Mossberg Vs. Remington Vs. Beretta Vs. Benelli Vs. Fabarm Vs. Browning Autoloaders
According to the latest (2015) data distributed by the ATF, over 1.2 million shotguns were made in the United States in 2013. The vast majority of those shotguns were produced by Mossberg and Remington.
In 2013, over 936,000 shotguns were imported into the U.S., falling to just over 648,000 in 2014. For 2014, the top import country of manufacture for shotguns was Turkey, followed by Italy, then China in the third slot. The fourth position was Brazil, with 58,729 shotguns imported. The numbers rapidly drop off from there, with Russia at 21,830 (import now banned for the most part), and no other country exceeded 7000 units imported.
Unfortunately, the “Made in USA” moniker is sorely misused. Beretta has one of the worst offenders, calling their 3901 “Made in USA” yet shipping them with Turkish barrels, now calling their A300 Outlander with imported barrels “Made in USA” as well. It is fraudulent, obviously, but consumers seem oblivious to it, and are perpetually duped by it.
This is going to surprise or shock some folks, but a Browning Citori or Cynergy is just as much “Made in the USA” as a Beretta A300 Outlander is. All you have to do is refer to the ATF data: in 2014, a grand total of 652 shotguns were imported into the United States from Japan. Browning does not primarily import shotguns from Japan, they import parts for the most part. The “Made in Italy” moniker is also misused, for it is not unusual to have a shotgun manufactured in Turkey, run it through the Italian proof house, and then call it “Made in Italy.” It is bad enough that Fabarm now has taken the step of marking their shotguns “100 Percent Made in Italy.”
There are countless e-mails and phone calls every year asking about the “best” shotgun, the “best” shotgun for clays, the “best” for hunting, and so it goes. There is no easy, glib answer, for many of us are more price-loyal than brand loyal. We should all “beware the man with one gun,” for that miserable fellow has no clue about shotguns or firearms, and is perpetually clueless about using the right tool for the job. Yes, beware the man with one gun and also beware the man with one screwdriver.
I'll go down the line with a few comments about prominent models of autoloading twelve gauge shotguns. It isn't designed to change the mind of the man with one gun, if he actually has one, but it just might give you some food for thought.
At one time, despite the Beretta weak warranty and invisible customer service, Beretta-made product was a favorite of mine. It is still is, referring to the A303 and A390 models, and the Browning B-80 made by Beretta. Those days are long gone, for with every new model marked Beretta, the “500 Years Unmarred By Progress” is increasingly obvious. If you broke that wacky “Kick-Off” springy thing, you can buy a new one . . . for $319. Recoil pad sold separately. An extra field barrel for your A400: $799.99. The worthless fantastic plastic “Gunpod” is $215.
In a rare burst of honesty, the American Rifleman staff commented (referring to an A400 example) that, "That being said, the center of the shot pattern was noticeably low and right of the point of aim." They also said, "The Xplor Action’s stock is made from walnut featuring the company’s X-Tra Grain technology. Essentially, Beretta enhances the wood’s natural appearance through the application of an oil finish. The Grade-2 walnut on the evaluation sample exhibited noteworthy grain; however, the finish wasn't consistent, leaving many areas that appeared to be comparatively dry." When shotguns don't shoot where they are pointed, no one should pay a premium for that sordid feature. Noteworthy fake grain is something that must now be breaking new ground.
Several 3-1/2 inch A400's won't eject 3-1/2 inch shells: a known issue. After the tremendous problems with the A391 (broken gas pistons, bad bolt buffers, bad shell lifters, incomprehensible fore-end nut, etc.), the myriad problems with the Xtrema (discontinued) and the apparently discontinued Xtrema2 that gained a reputation for shooting far to the left, you'd think there would be a lot more testing before the sale, but that surely is not the case.
