Eight Years Later, an Improbable Comparison Revisited: Beretta A400 vs. Browning Maxus vs. Benelli Vinci vs. Fabarm L4S vs. Remington V3 vs. Retay Arms Masai Mara
Those who sigh, "there isn't much new" in autoloading shotguns are pretty much correct. Even though it is now eight years after the burst of new autoloading shotguns (A400, Maxus, Vinci), Browning has gone to sleep, Beretta has stuck with the A400 and filled out the line and the Benelli Vinci was not nearly as successful as hoped for. The Maxus and the Vinci still have not made it past being relegated to 12 gauge only.
These six models have evoked the vast majority of autoloading shotgun reader mail, which is the reason for this revisited comparison article. (See [https://www.chuckhawks.com/improbable_shotgun_comparison.htm] for the original review.)
The "improbable" part is due to the disparity in the models themselves. Readers have suggested they want one of the these as an all-around shotgun, "all-around" meaning different things to different people.
Although in some ways this comparison is apples to oranges, a lot of folks want only one new juicy piece of scattergun to bite into and these six are among those often considered. I'll do my best, starting with the easily measured attributes and moving on to the more esoteric areas.
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT (MEASURED)
CHOKE TUBES SUPPLIED
Note: All Fabarm chokes are rated for steel shot, the supplied chokes with the Remington V3, including Full, are all rated for steel. In the case of all other models, choke designations tighter than Modified are lead only.
VENT RIB AND SIGHTS
SHELL INTENSITY CAPABILITY W/O ADJUSTMENTS
Notes: The Maxus safety is, for me, too close to the right hand. It is too easy to bump off the safety with the side of my right forefinger while carrying. The Vinci safety is too far in front of the trigger.
Note: The Maxus does not come to the shoulder as well, for me, as the others. This is due primarily to the poorly designed Inflex pad. Rather than having a flat face, the factory Browning pad is similar to their X-bolt rifle pad. Fine on a rifle, but it is dished out more like a trap gun pad than a field pad. Good pad, but a poor profile for a field gun.
Based on my own experiences, I would rate the respective customer service departments as follows:
The Remington V3 is the softest shooting, followed by the Maxus. With 1-7/8 oz. 3 inch loads, the gap widens in favor of the V3.
LOWEST PRICE TO HIGHEST PRICE
The lowest-price configuration available for any of these three shotguns would be the three-inch chambered version of the Maxus Stalker. The Vinci and the 3-1/2 inch Maxus models are almost identically priced. Today (2018), a Maxus Wicked Wing is $1869.99 and the Maxus Ultimate is $1939.99 MSRP. The discount retail price on a three inch Beretta A400 Action Bronze Walnut 12 Ga 28 Inch is about $1400.
Right now, the hands-down bargain of the group would be the Remington V3 in black synthetic that you can pick up for $649 discount price. Price is what you pay, value is what you get. The best values are the Remington V3, Fabarm L4S Hunter and the Retay Arms Masai Mara.
HOW DO YOU RATE THESE THINGS?
A good way to approach unbiased evaluation is the "Shoe Test," as in "What if the shoe was on the other foot?" If a Beretta came in a Browning box, or vice-versa, or if a Masai Mara came in a Benelli box, would that change things for you? If so, there are preconceived notions present to set aside.
My Dad, for example, grew up with Winchester Model 97s and for much of his adult life he used a Browning A-5 standard weight with a plain barrel. Whenever I was testing and evaluating a new Browning, it got his special attention. My new Browning A-500G was a particularly miserable shotgun. Dad was surprised, because "it was a Browning."
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The lowest priced shotgun of this group is the Remington V3, with the lowest recoil and with the a top level trigger, the roller trigger from the 105CTi. In its current form, it is the heaviest of this test group, if not by much, at 7-1/8 pounds. However, the 26 inch walnut V3 is 7-1/4 pounds as tested.
For clays or stationary shooting, you may appreciate the weight, but if you are doing a lot of walking for flushing birds, you will appreciate it less. The bluing on the black synthetic and walnut models is matte and does not have the polish, for example, of the Fabarm L4S. The V3 does not come with stock adjustment shims, unlike every other autoloader in this comparison.
The lightest gun of the group, at 6-3/4 pounds, is the Fabarm L4S. The Fabarm is the most pleasant to carry, the fastest to the shoulder, has a very good field trigger and is backed by superlative customer service. At $1295 MSRP, it is priced well below competitive Maxus, A400 Xplor Action, and Vinci models. It is a better made gun, with cleaner machining, oil-finished walnut stock and generously chrome-plated internals. This all combines to make it an excellent value, a good looker and my favorite 12 gauge pheasant / upland shotgun.
