The state of the world today has idled workers across the nation or forced them to work from home. However, this has had the side effect of giving people more free time or the ability to set their own hours. Many people are turning this extra time into time afield and/or are joining the ranks of hunters for the first time.
Whether it is to supplement the grocery bill with wild game or a desire to source their meat locally, people are going out to hunt in higher numbers, and for many hunters, the tool of choice is a shotgun, due to its versatility. Considering the average budget, let us look at what I believe is the best hunting shotgun under $500, along with some honorable mentions.
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Top pick: Mossberg 500
This rugged and reliable pump shotgun has stood the test of time, and is my choice for the best hunting shotgun under $500. Introduced in 1960, it has served hunters, law enforcement, and the military without issue. This weapon is easy to disassemble without tools and was designed to function reliably in dirty environments like the swamp or desert.
The Mossberg 500 has a tang mounted safety, making it friendly for left-handed shooters, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts if you decide an optic is needed. The barrels come standard with interchangeable choke tubes, and the guns all come with sling swivels for ease of carrying.
I would opt for the combo model that comes with a rifled slug barrel in addition to the field barrel so that the gun can serve me for all seasons if need be. The rifled barrel will allow you to reach out past a hundred yards accurately, and I know several individuals who rely on a Mossberg 500 slug gun to put meat in the freezer every fall at this distance, and the guns have yet to fail them.
I grew up hunting in Michigan’s shotgun-only zone, and these combos were a staple of gun store shelves, the duck blind, and the deer woods. Why? Because they work. Available in 12, 20, and .410 gauge. MSRP $498 for synthetic combo package in 12 gauge.
Mossberg Maverik 88
This weapon is the budget version of the model 500. The same action design with a different trigger group and the receiver is not drilled and tapped for scope mounts. All standard model 500 barrels will fit. Also available in home-defense or slug gun configurations, this shotgun lacks a few refinements but is a real bargain. I sold dozens of these when I worked the gun counter at a major sporting goods retailer. No one ever came back to complain, but their buddies did show up to buy one. MSRP $245 for the field model.
Debuting in the late ’90s, this shotgun launched the age of the polymer pump. Designed from the ground up to take a beating in the bottom of the duck boat and withstand the effects of mother nature, it found ready acceptance in the waterfowl world. My cousin’s husband shoots one extensively every fall, and he does nothing but praises its performance in all kinds of weather. MSRP $449
Representing one of the best values in a break action shotgun, these Turkish-made weapons gather few complaints. Available as both side-by-side and over-under models in 12, 20, 28, and .410 gauge. Yildiz also manufactures pump and semi-auto shotguns. $479 at Academy Sports for most models
This lightweight pump is a joy to carry in the field and rugged to boot. Boasting a rotary locking bolt and a fast action, this shotgun is a solid choice for the field. The base model comes with a 3.5” chamber, making this scattergun ready for goose or turkey right out of the box. Like the Mossberg, the receiver is drilled and tapped, and accessory barrels are available, making this a multi-season weapon to meet your needs.
Honorable mentions for best hunting shotgun under $500
CZ, Stevens, Weatherby, Henry, and Stoeger all produce shotguns that fall into the under $500 category and are solid choices deserving a look as well. I did not include Remington or H&R on this list since they are temporarily out of production and not in-stock anywhere that I have found.
For the hunter, there are few bad choices available these days in a new shotgun. If you need a reason to pick up a new one, just remember that turkey season is approaching, and fall is never very far away.
*Disclaimer* With current market conditions, the availability and price of the models listed may vary.