In May nearly 40 upland hunting enthusiasts assembled at Hunters Pointe Sporting Clays near Humboldt, South Dakota. Their mission: test a full line-up of new shotguns for Pheasants Forever’s 2017 Shotgun Showcase. Dark clouds and rain threatened to put a damper on the event, but in the end Mother Nature left the shooters smiling. So did the shotguns. The PF supporters enjoyed sunny skies while busting clays, and when the smoke cleared, they had plenty to say about the slate of guns new for 2017. Here is a sampling.
690 Field/20 gauge
The sub-gauge guns on display at Hunters Pointe were a hot topic, including the 20 gauge 690 Field O/U from Beretta. Shooters commented on the 690’s appropriate length of pull, engravings on the receiver, “beautiful wood grain” and found it to be a soft-shooting gun, thanks to Beretta’s Micro Core recoil pad.
It’s a perfect marriage of form and function, noted Pheasants Forever member Mark Wahlstrom, and at just over 6 pounds, a hunter could carry the 690 from a day’s opening bell to the final march through the switchgrass during the Golden Hour.
“It is a light, comfortable gun that I found easy to swing on some fast moving clays,” said Wahlstrom. “I’ve always been a 12 gauge pump shotgun guy, but this 20 gauge has got me thinking.” $3475 http://www.berettausa.com
V3 Field Sport/12 gauge
The V3 Field Sport is Remington’s latest entry into the gas-operated semi-automatic market. Reliability has long been at the heart of the Remington brand, and the V3 lived up to the hallmark trait by effortlessly cycling through 100’s of rounds in just a few hours of shooting.
Mike Schatz, president of the Minnehaha (SD) Chapter of Pheasants Forever, found the fore-end to be a bit beefy, but enjoyed the V3’s light recoil and ease of use.
“It would be a gun that would work well for a hunter who needs versatility, moving between pheasants and waterfowl and turkeys,” Schatz said.
At 7.2 pounds, the V3 Field Sport isn’t as light as other models, but with a sticker price of under $1000, it’s not going to break the bank. Made in the USA. $995 http://www.remington.com
“Smooth,” “sharp,” and “well-balanced” – all words that shooters used to describe the semi-automatic 12 gauge Franchi Affinity.
A member of the Benelli family of Inertia Driven guns, the 6.8 pound Affinity performs at a level well above its $949 price-tag. Shooters at Hunters Pointe enjoyed the gun’s quick, consistent cycling of varying shells at the station, as well as the custom-grade, over-sized bolt handle, bolt release and magazine port that will make life easier for a hunter wearing gloves on a cold, late-season rooster hunt. Sioux Falls shooter Levi Miller put it plainly: “The gun has a good feel and shoots great.”
The panel of shooters also had a chance to put hands on Franchi’s Instinct L 28 gauge O/U, which received high marks for its light weight (right at 6 pounds), clean looks and low recoil. Franchi also makes the Intinct L in 12 and 20 gauges as well as a .410, but PF supporter Andrew Johnson was captivated by the 28 gauge on hand.
“It’s well-balanced, and when you lift it to your shoulder, the gun is right where it needs to be,” said Johnson, editor of Outdoor Forum magazine. “It swings true, looks great; it’s just a nice little gun.” $1699 http://www.franchiusa.com
Browning A5/ 12 gauge
Many of the shooters who handled the Browning A5 Hunter 12 gauge commented on the gun’s classic “humpback” – a nod to the brand’s iconic receiver design. But that’s about where the similarities end between the new A5 and Browning’s historic line of quality semi-automatic shotguns.
The new A5 features Browning’s Kinematic Drive System, which sends the gases from a shot shell out the barrel and converts the recoil energy into the mechanical motion needed to cycle the next round into the chamber. The result is an efficient, consistent action that handles a variety of loads in every hunting condition.
South Dakota PF supporter Brent Kastner enjoyed the A5’s easy-to-use bolt release and safety and had no problem getting his head down on the barrel to dust a pair of crossing clays.
“The A5 is a lightweight, balanced shotgun that was easy to handle and performed really well,” Kastner said. $1630 www.browning.com
Winchester Super X4/12 gauge
While the matte finish found on the new Winchester SX4 impressed many shooters, after cycling a few shells through the gun they discovered that the upsides to this semi-automatic were more than skin-deep.
Most shooters found the length-of-pull to be adequate, but the SX4 does come with spacers that fit between the stock and the recoil pad to help find the perfect fit. Light trap loads can sometimes be a challenge for gas-operated shotguns, but the SX4 handled the shells on hand from Federal Premium with ease.
“I thought the gun swung really smoothly, and I like the oversized bolt handle and bolt release button, which I think would be nice to have when wearing gloves during a winter hunt,” said Scott Rall, a PF supporter from Minnesota. $939 www.winchesterguns.com
CZ 620 & 628 Field Select
Among the sub-gauge shotguns tested at Hunters Pointe were a pair of pump-action models from CZ-USA. The 620 (20 gauge) and 628 (28 gauge) both come in at just over 5 pounds and feature select grade Turkish walnut stocks and fore-ends. Shooters found both guns to shoulder well and perform smoothly, though there was a noticeable difference in recoil with the 20 gauge when trap loads were exchanged for heavier field loads.
