April 21, 2021
Some think you either play golf or shoot guns. Both sports can amount to expensive passions, but there are undoubtedly more specialized categories within the firearms community. Waterfowl guns, for example, are in a shotgun category of their own. You don’t have to appreciate another firearm discipline to go broke pursuing birds on the wing, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Typically, serious duck and goose hunters fall into one of three subcategories. The majority carry expensive fast-action self-loaders into a well-appointed blind, use guns that wear realistic camouflage with some capable of chambering 3½-inch loads. A second audience would include many hunters who remain faithful to the reliability in function and knock-down power of something like a decades-old pump-action 10 gauge.
The third audience could rival the largest known group of waterfowlers. These enjoy facing nature’s elements and are not loyal to traditions, brands or feel compelled to buy at a certain price point. They just want a gun that works, is simple and versatile enough for the field.
Two of these categories stand behind the slogan first written by “Wildfowl” Editor-in-Chief Skip Knowles: “Your gun is not a status symbol.”
The Stoeger P3500 exists to serve any waterfowler, but it should appeal most to the minimalist who considers price over carbon fiber, tunability and advanced recoil systems. The P3500 is a pump action that bears a lot in common with the legendary Remington 870. It carries over the dual-action bars, which are often cited in advertisements for pump shotguns. Not exactly a recent innovation, twin action bars came about more than a half-century ago to prevent binding and twisting of the forend when situations call for fast cycling. Few modern guns have a single action bar, but dual-action bars are still considered an improvement when compared to pump-action classics such as the Winchester Model 12 and Ithaca Model 37, for example.
The P3500 was introduced in 2017 as a counterpoint to the Remington 870 Express Super Mag. Unfortunately, Remington Arms is in hiatus after experiencing their third bankruptcy and an uncertain future. At the time of Stoeger&rsquo's launch of the P3500, Remington offered the Super Mag in either black or TrueTimber DRT camouflage for $460. The P3500 starts at $339.
Price is the most significant factor for prospective shotgunners who have purchased a P3500. With a starting retail price of $339 for the black synthetic-stocked model, the P3500 is attractive to the budget-minded buyer. The step up to a black M3500 semiauto shotgun raises the price to $669, or $769 for an M3500 wearing Realtree Max-5. To have the pump-action P3500 finished with the popular Realtree Max-5 only costs $389. You can see why Stoeger Product Manager Keith Heinlein reported, “Tactical models aside, the pump sells as well as the semiauto.”
The Max-5 camo is a sensible upgrade in either configuration. Realtree’s pattern elements include cattails, reeds, cane and grasses, which are advertised to blend into “flooded marshes.” There is also corn, wheat, oats and sunflowers to hide a hunter in an open field. Areas that mimic mud, water, bark and shadow are also integrated for another layer of invisibility.
Price aside, many shotgunners look to the pump action for its reputation for reliability. With the pump, the shooter decides when and how fast to load and reload the chamber. This is useful in situations where stealth may be required. As the forend slides the bolt assembly forward, the P3500’s bolt head rotates for positive lockup. We can appreciate this security when remembering the felt recoil and considering the pressures behind a hot load weighing as much as 19⁄16 ounces. To chamber 3½-inch loads, Stoeger had to lengthen the barrel extension.
Why shoot a super magnum load? Many duck hunters are falling back to using 2¾- and 3-inch loads with lighter shotguns because ammunition is continuously improving. But if ducks don’t come into decoys and stay farther out, or if you’re after geese, the 3½-inch shells offer tough-to-beat performance. There is a recoil penalty, but if you can’t handle the 3½-inch solution, the P3500 runs 2¾-inch and 3-inch options just as well for more options. If you need the 3½-inch shells and can afford to spend a little more, Stoeger offers the M3500 semiautomatic for improved recoil reduction and speed.
What To Expect
To deliver a reliable shotgun at a price that’s difficult for competitors to match, you won’t be surprised by the details. The P3500 is made in Turkey, where labor is less expensive, and manufacturers often borrow proven elements from more expensive shotgun designs.
