Category Archives: Shotguns

Review – 12 Gauge Winchester SX3

“Like you need another gun”…is the response I always get from my when I even hint at being liking a firearm. “Like NEED has anything to do with it!”, is generally what I mutter under my breadth.She knows me all too well. If I at the point where I’m hinting that I like something, I’m already putting it on my short list. Now, need is a bit of a stretch when it comes to my decision to buy and SX3, but I did have a gap in semi-auto shotguns that would eat magnum loads. I wanted a big-boy semi for ducks, geese and such. At first I was leaning towards Benelli Super Black Eagle, or a Franchi I-12, both stellar choices, and then a friend let me shoot his Browning Maxis at my club’s sporting clays range. I was blown away by the amount of felt recoil that the Browning eliminated. What’s more I ran a few of my super-light 3/4 ounce 12 gauge loads through it and it cycled those, just as well as the 1 1/8 ounce field loads. A few weeks later, while on a bird hunt, I got a chance to run the Maxis with 3″ magnum loads. All I can say is, WOW! It made me instantly question why I was sitting there with a pump, taking the full brunt of 3″ loads with all of the muzzle rise and pumping that accompany the old slide action. That did it. It got me looking at the Maxis, which spread into the Remington Versamax and the SX3. Shortly after my time with the Maxis, I got to shoot a dozen or so rounds through an SX3, which proved just as impressive as the Maxis. From there, I made my choice based on availability and price. The SX3 comes in just under $1,000, where all of the aforementioned are over $1,000 without an appreciable difference to fit or feel.

I’ve now had my SX3 since the beginning of February and have had it out shooting both clay’s and skeet. Baggin’ birdies will have to wait until later this year

The Gun

I went with the SX3 in the Real Tree Max-4 pattern that will take up to 3 inch shells. The sun will definitely not be glinting off of the mat finish and I expect it’ll hold up well to getting banged around in the blind or

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boat, which is just what the doctor ordered. For me the gun mounts quickly and comfortably, the most important part of the equation. The front sight is of the red, fiber optic variety, which allows for a quick alignment check to make sure you’re looking straight down the barrel. The gun comes with two shims for adjusting length of pull and four shims with different angles for drop at comb adjustment. It also comes with 3 chokes; full, modified and improved cylinder.

As I mentioned earlier, the “so what” with this gun is it’s amazing gas system. The Active Valve system automatically self-adjusts, allocating the exact gas pressure necessary to fire a wide range of loads — critical for any autoloader used in real life hunting or target shooting. When firing the heaviest magnum loads in 3 1/2″ models, gases vent upward and a portion of the gases are vented forward out of the Quadra-Vent™ ports in the forearm, further regulating bolt speed. 3″ models fire everything from light, 1 1/8 oz., 2 3/4″ target loads to 3″ magnums, while 3 1/2″ guns handle everything from 11/8 oz., 2 3/4″ field loads up to heavy 3 1/2″magnums. Talking about the efficiency of this system doesn’t do it justice. You’ve got to get your hands on it and squeeze of a few stout rounds to really appreciate it.

The barrel is also back-bored to .724 inches which is the ideal interior barrel diameter for 12 gauge, ensuring tight, consistent patterns. Any larger and gases blow by the shot cup and reduce pellet velocity. Too small and the pellets are deformed as they pass through the forcing cone, causing poor ballistic performance.

Capture

 

Field striping is as easy as unscrewing the magazine cap and removing the forend and then the barrel, as is typical with most auto loaders. The gas system does port powder residue into the area around the magazine tube. The amount of fouling present after shooting will be dependent on how many rounds you’ve fired and how clean the powder is in your shells

Specifications:

The SX3 is available is several different configurations:

  • 12 gauge with a 26 or 28 inch barrel that excepts either up to 3 inch or 3 1/2 inch shells
  • 20 gauge with a 26 or 28 inch barrel that excepts up to 3 inch shells

There are currently 3 different gun finishes to choose from; Waterfowl Mossy Oak Bottomland, Waterfowl Realtree Max 4 and the field gun with walnut stock and forend with a flat black barrel. Here are the particulars for the SX3.

Capture2

 

  • SYNTHETIC STOCK WITH TEXTURED GRIPPING SURFACES gives your hands a sure, non-slip grip and the non-glare finish won’t spook wary waterfowl
  • .742″ Back-Bored TECHNOLOGY provides optimum shot patterns that are dense and even
  • INVECTOR-PLUS™ CHOKE TUBE SYSTEM offers consistent patterns to match your situation
  • HARD CHROME CHAMBER AND BORE make these surfaces highly resistant to corrosion and wear from steel shot
  • VENT RIB gives you a smooth, clean sighting plane
  • TRUGLO® LONG BEAD™ FIBER-OPTIC FRONT SIGHT offers true, precise sight picture
  • Active Valve GAS SYSTEM cycles a wide variety of loads while reducing felt recoil
  • QUADRA-VENT™ PORTS vent excess gases for cleaner operation
  • DROP-OUT TRIGGER GROUP allows easy cleaning
  • AMBIDEXTROUS CROSSBOLT SAFETY is easily reversible
  • CAST/DROP SHIMS AND LENGTH OF PULL SPACERS allow adjustments for perfect fit

At the Range

My SX3 weighs in at 7 pounds and 2 ounces, which makes it a fairly light carry. Having several other light shotgun, I have no problems running a round of sporting clays or skeet with the SX3. It mounts well and quickly and points as well, if not better than some of my other shotguns.

I can’t over emphasize how well the gas system eats felt recoil. Running through a few hundred field loads in a session shouldn’t leave you battered and bruised. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 12 gauge that handles itself better in terms of managing recoil.

