Sixty Second Autoloading Shotgun Reviews

Brief take-aways of several recently reviewed autoloading shotguns.

FRANCHI AFFINITYA well-done inertia gun assembled at the Benelli facility, it makes the Stoeger models look sad by comparison. With good triggers and overall excellent assembly, it is both a very solid autoloader that is fairly priced. The wacky recoil pad is not easily replaced by aftermarket pads, so make sure you're happy with the standard configuration. It is an easy shotgun to recommend.

BENELLI ETHOS A lightweight gun that is easy on the eyes, Benelli proves yet again that extremely lightweight guns are uncomfortable to shoot and that carnival type advertising campaigns don't make for good shotguns, or good values. With a heavy trigger, oddly positioned pistol grip, and excessive stock movement from the “Progressive Comfort” springy stock thing, it is severely overpriced, costing more than good O/Us including the Beretta 686 and Browning Cynergy. Some have called it the best $300 gun you can buy for $1900, but I'll just call it a very poor value and in general, an undesirable model.

BROWNING SILVER / WINCHESTER SX3 / MAXUS The Browning Active valve series of shotguns has been around for a long time by now, and Browning has quietly made several running production changes along the way. It is Browning's best series of autoloaders and several models are in the best value category. The triggers are too heavy, as always, but these Brownings have historically been the softest shooting shotguns on the market in their respective weight classes.

BENELLI VINCI Yes, it is non-traditional and can be a bit hard to get used to visually, but the Vinci is a very good performing shotgun and its ComforTech stock absolutely does do a good job taming the inertia-beast, if still not quite as soft-shooting as the Browning gas guns or the Remington V3. No, it isn't quite as light as advertised, not quite as soft-shooting, nor as fast-cycling. It isn't for everyone, on the basis of aesthetics alone, but it is Benelli's best 12 gauge shotgun as far as I'm concerned.

BERETTA A400 Beretta seems to have gone out of their way to make their autoloaders as cheap to make as possible, using as much fake wood and plastic as possible. Although gas-operated, it is truly harsh-shooting for a gas gun, so much so that the plastic pogo-stick “Kick-Off” plastic springy stock thing gets a lot of hype. The fake wood finishes are not possible to easily match, nor are the different colored receivers. It is enough to make a lot of people long for the far better-made, far better-looking A303 and A390 Berettas that didn't rely on gimmickry such as the “Gunpod Unit,” about five dollars worth of Nintendo / Timex electronics you can have for $215. How much more plastic can you put into a shotgun before it starts to melt? I don't know, but to shoot a living Smurf-ball for $1700 is no one's idea of a really cool thing. Combined with Beretta by-now infamous poor warranty and invisible customer service, there is very little to get excited about here.

CZ 912 / 712 CZ-USA is a very good distributor with several good to excellent product offerings. Huglo, the Turkish manufacturer of these guns, can't seem to get their act together, and has a very poor reputation even among other Turkish gun companies. These are shotguns to avoid, unless you can take a dare.

BROWNING A5 The “kinematic” (inertia) action of the new A5 guarantees high recoil, the triggers are horribly heavy, and the squared-off receiver gimmick is meaningless. The mis-marked, poorly performing Invector “Double Seal” chokes (in 12 gauge) doesn't help the situation. The Silver and Maxus models are far more refined, all-around better shotguns and cost less as well.

BERETTA A300 OUTLANDER The A300 Outlander, the entry-level Beretta, is a downgrade from the gun it tries to replace, the 3901. Of the several I've been through, they have all been rather crudely made, with heavy triggers. Some need a lot of shooting in, some don't. It is a price point type gun, so apparently folks are understandably a bit more tolerant of the sourced parts and haphazard assembly. It doesn't compare well with several other autos, though, from the cheaper Mossberg 930 to the Franchi Affinity to even the Weatherby SA-08. It is clearly a forgettable offering, but not a horrifically bad one.

FABARM XLR5 The upscale Fabarm XLR5 Velocity competition autoloader series features Tri-Bore barrels, superb factory chokes, and an outstandingly good competition trigger. The Pulse Piston action is a clever one, with the piston itself providing breaking to control bolt speed. While thought of as “new” to many in the U.S., it is a well-established design proven since 2003. The first release, the adjustable rib version, lets you dial in the point of impact you want, along with an adjustable comb, included kinetic balancer, and fore-end weight set. The LR (“Long Rib”) version is the same gun, with a fixed rib. It is the softest shooting autoloader that can be had, but it is a big gun. The newest FR (“Flat Rib”) version is at a lower price point, loses the included kinetic balancer and weight set, but they are available options if you want them. It also has no adjustable comb. It is the answer for those who want the XLR5, but with a bit smaller pistol grip, and is a faster, lighter gun as well at about 7-1/2 lbs. These are terrific dedicated clays guns.

MOSSBERG 930 The 930 “All-Purpose Field” 12 gauge with an American black walnut stock and a blued, twenty-six inch barrel I spent some time with weighed in at a portly 8 lbs. on the nose. Though not a delight as a pheasant chaser, it is a genuine bargain with a surprisingly good trigger. It runs about $520 today and no one I've ever met or talked with has found it any less than a great bang for the buck autoloader.

REMINGTON V3 Though not expected to be available until later this year, Remington set out to design and build the best, most reliable, softest-shooting 3 inch chambered 12 gauge autoloader on the planet . . . some three years ago. In the new V3, based on my preproduction example, it looks like they've done just that.

WEATHERBY SA-08 The SA-08 autoloaders, in 12 and 20 gauge, are made for Weatherby by ATA in Turkey. The 28 gauge is by Armsan. They are the first Turkish gas-operated autoloaders I can wholeheartedly recommend. The 20 gauge in particular is extremely lightweight at 6 lbs., and far softer-shooting than you might imagine.

BENELLI M2 It is hard to call a $1400 or so plastic-stocked camo shotgun a bargain. Nevertheless, the Benelli M2 camo ComforTech 20 gauge 24 inch is a personal favorite. It wasn't “simply perfect,” by any means. I intentionally broke off the center bead and threw it away... so the front bead could actually be seen. The gun had a heavy trigger: Benelli lightened it under warranty. Originally, it was heavier than the gun at a 6-1/2 lb. break. Now, it breaks at a more usable 4-3/4 lbs. The gun as supplied was a real thumb-buster to load. Benelli instructed me to take a hammer to the shell-stop to improve that. No, you really can't make these things up.

Anyway, I declined, and suggested that Benelli master gunsmiths were more skilled at taking a hammer to a brand new gun than I. They did, and although loading is still a bit stiff, it is vastly improved from as supplied condition. Not happy with the factory choke tubes, they quickly got replaced with Trulock Precision Hunter extended tubes. So, yes: all you have to do is buy a new Benelli M2, trash the center bead and choke tubes, ask Benelli to take a hammer to the shell-stop and lighten the trigger, buy some proper choke tubes, and you can have a shotgun just like mine. Who said this stuff wasn't fun? After the adjusting, it is a superb 6 lb. pheasant gun and really hard not to use on wild pheasants.

If there is one thing that all hunters and shooters can agree on, it is that we don't always agree. Nevertheless, once you decide on your budget, the gauge, the weight, and your intended use, it is easy to boil things down to your own couple of finalists. Personal shotgun fit tends to beat the pants off of whatever comes in second place, so by all means, it is always good to shoot before you buy. It isn't “shoot first and ask questions later,” it is shoot first to answer your questions . . . and put a dent your wallet later.

Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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