Pheasants Forever reviews 8 new 12-gauge shotguns for upland hunters
By Larry Brown
I’ve loved Pheasants Forever’s annual Shotgun Showcase for years. As something of a shotgun nut, I have always enjoyed and utilized the reviews of what’s new on the upland gun market. This year, I was privileged to participate.
Those of us who arrived in suburban Chicago the evening before the event were greeted with weather that was unsettled — to say the least! There was plenty of thunder and lightning to interrupt attempts at sound sleep, and to spoil dreams of breaking clay targets with an exciting variety of shotguns.
But the next morning found fortune — and the sun — shining on us. The weather was about as perfect for our purpose as a mid-May day could be for some two dozen shooters to put about that many different guns through their paces on Northbrook Sports Club’s sporting clays range.
Pheasants Forever’s Erin Holmes reviews the Shotgun Showcase womens’ and youth guns here
Take a look at the video, then take in the guns one-by-one, following!
REMINGTON V3 FIELD SPORT
“We are proud to say that the finest autoloaders in the world aren’t made in Italy, Belgium or Japan. They’re built right here.” Remington isn’t shy about praising their autos!
The V3 version we tested had a walnut stock and forend, but it’s also available in black synthetic and a couple of camo versions: Mossy Oak Blades and Mossy Oak Break-Up Country.
The gun is chambered for 3-inch shells, but will cycle all 12-gauge loads. V3s are available with either 26- or 28-inch barrels. The V3 we shot tipped the scales at 7.2 pounds. Length of pull (LOP) is 14¼ inches.
Remington touts the gun as “the softest recoiling auto in the field,” due to their Versaport gas system. It’s also fitted with a Super Cell recoil pad. And just about all of our shooters gave it good marks in that area.
The V3 also got solid marks in the function area: no problems reported, and several shooters made comments like “Action worked well,” or “Cycled very well.” It definitely lived up to Remington’s claims concerning both recoil and function.
There weren’t many comments about the V3’s appearance, which some shooters disliked. But it is, after all, an autoloader with a relatively modest price tag. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $995 for the walnut-stocked gun; $100 less for the black synthetic version.
Roy Ames, a member of NAVHDA, commented: “Felt like a Remington 1100. Good, solid gun!” Considering that the 1100 is the best-selling autoloader ever, that’s pretty high praise for Remington’s newest semi-auto.
BERETTA A300 OUTLANDER SPORTING
This was one of only a couple dedicated target guns we tested. But at 7¼ pounds with a 30-inch barrel, the Outlander Sporting can work for someone looking for one gun with which to shoot both targets and live birds. It comes with three Mobilchokes, as well as spacers to permit modification of both drop and cast.
Although our test version had a walnut stock and forend (with the wood receiving positive comments from several shooters), it’s only one of several versions of the same model. Some are limited editions, such as the Trident, which is available only at Dick’s Sporting Goods stores. There are other camo versions made specifically for turkey or waterfowl hunters.
Although the Sporting version we shot had a 30-inch barrel, the basic A300 Outlander is also available with 24-, 26- and 28-inch barrels. MSRP for the basic gun is $900, while the Sporting package costs an additional $200 — which is pretty much an entry level price for an autoloader designed for target shooting.
As a gas-operated gun, recoil should be light — and one shooter remarked that it shot like a 20-gauge. But some of the women who tried it remarked on recoil. That’s likely because, with a longish length of pull (LOP), it didn’t fit them very well.
The Outlander breaks down into just four major components for easy maintenance. The safety is reversible. Sling attachments are also part of the package.
Doug Magno, Lake County PF Chapter, summarized his experience with the gun: “Nice, smooth cycling. Overall solid.”
BROWNING SILVER FIELD COMPOSITE
The Silver Field bears some resemblance to Browning’s classic Belgian A-5 on the outside, but it’s all new on the inside. The gun’s Active Valve gas system reduces recoil and will cycle all loads up to 3½ inches. The old A-5 requires an internal adjustment when you go from heavy field loads to light target loads, or vice versa.
At just over 7½ pounds with a 28-inch barrel, this shotgun is no lightweight. But most shooters prefer some weight in a gun chambered for 3½-inch shells. Browning has shaved some ounces off the Silver Field by making it with an aluminum alloy receiver.
