Gas Operated Vs. Recoil Operated Autoloaders, Part 3

By Randy Wakeman


As published in an Ugo Beretta patent, gas-operated autoloading shotguns can have their problems:

“The high recocking speeds translate in high stresses and, consequently, in a decrease of the working life of the shotgun components. In the whole, this results in a short duration of the same shotgun. In the more modern gas-operated shotguns, it has been successfully attempted to obviate the problem of the high recocking speeds by adopting shutter or self-compensating valves, which are able to exhaust the excess gas associated to the firing of the cartridges having a higher gram weight. However, such valves, or venting systems, involve an increase of the mechanics and the costs for the shotgun. Furthermore, the gas-operated systems require a constant maintenance, since the gas which is vented tends to foul unburnt solids, which have to be removed after firing a number of shots.”

However, inertial actioned shotguns have their issues, also mentioned in the same patent:

“The low recocking speed, which is intrinsic of the inertial shotgun, may be a problem, especially when the shotgun frame has a high mass, and the fired cartridge has a low or very low gram weight. The low recocking speed translates in a low shell ejection promptness and a high risk of jamming. Furthermore, the operation of such type of shotgun is highly affected by the user's behavior, particularly by the type of reaction which the user opposes with his/her shoulder to the shotgun stock.”

From the less than enthusiastic description in the Ugo Beretta patent, it sounds likes Mr. Beretta doesn't much care for autoloading shotguns at all. We might be under the impression that shotguns are designed to be strong and to last a long time, but they certainly aren't. (High quality double guns are! -Editor.) They are designed to have fun with, for the most part, and that means light enough in weight to be carried between the hands and swung easily. Shotguns do not need to be strong, in the sense of resisting high pressure, for a shotshell is a low pressure cartridge compared to even a .22 rimfire short.

The cost of shooting isn't just in the shotgun, for a case of cheap Estate target loads runs about $55 in 2013, or twenty-two cents a shot. 50,000 rounds, even if only target loads, is $11,000 and there are clay targets, range fees and so forth on top of that. Prices vary, but a round of skeet may cost you $5, or $10,000 for those 50,000 shots. Now we are at $21,000, more in some areas, more for sporting clays, much more for hunting ammo and so it goes. Of course, we do squander some pesos on food, water and transportation.

Those looking for a snappy answer as to which type of autoloading action is the mythical best won't find much comfort. Some of the most heavily used shotguns on the planet are Argentina outfitters' rental guns, which are 20 gauge more often than not. Those searching for the most reliable autoloading shotgun won't be happy with the answer based on this experience: The inertial Montefeltro and the gas-operated A390 are the two winners, according to Hayes & Hayes.

The Original: The Long Recoil Operated Browning Automatic-Five

The grand achievement of the A-5 was not that it was the best of any breed; it was a new breed, a long recoil operated autoloading shotgun. The most remarkable thing about it is that it worked at all. The shotshells of the day were variable, so it wasn't about firing different loads interchangeably, as much as it was being able to use different brands of shells at all, for shells varied significantly by brand. That it had no competition for fifty years makes it all the more remarkable.

The A-5 cycles faster than either the Remington 1100 or Benelli (Bruno Civolani), actions that came along over sixty years later. It lacks the low recocking speed of the inertia action and gas fouling is not an issue. However, cost of manufacture was an issue and using three inch shells required a whole new receiver, which, in part, helped to end the reign of the A-5 as a production gun. (A barrel that recoiled inches back into the receiver and prevented the use of a full length ventilated rib, the hump back receiver that most found ugly, overly generous drop at comb and the double-shuffle recoil were other factors that helped end the A-5's long reign, once viable alternatives became available. -Editor)

The Current Inertial (Short Recoil) Actions

While the basic action function hasn't changed much from the Bruno Civolani design acquired by the (then) Benelli Motorcycle Company, variations continue to appear, such as in the Benelli Raffaello that adds another recoil-attenuating system to this 2950 gram (about 6-1/2 pounds) autoloader. This one is called the "Progressive Comfort." The inertial action remains simple, is cheap to manufacture and low relatively maintenance. The action itself kicks like a fixed breech gun and there is no way around that. (Comfortech and now the Progressive Comfort stock are add-ons that try to soften the recoil jolt.) It cannot handle the wide load intensity spread of the better gas operating systems. Inertial actions can make good hunting guns, but they cannot compete with the better gas guns for high volume shooting, such as trap and skeet shooting.

