Tips for First-Time Shotgun Buyers.

If you’re a first-time shotgun buyer, Winchester Repeating Arms would like to offer some tips to make your first firearm a safe, prudent and useful purchase.

Always seek out other resources, such as certified training, gun store experts and excellent online resources from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). And always read and understand all information contained in any firearms owner's manual.

Winchester Model 1887

Winchester has a long history of shotgun designs. The Winchester Model 1887 is considered one of the first successful repeating shotguns. In the Winchester tradition it was a lever-action designed by the legendary John M. Browning. 

The Winchester 1897 is one of the first pump-action shotguns ever and proved to be so effective and durable it was in production for more than half a century. It gained fame as a trench gun in WWI and proved itself as one of the top trap shooting shotguns of its time. It was also designed by the legendary John M. Browning who devoted his early years to the design of Winchester firearms.



There are several types shotguns available on today’s market, and all have their advantages and limitations.

(Please note that this is just a brief overview to get you started on your way to becoming a new shotgun owner. Many resources, with more specific details, are available from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Rifle Association, your state's division of wildlife resources, your state's department of justice and from experts at many local ranges. This is especially true of any safety or legal issues regarding firearms ownership and hunting.) 

Pump or slide action shotgun

Pump or slide action shotgun

Autoloading Shotguns

Autoloading Shotguns

Winchester 101 Over Under

Over and Under Shotgun

Pump-Action Shotguns

SXP Black Composite
The Super X Pump from Winchester Repeating Arms is an outstanding choice for first-time shotgun buyers..

A popular shotgun type is the pump-action or slide-action like the Super-X Pump from Winchester Repeating Arms.

To load the Super X Pump, the “safety” is placed in the on safe position. The shells are loaded one by one into the magazine tube located under the barrel. Pulling the forearm rearward, then pushing it forward loads a shell from the magazine into the chamber.

With the “safety” moved to the off safe position, the Super X Pump will fire one shell when the trigger is pulled. The forearm is again manually cycled back and forward to eject the fired shell and load a fresh shell from the magazine.

Reliability and the ability to use a variety of different ammunition types, ranging from light game loads to heavy hunting shells are among the advantages of the pump-action shotgun.

Remember, with a pump shotgun you must manually cycle the action after each shot to load another shell.

Photo Caption: The Super X Pump from Winchester Repeating Arms is an outstanding choice for first-time shotgun buyers.

The Super X Pump from Winchester Repeating Arms is available in your choice of 12 or 20 gauge chamberings. Specialized hunting models are optimized for waterfowl, turkey, deer and upland birds. Additional models for clay target games and for home security are also available. Field models of the Super X Pump come in standard, as well as in compact and youth models sized to fit shooters of smaller stature.

Winchester SXP Field

Autoloading Shotguns

Super X4
The Super X4 from Winchester Repeating Arms is recognized as the fastest-cycling autoloading shotgun on the market. It also excels in load versatility. Both 3" and 3 1/2" Super X4 shotguns will reliably cycle even with 1 1/8 oz., 2 3/4" loads.

Another popular shotgun type is the autoloading or semi-automatic like the Winchester Super X4. These shotguns use the energy from a shell being fired to operate the action.

First the “safety” is placed in the on safe position, then the individual shells are loaded into the magazine tube located under the barrel. Pulling back on the bolt operating handle and releasing it loads a shell from the magazine into the chamber.

With the “safety” moved to the off safe position, the gun will fire one shell when the trigger is pulled. The energy from the fired shell operates the bolt, ejects the fired shell, and loads a fresh shell from the magazine. You’re now ready to fire the next shot with just the pull of the trigger.

The major advantage of the autoloading shotgun is very quick follow-up shots. Some autoloading shotguns tend to be more sensitive to the type of ammunition used for the most reliable operation. It is a good idea to know the kind of ammunition you will be shooting before making a purchase. However, most advanced autoloader designs will handle virtually all popular loads. Winchesters fall into this category. 