The Final Word

If I had it to do over again, I’d still by

the Winchester SX3. From my perspective, it’s among the best auto loaders available today. Whether you’re a hunter, or looking for a semi-auto for the clay bird variety, the SX3 has a configuration that should work well for you. I would recommend, if you’re in the market, to pick one up to see how it fits you.

 

Review: Mossberg 500 with RAM Arms “Sledgehammer” package

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The battle-tested and time-proven Mossberg 500 is arguably the most trusted pump shotgun for tactical/home defense situations. Right out of the box the black shotgun can do what’s needed whether dealing with a home intruder or the zombie apocalypse and with the large aftermarket, it can be taken even further. RAM Arms took that to the fullest extent with their “Sledgehammer” tactical defense package added onto the Mossberg.

The selection and number of after-market modifications available for the Mossberg 500 is staggering. Choosing through the wide selection of integrated flashlights, reflex sights, stocks and such typically means trial and error often at great expense. RAM Arms went through all the trouble of trying out and range testing a myriad of components when designing the Sledgehammer.

RAM Arms told The Typical Shooter that several different stocks, rail systems, shotshell holders, flashlight and reflex sights were tried and tested before the standard Sledgehammer package was decided upon.

The Unboxing

The shotgun comes in hard plastic case with foam padding and a cut-out for the TacStar side-saddle shotshell holder. The Firefield micro-dot reflex site came packaged in its original box probably to insure safe arrival through shipping. 

The package included a cable-style gun lock, the original Mossberg warranty and manual, a magazine plug, a Firefield micro reflex site and the assembled custom shotgun. On the shotgun is an Advanced Technology Inc (ATI) adjustable buttsock with padded and ergonomically formed pistol grip, the TacStar 6-shell side-sadlle shotshell holder, a receiver mounted weaver/picatinny rail and the Insight/L3 (EoTech) integrated forend flashlight.

The Mossberg 500 “Persuader” Shotgun

The base shotgun RAM Arms used in their custom build is the venerable Mossberg 500 12 gauge Persuader model. Made in the North Haven, Connecticut, the Mossberg 500 is an American-made sweetheart. Buyers can buy this package knowing they are support United States manufacturers and the makers of one of the most trusted shotguns in the world.

Specifications

  • 12 gauge cylinder choke 18.5″ barrel
  • Fires both 2 3/4″ or 3″ magnum shells (3″ chamber)
  • Holds five rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber (5+1 capacity)
  • Pump action

When asked why the pump was chosen instead of a 930 or similar semi-auto, RAM Arms told The Typical Shooter  that pumps will cycle no matter how long they’ve been set aside. A litte dust, too much oil, cold or hot, these guns will perform. Another reason given was that a pump offers the owner a non-lethal option for dealing with a home invader – racking a 12 gauge pump shotgun doesn’t sound like anything else in the world. It is the one sound that by itself can back an intruder out of the door.

The only downside to the Mossberg 500 is its top-tang safety. Nit-picking here for sure on an otherwise perfect platform as the safety is not difficult to operate and doesn’t reset on its own. Certainly not a big enough hit to keep anyone from owning one of the best defense shotguns on the market.

Component Break-down

ATI Talon Adjustable Stock for Mossberg 500

This is one of the best stocks for the Mossberg 500, 590 and Maverick 88 pump shotguns we’ve seen.

The Scorpion recoil pad is comfortable and keeps the butt firmly planted against the shooter. It is a multi-positional stock that adjusts length of pull for just about any shooter or situation using a lever system found on many tactical rifles like the AR-15.

Additionally, the cheek rest is adjustable for drop at comb allowing the shooter to set the shotgun so that a good cheek weld means being right on the sights.

A pleasant surprise was the pistol grip that is integrated into the stock. Not only is it ergonomically molded to keep firm control of the weapon, but the back side of the grip is also padded which aids in handling the stiff recoil that firing 3″ magnum 1400fps+ defense rounds produces.

TacStar Receiver Mounted 6-Shell Sidesaddle Shotshell holder

The shotshell holder is at first indistinguishable from others on the market. As a sidesadlle-style holder it is mounted to the side of the shotgun and as the others it holds 12 gauge shotshells. Looking closer we find some details that separate the TacStar design from other and shows that RAM Arms put some real thought into selecting this one over alternatives.

First, the holder isn’t simply screwed or glued to the side of the receiver. The trigger pin of the shotshell holder is replaced with a bolt that pins the holder through the receiver in a very secure fashion. On the holder side, a steel baseplate receives the bolt in insure a secure hold. If that weren’t enough, another screw replaces the action screw to also secure the baseplate to the receiver. This holder isn’t going anywhere.

Second, the molding on the shotshell holder is well-thought. When placing shotshells in the top of the holder, the brass of the shotshell hangs on the top of the shotshell holder making for easy top removal. If you push shells in from the bottom, the brass does not hang which securely holds shells placed in this manner and leave a good portion of the plastic end of the shell exposed on the top. If you routinely place your buckshot in from the top and slugs from the bottom this will allow you to feel which shells are where even in the dead of night by running your fingers across the top of holder and pushing or pulling the type of round needed for the situation.

Insight Integrated Forend Light for the Mossberg 500

The integrated forend flashlight is easily the star of this package. Unlike other offerings, the flashlight feels like part of the shotgun. As L3/Insight is also the manufacturer of the famed EoTech holographic weapon sights for the military, the quality is as expected – very high.

Built into the flashlight are two pressure pads, one on each side of the forend. Strategically placed, these pads are exactly where your fingers would be for normal operation of the shotgun. The pads activate the three functions of the flashlight using different touches so there are no complicated controls to deal with in the dark of night.

The flashlight is a bright 120 lumen, three-function tactical flashlight. By simply pressing the pad and releasing it, the flashlight operates flawlessly in a momentary on capacity allowing the shooter to use the light only when needed. Pressing the pad twice and releasing will put the light in constant on mode and hitting the pad twice and holding on the second press will activate the flashlight’s strobe function.

