I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not all shotguns are created equal. In part, that’s because shotguns are designed for different shooters and different shotgunning tasks. I’m not saying one shotgun cannot serve multiple roles. However, to get the most performance, you’ll want a shotgun that was built for a certain task. One of the most important features is barrel length.

Barrel Length

For example, home defense shotguns have shorter barrels (18 inches or under). This equates to a decrease in velocity, but the shot pattern will expand faster. Mid-length barrels (20–24 inches) are common among turkey hunters, taking careful aim at bird standing still. Whereas upland game hunters will likely want something 24 inches or longer. When reaching out for waterfowl, shotguns with 30-inch barrels are most common, but anything in the 28- to 32-inch range is recommended.

ATI Cavalry SGD 20 gauge over/under (O/U) shotgun with the action open placed on an open hard case.
The ATI Cavalry SGD over/under shotgun strikes all the right cords — fit and finish, engraving, walnut stock and forend, chokes, and a single selective trigger.

Then we have trap, skeet, and sporting clays shooters. In the 1960s, most likely you’d see 26-inch barrels as the most common guns on the range. Today, you’ll find anything from 28- to 34 inches, with 30–32 being the most popular. So which barrel length is right for you? There are so many factors that it’s hard to say, but you can use this as a guide to get you started.

ATI Cavalry SGD

Sometimes you get what you paid for and other times you got more than you expected for the price. I picked up an American Tactical Calvary SGD over/under in 20 gauge. I had no illusions what I was getting into. However, I’d never owned an O/U. And, the chance to pick one up for well under $700… How could I pass it up?

First things first, I rushed home and opened the box like a kid on Christmas morning. That’s not much of a surprise… Who doesn’t love handling a new gun? I removed the forend, took a couple tries to get the pins lined up and married up the two pieces. Then, I snapped and locked the forend back in place.

After a quick inspection, I noted a few things. The fit wasn’t bad. However, the wood was proud — all around. Not bad, but enough that you’ll feel it when running your finger across it. The walnut has a bit of character to it, but nothing to write home about. However, for the price, neither of these things were deal breakers. For a shotgun costing thousands, I’d take issue with these things, but not here.

The gun was stiff going together. I broke the action open a couple times and decided a quick wipe down with some lubrication was in order. The improvement was noticeable.

side view of the Cavalry's receiver showing the engraving
The metal and wood were well fitted with the walnut pieces being a tad proud.

The receiver is decorated with a light engraving of a clay pigeon streaking the countryside on both sides, framed by a swirl pattern. The bottom of the receiver has a similar scene and “KOFS Turkey.” Excellent touches to enhance the aesthetics.

A 10mm rib with front and rear brass bead sights runs the length of the top barrel. Two chokes — Modified (top) and Cylinder (bottom) were installed. In a carrying case, a choke wrench and Full choke were included. The chokes are threaded with Beretta Benelli Mobil Choke System-style threads. Not that it would likely be my choice for the Calvary, but you can shoot slugs through a Full choke. Like I said, it’s not optimal to use an over/under for home defense, but shotguns often serve multiple roles.

About Chokes

Infographic showing the pattern size at various distances using a Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full chokes
  • Full (F) Has tight constriction (.035-inch constriction) and a dense pattern, delivering approximately 70 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Best for trap shooting, waterfowl pass shooting, turkey hunting, and buckshot loads.
  • Improved Modified (IM) Slightly less constricted than a Full choke, but tighter than a Modified choke (.025-inch constriction), IM delivers approximately 65 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Excellent for all-around hunting of waterfowl, long-range flushing of upland birds (such as late-season pheasant and sharp-tailed grouse) as well as other small game.
  • Modified (M) The modified choke is characterized by even less constriction (.020-inch constriction), delivering approximately 60 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Excellent for all-around hunting of waterfowl, long-range flushing of upland birds (such as late-season pheasant and sharp-tailed grouse) as well as other small game. Modified chokes are also commonly used for trap shooting.
  • Improved Cylinder (IC) Even less constricted than modified chokes (.010-inch constriction), the improved cylinder distributes approximately 50 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Ideal for close-in small game shooting, upland bird hunting (such as quail, grouse, and pheasant) as well as hunting waterfowl close over decoys.
  • Cylinder (C) No constriction (.000-inch constriction) so that the shot distributes approximately 40 percent of a shell’s total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. Most often used in a law enforcement or home defense role for tactical shotguns.

