Many guns suffice for geese, but only a few are just right for the job. The perfect goose gun must work in sand, dirt, mud, ice, and snow. It should accept a sling and have a matte or camo finish. The barrel should be 26 inches or longer (anything shorter risks the ears of the people next to you and doesn’t swing well). The action can be pump, auto, or break-open double, but I prefer three shots rather than two chokes for waterfowl. Repeaters are also easier to load than break-action guns when you’re sitting in a pit or lying on your back.
It also must pack enough punch. Geese are big birds, and it takes big pellets to bring them down: steel BBs and BBBs; BBs and 2s in the premium nontoxics. Small bores lack the case capacity to hold adequate numbers of such shot, so the list of goose gauges is short: 3-inch 12, 31/2-inch 12, and 10. (The standard 12 is enough gun for most goose hunting, but 23/4-inch goose loads are hard to find.) With a 31/2, you can shoot lighter-recoiling 3-inchers most of the time and chamber a steel Roman candle just on those days when the birds won’t finish. If you do a lot of shooting at high geese with steel, consider a 10-gauge, which hits as hard or harder than a 31/2 downrange but is much softer on your shoulder due to its heavy weight.
With all this in mind, I’ve picked three good options for the goose hunter, two of them pricey, and one very affordable:
Benelli Super Black Eagle II
This reliable, inertia-operated 31/2-inch auto deserves its reputation as the Energizer Bunny of waterfowl guns. Magnum loads can kick painfully with this type of action, but the new ComforTech stock addresses the problem with a gel recoil pad and cheekpiece, and gel chevrons in the sides to dampen vibration. Some people find ComforTech stocks miraculous, while others, like me, notice a reduction but no miracle. The lengthened Crio Chokes significantly outpatterned the old-style Benelli tubes when I tested them. $1,585 in Max-4 or Advantage Timber HD camo; $1,465 in black; 301-283-6981; benelliusa.com
Remington SP-10 Magnum
I took an SP-10 to the range the other day and alternated shooting it and a 12-gauge with 31/2-inch shells. The latter kicked so hard it left me woozy. In comparison, the 11-pound auto just pushed me backward. It’s no wand, but the SP-10 isn’t difficult to manage. $1,564 in Mossy Oak Obsession with the supersoft R3 recoil pad; $1,427 in matte walnut; 800-243-9700; remington.com
Mossberg 535 Waterfowl
Essentially a Model 500 stretched to chamber 31/2-inch shells, the new 535 has the top safety we left-handers love and pumps with the same slick stroke as my 500. Given its light, 71/4-pound weight, I would only shoot 31/2s out of this gun in a dire goose hunting emergency. However, the 535 lists for just $332 in black synthetic, and $389 in Max-4 or Break-Up camo. Look at it this way: There’s a $1,200 difference between the price of this gun and that of an SP-10 or an SBE II. Spend the difference on expensive but ballistically superior Hevi-Shot and you won’t be running out of ammo any time soon. 203-230-5300; mossberg.com