Retay Arms Masai Mara Dark Black 12 Gauge Autoloading Shotgun
Two years ago I heard from Retay Arms (www.retayarms.com) about their forthcoming 12 gauge autoloader that was then approaching final development. Now, I finally have in my hands the first Masai Mara (MM) shotgun ever to be imported into the United States. Apparently, this shotgun is named after the Masai Mara National Reserve, the renowned 580 square mile park in Kenya.
The Masai Mara is Retay Arms re-imagining of the Bruno Civolani inertia shotgun popularized by Benelli. The example I have here is the Masai Mara Super Black, also called the Dark Black, one of the six Masai Mara variations shown on their website.
The Masai Mara Dark Black is not offered as an entry-level shotgun, quite the opposite. Retay Arms feels this is a luxury level inertia gun, a better Benelli than Benelli. My example has truly stunning walnut, what several makers would call AA grade. The Masai Mara goes up against models like the Browning A5 Hunter High Grade (2017 MSRP $1859.99) and the Weatherby Element Deluxe that has an MSRP of $1099.00.
The Masai Mara Super Black has a 2017 MSRP of $949. The test gun has a 26 inch barrel, weighs 6 pounds 11 ounces and has a trigger that breaks at about 5-1/2 pounds. The Masai Mara comes in a plastic hard case with a snap cap, gun oil, five choke tubes and a full battery of stock adjustment shims.
Three of the five choke tubes are steel shot rated, while the Improved Modified and Full choke tubes are lead-only. Although the Marachoke tubes look like Benelli Crio Plus tubes, Crio Plus tubes will not screw-in; they have a different thread. The Mara comes with a five year warranty.
Features and Benefits
The Masai Mara is extremely easy to load, Retay has done a good job here. The MM features a removable ejector, which may be of some benefit, although I have not had any ejector issues with inertia autoloaders.
The most remarkable innovation is a tool-less, quick detachable trigger mechanism. Just push a button and the trigger guard swings right out. It works like a charm. The MM has a generous, oversized charging handle on the bolt and the recoil pad is also more generous than on some guns.
As far as niggles, the cross-bolt safety button is small, far too small for my taste. It is odd that with the longer bolt handle and a nicely sized bolt release button, Retay got so skimpy with cross-bolt safety.
At just under 6-3/4 pounds, the Retay MM looks to be a good weight for pheasant chasing, or a day on the dove field. It is quick to shoulder, nicely balanced and the high grade walnut stock is a standout.
There is no question that the MM is extremely well turned-out. The wood to metal fit is excellent, the bolt is generously chrome plated, the action is extremely smooth and the checkering is cleanly done.
Whenever a new model is introduced, invariably the question that I am asked the most is, "What is so good about it?" Naturally, the autoloading shotgun is not completely reinvented every year, regardless of what ink the paper holds. This is the case here, for the basic platform is the Bruno Civolani floating bolt design action from 1966.
It is called the "Gun with a floating breech bolt," as in US3447417 A. The goal of the design is discussed in the patent:
"The prior art fixed barrel guns have the disadvantage that prior to firing it is required to effect a manual adjustment of the gun, which is necessary for prearranging it to stand the pressure that will be generated by the cartridge during explosion in order not to damage the breech frame during recoil and to facilitate the ejection of the cartridge case."
"It is an object of this invention to obviate said disadvantage by providing a weapon by which it is possible to safely and repeatedly fire any light charge or heavy charge cartridge with excellent results, with a substantial reduction in recoil with respect to other guns and with a regular and easy ejection of the cartridge case."
In reality, the objects of the over fifty year old design have been only partially fulfilled. Many Civolani-actioned guns have a problem with light loads, particularly the 3-1/2 inch chambered guns, the less than effortless loading has long been referred to as the "Benelli Thumb" and the propensity of the action to not go into battery is known as the "Benelli Click." Along the way, many models have been made that are more plastic-filled and polymer-adorned every year.
At under seven pounds, the Masai Mara sheds over a quarter of a pound, and up to half a pound, compared to many of the 12 gauge inertia guns that I have reviewed. The Franchi Affinity 12 gauge (plastic stock) weighs seven pounds, the three inch chambered Benelli Vinci weighs 7.1 pounds, the Weatherby Element Max-5 camo is 7-1/4 pounds, the disappointing Breda Damasco ($2995 MSRP) is right at seven pounds, the Girsan MC312 walnut is seven pounds and the camo version is 7 pounds 2 ounces.
The Masai Mara has a better build quality than many competitors. For example, the trigger guard and magazine cap are both aluminum alloy, not plastic. It comes with a better grade of walnut (and it isn't a fake or artificially enhanced pseudo-walnut) than shotguns that are quite a bit pricier.
At the same time, inertia-land is an increasingly crowded field. Retay Arms is using a couple of model designations that are copy-cat genre designations: the Super Black and Super Sport are far too close to the well-established Benelli Super Black Eagle and Super Sport models in name to give Retay any fresh brand identity.
My test model lacks the Masai Mara wildebeest logos on both sides of the receiver and sling studs are installed; not what I am looking for on an upland shotgun. My understanding is that the imported models will have slings included, but not installed on the walnut models.
