Gun Review: Zenith MC 312 Tactical

This gun may sometimes be known as a “poor man’s Benelli,” but its fur-taking reliability makes it so much more than that.

Gun Review: Zenith MC 312 Tactical

As much as I love accurate rifles and taking predators with them, there’s also a role for shotguns in predator hunting. Thick brush or sometimes local hunting laws can make a furtaker choose a short-range scattergun over a long-range projectile. And while you can use practically any shotgun for predators, I tend to think of a gun designed for turkey hunting or personal defense are best equipped.

For one, they’re shorter. Just like a called-in gobbler is looking for his “hen,” so is a called-in predator looking for his “prey." A long barrel wagging around can cause you to get busted before an animal is within shotgun range. That shorter length also means you can more easily maneuver into tight hides to call from without getting hung up in branches. You’re also less likely to hit something like a branch with the barrel if a predator comes in from an unexpected angle and you have to pivot for a quick shot.

Turkey hunters and personal defense professionals have also discovered the importance of adjustable sights on a shotgun. Many shotguns with just a bead front sight are designed to shoot high so you can keep a flying target “floating” in your view above the bead. And even though turkey and “tactical” shotguns still produce a spreading pattern, modern shotshell components and changeable choke tubes make it possible to keep a tight knot of shot together longer. That is great for getting more pellets on a target. However, it also makes it easier to completely miss or make a marginal hit. With adjustable sights, you can make sure your pattern centers where you’re aiming.

The Model MC 312

Recently, a shotgun being imported by Zenith Firearms of Afton, Virgina, caught my eye for potential predator hunting. The Model MC 312 is made in Turkey by Girsan and employs a rotating bolt, inertia-driven operating system much like used in Benelli shotguns. Benelli is famous for being durable and not needing any adjustments to be reliable with most loads.

zenith“It’s very, very similar to the Benelli shotgun, but it differs slightly,” says Michael Farruggio, Public Relations Manager for Zenith. “Some parts are interchangeable; many parts are not. It’s using the energy of the bolt and the round itself, so you’re not losing any pressure.”

“It’s more reliable because it doesn’t have a gas-bleed system that it has to operate on,” explains Farruggio when describing how the MC 312 runs. Because there is no gas going back into the gun, it runs cleaner and tends to be less ammunition sensitive to a point. “The only way you can get it to stumble is if you use really, really light loads which you wouldn’t be hunting with, ever,” says Farruggio.

Tactical Model

There are several variations of the MC 312, but the Tactical model appeals to me for predator hunting because it has a handy 18½-inch barrel with changeable choke tubes and an absolutely superb set of iron sights. The front has a red fiber optic element that practically screams at you and is protected by thick, sturdy, metal “ears,” while the similarly protected ghost ring rear has click adjustments so authoritative they reminded one coworker of the anchor winch from when he served on an aircraft carrier in the Navy. If you’re someone who prefers a red dot, night vision or a little magnification and the light gathering capability of an optic, the MC 312 comes topped with a removable Picatinny rail.

Because of the inertia system, there are less moving parts and virtually none around the five-round magazine tube. The gun overall is much trimmer and sleeker than a gas gun. The Tactical model has a pistol-grip stock, which some shooters think helps mitigate felt recoil. It’s fitted with sling swivels on the butt, wrist and on the magazine cap. While the sample gun came with European-style 78-inch swivels, Farruggio assured me that future imports will have 1-inch swivels because Americans favor that width sling. Another thing new imports will feature is a five-round sidesaddle so you can have extra loads handy for those furious times when you call in a whole pack of zombie coyotes.

Along with a full complement of five choke tubes, including a vented breacher, the Tactical MC 312 came with a pretty decent cleaning kit, magazine plug, stock adjustment shims, combination trigger lock and in a padded, plastic case. Farruggio explained that even though this gun came with the shims, the pistol-grip stock is not shimmable, however non-pistol grip-stocked MC 312 variants are.

I asked Farruggio about the possibility of ordering different stocks or barrels for the gun to make it more versatile. He said it is possible, but noted that the Tactical model has a heavier frame, barrel and forend lug than the sporting model. “Some of the parts are interchangeable, so if you had the Tactical model you could order a 24-inch barrel for it. If you had the other [sporting] shotgun, the case even holds two barrels,” he says.


On the range, the MC 312 proved to be a very fast-shooting shotgun, which is also a hallmark of the inertia drive system. It would be easy to make a quick “double” on a pair of coyotes with this gun. Felt recoil is harder than you typically experience from a gas gun, but the only load I thought was punishing was a handload that sends 118 ounces of shot at nearly 1,600 fps. The solid rubber recoil pad is very generous and does a good job of soaking up recoil, but your shoulder will start smarting if shooting a steady diet of magnum coyote loads.

Reliability was very good with a mix of different length and power shells loaded randomly in the magazine. I even tried inducing failures by holding the gun chest high and controlling it while letting it free recoil, much like “limp wristing” a semi-auto pistol, but the MC 312 cycled and shot every load I fed it. As Farruggio said, “It just runs like a sewing machine.”

The only arguable malfunctions were from target loads that sent 118 ounces of shot at a modest 1,200 fps and even then the only problem was that the bolt would occasionally not lock open after the last shot.

Mechanically, the bolt glides almost effortlessly like it’s on well-oiled ball bearings. The only thing I can criticize is the ejector. It’s a small pivoting part in the barrel extension that is unnecessarily complicated. When I asked Farruggio if they could modify it so it was just a simple fixed stud, he replied that was a “good question." He added that he would bring it up as a possible modification if  the factory doesn’t have a particular reason for using the current ejector.

That’s refreshing to hear. Manufacturers and importers often don't take experienced customer input seriously. It hasn’t always been that way. Voice of customer is a relatively new thing in firearms manufacturing. Those companies that listen and improve their products benefit from more sales and more satisfied customers.

Brand Name

Farruggio said the biggest problem they have with the MC 312 is people don’t know the name brand.

“When we’re at shows, most people say they’ve never heard of it before,” he says. “And then we shoot it and it runs without a single hiccup … and they fall in love with it. They would also say the price is phenomenal.”

The Turks have come so far in improving manufacturing quality. I really think you can put their products up against most other mass-production gunmakers and not see a difference other than their lower price. Even companies such as CZ, Mossberg and Stoeger have turned to Turkey for guns sold under their more familiar names.

I’ve visited Turkish gun factories in the past and am very impressed with the production technology. Banish any thought you may have of some guy wearing a pakol and a thawb fashioning guns manually from found metal using a hand file. This isn’t Peshawar. Girsan has ISO 9001-2000 Quality Management System certification so you know that there is good quality control and the sample shows it. Combine that with the system reliability of a Benelli at a price that’s nearly half that of a Mossberg. I think Zenith could quickly become a known brand to hunters on a budget who still demand performance.zenith2


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