Take off the forend and off comes the trigger group, shell carrier and magazine assembly. The stock can be changed in a snap with no tools, and options include standard butt, pistol grip, turkey grip and slug-steady grip, all with adjustable length of pull and drop, cast and comb height. Adjustments are made in minutes with no tools.
The Benelli inertia system is in a straight line with the barrel. All fouling exits the bore. This "in-line" concept has the ultra simplicity and reliability of the AR design, and the recoil is as soft as any other semi-auto.
It goes on: beveled magazine-loading port; bolt lock lever; V-grip forearm and magazine cap. The Vinci is without a doubt the most innovative, radically designed shotgun in history. You have to experience this shotgun to believe how well it performs. We've come to expect innovation from Benelli. They brought us inertia systems, rotating bolt heads and a host of other breakthroughs, so this new design is yet another breakthrough. There will be 26- through 28-inch barrel options with an MSRP at around $1,450. >> Benelli Vinci website
John A. Browning's successful recoil-operated shotgun was the first semi-auto. He tried to peddle the idea to Winchester, but they declined, proving smart people sometimes do dumb things. So Browning went overseas to Liege, Belgium, to an outfit called Fabrique National, and the Belgium Brownings are sought after yet today.
Browning shotguns always have been ahead of the curve, and the Maxus is keeping the tradition going. The Maxus stacks up to everything Browning knows about semi-auto in one gun: the softest recoil pad on an autoloader; a lightning-fast, creep-free trigger; a 2 ½-inch tapered forcing cone; and the power-drive gas system that will cycle 2¾ to 3½-inch light or heavy loads interchangeably. Takedown is fast, and the magazine plug removal is simple. Barrels run 26 through 30 inches in a wide selection of camo patterns, with a carbon-fiber barrel soon to be released.
I spent five days in Manitoba this past year, alternating between the new Maxus and the Browning SX3. Numerous geese were dropping out of the sky, and the shooting was hard and fast. In one set, we took 53 geese in 53 minutes, and barrels got hot. This was torture testing. Both guns function flawlessly, but the Maxus is without question the softer shoot. The Maxus is the finest semi-auto shotgun Browning has ever made, and this one didn’t go to Belgium. >> Browning Maxus website
Mossberg brought us the 3½-inch shell as an answer to steel’s shortcomings, and the 935 magnum auto was designed from the ground up to handle the big muscle. In recent years, however, loads, including steel, have become far more efficient as new wads and loads up the bar in performance. Some of us just don't need the recoil of the 3½-inch loads.
Enter the 930, a semi-auto designed to handle 2¾ and 3-inch loads from ultra-light skeet to 3-inch full house. Features include a ported barrel to keep the muzzle down and a "dump" quick-empty button to clear the magazine. Camo or black with 24- to 28-inch barrel choices are available. Their two-barrel waterfowl and rifled deer barrel set might be the best semi-auto buy today at an MSRP starting at $622. >> Mossberg 930 website
Remington 870 and 887
From Remington, the big news is in the proven 870 and its newest offshoot, the Model 887. In the 870 line, the 870 Express Super Mag Waterfowl will cycle 2¾-, 3- and 3½-inch rounds interchangeably, so “stacking” is now a no-brainer. Camo is the new Bottomland. The Super Cell gel recoil pad along with Hi Viz sights and extended waterfowl chokes designed for tungsten loads are standard.
The 870 is an enviable design among pump enthusiasts. Its lineage traces back to the Model 10 of 1907, redesigned to the Model 17 in about 1921, again redesigned to the Model 31, and after the war, another redesign geared to manufacturing economy and efficiency. These redesigns eventually brought us the 870, probably the most popular pump shotgun in history. Well, the 870 just went through another metamorphosis. In an attempt to make it a bit less costly and easier to manufacture, the 887 was created.