Although the prices aren't dropping, the amount of plastic, unfinished parts, poor machining, and haphazard fit and finish in current Beretta product is astonishing. Although allegedly “Beretta” is the flagship brand of all the Beretta brands (Benelli-Beretta-Franchi-Stoeger) that flag is sagging, if not sinking. When all else fails, invent a choke tube thread seems to be part of the path, along with techno-polymer everything.
Benelli inertia guns are a known quantity, and although they are a bit proudly priced, they are backed by a good warranty and very good customer service. Yes, inertia guns have more recoil than gas autos and yes, several gas autos handle a wider spectrum of loads. Yes, the old inertia action is not at all a Benelli exclusive, as Browning / Weatherby / Girsan and others now have inertia guns that work well from an action standpoint.
Yes, Benelli plays too many violins, their goofy “Crio System” is without meaning or purpose, their Ethos (and the 'Progressive Comfort” attempt) is less than stellar, but the Montefeltro / M2 / SBEII / Vinci shotguns are quite well-assembled and generally as reliable as anything out there. The Franchi inertia guns, essentially the “Stoeger” made correctly, are now made at the Benelli-Urbino facility, and with the exception of the peculiarly notched / hard to replace recoil pad, are desirable guns as well.
For the low initial cost, the Mossberg 930 is 12 gauge autoloader to beat. It is on the heavy side, both a blessing and a curse depending on how you want to use it, but the walnut “All-Purpose Field” can be had for $530 and there is a plethora of models to currently choose from, from HD models to 3-gun, to “Duck Commander” editions. None of them break the bank, and extra barrels cost $196 from Mossberg.
Browning is one of the most powerful brand names out there. Invariably, Browning and “Winchester” autoloaders sorely need trigger work and aftermarket choke tubes, but they do offer guns that won't give you a headache if you look at them and their gas guns (Silver / Gold / Maxus, Winchester SX2 / SX3) have long been solid product despite the annoyances of heavy triggers and poorly performing and mismarked choke tubes. Browning “Activ Piston” actioned autoloaders always have been remarkably soft-shooting for their weight class.
FABARM / CAESAR GUERINI
Caesar Guerini has long had an inertia gun, the “Roman,” not available in the U.S. Fabarm has been in the autoloading market for some time, and now that CG and Fabarm have combined, at last there are two lines of Pulse Piston autoloaders available in the U.S.: three models of Fabarm XLR5 (actually more including the female-focused Syren XLR5 Waterfowler and the Syren XLR5 Sporting).
The second line is the L4S, a very nicely trimmed up and lightened up autoloader that is one remarkably excellent hunting gun and my current favorite field 12 gauge. Fabarm USA / Caesar Guerini USA has built their reputation on quality, attention to detail, and industry-leading customer service and it appears to have thankfully continued with their autoloaders.
The Remington 1100 remains the most successful autoloading shotgun in history. That said, the 1100 from 1963 is a heavy gun at 8 lbs. or so, and as a 12 gauge field gun is ponderous. Remington, throughout numerous ownership and management changes has been unable to displace it. Today, autoloading enthusiasts seem to want shims to change cast and drop, lighter guns, and more load versatility. The load versatility part has been addressed with the Versa Max, and it also has a cleaner gas system along with stock shims. Yet, the 3 inch 12 gauge autoloader that doesn't weigh 8 lbs. or more has proved elusive for the Remington brand.
A lot is riding on the new Remington V3, covered in several previous articles, but production guns have yet to make it to market. So, although it looks promising, based on extensive shooting with a prototype, and the price point is aggressively low, I'll have to reserve judgment until there is a final embodiment of the V3 series that people can actually buy.
Turkish shotguns are sold primarily on the basis of their cheapness, no news there. Turkish manufacturers are not compelled to follow either the C.I.P. or SAAMI. As a result whatever standards they comport to is unknown. Weatherby has done a good job working with ATA to bring over good quality shotguns with Weatherby's own standards applied at the plant level. This has resulted in the SA-08 gas autoloader line, shotguns made in Turkey that are affordable and well-worth owning.
Pure opinion by Randy Wakeman
Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.