General

The Best .410 and 28-Gauge Semi-Automatic Shotguns

The Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 28-gauge.

Shotgun trends are flowing like the tides, they are in and out depending on ammunition performance (and availability), plus the progress of the smoothbores themselves. Right now, sub-gauges are all the rage for wingshooters, fueled by renewed interest in the 28-gauge and small .410 bore. Why? All are effective against wild game birds at reasonable ranges with the right shotshell, they are light and won’t punish you the way an inertia-driven 12-gauge paired with a 3-inch 1 5/8-ounce charge of bismuth will. Here’s a rundown of some of the best auto-loading sub-gauge shotguns whether you’re chasing ducks, geese, upland birds, or enjoying weekend rounds of clay pigeons. There are a few old cars that made the list, but most can be bought off the shelf at your local gun store.

Remington 11-48 28 gauge and .410 bore

This 11-48 28-gauge was restored by Doug Turnbull. icollector.com

Remington’s inertial-driven 11-48 (1948 is the year it was developed, but it wasn’t introduced until 1952) was the first successful 28 gauge and .410 autoloader. Remington built the Model 11 long-recoil shotgun under license from Browning, essentially an A-5 replica. Production after World War II led to stamped steel parts, a cheaper way to make guns in all configurations. That’s why Remington shotguns are very similar – compare an 870 with an 1100 side by side – and have multiple interchangeable parts.

Remington introduced the 28-gauge 11-48 in 1952. My grandfather and uncle each hunted quail with them. The 28 is a beautiful highland car, easy to carry and has many weapons for bob whites. They fired improved barrel-throttle barrels in combination with No. 9 lead shot, producing lethal rounds up to 30 yards.

The .410 11-48 was primarily a skeet rifle. As the first semi-automatic .410 skeet shooters favoring cars only had the 11-48 to go to, so Remington built a fluted skeet model with vents that remains a collector’s item. Both the .410 and 28 are not easy to find as production of both was limited. You can still find one if you search hard enough, but be prepared to pay at least $1,200 if it’s in good condition.

Remington 1100 Sporting 28 Gauge

The 1100 is one of the most popular skeet rifles of all time.
Skeet shooters bought the 1100 in droves after it debuted in 1963. icollector.com

Remington’s gas-powered 1100 changed the semi-automatic shotgun game when it debuted in 1963. The 1100 is similar to the 11-48, which was eventually retired in favor of the new 1100 model, with the same round receiver. But the 1100 was more reliable. However, the 1100 had bike problems, mostly because shooters couldn’t keep it clean or replace the worn o-rings needed to keep the action working properly. The reduction in recoil from the 1100 helped Remington sell over 4 million and that’s still counting (RemArms has plans to continue producing the pistol). Plus, like so many Remington shotguns, Big Green designed the 1100 to suit a wide range of shooters, another reason it became such a popular clay pistol.

The sweet spot in the 1100 Sporting line was the 28 gauge. These guns are designed as target guns, but also make a wonderful option for the highland. RemArms, the most recent company to buy Remington out of bankruptcy, isn’t building the 28 right now, but you can get it in .410. There are also used 28s on the market, but they tend to be pricey ($1,500).

The wood furniture on the old 1100’s is the best quality mahogany and walnut I’ve seen on a Remington production pistol. Remington 1100s also have glossy blue metal finishes, vent ribs and a white bead front. If you can find an 1100 Premiere Sporting (made from 2008 to 2011), pick it up. You can recognize it by the nickel-plated receiver. The pistol also came with four aftermarket Briley extended chokes.

Benelli Super Black Eagle 28 Gauge

The SBE3 features chambers for 3-inch loads.
New for 2022 is the SBE3 28-gauge chambered for 3-inch shotshells. Benelli

The Super Black Eagle series was coveted by an overwhelming number of duck hunters because it was the first 12 gauge auto-loader capable of firing 3½-inch shotshells. That was 30 years ago, and as shotshell technology has improved, the rooms for SBEs are getting smaller. In addition to the 3½-inch model, you can now purchase the Benelli in a 3-inch 12- and 20 gauge variant, plus the 28, which is new for this year. Chambered for 3-inch shells, it’s one of the few 28s that can handle such a load (most 28s are chambered for 2¾-inch shotshells).