Specifications

The receiver is constructed from 7075 aluminum. The shotgun weighs in at six pounds on my little budget scale. The light weight makes the gun swing quickly, but the reduced mass will make you feel the recoil a bot more. Likewise, this is an over/under, so you do not have the advantage of gas and the associated recoil reduction systems featured in semi-automatic models.

ATI Cavalry SGD 20 gauge shotgun with Apex Ammunition Turkey load shells
The ATI Cavalry SGD 20 gauge handled all loads the author fed it, including the hard-hitting 3-inch turkey loads from Apex Ammunition.

My 20 gauge is chambered for up to 3-inch shells. The barrels are constructed from 4140 chrome-moly steel. For the techy types, the length of pull is 14.55 inches. The drop at the comb is 1.41 inches with a 1.87-inch drop at the heel.

Action: Over/Under
Barrel color:
Black
Barrel finish:
Semi-gloss
Barrel length:
26 inches
Barrel material:
Carbon steel
Caliber:
20 gauge
Capacity:
2 shells
Length of pull:
14.57 inches
Overall length:
43.3 inches
Receiver color:
Brushed aluminum
Receiver Finish:
Semi-gloss
Receiver material: Aluminum
Stock:
Turkish Walnut
Stock Type: Semi-pistol grip
Chokes: 3 (Full, Modified, Cylinder)

On the Range

Each gun has its own peculiarities, so I broke in the ATI Cavalry SGD using a private bay and static targets. I’ve busted a few birds in my day, but I’m far from what I’d call a true “shotgunner.” I fumbled with the tang safety/selector. At one point, I thought the gun was defective. At times it would engage, and others it would not. I’m happy to report that the gun was not defective, just the shooter.

The selector switch allows you select which barrel will fire using the single selective trigger. The switch may be moved forward and back, left and right. When the “S” above the switch is visible, the safety is engaged. When the switch is moved to the left, the top barrel is selected to shoot first. The Calvary uses ejectors, instead of extractors, so it will only eject the shells that were fired. Otherwise, it just lifts them up.

Once I had the safety/selector switch figured out, I started running 20-gauge #7 ½ shells through the gun. The receiver is crafted from aluminum, and the wood is a bit on the slim side. This reduces the overall weight and makes for a fast-swinging gun, a benefit that I plan to enjoy this Fall when upland game bird seasons arrive.

However, while on the range you’ll notice more recoil. An avid shotgunner I talked with owns three Cavalry shotguns. He added about a pound of lead to the stock of one of his range guns and a softer recoil pad. Just a little food for thought. In the field, I’d endure the recoil for a faster swinging gun and less weight to carry without complaint, even in action-packed dove fields.

Because I had a couple of boxes of Apex Ammunition’s Tungsten Super Shot Turkey loads on hand, I decided to give them a try. They did not disappoint — pattern or felt recoil. The 3-inch shells deliver 1 5/8 ounces of 9/10 shot at 1,175 fps. You’ll feel the recoil, but that would be true of any shotgun shooting turkey loads. The ammo is hard hitting (on both ends), but they are also powerful medicine for Tommy Three Toes.

safety/selector switch and barrel break lever on a shotgun
The Cavalry’s safety/selector switch may be moved left and right, up and down for safe/fire and to select whether the top or bottom barrel will fire.

Conclusion

The ATI Cavalry SGD is a keeper. I’ve long wanted an over/under shotgun, but never got enough time on the range to justify the cost. The price point, fit and finish, features, and performance are more than enough to earn a place in the budget and gun safe. After 100 clays, I can report that the Calvary SGD fired and ejected perfectly. The gun has a good balance and swings easily. According to friends (with more shells through Turkish shotguns), a pro tip would be to take the stock off and clean and lube the trigger group every several hundred rounds for peak performance and reliability.

Are you a shotgunner? What’s your view of over/under versus gas-operated shotguns? Will a Cavalry have spot in your gun safe soon? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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