To get started in the clay target games...you don't need to get into a "skeet specific" target gun. Most any gun you can hunt upland birds with - with changeable screw in chokes - and in a 28" barrel will work .....pump gun, semi-auto, or Over under....
In pump guns ...I like the BPS Hunter model, 12ga, 28" barrel - around $600.
In semi-autos most any of the Berettas are good guns / SX3 or Browning Silver series ( Silver Hunter again is a good option). Browning - Winchester are the same company now - so there models are virtually identical these days. Beretta and Browning Winchester are all gas operated guns ( with the exception of the Browning Auto 5, but I wouldn't suggest you go down that road). Benelli's are inertia operated ...and a division of Beretta - and so is Stoeger...but in my opinion, Benelli and Stoeger do not share the same quality of parts. The "clay target" gun for Benelli - is their Super Sport model but its retailing new for around $2,000 now ...it is a good gun if you find one used, but even used they're $1,250 - $ 1,500 in my area.
In over unders....Browning and Beretta have given shooters the most gun for the money for a long time. You might find an entry level O/U Browning Citori Lightning ...or something similar / but I'd stay away from Stoeger in the O/U market as well.
Since you're new in these games - go with a pump gun or a semi-auto to start.
Most any "field" gun will be just fine as a beginner for Skeet and Trap. For Skeet -ideally you'd want a Skeet choke ( but you can also go with a Cyclinder or maybe an Improved Cyclinder). For "Trap" again, most any gun will work / although if you get serious about Trap - you'll want a heavier and longer gun probably...but for 16 yd singles for Trap - most of us would shoot a Modified choke. Most "Field" grade guns will come with 3 chokes ...Cyclinder, Modified and Full. Extra chokes are $ 35 - $ 50 each for the most part. When you're looking at guns - make a note as to what chokes they come with. Some guns like the Benelli Super Sport will come with 5 chokes ( Cyc, Imp Cyc, Mod, Impr Mod, Full ) and if I shoot my Super Sport for Skeet a Cyclinder choke is fine.
Many of the Inertia guns are a little lighter ( around 7 lbs ) so if they have an option for a 30" barrel -- the longer sight plane / will help you a little on your swing dynamics on follow thru ...so with my Benelli I like the 30" barrel ...in a gun like the Browning Silver Hunter I'd probably suggest the 28" barrel. Many of us that shoot O/U's tend to go toward 30" barrels ...but 28" is ok there as well. A lot of this depends on what you like vs what I like.
Not in your budget....but a very "affordable" gun in terms of an all around "Skeet gun"...or even a good upland bird hunting gun...and a gun you can probably find, and you will certainly see a lot of on the Skeet and Sporting clays fields.../ and a gun you can compare a lot of other guns to ...is a Browning Citori, XS Skeet model, 12ga, 30" barrels with an adjustable comb. New they're retailing for around $ 3,000 now ( and trust me, its a nice gun, but its not a high end gun ....when you look at Perazzi, Blaser, Kolar, Krieghoff, etc in competition guns...but its a "pedestrian" level gun that does a lot of things really well -- and it fits 99.9% of the shooters out there.) But looking at this gun / or shooting one if a buddy has one ...will give you an idea of what $3,000 buys in terms of a good solid 500,000 shell guns / maybe a 1 Million shell gun ...and how it feels for follow thru, etc....not that you should buy one yet as a new shooter in clay target games....but it is the one gun, that will do most anything very, very well. A lot of O/U's will significantly pale - in comparison to this Browning.
Its a gun to watch for on the used market ...in 12ga or maybe even a 20ga.
But for now, I strongly suggest you stay with a pump or semi-auto. A lot of us have killed thousands of clays /and birds with a good pump gun. My Browning BPS Hunter models, 28" in both 12ga and 20ga ...are coming up on 32 yrs old + now ...with many thousands of shells thru them ( and 2 boys, and a few grandkids - learning to shoot with them )...and they're still solid guns. At $ 600 ....the BPS is a gun you will probably end up keeping for a real long time / and never a bad buy - because everyone from time to time, will need a good pump gun. There are other pump guns out there ...Rem 870's, Benelli Nova's, etc...but there are a number of things I like about the BPS - ejects out of bottom, clean look, safety on top of tang - easy to reach even with gloves on ...cast neutral (doesn't favor right handed shooters or lefties)...
Last edited by BigJimP; November 25, 2012 at 06:43 PM.