The click-free Retay Arms Masai Mara in its oiled walnut and polished blue configuration has a notably better action than the standard Benelli and other inertia guns, with a better grade of walnut and bluing, along with less plastic. The trigger guard is machined alloy. It also does better with light loads than most inertia guns, comes with more accessories and in a better case. I have already tested three examples, with the fourth Masai Mara (a 26 inch Bronze Pure model) on its way. It is half the price of a Benelli Ethos, yet it is a better shotgun and a hugely superior value.
While the first Beretta A400's had problems, the current production (at least in 12 gauge) has improved. The warranty is hardly the best, as Beretta factory service is poor, but if you use Cole Gunsmithing as your Beretta authorized service center, you will probably be happy. Although the safety is at the front of the trigger guard, it is generously sized and not difficult to reach. The A400 Xplor Action (the 3 inch gun) has fake enhanced grain and an excess of thermoplastic in its construction. It is a little too plasticy, a little too gimmicky, a bit skimpy on the warranty and a little too pricey to rate as a good value, but you could do worse.
The Browning Maxus originally had its share of problems: loose forearms, bad triggers and a shell-elevator that was thin, sharp and bloodied a lot of thumbs. Designed as a 3-1/2 inch gun, as was the Vinci, the receiver is excessively long. Most of the teething problems have been addressed over the last eight years, but it still has excessively heavy triggers and poor quality factory chokes. Both areas can be rectified, at a price.
The plain-Jane black plastic / rough matte finished 3 inch Maxus Stalker can be found deeply discounted to $1250 or so, but it needs too much work on the part of the new owner to make it a good performer to consider it a good deal today. Maxus Ultimates can be had for $1700, they are easier on the eyes, but they also need trigger and choke attention.
The Benelli Vinci has been called the ugliest shotgun of the decade. I have hunted mine, I like it more than most folks, but the promised modularity of an endless variety of readily available combs, pads and quick-replaceable tubular magazines has not materialized in all these years. Like the Maxus that also has been out for many years, there has not been enough customer interest to offer anything but 12 gauge guns.
The black matte Vinci models have a reputation for being rust-prone, so if the Vinci is your cup of tea, take a long look at the camo models. Though claimed by Benelli to be "the fastest-shooting, softest-kicking, most reliable lightweight 12-gauge shotgun in the world" it is actually none of the above. It retains the infamous Benelli click, it chokes on some 1 ounce loads, the Fabarm L4S and Beretta A400 both are clearly faster-shooting and the 3 inch Vinci is heavier than every model listed here, except the V3. The V3 and the Maxus are both remarkably softer shooting. It is made of highly polished plastic by old world craftsmen.
The winners of this group include the Fabarm L4S Hunter, the Retay Masai Mara and the Remington V3. Nothing is beyond enhancement. The Fabarm L4S needs a composite stock option, the Masai Mara needs a bit larger cross-bolt safety and the Remington V3 needs shims. All three of them beg to be offered in 20 gauge.
An Extremely Honorable Mention
Although this already covers six autoloaders, and I am not attempting to compare everything to everything, I have tested and evaluated three Mossberg 930 12 gauge guns, including the Walnut Field, Waterfowl and Sporting. They all did quite well. Currently, you can get the walnut/blued model for $530. The tested walnut gun weighed in at eight pounds on the nose, with a trigger that broke crisply and consistently at just under five pounds.
The Mossberg 930 is loaded with extra-value features and I mean loaded. The receiver is tapped for a base. The barrel is factory ported. There is a cocking indicator at the front of the trigger guard and it comes with a generous, vented recoil pad. The tang safety is ambidextrous. Sling studs are installed, so you are all set for sling use, if desired, right out of the box.
This model is one of over a dozen configurations currently offered by Mossberg in the 930 basic series. The action is extremely smooth right out of the box. Many of today's autoloaders require shooting-in and rely on some self-burnishing of the action to work smoothly and properly, like a couple of really rough Beretta A300 Outlanders with which I had the displeasure of working. Not so with this Mossberg. It was smooth right out of the box and functioned flawlessly with everything from cheap, one ounce payload promo shells on up.
The Mossberg 930 is significantly heavier than the other seven models covered here. For clays, on the dove field and in the turkey or duck blind that is not much of a factor, but it makes a heavy upland game gun. However, it is soft-shooting and soft on the wallet, as well. It richly deserves a mention.
Copyright 2018 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.