The forend also has an on-off power switch to prevent activation when it is not desired.

The flashlight uses highly-available CR123 batteries for an estimated 2 hours of constant on time.

Firefield Micro-Reflex Sight

Mounted on the included weaver/Picatinny rail is the Firefield micro-reflex sight.

While you don’t aim a shotgun, pointing one requires some sense of where the barrel is. Finding a small bead on a black barrel in a dark hallway will be slow at best and maybe impossible in very dark situations. The addition of a small dot sight allows the shooter to know where the gun is pointed without using the flashlight which would give away his or her position.

The Firefield FF26001 micro-reflex sight is zeroed using the familiar windage and elevation settings. These are managed using the included sighting tools and works as expected.

The Firefield sight also comes equipped with set screws for the sighting adjustments. Once the sight is zeroed, tighten the set screws using the included tool and those settings aren’t going to move even under the heaviest recoil.

The sight comes with a limited lifetime warranty from the manufacturer.

Testing

We joined RAM Arms on the range to do some testing of the Mossberg 500 with the Sledgehammer package. Spending an afternoon shooting a combination of 3″ slugs, buckshot and 2 3/4″ lower recoil rounds gave us a feel for how the gun handles in a wide variety of situations.

The dot sight was easy to see in full light and put the shot center of mass and the Insight forend was very comfortable to operate. The gun pointed and shot very well and didn’t punish us as badly as we expected firing heavy rounds through a pump.

The weight of the gun was a bit more than we’d expected from a small pump, but that along with the amazing stock from Advanced Technology Inc made the recoil very manageable.

The short barrel and full collapsed stock made it very easy to maneuver around the tactical range that RAM Arms had set up. Getting into and out of covered positions or shooting left or right handed all felt very comfortable.

Overall Impressions

We’re impressed. This is everything you’d need on a shotgun to respond to a bump in the night. The micro-dot sight and flashlight give the gun high-speed aiming and visibility in the worst of seeing conditions. The stock and pistol grip make the gun fit the shooter in every way imaginable making for a very easy-to-handle firearm.

Full Specifications (click links if you’d like to find out where to get the components)

Lee Load-All

 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll look for ways to save some money on you’re shooting hobbies so you can do more of it, more of the time. One thing that I’ve done to save some dough for years now is reloading. I’ve been reloading centerfire cartridges since about 1990 and shotgun for the last 2 years. I had decided to reload shot shells when I started really getting into skeet and sporting clays, burning through 200 to 300 rounds per week. Even with the Kmart 100 round specials, it really starts to add up. Just as important as the cost savings is that fact you can work up lighter loads for your shotgun sport of choice, saving your shoulder in the process. So, once I decided to pull the trigger on shotgun reloading gear, I set to work doing some research online to see what I needed and what I wanted to get.

If you’re setting out to

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look for reloading equipment yourself, you’re basically going to find reloaders from Hornady, RCBS, MEC, Dillion, Lee and Spolar. They vary from single-stage reloaders, to progressive reloaders. The single stage is one that you have to move a single shell from station to station until it is finished before loading another shell. Progressive presses allow you to load multiple shells, with each being at a different station, and also a different stage of the reloading process, thus being able to load multiple shells at once. That’s really the major difference in single stage versus progressive presses. Obviously you can knock out shells faster with a progressive, but the cost of entry for a progressive press is much higher. When I went on my search 2 years ago, I really had a limited budget and wanted to get started reloading as soon as possible, leaving me without many choices. It didn’t take very long online before I ran into the Lee Load-All II.

The Reloading Press: Lee Load-All II

What hit me first was the price of the Lee….about $60…wait, that can’t be right?….how can they?…..it must be a piece of….Really? Yes, seriously… do the search on Google shopper. It’s about $60 including shipping. The price certainly had me. As for reviews on various blogs, I got the typical split you’ll find on almost anything of lovers and haters of the Load-All II. From there, it got simple for me….spend $60, and if I hate it, the worst thing that would happen is that I’d loose some money selling it on eBay. It couldn’t be all that bad. So I bought one.

Sizer

The loader arrives in a cardboard box, disassembled, with everything you need to start reloading shortof, lead, hulls, wads and powder. The base, and upper parts of the unit are plastic with a metal u-shaped handle, metal rods that connect the handle and upper unit to the base, and a metal square shaft and spring, that the upper section slides up and down on to perform the various operations of the reloading sequence. It also comes with a metal shell resizing ring, which has to be manually placed on the shell. The powder and lead bushings are plastic. Lee provides a table to match the powder bushings to the type and charge of powder you’re going to use. So, I bought the Lee for 12 gauge. I then bought the conversion kit to reload 20 gauge, which can be had for about $26 online including shipping. One other “add on” I purchased was the primer feeder. This is the one piece I haven’t had success with. I primarily use Remington primers and I couldn’t get them to feed consistently. The primers would get stuck in the shoot on the way to the primer arm, and this was happening regularly. So, I can’t recommend the primer feeder.

Reloading with the Lee Load-All II

Bushings

All in all, reloading with the Load-All is simple…it’s not fast, but it’s simple. With that, here’s my first gripe…the smallest shot bushing is for 7/8 ounces of shot. I use 3/4 ounces in both my 12 gauge (yes, 3/4 ounce loads in a 12….and it patterns like a 7/8 ounce load) and 20 gauge for skeet. If your not in the market for 3/4 ounce loads, it won’t be an issue for you. I resolved it by making my own bushing. I bought two pieces of PVC pipe, one that would fit snugly into the other, with the larger of the two roughly the same size of the bushing seat on the reloader. I then cut the larger PVC to length and sanded the exterior until it fit into the bushing seat. I then tested the load with that. For the pipe I used, it dropped too much lead, so I cut the smaller diameter PVC to about half of the length of the larger piece that I had already fitted in the press. Then I pushed that into the fitted, larger piece. I then tested it by butting it in the press and dropping lead and weighing it. It was still dropping too much lead, so I needed to make the smaller diameter PVC shorter. I hammered it out with a wooden dowel and cut it again, repeating the test, weigh, dowel, cut etc. until I got the lead drop to 3/4 oz.

