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Top-Shelf Semi-Autos

In the past few years, four truly innovative new shotguns have been introduced. All four are high-end 12-gauge semi-autos with 3 ½-inch chambers created primarily for waterfowling, and each, in their own way, has broken free from the mold of traditional shotgun design.

This high-quality quartet consists of Browning’s Maxus, Benelli’s Super Vinci, Remington’s Versa Max and Beretta’s A400 Xtreme. Let’s examine some of the innovations that make each of these fantastic four scatterguns so special.

Browning Maxus

One look at Browning’s Maxus immediately reveals an overt departure from the traditional norm. Gone is the bulky, screw-on magazine cap, replaced with the sleek Speed Lock Forearm, which employs a latch similar to a double gun’s to secure the barrel and slim forearm to the magazine tube. A front sling attachment is integrated into the latch, and the squared-off forearm gives the Maxus a distinctive and easily recognizable profile.

Inside the Maxus are several less-obvious but equally impressive innovations, like the soft-shooting Power Drive gas operating system, which handles a wide variety of loads. The Maxus’ back-bored barrel is threaded for Browning’s excellent Invector-Plus choke tube system, and its lengthened Vector Pro forcing cone helps reduce felt recoil while improving patterns. An ultra-soft Inflex recoil pad also aids in taming recoil. A magazine cut-off allows quick switches from duck to goose loads, and the crisp Lightening Trigger is the finest I’ve experienced on a shotgun.

Perhaps the most convenient feature is the Turn Key Magazine Plug, which makes plug removal for upland hunting or spring snow goose gunning a snap. The magazine plugs for some of my shotguns are so difficult to remove that I often just leave them in whether required or not. With the Turn Key system, simply insert a car key, twist, and the plug pops out. The Dura Touch finish on synthetic models enhances grip in wet conditions. Waterfowlers will be interested in the black synthetic, Duck Blind and new Max-4 camo versions. With incredible ergonomics and weighing less than 7 pounds, the Maxus is also one of my favorite upland guns.

Benelli Super Vinci

At first glance, the Benelli Super Vinci appears to be just another normal shotgun, but closer examination reveals there is nothing normal about it. The Super Vinci basically consists of three modular parts — the stock, the forearm/trigger group/magazine tube, and the barrel/receiver. Given the increasing popularity of AR-style rifles, modular shotguns just make sense. The Vinci format is the first modular shotgun platform, but other manufacturers are sure to follow suit.

Assembly and disassembly of the Super Vinci is simple thanks to this modularity. Simply push a release button and give the integrated magazine cap a quarter twist, and the forearm/trigger/magazine assembly slides off as one unit. Give the barrel/upper receiver unit another quarter twist to remove it from the stock. Takedown for cleaning has never been easier.

The entire Inline Inertia Driven action is housed inside the upper receiver attached to the barrel. With no moving parts or linkages in the stock or straddling the magazine tube, the bulk of the gun’s weight is kept exactly where it should be — between the hands. The cold-treated Crio barrel isn’t back-bored, but it is the brightest, most highly polished barrel I’ve ever seen, and has remained so even after I fired hundreds of rounds through it. Inertia-operated systems aren’t known for being soft-shooting, but the Inline action and soft, recoil-absorbing chevrons of the ComforTech Plus stock do a good job of managing recoil. The molded forearm and between-the-hands balance makes the Super Vinci seem lighter than it is, making for a lively waterfowl/upland gun. Available finishes include basic black and Max-4 camo.

Remington Versa Max

While the Versa Max retains that same distinctive “Remington feel” as Big Green’s other semi-autos and pumps, the heart of the gun is nothing like the 1100/11-87 platforms many may be familiar with.

Hidden beneath the forearm is the Versa Port gas operating system, which uses shell length to regulate the amount of gas pressure released to operate the action. Seven ports drilled within the chamber control how much gas is released into the dual pistons straddling either side of the barrel beneath the chamber. The rows of ports are staggered in a three/one/three configuration. When shooting 2 ¾-inch shells, all seven holes remain open. With 3-inch shells, the opened crimp blocks the first row of ports, leaving only four holes open. A 3 ½-inch shell blocks off the first two rows, leaving just the last row of three ports open.

It’s an extremely simple, soft-shooting and versatile system. My Versa Max reliably cycles loads as light as 7/8-ounce. While the pistons are kind of bulky, their location beneath the chamber and just in front of the receiver places their weight squarely into the palm of the support hand, balancing the gun nicely. A soft cheek insert and SuperCell recoil pad combine to tame recoil, while rubber stock and forearm grip inserts provide a sure grip. The waterfowl model has a 28-inch, slightly over-bored barrel threaded for Remington’s new ProBore choke system and is fully dipped in Duck Blind camo.

Beretta A400 Xtreme

With its 3 ½-inch chamber, Beretta’s original A400 Xplor Unico was certainly waterfowl-worthy, but the new A400 Xtreme is a dedicated fowling piece. Finishes include black synthetic with a greenish aluminum-alloy receiver and full-coverage Max-4 or Gore Optifade Marsh camo.

Beretta’s A400 platform incorporates a lot of innovations, including the super-fast Blink gas operating system, which reliably cycles all 12-gauge loads from light 7/8-ounce target rounds up to the stoutest 3 ½-inch bombs. Aqua Technology protects all internal and external metal parts from corrosion, and the over-bored, tri-alloy Steelium, Optima-Bore HP barrel enhances patterns with all shot types, including steel.

To tame super magnum recoil, the A400 Xtreme is equipped with an open cell Micro Core recoil pad that slides easily into the shoulder pocket. The optional Kick-Off hydraulic recoil dampening device claims up to 70 percent recoil reduction. Those waterfowlers I’ve spoken with who own A400s equipped with the Kick-Off system report it makes for an extremely soft shooting shotgun.

Additionally, all four of these guns come with some sort of shim kit for customizing fit. Whether you prefer the Maxus, Super Vinci, Versa Max or A400 Xtreme, you can’t go wrong with any of these high-end semi-autos. Their multiple innovations combine to usher in a new era in shotgun design. True, each of these top-shelf autos costs well over $1,000, but you get what you pay for with every one of them — and then some.

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