Benelli offers the 28 in black, Realtree Max-5, Mossy Oak Bottomland and Optidfade Timber, making the gun at home in the swamp, flooded fields and green tree reservoirs that mallards love. The SBE submeter has the same barrel lengths (26- and 28-inch) as the 12-gauge model and has the same overall length, only lighter at 5.5 pounds.

Beretta A400 Xplor Action 28 Gauge

Gas pistols are Beretta’s specialty in their semi-automatic setup. They built some of the best including the 302 and 303 in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Then came the legendary 390 and 391 series that sets new standards in gas autoloader reliability. Today, the A400 range includes some of the best gas-powered car chargers in the world.

The Xplor Action 28 Gauge uses Beretta’s Blink system, which the Italian arms maker claims allows shooters to fire four shots in less than a second. The speed of the system lies in the split-ring valve which seals well, providing a more efficient and cleaner gas transfer, resulting in less contamination in the chamber. The gun spreads recoil remarkably well, even though it’s a fast-moving car. Most guns carrying such labels are hell on your shoulder. Reliability is also a staple of this platform, but you need to keep the autoloader clean. Even the best gas systems require field stripping and gun wiping after field abuse.

The Xplor Action is an eye-catcher with a bronze-coloured receiver, blued barrel and walnut stock. It doesn’t have the outward durability of the SBE III, but a few chips and dents won’t stop the A400 from working. It is available in 26 or 28 inch barrel lengths with five chokes included.

TriStar Viper G2 .410

TriStar’s slogan is “The Value Experts” and it is a correct claim. The whole range of TriStar pistols has gained momentum over the past ten years because of their good value for money. Made in Turkey by Armsan and imported to Kansas City, the G2 gas autoloader lineup is available in every legal size but 10, my favorite is the .410.

In .410 alone, Viper G2s are available in Bronze (a similar look to the Beretta Xplor Action), Wood, Synthetic (black finish), Camo (Realtree Edge), and a pistol-grip turkey model with a bronzed receiver and Mossy Oak Bottomland stock with an optical rail on it. That’s a wide selection of shotguns in .410 and they’re all priced under $1,000. The .410 G2 weighs less than 6 pounds and three chokes (IC, M, F) are included with each model.

You can use the G2 . to use for clay pigeons, upland, waterfowl, turkeys and a variety of small game. Living outside editor in chief, Joe Genzel, has extensively photographed the Bronze model on clay pigeons, pigeons and squirrels. He reported that the gun is incredibly accurate (if you shoot correctly). He has taken more than 20 clays per round on clay pigeons with the G2; and scored in the single digits – .410s are fickle ranged guns. It’s a light-carrying gun (5.8 pounds) in the squirrel woods, critical if you’re covering a lot of ground behind an energetic wolfhound like Genzel.

The only downside to this gun in my experience is that the stock comes off the receiver after running through it for a few hundred rounds. To lock you will need to remove the butt pad and tighten the nut that holds the stock in place.

Best .410 Target and Game Load Shotshells

There are many lead clays to choose from if you’re shooting a .410, but I’m a believer in using No. 9 shot in a 2½-inch, ½-ounce shotshell. It offers the shooter nearly 300 grains, which means more margin for error than a No. 8 (205 grains) or No. 7½ (175 grains) with the same payload weight. For upland birding options, consider switching to a 3-inch shotshell with 11/16 or ¾ ounce payload in 4s, 5s, or 6s. There isn’t much of a difference in the number of pellets between these two charge weights – for example, an 11/16-ounce No. 6 has 155 and a ¾-ounce 6 has 169 – so whatever charge you can find will do.

When you’re hunting ducks, you have 3-inch bismuth, tungsten, and steel charges at your disposal, but premium non-toxic agents are the best way to avoid crippling birds. Steel .410 charges can kill ducks in the wood or teal, but bismuth charges, such as Boss, RST or Hevi-Bismuth (safe to fire into stationary guns with constricted steel barrels) are denser (9.6 g/cc compared with up to 7.8 g/cc) and thus more effective. Hevi-Shot makes a tungsten-iron shotshell with a grain density of 12 g/cc, and the regular tungsten offering is even better because the grains have a density of 18.1 g/cc, almost double that of bismuth. Few manufacturers make a .410 TSS waterfowl payload. Federal Premium Custom Shop will load up 3-inch 7s or 9s for you and Apex occasionally has shells available, but beyond that, you’ll probably have to go for hand loads or pay over $45 per fork for a box of just five TSS turkey loads.