The other gripe I have is crimping. I use Remington hulls for 20 and 12 gauge, and for both I’ve found that I have to hold down on the final crimp for about 5 seconds for a secure crimp. The other thing I’ve found is that you get more consistent starting crimps if you make sure that the shell is aligned with the crimp fingers which are internal to the upper part of the press known as the die. If you buy a Lee Load-All II or are using one now, pay attention to that. Once you find the position that works best stick with it, and you’re pre-crimping will be consistent without having any bent hulls or improper crimps.

To start reloading, you obviously have to put in the proper shot bushing and powder bushing. Use the Lee powder table for reference on what powder bushing to use. Now, load your powder. Don’t load your shot yet as you may need to change bushings if you’re not getting the correct weight of powder to drop. Once you get the powder right, add your lead and test one of the lead drops to make sure it functioning properly and dropping the right weight. Here’s another tip: As the powder and are housed in the same unit (the’re divided, but one part of the upper), you need to cover one or the other if your changing shot size or the type of powder you’re using, just get a piece of cardboard or a small piece of thin wood to cover one side while you’re emptying the other. All you have to do is remove the top part of the press from the rest of the unit. It will pull off when you stretch the handle off of the two pins that hold the top down.

Now, you have your powder and shot straightened out, so it’s time to reload. I’ve set up a quick demo to show you what reloading is like with the Lee Load-All.

http://youtu.be/oeG21h20Jag

The Final Word – The Lee Load-All II

Since my purchase of the Lee Load-All II, I’ve also acquired an MEC Grabber. When I go out to the range, I’m at least going through four rounds of skeet, which means my minimum shell count per session is 100. Times that by a few rounds per week, and you have 200 – 300 shells per week. I don’t have enough time to spend reloading shells on a single stage given the amount of shooting I do, so I bought a progressive. Does the Lee Load-All II work? Yes….Does it work well? Yes, for me it does. I use it to reload hunting rounds and skeet rounds for my 20 gauge, which I don’t shoot too often. Hunting rounds is where this press shines. You can swap powder and/or lead in lead in less than 5 minutes, when you have a load worked out and know what bushings to use. You can also swap gauges, with the gauge conversion kits, and have you’re new load ready to run in under 10 minutes. I’ve spent the most set-up time just getting the right powder bushing for my load. Everything else is a matter of a few screws and putting on the conversion die carrier, wad guide and shell holder for the final crimp. This press is the easiest to convert gauges with out of any single stage that I know of, and at $26 per gauge, you can be turning out 12, 16 and 20 gauge shells in no time. All this considered, I would recommend the Lee Load-All II for those not looking

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to mass produce ammo, or for the serious reloader that would like an easy solution to work up new test loads or who uses their progressive presses for skeet, trap or clays and would like something to work up hunting loads. For $60, you can have a reloading solution in you choice of gauge ready to go after about 30 minutes of receiving it. It’s not too shabby a proposition.

Review: 20 Gauge Benelli Legacy

Ok, so I kinda did something lame…..I got my wife a shotgun for Valentine’s day last year. Coincidentally, it was a shotgun I’ve wanted for a little while; a 20 gauge Benelli Legacy. It wasn’t actually completely lame, as I do want her to get out shooting skeet with me more often. Her other options in my current stash are

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a bit heavy for her to hold up and are harder hitting 12 gauges: a Franchi Diamond O/U, a Remington 1100 and a Mossberg 500 pump. I’m not recommending a pump for skeet, but it’s an option if that’s what you like. So I finally got my….sorry, my wife’s Benelli Legacy, and what a beauty it is!

We’ve had the Benelli for almost a year now. My wife’s had it out a few times and I’ve taken it out several times more. I probably have put over 700 rounds through it shooting skeet and 5 stand and another 100 or so hunting quail. It’s definitely time for a review.

The Gun

First off, the Legacy is a beautiful gun. It boasts a AA-grade walnut stock and a heavily engraved receiver with leaf scrolling and upland bird scenes. The receiver is light-weight alloy with a silver lower and “blued upper” making an attractive contrast. The trigger is crisp and light with gold plating. It has a standard rib with a mid-bead and a fiber optic bead near the muzzle, both of which assist with alignment during mounting. It easy to make sure your mounted right.

Functionally, the gun has been flawless. It even cycles super-light 3/4 ounce loads; the recipe for which you can find here . That’s a plus during long skeet sessions, as

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the recoil is almost nonexistent. Benelli has been the leader in the inertia drive system, which “powers” their auto loaders. It’s major advantage is it’s simplicity and minimum of moving parts, eliminating heavier fouling which occurs with gas operated auto loaders. You literally remove the forearm knob,slide off the forearm and barrel, and then slide out the upper receiver and bolt. Everything is easy to get to and clean out. There is very minimal gas fouling, and being that the bolt is highly polished, a cloth with a little solvent and a light wipe, get it all cleaned up.

Another plus of the Benelli Legacy is it’s light weight. With the 26 inch barrel, it comes in at 6 pounds flat! That’s not a ton of weight, and makes field use a dream.

So what about the negatives? I can’t really find any. The recoil of the inertia system makes recoil heaver than gas operated guns, but it’s a 20 gauge, so that’s not a negative in my book. This is one of the few guns that I have where I really can’t call something out that’s negative. Price? OK…MSRP is $1799. Yeah, it’s steep, but I got this flawless example through an on-line auction for $1000, with a minimum of use by it’s prior owner.