The barrel is also back-bored to aid in recoil reduction, and to improve patterns. It comes with three Invector Plus chokes. The finish is matte black. Browning has also fitted the gun with an easy-to-remove trigger assembly.
The Silver’s 14¼-inch LOP seemed to work pretty well for everyone, including the women who tried it. “Nice gun, would hunt with it!” said Erin Holmes, Illinois/Indiana state coordinator for PF. “Single bead sight is nice and bright. Nice swing,” commented Claudia Boothe, Illinois Learn to Hunt graduate.
MSRP of the composite version we tested is $1,070. But there are several other members of the Silver Field family, including a Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades version that’s also a 3½ inch gun, and two different rifled Silver Fields for deer hunters. One eye-catcher for fans of classic designs is the Black Lightning, which has walnut wood and the round knob grip seen on Belgian Brownings.
Then there’s a basic Silver Field, which like the Lightning weighs 7¼ pounds. For younger shooters and smaller women, there’s the Micro Midas with an LOP of 13” and a 24-inch barrel. These last three are chambered for 3-inch shells rather than 3½ inches.
BROWNING BPS FIELD
Pumps aren’t as popular these days as they once were. But one that has clearly stood the test of time is Browning’s BPS (it’s been around since the 1980s). This year it is available in a new Field version. The BPS is somewhat unique among pumps in that it’s a bottom feed/bottom eject gun, like the old Ithaca Model 37. This may appeal to lefties, as will the safety located on top of the receiver. Also, shooters used to doubles will find that location very familiar.
The Field version we tested, a 3-inch gun with walnut wood and forend, is no lightweight at 7 pounds, 11 ounces. The 28-inch barrel was matte blue with a vent rib. Three Invector Plus chokes are included. Many of the women found the gun too heavy and long, and even some of the men had issues with the LOP. But Chauncey Niziol of Chauncey’s Great Outdoors clearly liked it. He commented: “I really want one!”
MSRP on the BPS is $600, which makes the gun a winner for the budget-conscious buyer.
There are a bunch of different versions of the BPS: various camo patterns for waterfowl and turkey hunting (including in 10-gauge); a matte black synthetic version; and a rifled BPS for deer hunters. There’s also a Micro Midas with 13-inch LOP that I expect many young hunters and women would like. It’s available with a 22-inch barrel and, in 20-gauge, weighs under 7 pounds. That gun includes stock spacers to adjust LOP. The BPS is also available in 28 and .410 — and even in 16-gauge, for those who still use the old classic upland gauge.
WINCHESTER SX4 UNIVERSAL HUNTER
Winchester’s latest auto is designed for the shooter who wants one gun that will do everything. It’s a 3½-inch gun but weighs only 7 pounds 2 ounces with a 28-inch barrel and 14¼-inch LOP. It’s also available with either a 24- or 26-inch barrel. Many of the shooters felt that it could indeed serve as a “jack of all trades.”
The Universal Hunter version comes in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo. The synthetic stock has a rounded grip, and the barrel sports a Truglo fiber optic bead sight.
Winchester included a number of features on this gun that will appeal to autoloader fans: a drop-out trigger group; reversible safety; larger bolt handle and bolt release button (good news for cold- weather hunters wearing heavy gloves!); and sling swivel studs. There are spacers to adjust the LOP.
The gun’s Inflex Technology recoil pad and Active Valve gas system help tame recoil, which is particularly important on a 3½-inch gun as light as this one.
MSRP is $1,070, and the Universal Hunter found plenty of fans. “I’ll buy that one!” said Ross Fogle, Illinois field rep and senior field rep for PF/QF. And it seemed to fit almost everyone. Two of the women gave it top marks all the way down, and two of the men said it was their favorite auto of the bunch.
BLASER F16 GAME
If we’d named a 12-gauge beauty queen, Blaser’s F16 Game, a 3-inch over-under gun, would have been the clear winner. Over half the reviewers raved about it. “This is a beautiful gun that anyone would be proud to carry in the field,” said Eric Schenck, executive director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation. And it was no surprise to most that the Blaser’s MSRP of $3,800 was also the highest of our 12-gauge test guns.
