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Best & Worst Patterning Semi-Auto Shotgun for Waterfowl Hunting

shotgun showdown Nov 10, 2022

What is the best shotgun For waterfowl hunting regarding pattern performance? There are so many options these days it can be a challenge to make the right decision. When selecting a shotgun, there are a lot of different considerations such as look, feel, and function, but one thing that is often overlooked is the pattern performance of shotguns. One of the reasons pattern performance is overlooked is because, most of the time, we don't know how the guns pattern until we purchase them. We wanted to see how a lineup of the top waterfowling guns perform, so we dove in deep with an epic pattern showdown. A large part of why I wanted to do this is to take a lot of the marketing material that some of these manufacturers put out and put it to the test. Mostly to see if the higher-dollar guns truly shoot better.

For this pattern test, we set up a 30-inch paper target at 40 yards away with a shoot-and-see duck target in the center of the target.  To minimize variables, we shot the same choke (Carlson's Delta Series) throughout our testing. Our ammo was also consistent using the Federal Speed Shok steel #2 shot (156 total pellets.) 

With each shot, we recorded the number of pellets in the 30-inch circle, the number of pellets in the ducks' rectangular target, and the number of pellets that truly landed in the duck. We counted and totaled all the different sections of the target and divided each by 156 (The total shot pellet count) to ultimately find what percent of our shot was landing in the 30" circle. We also considered the point of aim VS the point of impact and the pattern distribution to determine what guns performed the best.

Here is our 12-gauge shotgun line-up today: Click the name of the gun to watch the individual reviews.

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3

Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus

Franchi Affinity 3

Stoeger M3500

Browning Maxus 2

Browning A5

Weatherby Element

Mossberg 940 Pro

Weatherby Element

Beretta A300 Ultima





So, I decided to re-shoot three guns I believe should have done better to get a fair representation. I shot the SBE3, the A400, and the A5.


SBE3 TAKE 2: Long story short, the SBE3 performed worse than the first time. Also, the pattern was way high. Only 56% of the pellets landed in the 30-inch circle. 

A400 TAKE 2: This gun performed significantly better, and I think I know why: I was using a Led Sled to eliminate human error on all these shots. The first time we shot it, the lead sled may have caused the issue with the drop, which was ultimately my fault. I have shot this gun a bunch, and I knew the results didn't align with what I have experienced shooting this gun. The second shot was much better. Right up there with the Mossberg at 81% and 35 in the duck. Yes, I said 35!!!

BROWNING A5 TAKE 2: Unfortunately, the A5 also performed worse the second time. Only 7 pellets total in the duck. Let's move on...



1. MOSSBERG 940 PRO - This gun had very good results all the way around. The 940 Pro tied for the highest percentage of pellets in the 30" circle, which makes sense when you consider that it had a true point of aim/impact as well as a pretty even pattern distribution. I was surprised by this gun, especially when you consider that it has an MSRP of less than $1000 for the field model (black).

2. BERETTA A400 EXTREME PLUS - This gun was tied with the 940 PRO for the highest pellet percentage in the 30" circle at 81%. The A400 shot true point of aim/impact, and it also had a pretty decent-looking pattern distribution. The A400 Extreme Plus was the only high-dollar gun that I felt lived up to the hype and price point.

3. WEATHERBY ELEMENT - Every time I shoot this gun, it pleasantly surprises me. The Element shot 71% in the 30" circle. There were guns that shot a little higher percentage but what stands out to me is that the Element had a true point of aim/impact and a really good pattern distribution. The Affinity 3 and SX4 shot 72% but all things considered, the pattern performance of the Element was better. 



1. BROWNING Maxus 2 and A5 - Browning claims their .742 backboar gives optimal patterns, but I didn't love what I saw. The Browning patterns seemed to have a lot of big gaps, and neither the Maxus 2 or A5 shot a true point of aim/impact. 

2. BENELLI SBE - This gun is supposed to be the pinnacle of waterfowl hunting shotguns, and it is priced accordingly, but we got some of the worst pattern percentages from this shotgun. To be fair, a big part of this was due to the gun shooting about 5" high, placing many of the pellets outside of the 30" circle. We wanted to ensure this gun got a fair shake, so we shot it a second time, and things only went downhill.

3. STOEGER M3500 - This gun is a budget gun, so I won't rip on it too hard, but it was, in my opinion, the worse performer. The M3500 shot about 7" high and had big gaps and several fliers way outside the pattern density. Comparing this shotgun's performance to the comparably priced inertia-operated Element, it missed the mark. 


Do you agree or disagree? Let me know! 


Whether our targets in the field or our targets in life, we will only hit what we are focused on so live the #targetfocusedlife 

Stay Target Focused,


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