Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down on Autoloading Shotguns

By Randy Wakeman

I've been asked many, many times to give a brief thumbs up or thumbs down verdict on several firearms. Since this is so very rarely done, I'll take a stab at it. I've always found it to be a bit frustrating to read a product review in which no clear impression is ever arrived at.

As this is written, late in 2013, I'm mindful that the new 2014 models are soon to be announced. Things can change in a hurry. Anyway, here we go, the thumbs up autoloaders followed by the thumbs down category, in alphabetical order. You'll note that there are more thumbs-up models than thumbs-down offerings and a few companies managed to hit both categories.

Thumbs Up


Of the crop of new autoloaders that hit the market more or less together in 2010, the Vinci has proved to be one of the most innovative and hassle-free. While the aesthetics may dismay, it has good shell handling, a reasonable seven pound weight and a ComforTech stock that is a huge improvement in shooting comfort over a conventional stock.


Although the Maxus retains the heavy triggers of most current Browning autoloaders, it is one of the softest-shooting seven pound autoloaders out there. It is well-finished in the Hunter and other walnut stocked versions and is Browning's best autoloading shotgun.


The best made, most fully featured autoloading target gun on the market today, with the most non-gunsmithing user adjustments, the softest recoil and backed by the best customer service team in the industry.


A well-built inertia shotgun with a good trigger. The only cause for lament is the goofy notched recoil pad that makes aftermarket additions problematic. It is priced right and functions beautifully.


Extremely well-built at an attractive price, the 12 gauge only MC 312 is one of the latest inertia autoloaders. It is a seven pound autoloader that is essentially maintenance-free. It handles 1 ounce, 1180 fps loads right out of the box.


The Mossberg 930 is a value-priced model that has a better trigger and a lower price than many would think possible. A moderately heavy model, it defines the all-around gas autoloader.


After a very poor launch saddled with an instant recall, the Versa-Max has been improved to the point where it merits serious consideration for the goose pit. Pushing eight pounds and with an extremely thick recoil pad, Remington's gas gun is a very soft shooter and is now available in a Sportsman basic version that is easier on the wallet than the initial offering. It took three years, but this is the best Remington autoloader to be introduced since 1963.


In either 20 or 12 gauge, this ATA made autoloader is one of the best imports I've used in some time. Easy on the eyes and shoulder alike, it has features you don't find very often: authentic walnut stock, decent trigger, extremely light weight and a better than average recoil pad. Weatherby has done a very good job of continually improving this line and they stand behind their product.


The SX3 (and Browning Silver) share the same action and can save you a few pesos compared the Maxus, if you like the raised rib (SX3) and can do without the speed loading feature. Pleasantly soft-shooting.

Thumbs Down


Full of gimmicks, including fake plasta-wood finishes, pogo stick plastic kick-off, a shot counter by Nintendo (in the Xcel model) and another choke tube system that improves nothing, the A400 line is an advance to the rear. Nagging problems with soft parts remain. It defines 500 years unmarred by progress and is over-priced. The weak one year Beretta limited warranty (three years with a peculiar "within 30 days" registration scheme) is not confidence inspiring, in particular when compared to the seven years from Franchi and the ten years from Benelli. Overly hollow stocks that are difficult to fit, finishes impossible to match and horrifically over-priced extra barrels ($799) all combine to make the A400 series one that has caused dedicated 391 and 390 Beretta aficionados to shake their collective heads and go elsewhere.


While quite functional, a ridiculously heavy trigger, harsh recoil (despite a fine pad), incomprehensible choke tube system and high price combine to leave one with a sense that it could have been done a lot better. While not a disaster, the new A5 is a very hard shotgun to love.

CZ 712 and CZ 912

While CZ-USA is a fine company, their Huglo (of Turkey) made autoloaders are poorly finished, jam-prone and aren't improving. It is the type of product you'll have to buy twice and that is no bargain.


A price-point gun with a generally dismal track record that makes many wish they had gone elsewhere, to the Franchi Affinity, Girsan or others that offer a clearly better-built product. Heavy rib, heavy trigger and overly heavy guns are part and parcel of the Stoeger line. For the same dollars, or a just a few dollars more, you can do much better.

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Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.