But you get what you pay for. The Grade 2 wood was stunning. With a slim English-style forend and a weight of 6.8 pounds, it also got high marks for handling. Although the receiver was plain gun-metal gray with just the F16 logo and no other engraving, it went well with the rest of the package. This shotgun also has the lowest profile receiver of any 12-gauge OU on the market.
Altogether, the result was a great weight balance and feel between the hands, and a smooth swing with the 28-inch barrels (30-inch also available). The three flush-mounted chokes are classified as ¼, ½ and ¾ by the European system. That equates to improved cylinder, modified and improved modified on this side of the pond.
One issue for some shooters was the 14¾-inch LOP, which was a little long.
The gun functioned well for most shooters. Some people are more sensitive to trigger pull weight than others. Those who are will love the Blaser’s trigger. It is crisp and lets off at just over 3 pounds. The gun also has a very fast lock time.
The F16 comes with a nice hard case. Sling swivels are included but aren’t mounted. The other F16 is a Sporting version, with 32-inch barrel standard.
If you want to take a peek at some real eye candy, there are two upgraded versions of the F16. The Grand Luxe features Grade 6 wood and a receiver completely covered with scroll engraving. The Heritage goes a step beyond with Grade 8 wood and game-scene-engraved sideplates, like you might see on a very fancy sidelock gun.
CZ SOUTHPAW STERLING
We shot an over-under modified for left-handed shooters. A couple reviewers appreciated that fact. “Glad to see a dedicated entry-level left-handed shotgun,” wrote Rod Campbell, Illinois DNR wingshooting instructor. Mary Ellen Stites, Illinois DNR volunteer wingshooting instructor, commented: “I shoot lefty, so this gun felt good. Good palm swell.”
The left-hand modification is cast-on: a stock bent the opposite direction of most guns made for right-handed shooters. That feature is designed to put the shooter’s left eye over the rib.
The Southpaw has a 30-inch barrel and five flush chokes, both of which target shooters will appreciate. LOP is 14½ inch, and the gun weighs in at 7½ pounds. While there are lighter OUs (like the Blaser), plenty of lefty hunters will find the Southpaw quite acceptable as a pheasant gun.
Other features include a 3-inch chamber, manual safety and automatic ejectors. Rather than being checkered, the walnut stock and forend are stippled, giving them a unique speckled appearance. The stippling provides a good grip. The trigger is mechanical, so it does not require recoil from the first shot to reset the second barrel. Inertia triggers are often quite reliable, but a light load, heavy clothing, or not having the gun tight against your shoulder, can result in a failure to reset. That can’t happen with a mechanical trigger.
There are two other guns in the Sterling line: the SCTP Sterling, a youth model named after the very popular Scholastic Clay Target Program which has encouraged so many teenagers to join high school trap teams; and the Upland, which is essentially the same gun as the Southpaw, but with 28-inch barrels and cast for righties.
MSRP on the Southpaw is $1,000.
BENELLI PERFORMANCE SHOP ULTRA LIGHT UPLAND
Benelli’s Performance Shop shotguns are fancier and cost more than standard Benellis. In addition to the extra features, you get a semi-auto 12 gauge that only weighs 6.1 pounds with a 26-inch barrel. (The 20-gauge version at 5.2 pounds with a 24-inch barrel is a lightweight champion.)
To reduce weight, the Ultra Light has a featherweight alloy receiver (with “burnt bronze” Cerakote finish), a shortened magazine tube, and a strong but light carbon fiber rib.
The Ultra Light also features an enlarged bolt handle and release lever. A lengthened forcing cone and barrel porting should help reduce recoil and improve patterns. Three Rob Roberts Triple Threat extended choke tubes are included.
Ported barrels are noisier, for sure. A louder report makes you expect more kick, and you may end up feeling it. Big 1¼-ounce pheasant loads at 1400 feet-per- second might be heavier and/or faster than you’d want to shoot in this gun. On the other hand, you can walk all day with it.
One shooter who wasn’t bothered by noise or recoil wrote: “Beautiful, versatile gun! Would be a delight to carry in the field!”
For those preferring a heavier gun in a Benelli Performance Shop semi-auto, there are waterfowl and turkey editions, plus a Super Sport target model and a Cordoba black synthetic model. (The two latter also available in 20-gauge.) In 12-gauge, these models are completely different creatures than the Ultra Light, hitting the scale at 7¾ pounds.
MSRP is $2,799.