is the most popular shotgun action in the United States, selling more than all other actions combined. Long gone are the days of the Winchester Model 1897, my Dad's first personal shotgun that he bought with his paper-route money. Gone as well are the well-machined Remington Model 31, the “ball bearing” shotgun, and the “Perfect Repeater,” the Winchester Model 12.

The pump action doesn't get as much respect as autoloaders, for although some will spend $2000 or more for an autoloader, many would not consider that investment in a pump. Yet, a slide action can cost as much to make (or far more in the case of the Model 12) than a lot of autoloaders, and is more reliable than any of them as shell intensity has little to do with good function of a pump. It doesn't cost a nickel less to properly finish a pump gun, whether it is to properly stock it, blue it, machine a rib, build a receiver, supply choke tubes, offer a decent trigger, and so forth. It doesn't seem rational that two thousand dollars can be tolerable for an autoloader, yet a thousand dollars is viewed as just too much for a slide-action, but that is what some care to believe.

The Ithaca Model 37 Class

Originally a 20 gauge only, with John Browning and Pederson patents, the Remington Model 17 became the Ithaca Model 37 and the Browning BPS. As a bottom-eject gun with a steel receiver, you won't bean your buddy when ejecting a shell, and you want get gas in the face from an opening breech, either. The bottom-eject design means the action is ambidextrous, and snow, rain, and general gunk isn't going to drop into the action.

Today, the Ithaca M37 is still produced in Ohio, USA, and the Browning BPS is made in Japan by Miroku for Browning. Both certainly rank as good guns.

Remington Model 870

Introduced in 1951, the Remington 870 is the best-selling shotgun in the history of the world, hitting 12,000,000 units sold with countless clone out there as well. A Remington 870 Wingmaster is a good gun by my standards and by most anyone's standards. If there is one stock design that seems to fit more shooters than anything else, it is likely the Remington 870 format.

Mossberg Model 500

The Mossberg family is proud of their commitment to offering affordable guns to the consumer, with no apologies. The alloy Mossberg 500 has sold over 10,000,000 units since the 1961 introduction and offers more variations of the 500 platform than just about any shotgun made today. Their “Flex” system makes customization effortless and there are more youth models from Mossberg than from any other manufacturer than I can think of. The 500 platform is a good pump-gun and extremely good for the money.

Benelli Nova / Super Nova

Though crude-looking with heavy triggers, the Nova and Super Nova shotguns have proven to be ridiculously tough. They “almost” take themselves apart for cleaning, and though they aren't a vision of refinement, they are tough, take a beating, working man's type shotguns and for that purpose, they are good guns.

Specific Preferences

As a pump-action slug gun, the Ithaca 20 gauge Deerslayer II is a standout. Their rifle-sighted TurkeySlayer models are excellent as well.

My preference is for the familiar cross-bolt safety of the Remington 870 / Ithaca M37, but that is of course personal preference. The Mossberg tang safeties tend to be a bit too stiff (that can be fixed, though, and a metal safety can be added). The Browning BPS safety is too flush to give good purchase, and as usual with current Browning repeaters the triggers are excessively heavy and the factory Invector Plus chokes are poor performers.

The Browning BPS is unique in that it is offered in all gauges inclusive of 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 20 gauge, 16 gauge, 28 gauge, and .410 bore. The 10 gauge is a monster of a pump gun, weighing in at 10-3/4 to 11 lbs. It doesn't kick, just because it is one exceedingly heavy shotgun.

The Remington 870 Wingmaster is a substantially better shotgun than the more popular “Express” models, due to its vibra-honed receiver, additional quality controls, machined extractors and ejectors, and compressed metal trigger guard. It means the Wingmaster has an aluminum trigger group, old style magazine retention system, a smoother finish inside and out, essentially no machine marks or burrs, a higher level of inspection and finishing, a polished blue finish, a polished bore, a chrome plated bolt, a one piece barrel, walnut stocks with the "Bowling Pin" finish, with cleaner checkering, no use of MIM parts, and so forth. It all depends if you care about just “how much” or are more interested in, “how good.”

The most commonly overlooked component of slide-actions is the forearm. Rather than just a holding fixture, in a pump gun it becomes a critical part of the control group. The placement of the forearm, its size and shape, how it fits your hand, how easy it is to grip, and so forth can make all the difference in the world between a pump that intuitively shucks itself and a gun that you have to struggle with to get it to work. There is no right or wrong to this, of course, it is just what you discover to be right for you.


Manufacturers have been forced to lower their standards by the consumer, for it doesn't make dollars it doesn't make sense. Pumps tend to get shopped to death, more than any other shotgun action. At one time, the old “H&R Topper” single shot sold well, only on the basis of low initial cost. The single-shot hunting gun is gone from the marketplace, as Chinese and Turkish pumps have essentially eliminated the bottom-feeding single-shot market. Even the Browning / Herstal Group, not generally known for sourcing ultra-cheap guns, has caved in a bit with the Turkish-made Winchester SXP. Like everything else, though, the thing you have to buy twice is no one's bargain.

If you are hard to fit, want accessories, youth stocks, and / or the widest variety of different configurations and combination barrel sets on the planet, be sure to consider Mossberg and check out their Flex line of slide-actions.

For steel receivers, a higher grade of finish, and higher aesthetic value, consider the Remington 870 Wingmaster and the Ithaca M37 Featherlights. These can be considered lifetime guns. For many people, they have been just that.

Even though not used to throw shot, the Savage 220 is a 20 gauge rifled barrel slug gun that feels and operates like a bolt-action center-fire rifle. When fast follow-up shots are desired in a slug or feral hog gun, the Ithaca Deerslayer fills the bill.

Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



Custom Search