Break-Action Shotguns

Hinge-action or break-action shotgun, like the over-and-under Model 101 from Winchester Repeating Arms are very intuitive, thus the easiest to understand and operate for a first-time shotgunner.

With the “safety” placed in the on safe position, the action is opened by pushing a lever on the top of the receiver. You pivot the barrels down to open the action. Insert one shell into each of the chambers then firmly close the action.

When you’re ready to fire you simply move the “safety” to the off safe position and squeeze the trigger. Winchester double-barrel shotguns have a single trigger which automatically resets when you release it after the first shot. It then only requires a second pull on the trigger to fire the other barrel.

To reload, open the action, which also ejects the fired shells, and insert a fresh shell into each chamber. Simply close the action and you’re ready to shoot again.

The advantages of the hinge-action shotgun are overall simplicity and durability and their reliability with a wide variety of the proper gauge ammunition. Their major limitation is you only get one shot per barrel before having to reload.

Model 101
The European-crafted Model 101 from Winchester Repeating Arms is magnificent in every respect.

The Model 101 from Winchester Repeating Arms offers elegant European craftsmanship and workhorse performance. Chambered for 12 gauge shells, it’s available in several models suitable for the field and for various clay target games.


Pick a Gauge You’re Comfortable With.

One of the most important aspects of selecting your first shotgun is what “gauge” it should be. A traditional English measurement describing the diameter of a shotgun barrel, the smaller the gauge number, the larger the barrel diameter. For example, a 12 gauge shotgun has a barrel almost ¾” in diameter, while a 20 gauge shotgun has a barrel diameter of about 6/10ths of an inch.

Shotgun Gauge Guide

The most prevalent traditional shotshell sizes range from the .410 Bore to the 10 gauge. Winchester Repeating Arms currently offers shotguns in the two most versatile and popular gauges, 12 and 20 gauge. Photo Credit:, the Official Hunter Safety Education Course.

Naturally a heavier payload of shot can be fired in a larger diameter barrel. The recoil or “kick” you feel when the shell is fired also increases as the velocity and/or weight of the payload increases.

The broadest range of shotgun ammunition availability is for the 12 gauge. You can readily get shells ranging from light target loads with one ounce or less of birdshot up to heavy magnum waterfowl or turkey hunting loads with twice that payload. You can also get buckshot and rifled slugs for big game hunting and home security. Due to their smaller diameter, 20 gauge shotgun shells generally contain lighter payloads than 12 gauge shells, and their felt recoil is somewhat less. The 20 gauge often appeals to younger and smaller-statured shooters. There are many factory loads available in 20 gauge, including birdshot, buckshot and rifled slugs.

Make sure that the shotgun ammunition you purchase is of the correct gauge and length for your shotgun, which is marked on the barrel. It’s always a prudent safety practice to never mix different gauges of shotgun shells in a box, your pocket or other container.

IMPORTANT ADVICE FROM THE NATIONAL SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION. "Using improper or incorrect ammunition can destroy a gun and cause serious personal injury. It only takes one cartridge of improper caliber or gauge to wreck your gun, and only a second to check each one as you load it. Be absolutely certain that the ammunition you are using matches the specifications that are contained within the gun’s instruction manual and the manufacturer’s markings on the firearm."



Don’t Choke when Picking the Right Choke Tube.

Invector Plus Choke Tube
Patterning a Shotgun Diagram
Ported Barrel

Interchangeable choke tubes allow you to easily match the shot pattern to the shooting situation.

Shotguns are designed to fire ammunition that contains many small, individual pellets or shot, hence the term shotgun. Controlling how widely those pellets spread apart at a given distance is controlled by how much constriction or choke is present at the barrel’s muzzle. The more construction or choke, the smaller and denser the shot pattern at any given distance.  