Specifications

  • Gauge: 20
  • Chokes: C, IC, M, IM and F Crio chokes
  • Type of Sights: Steal Mid-bead, Fiber optic primary
  • Length of Pull: 14-3/8”
  • Drop at Comb: 1-1/2”
  • Drop at Heel: 2-1/4”
  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Barrel Length: 26″
  • Overall Length: 47 1/3″
  • Magazine Capacity: 4 + 1
  • Includes a shim kit for adjustment of drop, and a hard plastic break-down case

In the Field and At the Range

Let’s start at the range, which is where I always “stretch the legs” on my new toys. From day one, I was impressed with how well the Legacy fits and mounts. This will differ from individual to individual given your physical build. The fiber front sight and mid-bead give you immediate feedback on your mount, removing any guesswork. Trigger pull is crisp with no travel. Some folks may not like the light weight of the gun for skeet. Many skeet shooters have heavier over/unders in the 8 plus pound range for skeet which helps some smooth out their swing. For me, it hasn’t really been a factor as I’m used to my lighter Franchi Diamond over/under, which is my primary scatter-gun for skeet. As I had mentioned earlier, running the 3/4 ounce 20 gauge loads for a skeet load keeps my shooting costs down, and virtually eliminates recoil.

Now for the field….which is what this beautiful gun was made for. This 20 gauge legacy is a great field gun for pretty much all of your small game needs. Here’s where the light weight shines, and at 6 pounds, you can haul this gun around all day.The weight also makes for quick mounting, which has helped me get off the first shot (and kill) in my upland bird hunts this year. At the patterning board, my Legacy has a 50/50 split: 50% of shot above the center line and 50% below the center line, which is right for hunting. As far as durability, I haven’t had a single misfire, nor have I incurred any damage to the gun while crawling through brush piles and briers. The finish is proving to be resilient, and I’m proving to be less clumsy than I thought.

Here’s a video of my last hunt where I’ve used both my Franchi and my Benelli Legacy.

http://youtu.be/07Ng7PdnmLQ

The Final Word

I started this writing by saying I’ve wanted a Legacy for a while. Now that I have one, I haven’t been disappointed. It’s everything I hoped it would be and from the range, to the field, it’s a great all-around auto loading 20 gauge. It took me a while to get one given the high price of entry, but once I got my wife on board by demonstrating that she needed a light weight, lighter recoiling gun for skeet than our 12 gauge options, the hunt was on. For my $1000, I have a world class 20 gauge auto loader that will last a lifetime. Would I recommend one, absolutely. This may be my first Benelli, but it certainly will not be my last. I’m seeing a Benelli Ultra Light 28 gauge in my future and, so far, my “crystal ball” hasn’t missed a prediction.

Review: Browning Maxus Semi-Auto Shotgun

It was time. I finally needed to replace the old Auto-5 as my trusty field semi-auto shotgun and Browning’s most-recent addition, the Browning Maxus, fit the bill. This review was written after the Maxus had gone through 175 shots at a clays range, 50 on the skeet field and another 25 or so bird hunting so this isn’t about long-term reliability yet. I’ll do another update once the gun has a few thousand rounds through it.

The Maxus is a gas-operated, lightweight, light-recoil semi-automatic shotgun. Browning talks about short lock-time, fastest cycle rate and many other somewhat interesting sales terms, but what matters to me is recoil, reliability, versatiliy, fit, weight and muzzle-jump when I’m considering a field gun.

First, the basics: The Browning Maxus has many of the legacy features of the Auto-5 (no, I don’t mean the humpbacked receiver). It has the magazine lock which allows the shooter to cycle out the shell in the receiver without another loading from the magazine (image right). This is very useful when the sudden need for a goose load occurs and the gun is full of duck rounds. The speed-load feature which allows you to load even the first shell by pushing it in from the bottom is back and works exactly like the A-5. There is also the speed-unload feature which is truly nice. You can unload the entire magazine in seconds from the load bay at the bottom. No need to cycle the action 3-5 times to unload the gun.

The Maxus is light at just 6.9 pounds. I was certainly concerned that shooting high-brass and 3″ shells through this gun were going to remind me of just how light it was. I was wrong. The “inflex” recoil pad and innovative gas system take a ton of the felt recoil out of the shotgun. This recoil system also reduces muzzle-jump or rise during shooting. During our recent upland bird hunt I was pleasantly surprised at how fast a follow-up shot I was able to take as the gun never seemed to come off the bird between shots (see for yourself in this video). This is apparently due to Browning’s “Inflex” recoil system that uses the gun’s own recoil to pull the gun down and away from your cheek just as the recoil is trying to push the gun up and into your face. The two counter each other for a gun that seems to almost sit still during quick shots.

The Maxus uses the invector plus choke system. The interchangeability with my Citori is appreciated as I do not have to go buy yet another full set of chokes for a new gun.

An innovative and amazingly great touch is also one of the guns simplest improvements. Unlike all other semi’s, you don’t unscrew a forend cap to take the gun apart. You just pop a lever – very similar to over-and-unders (image left). One click and your sling drops off (if you have one) and the forend is ready to slide off. Pull the barrel off, put the forend back on and flip the lever and the gun is broken down for transport. How easy is that?

Another simple, yet welcome, improvement is the magazine plug install/removal system. Use your car or truck key, turn the plug release and your done.

First Trial – 100 targets – Sporting Clays:

I unboxed the Maxus, cleaned it according to the manual and lightly oiled the required parts. At the clays field the first 85 or so shots went off without a hitch. We fired everything through it. Heavy loads – check! Light loads (how about a 3/4oz 1100 FPS 12 ga. load to push an auto?) YUP cycled those without an issue. It ate everything we threw at it until the last half a box or so. Then, suddenly, the hammer wasn’t getting reset. It was acting as if it was not fully cycling. A new round had been loaded into the chamber, but the trigger didn’t want to do much of anything. Upon disassembling the firearm, the cause was apparent – gummy build-up on the magazine tube. It would appear that my after-shipping cleaning job had missed some of the shipping grease on the inside of the friction-ring assembly.

