Shotgun trends ebb and flow like the tides, ebbing in and out based on ammo yield (and availability), as well as the progress of the smoothbore guns themselves. Right now, sub-calibers are all the rage among wing shooters, fueled by renewed interest in the .28 caliber and the diminutive .410 caliber. Why? All are effective on wild game birds at reasonable distances with the correct cartridge, are light and don’t punish you like an inertia-driven 12-gauge combined with a 3-inch, 1 5/8-ounce bismuth load. Will. Here’s a roundup of some of the best autoloading small bore shotguns, whether you’re chasing ducks, geese, upland birds, or enjoying weekend rounds of skeet. There are a couple of old cars that are on the list, but most of them can be bought off the shelf at your local armory.
Remington 11-48 .28 caliber and .410 caliber
Remington’s inertia-driven 11-48 (1948 is the year it was developed, but it wasn’t introduced until 1952) was the first successful .28 and .410 caliber autoloader. Remington built the Model 11 long blowback shotgun under license from Browning, essentially a replica A-5. Post-World War II manufacturing introduced stamped steel parts, a cheaper way to make guns in all configurations. That’s why Remington shotguns look a lot like each other (compare an 870 and an 1100 side by side) and have multiple interchangeable parts.
Remington introduced the 28 caliber 11-48 in 1952. My grandfather and uncle hunted quail with them. The 28 is a wonderful upland car, easy to transport and has plenty of weapons for the quail. They fired improved cylinder choke guns in combination with No. 9 lead shot, which produced deadly patterns at 30 yards.
The .410 11-48 was primarily a clay pigeon shooting gun. As the first .410 semi-automatic, skeet shooters who preferred automatics only had to turn to the 11-48, so Remington built a ribbed-vented skeet model that remains a collector’s item. Both the .410 and the 28 are not readily available as production of both was limited. You can still locate one if you look hard enough, just be prepared to pay at least $1,200 if it’s in decent condition.
Remington 1100 sports 28 caliber
Remington’s gas-operated 1100 changed the semi-automatic shotgun game when it debuted in 1963. The 1100 resembles the 11-48, which was eventually retired in favor of the new 1100 model, using the same rounded receiver. But the 1100 was more reliable. However, the 1100 had cycling problems, mainly due to the shooters not keeping it clean or replacing the worn o-rings that were needed to properly operate the action. The 1100’s recoil reduction helped Remington sell over 4 million and counting (RemArms has plans to continue producing the gun). Also, like so many Remington shotguns, Big Green designed the 1100 to suit a wide variety of shooters, another reason it became such a popular clay gun.
The sweet spot in the 1100 Sporting line was the 28 caliber. These barrels were designed as target shooting barrels, but they are also an excellent option for high country shooting. RemArms, the most recent company to buy Remington out of bankruptcy, isn’t building the 28 right now, but you can get it for .410. There are also 28 used ones on the market, but they tend to be expensive ($1500).
The wood cabinets on the old 1100s are the best quality mahogany and walnut I have ever seen on a production Remington pistol. Remington 1100s also include bright blue metal finishes, vent-ribbed barrels, and white bead front sight. If you can find an 1100 Premiere Sporting (manufactured between 2008 and 2011), buy it. You’ll recognize it by the nickel-plated receiver. The gun also came with four aftermarket Briley extended chokes.
Benelli Super Black Eagle caliber 28
The Super Black Eagle series was coveted by an overwhelming number of duck hunters because it was the first 12-gauge autoloader that could fire 3½-inch shot shells. That was 30 years ago, and as cartridge technology has improved, SBE chambers are getting smaller. In addition to the 3½-inch model, you can now buy 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 is one of the few 28s that can handle such a load (most 28s are chambered for 2¾-inch shot shells).
Benelli offers the 28 in black, Realtree Max-5, Mossy Oak Bottomland, and Optidfade Timber, making the gun feel at home in the swamps, flooded fields, and green tree reservoirs that mallards love. The SBE sub-caliber has the same barrel lengths (26 and 28 inches) as the 12-gauge model and has the same overall length, just lighter at 5.5 pounds.
