A Skeptic's Look at Modern Autoloading Shotguns

Above, the scene from Italy shortly after Beretta announced their discontinuation of the 391 autoloading shotgun.

The work skeptic comes from the Ancient Greek skeptikos, meaning "thoughtful, inquiring." The notion of healthy skepticism is not a lack of appreciation of form or function, nor is it a curmudgeonly stance. It merely requires strong evidence before accepting something presented as a factual to actually be a fact. Naturally, it tends to collide with marketing assertions that are not fact-based and are void of shareable data. It is not brand-specific, it strives to be the best available version of the truth regardless of what it is called, or who might own it. It naturally is at odds with awards that are awarded or retained only after secret meetings with the manufacturer that is getting the award. It is also at odds with a publications that give the best “new shotgun of the year” awards to no less than six autoloading shotguns.

Let's look at several marketing claims and see where the latest crop of shotguns actually land. The quandary for the consumer is that they are asked to leap at autoloaders hitting $1600 or more of retail price, based on these marketing claims.


It often takes longer to talk about cleaning a shotgun than to actually do it and of course when people say they cleaned their gun, it doesn't mean that it was cleaned properly at all. If you are adverse to cleaning, then there is no question that a recoil-operated shotgun requires less of it. Though many gas-actions are presented as self-cleaning, none of them are. That points to Benelli and the soon to be released Browning A5 models as the lowest maintenance and easiest to clean.


For hunting applications, there is no practical difference between the “slow” Remington 1100 and the touted as faster actions. They aren't any faster, in practical terms, and the original Browning Automatic Five has been proven to be faster than the inertia action. Cycle speed is the last reason to select an autoloader. Shell-handling and ease of reloading is of greater benefit for high-volume shooting. Autoloaders are all faster with their third shots than pumps or doubles, and pumps are faster than the doubles.


Gun weight and gun fit win. That means the pleasingly plump Remington Versa-Max, on the basis of weight, is going to be softer shooting, if it fits you properly. This is despite a gimmicky action based on the Benelli Super 90 that cannot tell the difference between any 1 oz. 2-3/4 in. shell and any 1-1/2 oz. 12 gauge shell. Adding spring arrays to any shotgun (SoftTouch, BumpBuster) is easy enough if that is what you want, as is adding weight.


Sadly, there is no such thing. The folks that could prove it certainly would patent it, and that hasn't happened . . . as there is no such thing. It is hard to patent things that don't exist, despite the commercial motivation to do so. Patterns remain contingent on individual shell and choke more than anything else. Since most shooters don't pattern their guns, it is an easy thing to market.


One theory of wingshooting suggests that trigger break weight should never exceed 50% of the weight of the entire shotgun. Not one of the latest crop of autoloaders meets this standard out of the box and all can benefit from trigger work. Beretta A400s generally have the best factory triggers, though, with the Remington Versa-Max as the worst.


Shell quality is more important to the reliability of an autoloader than other factors. The function of the gun relies on the shotshell. The ability to cycle lighter loads does not make a shotgun more reliable. It may actually make it less reliable and more prone to breakage with extremely heavy loads due to the resultant excessive bolt speed.


Beretta A400

Excessive bolt speed and a violent action. Fake wood dips rather than real wood, no factory customer service, and sourced parts of varying quality. Bad heat treat on bolt pin is a confirmed issue. The A400 Xtreme Unico, currently at $1600 discount street price, breaks new ground in the ongoing efforts to kill a duck with gas-operated plastic covered guns, equipped with only three choke tubes. Some folks are already missing the 391 and I really can't blame them.

Benelli Vinci

A hard to reach forward trigger guard safety in the standard version for some shooters, improved in the Super Vinci. Other than that, aesthetics are the primary consideration, or perhaps consternation.

Browning Maxus

Heavy factory trigger. Yet, the only one of the “latest” autoloaders than you can get for under $1000, less with some promotions, albeit in the three inch Stalker version.

Browning A5

Announced, but not yet released as a production model.

Remington Versa-Max

Overpriced and plastic-stocked only, Remington's first attempt at working with an alloy receiver and the Benelli gas action appears to be moderately successful after the safety recall. The worst trigger of the new group of autos, a tiny bolt release button, and the heaviest of the group by a pound or more may keep you from wanting to walk around with it, although the extra weight is something you might like in the goose pit and nowhere else.


Having spent time with at least four examples of the above models (except the announced A5 model), sure . . . I have opinions. I'd like to invite you to view my opinions with your own personal brand of healthy skepticism, though. There is no substitute for proper gun fit, an intensely personal area, so the gun that fits you the best of all the above may well be the best choice for you. None of them are tragic disasters. Cole Gunsmithing can service and tune your A400, Precision Sports in Oskosh, Wisconsin can clean up your Maxus and Versa-Max triggers, and so forth. Trulock can supply you with quality extended chokes that all of these guns should have come with, but didn't.

Best Choices

The bang for the buck of the bunch is the basic Browning Maxus model. Aesthetically, the Browning Maxus Hunter and walnut Maxus Sporting Clays models are easy choices if you appreciate legitimate walnut.

For a low maintenance choice, what is easily the most innovative design, the Benelli Vinci is the winner in my book. The one that has seen the most field use from me is the Vinci simply because it fits me the best and I enjoy shooting it the most.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

Custom Search





Legendary Whitetails


Custom Search