The most logical comparison to the Masai Mara in the United States is to the Weatherby Element series, made by ATA in Turkey. In order for the Masai Mara to make a splash in the United States, it will have to be priced at essentially the same level as the Weatherby models. Weatherby, of course, has a large edge in brand familiarity to American shooters.
As of this writing, the Weatherby Element Deluxe 12 gauge walnut is widely available for about $800 in polished blue. The Weatherby Element Waterfowler (camo, plastic stock) can be had for about $640.
If Retay Arms can compete directly with the Weatherby, I feel they will do well. In that case, the hard case (rather than a cardboard box), five choke tubes (as opposed to three), quick release trigger assembly and alloy trigger guard and alloy forearm cap show obviously greater value.
The Masai Mara also has a flat butt stock end, making it easy to change recoil pads, as compared to the concave butt of the Element. Although I have carped about the smallish safety of the Masai Mara, the Weatherby safety is smaller yet: a truly dinky triangular little affair.
Value-minded consumers should have no problem coming up with $800 for a smoother loading, lighter, beautifully walnut stocked Masai Mara vs. a $1400 plastic-stocked Benelli M2. It appears that Retay is, indeed, going to be competitive. (Of course, dealers set their own prices.)
The Retay Masai Mara was tested with the standard array of loads I use for most all three inch chambered 12 gauge inertia guns, starting with economical 1180 fps, one ounce Federal Top Gun ammo and moving up from there. Prior to firing, the gun was given a couple of drops of BreakFree ClP along the bolt track, but there was no break-in whatsoever.
Ejection was reassuringly positive with one ounce, 1080 fps loads and naturally no problem with heavier payloads. The Masai Mara loads smoothly and had no problems returning into battery. In other words, the Masai Mara is not plagued with the Benelli Thumb or the Benelli Click.
I like the detachable trigger array, although popping off a complete trigger guard is not a big deal, requiring only knocking out one or two pins with a punch to accomplish. I like the alloy trigger guard and alloy magazine cap. Cheap plastic trigger guards with unsightly, visible mold lines get old in a hurry.
I also like the 8mm wide rib, which is a bit wider than the common 6mm hunting ribs. Retay Arms is generous with the hard case, included shims and five choke tubes. It is a nice step up from the common cardboard box and three choke tube routine. The easy, smooth loading and long charging handle are both welcome, while the Turkish walnut stock is truly gorgeous.
The Masai Mara is an excellent weight for a field gun. With a 26 inch barrel it is neutrally balanced and shoulders quickly and effortlessly. It is a comfortable gun to shoot with one ounce, 1200 fps loads for the dove field and for a bit of casual clays. As a dedicated clays gun, it is a bit on the light side.
As mentioned previously, I feel the safety could be more generously sized. Another niggle is the front, red fiber-optic bead is too big; I would prefer a smaller brass bead.
The walnut forearm is held by the forearm nut / spring array flush against the receiver. Although this is a minor point and the forearm does not rattle, you can inadvertently twist it a bit, as there is no in-letting to prohibit a small amount of rotation. I would prefer a more solid lock-up between the receiver and the forearm that allowed no movement at all.
Finally, the supplied multi-language owners manual is poorly formatted and extremely clumsy to try to read. An English only manual would be far more useful, even if it was offered as a PDF download.
As a low-maintenance upland hunting gun, the Masai Mara sells against the Weatherby Element and the Franchi Affinity 3. Compared to the Weatherby Element Deluxe, the Masai Mara has a more conventional recoil pad and the less than generous Masai Mara safety is still bigger than the minuscule Weatherby safety.
Versus the Franchi, the Masai Mara wins easily, due to its high grade walnut and a more generous recoil pad. The Masai Mara also has less plastic, better finish and is a higher level of shotgun compared to the utilitarian Franchi.
The Masai Mara action is the same throughout the line. The real head turner, if it looks as good in person as it does in the pictures, is the Masai Mara Comfort model. It sounds like this high grade, polished blue model will be available for just under a thousand dollars.
At a quarter pound lighter than the Benelli M2 12 gauge and the Franchi Affinity 12 gauge, the Masai Mara is more pleasant to carry, a bit better balanced and faster to shoulder. Compared to the Weatherby Element in plastic-stock / camo trim, the Masai Mara shaves off a full half pound, making it a better upland gun where significant walking is involved.
The only thing I need to do to the Masai Mara to get it ready for the field is install a smaller front bead. Other than that, it is completely hunt ready. I have not seen or handled a Masai Mara Adventure, or any of the plastic stocked models, but based on the Retay Arms description they are a bit lighter than the walnut models. Well figured walnut is hard to find at an economical price, though, and it is the quality of the wood that helps the Masai Mara Dark Black stand out.
Based on its overall build quality, exceptional walnut, hard case, five choke tubes, included shims, and five year warranty, the Masai Mara Dark Black is a winner in my book. it is a great looking, low maintenance, easy to carry, reliable hunting gun at a beguiling price. Thomas Ferney & Co. is the United States distributor for Retay Arms (www.thomasferney.com).
Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.