The 887 Nitro magnum is an armor-clad workhorse designed to handle exteme conditions. The solid steel receiver and all exposed metal surfaces are covered in Armo Lok. Add in a composite stock, and you have a gun that can spend wet time in the bottom of the duck boat with no ill effects. The stock design, recoil pad and chamber dimensions make this very soft-kicking for a fixed-breech gun. I had occasion to shoot the new 887 a lot this year, and this may sound like heresy, but I like it better than the three 870s I own. The Model 887 is a great new gun worthy of a close look. At $400 to $500 MSRP depending on options, this is a lot of pump for the money. >> Remington Shotguns website
Legacy Sports International has a new line of shotguns, new to Legacy Sports, but an old favorite to the shotgunning crowd — the Verona. It is a classic name and will now include semi-autos. Verona inertia–operated, semi-auto shotguns will be available in 12- and 20-gauge, with either wood or synthetic stocks. Wood versions have a 3-inch chamber and will be available in three receiver finishes: blued, nickel and grey. Synthetic versions are chambered for both 3-inch and 3½-inch shells (12-gauge only), with a 4+1 magazine capacity. Prices range from $1,199 to $1,299. >> Verona website
This was one of the most delightful and unexpected surprises. We were at the Kessler Canyon Ranch, the wild and planted bird action was as good as it gets, and I was carrying a Weatherby Turkish-made semi-auto, the SA08 in 12-gauge. I could not miss! This shotgun popped to my shoulder with the balance and feel of a custom gun, and I beat it up, firing box after box of 2¾- and 3-inch light to heavy loads without a hint of a failure to function.
A lot of thought went into this import before they graced it with the Weatherby name. Features include a drop-out trigger for hassle-free cleaning, magazine cut-out for on-the-fly load changes, chrome-lined barrels with a lengthened forcing cone and an external dual-valve system that lets you choose reliable cycling for the lightest 2 3/4-inch loads or heavyweight 3½-inchers. A chrome-plated bolt, elegant wood with fine-cut checkering that is Weatherby all the way, and three choke tubes make this gun the best-kept secret bargain today. The $699 price tag is sure to shake up the competitors, as this great shotgun will run with the best. The gun is available in 12- or 20-gauge with 26- or 28-inch barrels. There will be a lot more Weatherbys in the duck blinds this year. >> Weatherby SA-08 website
Wherever ducks are hunted, the SX3 will be represented. The classic from Winchester is available with all the standard features, including self-adjusting valve, Perma Cote, alloy magazine tube and Inflex recoil pad. This year the standby will be offered in Mossy Oak's new Infinity as well as a field version in black composite. MSRP about $1,200. >> Winchester SX3 website
The I-12 is Franchi's answer to the high-tech push for lower felt recoil. They've matched a fully free-floating bolt with the inertia drive system of their sister company. The inertia system eliminates the need for gas pistons, valves, and the associated hardware, and results in a slimmer, lighter frame with a much lower profile. The action will reliably cycle and eject everything from the lightest 1 1/8-ounce target load up to the 3-inch magnums interchangeably.
Franchi claims the radical new recoil pad design, the TSA Twin Shock Absorber, with a pre-dampener then a full dampener, will reduce felt recoil by a whoppin' 44 percent.
The I-12 is available in black or camo, walnut or synthetic, with barrel choices running from 24 to 28 inches. It holds four plus one, comes with five choke tubes and depending on your choices, will run from $839 to $939 MSRP. >> Franchi I-12 website
Savage Stevens 350 Pump
Savage continues to break new ground, and the introduction of two new shotguns will move them back into the shotgun market. Their new over-and-under will be of interest to the uplanders, but waterfowlers need to keep an eye on their new Stevens 350 Pump. This imported 12-gauge has a black synthetic stock and a full vent rib on the 28-inch carbon steel barrel. It comes with three choke tubes and will retail for a suggested $267. That's right; $267 for a back-up or starter gun. I haven't seen or fired the new Savage Stevens pump yet, but given the track record of the recent Savage intro, it promises to be a bulldog of a gun at a bargain price. >> Stevens 350 Pump website