Autoloading Shotguns Compared: Beretta, Benelli/Franchi, Mossberg, Browning/Winchester, Fabarm/Caesar Guerini, Remington and Weatherby
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 US, falling to just over 648,000 in 2014. For 2014, the top import country of manufacture for shotguns was Turkey, followed by Italy and 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 largely banned) and no other country exceeded 7,000 units imported.
Unfortunately, the "Made in USA" moniker is sorely misused. Beretta of Italy is one of the worst offenders, calling their 3901 "Made in USA," yet shipping them with Turkish barrels. They also label their A300 Outlander with imported barrels "Made in USA." It is obviously misleading, but consumers seem oblivious and are perpetually duped by this practice.
This is going to surprise some folks, but a Browning Citori or Cynergy is just as much Made in the USA as a Beretta A300 Outlander. 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.
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 is now 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 shooting clays, the best for hunting, and so forth. There is no easy, glib answer, for many of us are more price conscious than brand loyal.
We should all "beware of the man with one gun," for that unfortunate fellow has no clue about shotguns or firearms in general 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 will go down the line with a few comments about prominent models of autoloading twelve gauge shotguns. My comments are not designed to change the mind of the man with one gun, if he actually has one, but just might provide some food for thought.
At one time, despite Beretta's weak warranty and generally deplorable customer service, Beretta shotguns were a favorite of mine. The A303 and A390 models, as well as the Browning B-80 (made by Beretta), still are.
Unfortunately, in general, those days are long gone. With every new model marked Beretta, the "500 Years Unmarred By Progress" is increasingly obvious. If you broke that wacky Kick-Off springy stock thing, you could buy a new one--for $319--with the recoil pad sold separately. An extra field barrel for your A400 is $799.99. The worthless plastic Gunpod is $215.
In a rare burst of honesty, the American Rifleman magazine staff commented (referring to an A400 beretta), "That being said, the center of the shot pattern was noticeably low and right of the point of aim." They also wrote, "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 was not consistent, leaving many areas that appeared to be comparatively dry."
When shotguns do not shoot where they are pointed, no one should pay a premium. Noteworthy fake wood grain is something that must now be breaking new ground.
Several 3-1/2 chambered inch A400's will not eject 3-1/2 inch shells, which is 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 also discontinued Xtrema2, which gained a reputation for shooting far to the left, you would think there would be more testing before the sale.
Although the prices are not dropping, the amount of plastic, unfinished parts, poor machining and haphazard fit and finish in current Beretta product is astonishing. Allegedly, Beretta is the flagship brand of all the Beretta Corporation brands (Benelli, Beretta, Franchi, Stoeger), but that flag is sagging, if not sinking.
BENELLI / FRANCHI
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. Inertia (short recoil operated) guns kick more than gas autos and yes, several gas autos handle a wider spectrum of loads. Nor is the old inertia action a Benelli exclusive, as Browning, Weatherby, Girsan and others now have inertia guns that work well.
Benelli plays too many violins, their Crio System is without meaning or purpose, their Ethos (and the Progressive Comfort system) is less than stellar, but the Montefeltro / M2 / SBEII / Vinci shotguns are well assembled and generally as reliable as anything out there. The Franchi inertia guns, essentially the Stoeger version made correctly, are now produced at the Benelli-Urbino facility and with the exception of the peculiarly notched, hard to replace recoil pad, are desirable guns.
For the low initial cost, the Mossberg 930 12 gauge autoloader to beat. It is on the heavy side, which is both a blessing and a curse, depending on how you want to use it. 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 / WINCHESTER
Browning and Winchester are among 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 will not give you a headache if you look at them and their gas operated guns (Browning Silver, Gold and Maxus; Winchester SX2 and SX3) have long been solid products, despite the annoyances of heavy triggers and poorly performing and/or mis-marked choke tubes. Browning Activ Piston actioned autoloaders have always been remarkably soft shooting for their weight class.
FABARM / CAESAR GUERINI
Caesar Guerini has long had an inertia gun, the Roman, which is not available in the US. 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 US. There are 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 and lightened autoloader that is an 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. This 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 eight pounds or so and as a 12 gauge field gun it is rather ponderous. Remington, throughout numerous ownership and management changes, has been unable to replace the Model 1100. Today, autoloading enthusiasts seem to want stock 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, a 3 inch, 12 gauge autoloader that does not weigh eight pounds 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 will 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 regulations. As a result, whatever standards they adhere to is unknown. Weatherby has done a good job working with ATA to bring over good quality shotguns with Weatherby's own standards enforced 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.
Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.