Other than the gummed-up magazine tube, the gun performed flawlessly. The low recoil and imperceptible muzzle-rise was welcome with the heavier loads that we use for clays. The gun pointed well, came to the shoulder well and blew up clays as long as I did my part.

Second Trial – 50 targets – Skeet

I don’t shoot autos for skeet for three reasons (and you auto-lovers can send all hate mail to [email protected]).  First, too many things can go wrong in competition when one bird in 100 will likely make the difference. Second, I don’t like hearing/feeling the bolt  moving back and forth when I’m shooting pairs that quickly. I can feel it, I can hear it and it bothers me. Third, I reload and I hate picking up hulls – a lot. But, I wanted to evaluate the gun as many ways as possible for our readers so we took it to the skeet field and gave it a run.

The gun pointed and shot very well. It took the lighter skeet loads and cycled them without issue. The trigger was crisp, the recoil light and the gun handled well. I found it a bit light for skeet, but then again, my competition gun weighs in at 8.5 lbs.

Third Trial – Upland Bird Hunt

I took the Maxus on our North Carolina upland bird hunt in January. I brought the Citori too – just in case the new gun had any issues.

I fed it a mix of standard 7 1/2 game loads and #6 Remmington Nitro Pheasant high-brass loads and it didn’t care. I spent about 20 of the high brass loads on the hunt and my shoulder and cheek were no more battered than they would have been on the skeet field.

As with any auto-loader, thick gloves made loading slightly more cumbersome than I’d like, but nothing serious. I used the Maxus on the first two fields we hunted and could not have been happier. On the third field, I switched to the Browning XS Special over-and-under so that it could have at least one chance in its life to kill a bird that could be eaten (it serves as my primary skeet competition gun). I immediately noticed one of the Maxus’ biggest benefits – it’s light. Carrying that Citori XS special around was a chore compared to the sub-7 pound auto. I learned my lesson and the Maxus came back out for the fourth and final field.

Fourth Trial – Sporting Clays -75 targets

This round of sporting clays did make one small issue noticeable. After about 25 shots, the magazine lock kept engaging which prevented me from loading the gun. I first assumed that my thick winter gloves were snagging on the lock, but after a few more curse-inducing repetitions I realized that the magazine lock was very loose and gravity alone was engaging it.

The fix was simple. The magazine lock lever is held in tension by a small plate on the outside of the receiver. The screw holding that plate against the receiver had worked loose and needed to be tightened. One full turn with a screwdriver and the problem was gone.

The so-what of it all

The Browning Maxus is exactly as advertised. It is reliable, it is versatile and it is a pleasure to carry and shoot. The ultimate question in any review should be – if someone stole your Maxus, and insurance gave you the money to buy another gun, would it be the Maxus. I can say unequivocally and without reservation that I would indeed buy another one of these amazing auto-loaders.

Ultimate Tactical Shotgun?

Recently while browsing the inventory of my local Cheaper than Dirt store I came across what might be the ultimate defense or tactical shotgun. The SRM 1216 is a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun with a capacity of 16+1. Yes, 16+1. A whopping 17 rounds of either 2-3/4 or 3 inch shells. Not to mention dropping in another magazine with 16 more rounds if need be.

If you are thinking the SRM must be bulky, think again. The 1216 is only 32-1/2 inches long with an 18 inch barrel and weighs in at a little over 7 pounds. While fondling the weapon and trying not to get any drool on it I went through the typical scenarios of shouldering and getting on point and found the 1216 comfortable to shoulder and easy to get on point with.

To get the 16 +1 capacity SRM used a quad-tube magazine that is manually rotated. The lever is conveniently located near where your thumb lines up on the forearm/ magazine to release the magazine for rotation.

To cover those of us who like to hang accessories off of our guns SRM incorporated picatinny rails to attach our optics, lights, lasers or other gadgets and gear.

The only drawback of the SRM1216 that I found was the price tag, $2399.97. If you can get past the price tag you could be the proud owner of a tactical shotgun that you could use to take on pretty much any threat you encounter. The SRM 1216 is the closest you’re going to get to that Hollywood gun that seems to never need reloading during the fire fight.

Browning re-introduces legendary humpback: The New A-5 autoloader

While this is just the browning trailer, the gun itself is intriguing for a nostalgia standpoint and because it’s the first recoil-operated (yes, I said recoil operated) auto-loader since the legendary auto-5 ended production.

Due to be released in March of 2012, the humpback look and overall lines are the only resemblance to its long-ago predecessor. The rest of the gun has been completely rethought.

And the Browning press release:

THE NEW A5 . . . THE HUMP IS BACK.

ou may notice a family resemblance, but let’s get one thing straight, this ain’t your Grandpa’s Auto-5. In fact, the iconic humpback-shaped receiver is the only thing this new Browning autoloader shares with its legendary namesake. The all new Browning A5 is built to be the most reliable, fastest cycling, best performing and softest shooting recoil-operated (yes, recoil-operated) autoloader on the planet. And we are so confident in the A5, we are standing behind it with a 100,000 round or five year guarantee that this shotgun will work, come hell or high water. Standing firmly behind this claim is the ultra-reliable, honed to perfection Kinematic Drive System.

Other innovations, like the new Invector-DS choke tube system and Inflex II recoil pad are sure to place the A5 right at the top of the industry. With the recoil-operated A5 and our gas-operated Maxus autoloaders, we are poised to dominate every aspect of the autoloading shotgun market. These two guns compliment one another in the same way lightning goes with thunder, and the way Browning goes with number one.

