What's Wrong with All Autoloading Shotguns

With a title like that, you might think that I harbor some level of disdain for them. The opposite is true, for I enjoy autoloaders more than any other action type. While some don't like the idea of any mechanical feel, I strongly prefer it. I like to have my shooting instrument working and I don't like the idea that guns have to broken open to load them. That would be found intolerable in many rifles and handguns, and just because it uses a shotshell it is no less a firearm. Rarely will two barrels shoot the exact same point of impact, and autoloaders eliminate that along with better shot capacity . . . never a bad thing.

There are two broad classes of autoloaders, recoil-operated and gas-operated. One is not necessarily more reliable than the other assuming requisite maintenance. The most common problem with firearms in general is maintenance. I know several gunsmiths that make a reasonable living just cleaning guns. Actually, no autoloader is as reliable as a pump for the obvious reason: an autoloader relies on shell function to function, a slide action does not. Still, many like to blame the gun when it is bad ammo, and feel their autoloaders should work perfectly not only with dubious reloads, but with popper loads as well. You can't get more than perfectly reliable, and many A-5's, B-80s, and A303's have been just that. Still, it is hard to read ad copy without the hoary drone of most reliable. I'll restrict these comments to current production models, although in several ways models such as the A-5 and the A390 have not been bettered. As Chuck Hawks likes to lament, current autoloaders are far uglier than they need be. When folks understand that “matte” often means “unfinished” and that properly selected walnut is stronger and more stable than thermoplastics, the scene might change. You never know.


As a class, autoloading triggers are failboat. Very, very few autoloaders sold today are not sorely in need of trigger work. That means out of the box examples from most everyone. It is sad, when you consider that many field autos, notably the A-5, invariably had crisp four pound or so triggers virtually every time. Beretta 391 and A400 have been usually better than most, with Remington, Browning, Benelli, etc. triggers usually crying for attention. It is increasingly hard to swallow, when the $1500 is becoming increasingly commonplace. With the trigger as “the” firing control, ignoring them is no sign of attention to quality.


Good shotguns should be effortless to load and unload. Speed-loading became standard issue when Val Browning added the two-piece shell carrier to the A-5. Double Autos had it, so did the B2000, so did the Browning Gold since its introduction in 1993-1994. Of the newer guns, the Benelli Vinci (one example) is easy to load and unload, but far too many autoloaders are not. I don't like any firearm that is a real pantload to load or unload. Does anyone?


Essentially, a "feature" to forget. As Patrick E. Kelly observed back in November, 2001, "Using the same videographic techniques that we applied to the 1100, we found the limit for the Benelli: 13 hundredths of a second. That’s it. Any faster, and the hammer follows the bolt . . . For all that fanfare, “the world’s fastest shotgun” is one lousy hundredth faster than the Remington 1100." It takes the human eye 30 to 40 hundredths of a second to blink. You read that correctly: even the allegedly "slow" Remington 1100 can fire three rounds in the time it takes you to blink your eye just one time.

Later, in the same article, Mr. Kelly notes, "The Auto 5 positively re-sets the first half of the trigger return stroke using a pair of opposing hooks – one on the hammer, one on the trigger. Instead of waiting for the fairly passive action of a re-set spring, that hook on the hammer claws the trigger ahead as the hammer re-sets, slapping your finger out of the way if you’re too slow letting go . . . the Browning Auto 5 proved itself to be faster than the “world’s fastest cycling shotgun,” leaving the Benelli buried in its empty hulls." As a practical matter, fast enough is more than fast enough. The limiting factor is recovery from recoil and second target acquisition, so "fastest cycling" claims are completely meaningless to both hunters and clays shooters, regardless of who makes them.


Our friends in the U.K. couldn't have been more wrong about the only real shotgun having two horizontal barrels. The British shotgun industry has essentially vanished today as far as any significant numbers. One thing they did get right, though, from the days of W. W. Greener, is that a shotgun should be balanced as far as weight of the shotgun, payload of the shell, and shell velocity. We shouldn't have to buy a $1400 MSRP autoloader just to get a new recoil pad with a goofy “recoils less” brag. Nor is shoving springs or plastic hydraulic tubes into a buttstock a sensible way to improve a shotgun, as in “Kick-Off.” Now you have a shotgun with an irritating bouncy feeling that may be next to impossible to fit to an individual shooter. Reasonable gun weight, shells that compliment that gun weight, and a stock that fits you perfectly has always resulted in a shotgun that is pleasant to shoot, regardless of action type.

The one size fits all shotgun has never been a good, or even desirable approach. The more “do everything” a shotgun tries to be, the more it fails to excel at anything. Versatility invariably means compromise. The best SUV is not the best sports car, the best motocross bike is not the best touring bike, and the best weed-whipper is not the best garden tractor. Once we collectively wise up and decide what it is we want to do with our autoloading shotguns, the breed will improve if we vote for that approach with our consumer dollars: the only vote that counts.


Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

Custom Search





Legendary Whitetails


Custom Search