Beretta A400 Xplor Action caliber 28
Gas pistols are Beretta’s specialty in its semi-automatic line. They’ve built some of the best, including the 302 and 303 in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Then came the legendary 390 and 391 series that set new standards in gasoline autoloader reliability. Today, the A400 line includes some of the best gasoline forwarders in the world.
Xplor Action’s .28 caliber uses Beretta’s Blink system, which the Italian gunmaker says allows shooters to fire four rounds in less than a second. The speed of the system lies in the split ring valve that seals tight, making gas transfer more efficient and cleaner, creating less fouling in the chamber. The weapon distributes recoil remarkably well even though it is a fast cycle car. Most weapons bearing 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 a field strip and gun cleaning after abuse in the field.
The Xplor Action is attractive with a bronze colored receiver, blued barrel and walnut stock. It doesn’t have the exterior durability of the SBE III, but a few chips and dents won’t stop the A400 from running. It is available in 26-inch or 28-inch barrel lengths with five included chokes.
TriStar Viper G2 .410
TriStar’s slogan is “The Value Experts” and it’s an accurate statement. The entire line of TriStar pistols has gained momentum in the last decade because they offer good value for money. Manufactured in Turkey by Armsan and imported to Kansas City, the G2 line of gasoline autoloaders are available in all legal calibers except 10, with my favorite being the .410.
In .410 only, the Viper G2s come in bronze (a similar appearance to the Beretta Xplor Action), wood, synthetic (black finish), camo (Realtree Edge), and a pistol-grip turkey model with a tan and Mossy receiver. Oak Bottomland buttstock topped with an optical rail. 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 each model includes three chokes (IC, M, F).
You can use the G2 for clay pigeon shooting, upland, waterfowl, turkey, and a variety of small game. outdoor life Senior Editor Joe Genzel has extensively photographed the Bronze model in clay pigeon shooting, pigeons and squirrels. He reported that the gun is incredibly accurate (when you shoot it right). He has broken over 20 clays per round in skeet with the G2; and he scored in single digits: 410s are fickle-range guns. It’s a light weapon (5.8lbs) in the squirrel forest, critical when you’re covering a lot of ground behind a high-energy wolfhound like Genzel has.
The only downside to this gun, in my experience, has been that the stock loosens from the receiver after going a few hundred rounds. To tighten, you need to remove the pad and tighten the nut that holds the cylinder head in place.
Best Shooting .410 Target and Game Load Cartridges
There are many lead skeet loads to choose from if you shoot a .410, but I am partial to using the No. 9 shot in a 2½-inch, ½-ounce shot cartridge. It offers the shooter almost 300 shot, which is more room for error than a No. 8 (205 shot) or No. 7½ (175 shot) in the same load weight. For upland bird options, consider moving up to a 3-inch buckshot cartridge with 11/16 or ¾ ounce payload in 4s, 5s, or 6s. There isn’t much difference in pellet count between these two load weights, for example an 11/16 ounce No. 6 has 155 and a ¾ ounce 6 has 169, so whatever load you find will do.
If you’re duck hunting, there are 3-inch bismuth, tungsten, and steel loads at your disposal, but premium non-toxic ones are the route to take to avoid paralyzing birds. .410 steel loads can kill ducks on wood or early season teal, but bismuth loads, such as Boss, RST, or Hevi-Bismuth (safe to fire in choked fixed-action shotguns with thin steel barrels) are denser (9.6 g/cc compared to 7.8 g/cc) and therefore more effective. Hevi-Shot manufactures tungsten-iron shot cartridges with a pellet density of 12g/cc, and the direct tungsten offerings are even better as the pellets have a density of 18.1g/cc, almost double that of the bismuth. But few manufacturers make a .410 TSS waterfowl load. Federal Premium’s Custom Shop will load 7 or 9 3-inches for you, but other than that, you’ll likely have to resort to hand loads or shell out upwards of $45 a box for just five loads of TSS turkey.