Review: Rossi Pick 4 Youth Single Shot Rifle and Shotgun

When bringing up a young shooter, there are some tough choices to be made. Do I buy a 20gauge and wait for him/her to grow into it or buy a .410 that they’ll grow out of? Rossi has a great offering that might help a bit – the Rossi Pick 4.

The Pick 4 is a single shot breech-loader with 4 interchangeable barrels – .22LR, .243 Win, .410 bore and 20 gauge shotgun barrels.

The two rifle barrels come with a fiber-optic front site and adjustable rear site while the shotgun barrels are choked “modified” and have a brass front bead.

The composite stock  has a removable monte-carlo style cheek piece and small recoil pad.

The first barrel we tried was the 20 gauge. The forearm was removed by unscrewing the front sling swivel.With the forearm removed, simply opening the action  allows the barrel to be changed. Close the action, replace the forearm and the gun is now a 20 gauge single shot scatter gun.

The gun is a youth model and when shouldering the gun that is very obvious. The stock is much too short for a full-grown man and the drop at comb is so slight that it’s difficult to get low enough on the gun to have it point accurately.

The Rossi is very light – perhaps 5 pounds total. That will help younger shooters hold it up and handle the gun with the lighter .410 and .22 caliber loads, but won’t mute much of the recoil from the larger 20 gauge or .243 barrels.

Firing the 20ga barrel  made one thing very clear – the recoil pad is not sufficient and should be augmented for use with the 20 gauge barrel. It is too thin and too hard to absorb the recoil coming from such a light gun. The recoil was sharp enough to make shooting the gun uncomfortable with the stock pad.

The ejector worked as expected, firmly throwing the spent hull out of the chamber.

Changing the barrels out to the .41o made all the difference. The gun seems as though it was designed for the .410. The recoil was light and the recoil pad was able to soften what there was.

The .22 caliber rifle barrel was equally comfortable to shoot. We did have trouble getting the rear site to adjust far enough down to bring our point of impact where we wanted it at 50 yards, but were able to finagle into a low enough position to meet our needs.

My son has since put several hundred rounds through the .410 and .22 barrels. He prefers the stock with the Monte Carlo-style stock extension taken off. The .410 is light enough that an 8 year old boy can hold it up and shoot it and comfortable enough so that a young shooter will not get worn out by it in a short session.

In the end, the Rossi Pick-4 is a good buy for a young shooter that just wants a gun to plink or varmint/bird hunt with.

Review: Browning Citori XS Special Over and Under Shotgun

I bought my Browning Citori XS Special after having decided to go all-in and become a competitive skeet shooter. A new gun was in my future because while my Stoeger Condor is a great field gun, it just wasn’t set-up to be a competition clay buster.

This review is done the same way I do most of mine – after thousands of rounds – not just putting a few boxes through a gun and calling it quits. My Citori XS Special has had more than 10,000 rounds through it and been through the grinder that is the NSSA Mini-World and World Skeet competition in San Antonio.

Overview

Fair warning – for shotguns, I am a Browning bigot. I looked at the entire Citori and Cynergy lines for the gun I was going to purchase. I had my heart set on the Cynergy Sporting with an adjustable comb, but was unable to get what I wanted for the price I was willing to pay.

The Citori line has long-standing reputation as a reliable clay buster on the skeet fields. It also won’t run you what a Caesar Guerinni or Kreighoff will. I had started to look at Browning’s Citori XS Skeet as a possibility, but as I was looking through listings on numerous gun auction sites, I started to notice the Citori XS Special. I was left wondering what’s the difference between the XS Skeet and the XS Special? First, let’s go over the XS Special

Browning Citori XS Special with adjustable comb and 30″ barrels:

The furniture is grade I/II satin finished walnut with a right-hand palm swell which helps the gun’s semi-pistol grip fill the shooter’s hand for better trigger-finger feel. The forend is a semi-beavertail design with topside grooves to help hold on the gun.

The receiver is silver nitride finished steel with gold accented, high-relief engraving. The top and mid rib are both ventilated (risers are spaced apart). The top rib’s width on the XS Special is tapered and parallel to the barrel.

The barrels are 30″ long and ported (image left) to supposedly reduce recoil, but I haven’t found to be that noticeable – other than being louder for anyone standing next to the shooter. Since I shoot with sub-gauge tubes in the barrels, the porting doesn’t come into play anyhow (yes, I shot this picture with the sub-gauge tubes in the gun).

The gun comes with five Invector-Plus extended choke tubes in improved modified,  modified,  improved cylinder,  cylinder,  and skeet constrictions (listed from tightest to most open constriction). I added a second skeet OEM choke.

The trigger features Browning’s triple trigger system (image right) which allows for fine adjustment of length-of-pull and different feels to the trigger itself. All three triggers are included with the gun at purchase.

MSRP is always significantly higher than purchase price (if you shop around). The Citori XS Special 30″ barrels and adjustable comb in this review was purchased new and still in the box for $2500.00.

Specifications:

MSRP $3600.00
Barrel Length 30″ or 32″
overall length 47″ or 49″
Length of Pull 14 3/8″
Drop at Comb 1 7/8″
Drop at Heel 1 7/8″
weight 8lb 10oz or 8lb 12oz (30″/32″ barrels)

Setting up the Gun:

When I first got the gun, my first task was to get the comb adjusted for me (image left). The stock comes set with the comb flush which I expected to shoot flat like my Stoeger or perhaps even low.

At the patterning board, I setup the gun with skeet chokes in both barrels. When I pulled the gun up I noticed that my jaw was pushing the stock to the right. It made getting the mid-bead and front-site aligned a bit awkward so the first adjustment was cast. I pushed the comb to the right about 1/2″ and the sites lined up in a perfect figure 8 (mid bead touching and just below the front site). That is the expected alignment for a flat-shooting gun (50% of shot above the aim point and 50% below).