Plastic and carbon steel are used liberally. For the money, the P3500 is basic with materials. The bolt assembly, magazine tube, carrier and barrel are made of carbon steel. At this price, the P3500 doesn’t feature Benelli’s Crio-treated barrel, but it is chrome-lined. Instead of a presentation box full of chokes, someone who purchases a P3500 gets one Modified tube with the gun (and a spanner wrench). If you need other choke options, you’ll have to use Benelli’s non-Crio tubes.
The steel components are protected by traditional bluing on the rotating bolt, carrier and trigger, while heat treating gives a matte-black finish to the surface of the barrel, the magazine tube, action bars and bolt carrier. Elsewhere there’s plastic. Besides the furniture, the triggerguard is made of injection-molded polymer. This all means that the P3500 deserves the occasional cleaning and oil. Neglect the P3500 after hunting waterfowl and rust will eventually start to appear and corrode the metal.
There are several nice features worth applauding Stoeger for including. The P3500 does come with shims for those needing to adjust for handiness or to fine-tune its presentation. Additionally, the ventilated rubber recoil pad is three-quarters of an inch thick and makes shooting even the harshest loads tolerable to most shoulders. Looking down the 26- or 28-inch barrel, your eyes quickly find the gun’s red fiber-optic bead for a front sight. In most lighting conditions, the fiber-optic sight brightly commands your attention as you try and focus on a particular bird. If you’re short statured or have short arms, you may prefer the 26-inch barrel.
And we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention that there are sling-swivel studs integrated below the barrel’s magazine ring and at the rear of the stock. These are nice for when it’s cold and necessary to sling the shotgun over a shoulder to stuff your hands in your pockets to warm up.
In The Field
To evaluate the P3500, Guns & Ammo’s editors took the shotgun on a winter waterfowl hunt on Maryland’s eastern shore for Canada Geese. The area is well-known for Puddle Ducks and Diver Ducks, but is regarded as a goose-hunting capital with some of the best waterfowl hunting grounds. Unfortunately, even the outfitters indicated that the week of our hunt was the worst they had ever seen. The P3500 only accounted for a single Canada Goose on the first day and two on the second. The most enjoyable action was watching the trained retrievers work, but during G&A’s evaluation period we agreed that the gun swung smoothly and pointed instinctively.
Just In Case
The experience didn’t torture the P3500, but the shotgun carried well, worked flawlessly and shot true to aim for those three shots. In one instance, the shell carrier did bite a shooter’s thumb during reloading.
How much vetting does a shotgun need? More than we had an opportunity to provide, unfortunately. Still, the P3500 comes with a five-year warranty for peace of mind.
“Our return rate is fairly low,” Heinlein said. “We don’t get a ton of guns back because they’re made so well. But if anything goes wrong with a gun, if there’s a manufactured defect, we’ll fix it or replace the shotgun with no questions asked. We’ve got the best gunsmiths in the business; they spend the time to try and fix the problem.”
Stoeger’s P3500 is an inexpensive workhorse that doesn’t require significant investment. In the field, it is capable of producing the same results as shotgun costing $2,000 more. In recent years, shotguns with 3-inch chambers have closed the sales gap with 3½-inch guns. Still, the P3500 sells well among waterfowlers thanks to its price point. Why buy a pump instead of a semiauto? You’re getting the same knock-down power from a 3½-inch shell at essentially half the price. The accuracy is going to be the same; the pump just lacks an automatic transmission.
Stoeger has continued to push the quality of its guns coming from Turkey. Their biggest competitor used to be other Turkish-made guns. Today, the company is chasing Mossberg and Remington for sales. From our time on the range, and the limited experience in the field, the Stoeger’s performance will rival those brands’ offerings during any season afield.
Stoeger P3500 Specs
Type: Pump action
Chamber: 2¾ in., 3 in. and 3½ in.
Capacity: 4+1 rds.
Barrel: 26 in. or 28 in., chrome lined
Overall Length: 48 in. or 50 in.<
Weight: 7 lbs., 1 oz.
Trigger: 5 lbs., 9 oz.
Sights: Bead, red fiber optic (front)
Stock: Synthetic, molded checkering
Finish: Black or Realtree Max-5
Accessories: Modified choke; T-wrench; shims
MSRP: $339 to $389 (tested)
Importer: Stoeger Industries, stoegerindustries.com
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