The Search for the Shootable sub-7 pound Twelve Gauge Autoloader
If you are weary of fantastic plastic autoloaders, made of high-quality melted milk jugs by Old World Craftsmen, there aren't many good choices in the sub-7 lb. 12 gauge category.
As it turns out, there really aren't that many. Although Jack O'Connor and others have long written that they would not hunt (upland game) with any shotgun that weighs over seven pounds, fun to shoot lightweight 12 gauge autoloaders have been in short supply. A twenty gauge is no guarantee, for the original Browning Gold 20 weighs 7 lbs. and the Remington 1100 Sporting 20 came in at 8.0 pounds as tested.
When you actually use them, the 7 lb. goal grows more distant, for you can add in a quarter pound or more for the three shotshells your gun is loaded with, for that's exactly how we carry them. Rightly or wrongly, many prior lightweight attempts have ceased production in 12 gauge, such as the Franchi 48AL. Steel shot has played a role, for 3 inch chambers are now considered mandatory for 12 gauge field guns, as a practical matter, where lead shot is prohibited.
The “problem” is best exemplified by a friend of mine, Dave, who decided to purchase a new Benelli Ultralight. Naturally, with any hunting gun it has to be comfortable enough to make it through a couple of rounds of sporting clays, for attempting to “practice” on wild game is sad, if not irresponsible. It didn't take long for Dave to dump his BUL in disgust, and get rid of his bashed, bruised, pounded-up shoulder at the same time.
The Benelli Ultralight I tested with a 24 inch barrel weighed in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces. A great-handling gun, the recoil was too much: http://www.randywakeman.com/Benelli_Ultra_Light.htm . The Browning 'kinematic A5' in walnut Hunter trim came in at 6 lbs., 8 oz., lighter than advertised. It proved to be a very, very hard gun to love: http://www.randywakeman.com/Review_2012_Browning_A5_Hunter_Autoloading%20Shotgun.htm and http://www.randywakeman.com/ReviewBrowningA5HunterRoundTwo.htm .
The 6 lb. 7 oz. Benelli Ethos didn't fare much better: http://www.randywakeman.com/ReviewBenelliEthos12GaugeAutoloader.htm . The Ethos lacked the choke problems of the A5, but has an excessively heavy trigger at 6.25 lbs., and the Pogo-stick “Progressive Comfort” gimmick just isn't all it was cracked up to be. The heavy trigger, heavy safety, heavily (if not wildly) over-rated recoil reduction, and heavy price all combined to make the Ethos a lackluster shotgun.
The tested 28 inch barreled Beretta A400 sans Kick-Off, weighs 6 lbs., 13 ounces unloaded as verified by electronic scale, about one half pound heavier than advertised. The A400 actually fared well, but the impossible to match fake wood, the overall plasticy construction, the poor Beretta warranty / customer service are quite enough to stop any premature notions of rabid enthusiasm.
Then there were two: http://www.randywakeman.com/ReviewWinchesterSX3_12%20GaugeAutoloader.htm . The Winchester-branded 3 inch SX3 had the traditionally poor Browning autoloader trigger, breaking at a higher weight than the entire gun. Selling at five hundred dollars or so less than most Beretta A400 models, there is plenty of room for a trigger job and a couple of aftermarket chokes. The “Activ valve” action has been around since 1993, and at the thousand dollar price point (which varies) it has been perhaps the most sensible upland 12 gauge autoloader to consider, at least until this year.
The recently-released Fabarm L4S Initial Hunter, http://www.randywakeman.com/FABARML4SREVIEW.htm, so far looks to be the pick of the litter. It is better-finished than the SX3, with a better grade of walnut and bluing, needing no trigger work or aftermarket chokes, and the only modification indicated was just replacing the thin, hard, 12mm buttplate with the Fabarm USA factory 22mm recoil pad, which puts it in the same general category as the SX3 in terms of felt recoil. As there is nothing in the buttstock to monitor, the Fabarm is the easiest to clean of the pack, the base model is street-priced at an enticing $1100, with the best warranty / customer service combination as well.
One of the last three, the A400 non-ko, the SX3, or the Fabarm L4S, should be the shotgun that speaks to you, personally, and be an autoloader that you'll tremendously enjoy carrying in the field, yet won't have any problems running the local skeet range or sporting clays course, either. The SX3 and the L4S are currently the best values, quite easily.
Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.