The flat point of impact wasn’t what I wanted. While great for sporting clays and hunting, not so great for skeet.  I lifted the comb about 3/4″ and checked alignment. Now the front site was about 1/8″ (apparent) above the mid-bead.

When I opened the Citori, I found it to be a little stiff to open as one might expect with a brand new gun.

I put 3 shells through the top barrel for point-of-impact. It was dead on 60-40 (60% of shot above point of impact and 40% below) which is what I prefer for skeet. This allows for better visibility of the target as the barrel never has to cover up the bird to hit it. We only have about 1.5 seconds to kill the thing as is – who needs added challenges?

Next, I changed out the fiber-optic front site from green to red. In shotgunning, you never really look for or at the sight, but your brain will see it in night shoot-offs – if  it can – so we try to help it.  At night, that black barrel is invisible, so you have to give your brain something to work with in absence of a well defined barrel. In low light, that green isn’t as easy to see- red it is. Since the gun comes with multiple sizes and colors of front sights, play with the different ones until find what you see best.

Now, on to the skeet field.

First field trial

The gun was noticeably heavier than my 7 1/2 lb Stoeger condor. I knew I wanted  a heavier gun to help smooth out my gun swing, and it was time to find out if the weight was going to be a help or hindrance.

On station, the first thing that stuck out is the crisp trigger. Spending so much time with my field gun, I had no idea what I had been missing until I found the Citori. With my Stoeger and even my older Browning A-5 there was a little play in the trigger. For hunting, this wasn’t as much a problem and in sporting clays, I always just tensed up the slack in the trigger before calling pull. With the Citori – not necessary.

Once the trigger was pulled I noticed another positive characteristic, the muzzle rise was minimal – even with a full 1 1/8oz 12 gauge target load the recoil was there, but it wasn’t a problem and almost all of the energy seemed to push the gun back into my shoulder instead of propelling the muzzle upwards. This meant easy second shots on doubles – the barrel was still on plane.

I opened the gun and the hulls ejected solidly into my hand (you can let them fly by your head and on to the ground if you like – but I reload).

The rest of the skeet round went very well. I would never have expected it, but my first round with a brand new gun – I went straight – 25 for 25 targets.

The long run

Putting 25 or 100 shells through a gun is one thing, but I believe doing a review that early only tells you if the gun performs as expected out-of-the-box. Hunters and competitive shooters need to know if a gun will perform like that 2,000, 5,000, 20,000 and 50,000 shots later.

This Citori XS Special has shot more than 10,000 rounds since last winter. It has shot 1300fps 12ga. field loads in sporting clays and 1150fps skeet loads on the skeet stations. It has been shot with and without Briley Ultralight tubes. It has not once, not ever, failed to fire – and I reload (did I mention that?)

The gun opens much easier now than it did when first purchased. Pushing the lever to the right with a sharp flick of the wrist and it’s fully open. Even after tens of thousands of rounds, the lever is still in the same right-of-center position as when it was purchased (image right). You’ll also notice the scroll-work on the opening lever and the top tang safety/barrel selector in that picture as well.

The ejectors and barrel opening have shown some discoloration as is to be expected, but no corrosion or pitting. The image to the left shows the barrels and ejectors, but with the Briley sub-gauge tubes in the barrels – mainly because I forgot to take them out before snapping the picture.

The engineering in the gun is solid as anyone knowing Browning’s work would expect. Everything is over-sized, overdone, over-thought, over-everything. It has the traditional full-width, transverse, tapered locking bolt, full width hinge pin and heftily-constructed ejectors. As is the Browning heritage, “these guns don’t wear out, they wear in”.

I have found the gun to handle every clay game I have thrown it at, every round I have fed into it and every skeet field I have put it on.

This gun is the gun that I took the rookie class 12ga gold medal and a firm showing in .410 bore at the NSSA World skeet mini event and 3 more medals in the NSSA World Skeet main event.

This gun is already a world champion and rightfully so. If I had gone to San Antonio with the Stoeger, no way I would have received those scores. For wing- shooters, those scores represent birds in the bag. If nothing else, I repeat – never a failure to fire.

I have since given the Browning to another TS reviewer to shoot with. At this time, he is looking for something a lot like it. Honestly, so am I. I am planning to buy the 2012 version of this gun –  the new Citori 725 Sporting with 30″ barrels and an adjustable comb. This gun has been flawless, has won at a World Championship and is a dream to shoot.

What I Wish They’d Done Better

The wood is not as good looking as I’d like on a shotgun in this price range. It appears that Browning has learned its lesson as the 2012 Citori 725 sporting has wood 2-3 grades higher.

I also find the forend release level a but difficult to deal with when I have shooting gloves on. It’s not a major irritation to have to remove my gloves before disassembling the gun, but it is an irritation none the less.

What is the Difference between the Browning Citori XS Skeet and XS Special?:

The guns are almost identical. With an adjustable comb, both guns MSRP is $3600.00, they both have the same forend, trigger assembly, ejectors, barrels and porting.

The few differences of note are that the the skeet is only listed with 28″ or 30″ barrels while the special can be purchased with barrels up to 32″. The wood on the XS Skeet is one grade higher (III/IV) while the special is grade II/III. The skeet is offered only with two flush chokes (the XS Special comes with five extended chokes) and the XS skeet is about 8oz. lighter. The XS Skeet’s top rib is higher than the XS special’s full parallel rib which might be necessary for a shooter with a longer neck.

 Would I Buy One Again

If I didn’t already own one, I would definitely buy another Browning Citori XS Special. This gun still shoots like new, has worn-in beautifully and hangs with the shooters fielding guns at 4-5 times the cost.

 

 Taking the XS Special into another season – 2012 here we come…

Another six months and 6,000 rounds and I have nothing negative to add. The XS Special has held up under heavy shooting, heavy loads and frequent travel. I will be using this gun as my primary as I make my push for an All-American honor.

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