The Search for the Seven Pound (or lighter) Twelve Gauge Autoloader

By Randy Wakeman

As it turns out, there are not that many lightweight autoloading shotguns. Although Jack O'Connor and others have long written they would not hunt upland game with any shotgun that weighs over seven pounds, fun to shoot, lightweight 12 gauge autoloaders have been in short supply. A twenty gauge is no guarantee of light weight, for the original Browning Gold 20 weighs seven pounds and the Remington 1100 Sporting 20 came in at eight pounds, as is appropriate for a competition shotgun.

When you actually use them, the seven pound goal grows more distant, for you can add in a quarter pound or more for the three shotshells in your gun's magazine. Rightly or wrongly, many prior lightweight attempts have ceased production in 12 gauge, such as the Franchi 48AL. Steel shot has played a role, for three inch chambers are now considered mandatory for 12 gauge field guns where lead shot is prohibited and three inch "Roman candle" shells are decidedly uncomfortable to shoot in a seven pound shotgun. (Stick with 2-3/4 inch field loads in any lightweight shotgun. -Editor)

The problem is best exemplified by a friend of mine, Dave, who decided to purchase a new Benelli Ultralight. Naturally, any hunting gun has to be comfortable enough to make it through a couple rounds of sporting clays. (Attempting to practice on live game is sad, if not irresponsible.) It did not take long for Dave to dump his B-UL in disgust and give his bashed, bruised, pounded-on shoulder a chance to heal.

The Benelli Ultralight I tested with a 24 inch barrel weighed in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces. A great-handling gun, the recoil was too much. The Browning Kinematic A5 in walnut Hunter trim came in at 6 pounds 8 ounces, lighter than advertised. It proved to be a very hard gun to love.

The 6 pound 7 ounce Benelli Ethos did not fare much better. The Ethos lacked the choke problems of the A5, but it has an excessively heavy trigger, at 6.25 pounds, and the pogo-stick Progressive Comfort stock gimmick isn't all it is cracked up to be. The heavy trigger, heavy safety, over-rated recoil reduction and high price all combined to make the Ethos a lackluster shotgun.

More to the point, the tested 28 inch barreled Beretta A400, sans Kick-Off, weighs 6 pounds 13 ounces unloaded, as verified by my electronic scale. This is about a half pound heavier than advertised. The A400 actually fared well, but the impossible to match fake wood, the overall plasticky construction and Beretta's poor customer service are enough to dampen any premature enthusiasm on my part.

Then there were two. The Winchester-branded SX3 had the traditionally poor Browning autoloader trigger, breaking at a higher weight than the entire gun. Selling at $500 or so less than most Beretta A400 models, there is plenty of room for a trigger job and a couple of aftermarket chokes. The Active-Valve action has been around since 1993 and at the thousand dollar price point (which varies), it has perhaps been the most sensible upland 12 gauge autoloader to consider, at least until this year.

The recently-released Fabarm L4S Initial Hunter, so far, looks to be the pick of the litter. It is finished better than the SX3, with a better grade of walnut and bluing. It needs no trigger work or aftermarket chokes and the only modification indicated was replacing the hard 12mm butt plate with the Fabarm USA factory 22mm recoil pad. This puts it in the same general category as the SX3 in terms of felt recoil. As there is nothing in the butt stock, the Fabarm is the easiest to clean of the pack. The base model is discount priced at an enticing $1100, with the best warranty/customer service combination.

One of the last three, the A400 (non Kick-Off), SX3, or L4S, should be the shotgun that speaks to you and be the autoloader that you will enjoy carrying in the field. It should not be a problem to shoot the local skeet range or sporting clays course, either.

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Copyright 2015, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.