The Beretta A390 / 3901 Shotguns

By Randy Wakeman

Beretta Statesman
The current Beretta 3901 Statesman. Illustration courtesy of Beretta USA Corp.

I believe it was shotgunning's superlative Sultan of Swat, the constantly erupting "Volcano of Knowledge" Bruce Buck, who has explained that the Beretta gas gun line, from the AL-1, AL-2, A300/301/303, A390, AL391, and 3901 has been evolutionary, not revolutionary. As supplied, the A390 is a competent gas operated semi-auto. It differs from the previous Beretta models by adding a secondary gas bleed and featuring a shim adjustable stock that can be tweaked for cast on and cast off, as opposed to the stock drop-only shims available for the A303 and the Browning-marketed B-80.

I've owned, competed and hunted with several 390s and still shoot a pair of them. I personally prefer the A390 to its successor, the 391 series. Rather than this being a reminiscence about an out of production gun, it appears that the 390 is back to stay as the Beretta 3901 American series, which is made in the USA. A bit plainer than my Gold Mallards, round receiver (vs. semi-hump), and lacking the magazine cut-off, it appears to be essentially the same gun and action.

Good to start with, these Berettas come to life with an Allen Timney trigger job. Rich Cole (Cole Gunsmithing, has offered a set of secondary gas bleed springs of varying strength that makes this gun easily tunable to your favorite load with minimum recoil and maximum reliability. From 1 ounce to heavy turkey loads, with just a quick change of the spring you control how fast the secondary gas vents open.

Once you determine what gives you the desired 10 to 12 foot empty hull ejection distance with your gun and your load, felt recoil is reduced, you have positive ejection, yet you won't peen the back of the receiver due to excessive bolt speed. Truly "self-adjusting" gas systems are as common as "self-cleaning" gas systems. I've sure cleaned a lot of them, and I guess cleaning them by one's self is self-cleaning in Italia?

The lack of "O" rings in Beretta gas guns has always been a relief, and they will run a long time as long as you do a good job cleaning the action after extended shooting sessions. Depending on your application, cleaner powders seem to help any gas gun run through cases of shells without a hiccup, and the 390 is no exception.

For trap race games, it hardly matters, as one shot is all you need, and a T&S hull catcher helps save those new STS hulls for you. They have never failed me on the dove field, on the clays courses, or in the goose blind. With enthusiastic use, replacement of the stock spring every couple of years keeps it cycling like new, also available from Rich Cole.

The 3901 American series comes in 12 or 20 gauge with 26" or 28" barrels and three model/finish variations. There is the "Statesman" model with bluing and walnut and, in the continuing race to offer really ugly guns, you can have fake wood film over the traditional canoe paddle Beretta wood (called X-tra Wood, meaning "extra plastic") in a model called the "Ambassador." Then there is the dull-looking synthetic/matte "Citizen" model that reminds me of the "Wally World 390."

The basic specifications for the 12 gauge, 28", 3901 American Statesman are as follows:

  • Cat. code - J390S18
  • Choke - MC3
  • Chamber - 3"
  • Rib - 1/4 x 1/4
  • Weight - 7.19 pounds
  • 2006 MSRP - $898

I'm glad it's back. The Statesman has the most appeal to me, but whatever your personal choice, with a few little Rich Cole adjustments you'll have a gas gun that will last you a long time, if my A390s serve as any precedent.

Back to the Product Review Page

Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.