First consider utility. What do you plan to shoot with the new gun? Is it clay targets or game only? What kind of clay target shooting (sporting clays, trap, skeet) will you be doing? What kind of game will you hunt? Do you want one gun for both? For an all-around game/clays gun it is hard to beat a 12 gauge over/under with 28 inch barrels. If you shoot clay targets only you might want to go up to a 30 inch barrel. If comfort by reduced recoil is an issue, consider a semi-auto shotgun.
Next consider your budget. You can find over/under shotguns starting at $500 and going up. For a quality gun expect to pay $2,000 or more. This is where it comes back to utility. How much do you plan to shoot? If you are getting started in sporting clays consider that you most likely will be shooting 2000 plus rounds a year out of that gun. Compared to most pistol and rifle shooting, that’s a lot of wear on a shotgun. Like most things in life you get what you pay for. If you buy an inexpensive gun and do a lot of shooting expect to have mechanical problems in the near future. We see it all the time. Think about just how involved you will be in the sport and buy the highest quality shotgun your budget will allow. Don’t skimp on this or you will soon regret it.
Even the most expensive shotgun won’t help break targets if it doesn’t fit you well. Most shotguns are made to fit the average male height and arm length with a standard length of pull of 14.5 inches. Go to a gun store that has a variety of guns and shoulder them. If the store specializes in shotguns all the more better because the sales clerk is likely a shotgun shooter and can tell if the gun is a proper fit. If you like the gun but it doesn’t quite fit a good gunsmith can reduce the stock length if needed. We particularly see this with women who are getting into the sport. There are also women and youth model guns that may fit the small framed adult. Ask about that if it’s a problem. Minor adjustments can be made to fit the gun to you.
Along with a proper fit, consider how a gun handles when you mount it. A well made shotgun will balance well in your hands. Does the grip or palm swell fit your hand? Does it just seem to come naturally to the shoulder or do you have to force it? Handle as many guns in the store as you possibly can. If you have friends in the sport ask if you can try their gun. Clay target shooters are a friendly lot and always encourage new shooters and will probably be willing to let you shoot a few rounds through their gun.
The last thing to consider is aesthetics. We all like to have a gun that our shooting friends admire when we uncase it. But if it’s beautiful but isn’t comfortable to shoot then you just aren’t going to have fun at the sport. As example, the Beretta 692 Sporting is a higher grade shotgun and has a plain brushed stainless steel receiver. It is appealing without being beautiful. Form follows function. It is designed to comfortably crush clay targets and it does. It will also withstand the constant pounding of shooting several hundred shells a month.
That’s a lot to absorb for the beginning shooter. My advice to most people just getting into the sport is to take your time making a decision and buy the highest quality gun your budget allows. Do that and you will have many years of pleasurable and trouble free shooting ahead of you.