The Best sub-$1000 Inertia Shotguns (Based on Fall 2017 Prices)

By Randy Wakeman

What many people like about recoil-operated "inertia action" autoloading shotguns is the very low maintenance. What folks don't particularly love is paying $1700 or more for a very cheap to produce plastic shotgun, even if it supposed to be made of highly polished plastic by old world craftsmen.

The Bruno Civolani patents, originally purchased by Benelli and then acquired by Beretta when Beretta acquired Benelli, have expired. Anyone who wants to make an inertia gun can do so, without licensing fees or legal entanglements. The firearms industry is doing just that.

As a result of the greatly increased competition, inertia guns are now more affordable than ever before. Here is a look at several inertia guns that are worthy of your consideration in 12 gauge, 3 inch chamber trim.

Benelli M2 American ($950 in camo)

The recently introduced Benelli American M2 sneaks in at just under $1000, often discount priced at $949 - $999. It is the stripper version of the M2, coming in a cardboard box with just one choke tube. It doesn't have the Comfortech stock, but instead has a conventional, less flexible thermoplastic stock in its place along with a cheaper recoil pad. No shims are supplied. These economies lower the price by $300 - $400 as compared to the standard M2 Comfortech models, a substantial amount, so if you like the way it fits you, it is worth a look.

Weatherby Element ($630 in camo)

The lowest-priced shotgun of these four models is not a matter of opinion; the Weatherby Element clearly is the bargain of the batch. If low initial purchase price is your primary goal, the Weatherby Element wins.

The Weatherby Element Waterfowler in 12 gauge can be had for a low as $630. While most synthetic inertia guns are right at seven pounds, the Weatherby as tested is a bit heavier than most at 7-1/4 pounds.

Made by ATA of Turkey, it is essentially the ATA Neo, but with Weatherby's added quality control. It has what I consider to be the best stock feel, Weatherby's Griptonite layer of rubber over the thermoplastic stock. The Element takes standard Browning Invector style choke tubes.

The Weatherby is not perfect, though, as the trigger is on the heavy side, the safety is on the dinky side and the curved recoil pad is not the best, nor is it easy to replace. Despite the minor niggles, the Weatherby Element is a desirable, perfectly reliable shotgun and the price is attention-getting.

Franchi Affinity / Affinity 3 ($800 in camo)

The Franchi Affinity is essentially the Stoeger version of the inertia action, with the mainspring under the forearm, around the magazine tube, not in the butt stock. Made at the Benelli facility in Urbino, the newest Franchi Affinity 3 has a larger charging handle, slightly larger loading port and a bigger bolt release than the original Affinity. Why this minor change is called a redesign is anyone's guess, but the several Affinity models I've tested have been solid performers.

The Affinity 3 still retains the strangely cut TSA pad that is not particularly good and can be a real headache to attempt to replace. It takes the common and popular Beretta Mobil-chokes.

The Affinity is a good gun and if they would get rid of the TSA pad, it would have far more appeal. Still, for a Beretta family inertia gun, it is the best value currently available.

Retay Arms Masai Mara EVO Camo ($850 in camo)

The Retay Arms Masai Mara is the newest to the American market, having been imported since September, 2017. It is easily the best presented of this group, with a locking hard case, five choke tubes, shims, a snap cap and so forth. Warranty work, if needed, is handled by Briley.

The Retay Masai Mara is the best built of these four shotguns, with a machined alloy trigger group and alloy trigger guard; all of the other guns are plastic in these areas, with visible mold lines. The push-button, quick release trigger group makes full cleaning in the field easy, with no pins or springs to lose.

The Masai Mara also has a machined, removable ejector that Retay is proud of, although ejector problems with any of the models discussed here are rare. While the safety button is not as tiny as the little triangular affair of the Weatherby, the round Masai Mara safety could use some enlarging.

The MM also has a better recoil pad than the rest of the crop. It does not have a wacky profile like the Franchi pad, or the curved profile of the Weatherby. As a result, it is easy to replace with an aftermarket pad, if desired.

The choke tube system is Retay's version of the Benelli Crio Plus choke tubes, but Crio Plus choke tubes will not fit. Trulock choke tubes is expected to have aftermarket choke tubes available in short order. Since the Retay "MaraChoke" is not common, it is a good thing that the Masai Mara comes complete with five chokes tubes in its lockable hard case.

Retay Arms is based in Turkey and they do the metalwork and machining. The parts that they source are all from high-end, mostly Italian, vendors. These include Minelli stocks, Cervellati recoil pads and Megaline hard cases. This is a bit unusual, for many imported shotguns tend to use whatever is cheapest that month.

Synthetic stocked models start at $799 MSRP and their "luxury walnut" models start at $990 MSRP. The oiled finished walnut stocks are exceptional, so if you are a well-figured walnut fan the oiled walnut models are going to be hard for you to pass up. The walnut model I tested was lighter than the synthetic camo, at 6-3/4 pounds. For the upland hunter, lighter weight and walnut is an excellent combination.

Summary and Conclusion

I would not have a problem hunting with any of these four shotguns. In terms of low price, the Weatherby element in black synthetic (not camo) has a street price of $550 and that is a bargain no matter how you look at it.

In terms of the complete package, with all the included bells and whistles, the Masai Mara is the most satisfying. Even though the oil-finished walnut Masai Mara models are not the cheapest in the Masai Mara line, they are the best-looking inertia guns in the thousand dollar and under category.

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Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.