A full choke will produce a tighter pattern than a modified choke, and a modified choke will produce a tighter pattern than an improved cylinder choke. A cylinder choke has no constriction at all. Full chokes keep the pattern denser at longer ranges. More open chokes let the shot pattern spread out, making it easier for you to hit fast moving targets at closer ranges.

Several decades ago Winchester helped pioneer the concept of interchangeable choke tubes with the original Winchoke design, which is no longer in production.

Today most Winchester 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns use the Invector-Plus choke tube system. A few specialized shotgun models may still be found with the Standard Invector choke tube system. The choke tube system is clearly marked on the shotgun barrel next to the gauge and chamber length.

While the tubes within a given choke tube system are generally interchangeable for barrels of the same gauge which are threaded for that system, please note that you should never attempt to “mix and match” the tubes designed for different choke tube systems and/or of different gauges.

For example, you should never attempt to install a 12 gauge Standard Invector choke tube in a 12 gauge barrel threaded for an Invector-Plus choke tube. Never attempt to install a 20 gauge Invector-Plus choke tube in a 12 gauge Invector-Plus barrel.

If you are unsure about the correct choke tubes for your shotgun, consult your owner’s manual or ask your Winchester dealer.

Today all Winchester shotgun barrels are fitted with interchangeable choke tubes so you can easily match your pattern to your shooting or hunting situation. Most come with choke tubes in full, modified and improved cylinder (F/M/IC) constrictions to cover most needs. Specialty choke tubes for hunting and clay target sports are also available from Winchester Repeating Arms. 

A Few Pointers on Chokes from

Skeet – Just slightly tighter than an open cylinder bore, skeet choke tubes are made to get a quick spread on the shot pattern while providing slightly more range. They are ideal for the close shots common on a skeet range, or when shooting close-in sporting clays targets. They can also be good for hunting quail flushing from underfoot. The ideal range for this choke constriction is 15 to 25 yards.

Improved Cylinder – Tighter than a Skeet tube, the ideal range for an improved cylinder choke tubes is 20 to 30 yards.

Modified – Sitting at the middle of the pack, modified choke tubes are a good general use tube when you're not sure if your shot will be close or far. Their ideal pattern is produced at around 30 to 40 yards.

Improved Modified – Not always found as part of the basic choke tubes offered with today’s production shotguns, IM chokes offer little performance difference over Modified or Full, but they can offer a sweet spot of pattern density out at 45 to 55 yards.

Full – For delivering maximum pattern density at a longer distance, go with the full choke, which depending on the load, can deliver an ideal pattern between 55 to 65 yards.

These choke tube ranges are general suggestions depending on the gauge, load and even the brand of shotshell you're using. Remember, you owe it to the game you hunt to make sure, no matter what load and choke combination you select, that it will deliver dense patterns without ragged holes or gaps. Always know how far out your pattern will hold up with sufficient energy to reliably take down your intended game.


Understand the Law and Get Additional Training and Firearm Safety Information from a Reliable Source.

With firearm ownership comes great individual responsibility. Make sure that you read and understand your owner’s manual before you store, load or use your new firearm. Also make sure you comply with the firearm laws and regulations for your location. Take some time to do additional research on the skills you need to develop to be a safe and effective firearm owner. 

Your local gun store, gun range or shooting club may offer basic and advanced classes in firearm safety, marksmanship and home protection from certified instructors. There are many good online resources available as well. One excellent resource for both local gun laws and training is the National Rifle Association. You can learn more at the NRA's online training pages.

Gun Safety Starts with You. Here are some good rules to live by when handling firearms:

  1. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
  2. Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use. 
  3. Don't rely on your gun's "safety." 
  4. Be sure of your target and what's beyond it.
  5. Use correct ammunition. 
  6. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care!
  7. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting. 
  8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting. 
  9. Don't alter or modify your gun, and have guns serviced regularly. 
  10.  Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using. 

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A Few Suggestions. Decision, Decisions.







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Copyright Winchester Repeating Arms, 2020. A few images have been used with permission. See attribution.