It is guns like this and the 6-1/2 pound (12 gauge) Browning A5 "Kinematic" inertial offering that have further cemented the demise of the 16 gauge. If you use these 12 gauge guns with classic, one ounce, 16 gauge type shot loads, you'll probably be delighted. If you like a steady diet of heavy payloads, you just might find yourself wishing for a heavier gas gun.

The Current Gas Actions

While at one time an autoloader that actually worked was quite an accomplishment, we sometimes decisionally-challenged shooters continue to confound manufacturers. We always want what physics does not allow: light guns with no recoil. Some clays shooters claim "3/4 ounce of shot is all you need," while some hunters lament that 3-1/2" shells don't hold enough steel and that four inch magnums would be more effective. It has created quite a mess, for a 12 gauge gas auto that functions with 7/8 ounce loads, at least for the most part, has excessive bolt speed, vibration and wear with 1-7/8 ounce or 2 ounce loads. It normally isn't comfortable, either. Thus, we have the pogo stick, recoiling buttstock things that started with the patented Hydro-Coil (featured in Sports Illustrated Sept. 9, 1963), claimed to reduce recoil by as much as 85%. For a while, Hydro-Coil stocks were an option available from Olin-Winchester.

A) Non-compensating Gas Actions

While the Remington Model 58 required user adjustment for "low brass" or "high brass" loads with the Dial-A-Matic cap, shooters sometimes left it at the low setting and promptly blew off the cap via 1-1/2 ounce, 2-3/4" Magnums, or similar, loads. The most popular non-compensating action was the Remington 1100, introduced in 1963. Back in the day when only two 12 gauge loads were common, 1-1/8 ounce load for targets / light birds and 1-1/4 ounce for pheasants / ducks, it did just fine. The later Beretta A302 / A303 / Browning B-80 actions did better, going three or four times as long without cleaning. While also non-compensating, bolt speed is regulated by a barrel change: use a 2-3/4" chambered barrel for target loads through 1-1/4 ounce hunting loads, use a three inch chambered barrel for 1-1/4 ounce, 1330 fps and heavier loads.

The Beretta M4 and Remington Versa-Max, using twin gas pistons, are claimed to be self-regulating, but are not. They claim to be self-cleaning, like most gas shotguns. However, like all gas shotguns, you do have to clean them; some more often than others, that's all.

B) Compensating Gas Actions

Many gas guns required a manual adjustment or a barrel change to operate with different ends of the load spectrum. The Beretta A390 added a secondary gas bleed to the 302 / 303 system, so the three inch chambered guns could handle 1 ounce target loads on up with no adjustments. Apparently aware shooters would be quick to gripe about jamming with pipsqueak loads, the secondary gas bleed springs factory supplied were overly stiff. Cole Gunsmithing fixed that for the 390 (and the later 391) by offering spring kits so you could tune your bolt speed and resultant ejection distance to your loads.

In 1993, the Browning Gold was released with its "Active Valve." With springs integral to the piston itself, it has proved to be a softer shooting action than the Beretta releases. Still, to get the most out of it, F.N. has released different pistons for the heaviest loads.

In 2003, FABARM released its Pulse Piston system, using the gas to expand the elastomeric seal of the piston against the magazine tube to control piston speed. That does away with secondary gas bleeds and associated springs. The result is a gas action with friction compensation hybrid.

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Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.


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