“The weight, action and price all make both the 620 and 628 a great entry-level shotgun,” said Jared Wiklund, PF Public Relations Manager. “Anyone who wants a lighter pump-action gun for walking all day in the field would appreciate either model.” $429 www.cz-usa.com
Fausti Class LX/28 gauge
If the number of empty shot shell boxes leftover at a station at day’s end was any indication, the Fausti Class LX 28 gauge was a very popular gun.
A member of a new line of O/U shotguns from Fausti, the Class LX 28 gauge tips the scales at 5.8 pounds and is built on a gauge-specific frame, creating a balanced, smooth swinging gun for the field.
“The fit, finish, great attention to detail – this is one sweet little gun,” said Tim Kessler, who sits on the PF Board of Directors
The model tested at Hunters Pointe sported 28-inch barrels, but shorter (26-inch) and longer (30-inch) barrels are available. Shooters commented that the Class LX is easy on the eye and easy on the shoulder, but at $3840 this 28 gauge represents a sizable investment. www.faustiusa.com
600-410 & 700s-26/.410 gauge
A .410 shotgun is often the first firearm placed in the hands of a beginning pheasant hunter, but a pair of the small-bore guns from Iver Johnson felt right at home in the hands of the experienced shooters at Hunters Pointe.
The Iver Johnson 600-410 O/U ($540) earned high marks for its light weight (6 pounds), engraved receiver with gold-colored inlay (test gun featured timberdoodles) and recoil (none). Both the walnut stock and fore-end are checkered and the barrels are choked full/full. The 700S-26 ($165) is a single-shot .410 that folds in half for easy storage and transport and weighs just over 4.5 pounds.
“For someone who doesn’t shoot a .410, this was a lot of fun,” said Lance Kramer, with SoundGear, one of Pheasant Forever’s newest corporate sponsors.
600 SA Field & CA612 Field/12 gauge
Shooters found a pair of budget-priced 12 gauge semi-automatics in the guns on display from Charles Daly. Both the 600 SA and CA612 tested tipped the scales at 7 pounds, were chambered to handle up to 3-inch loads, and wore 28” barrels with black synthetic stocks and fore-ends.
“It looks like the finish on both guns would be tough enough to handle the bump and grind that typically takes place out in the field,” said Randy Bury, PF supporter from Sioux Falls.
Where the guns differed are the actions; the 600 SA is a gas-powered semi-automatic, while the CA612 utilizes an inertia-driven bolt system designed to function in a variety of weather conditions.
The 600 SA ($370) is also available in a 20 gauge and in a RealTree Xtra Green Camo for turkey hunters. In addition to black synthetic and RealTree Xtra Green, the CA612 ($629) is available in a RealTree Max-5 pattern for waterfowl hunters. www.charlesdaly.com
Ethos Field/28 gauge - PS Upland Ultralight/20 gauge
With the Benelli Performance Shop Upland Ultralight 20 gauge, shooters found a gun loaded with features typically associated with after-market upgrades. The bells and whistles come with a price - $2799 – but this gun received some of the highest ratings of the day. The Ultralight’s satin-walnut stock and fore-end add eye-appeal, while the Cerakote-coated barrel and receiver holds moisture at bay. A ported barrel, oversized bolt and bolt release (great for cold fingers) and high performance choke tubes from Rob Roberts round out the special features.
The engraved nickel-plated receiver and beautiful walnut stock of the new Benelli Ethos 28 gauge are immediately eye-catching, but shooters at Hunters Pointe also raved about the gun’s lightweight design (5.3 pounds), easy-to-use bolt release, and virtually non-existent recoil. Standard features on the Ethos include interchangeable fiber optic sights, 5 choke-tubes (C, IC, M, IM, F) and a re-designed inertia-driven action that cycles effortlessly through a day’s worth of shells.
“The Ethos is stylish and performs flawlessly,” said PF CEO Howard K. Vincent. “It’s a gun you’d be proud to carry in the field.” $1950 www.benelliusa.com
M3000 and P3500/12 gauge
Versatility is key when it comes to buying gear that is used throughout the different hunting seasons, and that includes finding a shotgun that can handle everything from turkeys in the spring woods to late-season roosters in the snow and cold. The pair of shotguns from Stoeger on display at Hunters Pointe fit that bill.
The Stoeger P3500 is a 7-pound pump-action shotgun that will handle 2-3/4”, 3” and 3-1/2” shells and is priced at $399. The model tested had a 26” barrel and black synthetic stock and fore-end, but a 28” barrel is available, as is a Realtree Max5 finish for a bit more money ($449). Shooters found the action to work smoothly and consistently with no hang-ups.
Value-priced at $649, the Stoeger M3000 is an Inertia Driven semi-automatic designed to be used in the harshest hunting conditions. At 7-1/2 pounds, the Stoeger M3000 12 gauge was one of the heavier guns tested, but shooters appreciated its smooth action and solid build.
“For budget guns, both Stoegers appear to be well-made and functioned well,” said PF supporter, Don Lepp. www.stoegerindustries.com
The new Element semi-automatic from Weatherby earned high marks from many shooters, who enjoyed the gun’s smooth inertia-driven action, light recoil and good feel from mount to shot. The Element is available in both 12 gauge (6.75 pounds) and 20 gauge (6.25 pounds), but Scott Rall and the other shooters at Hunters Pointe put the larger bore model through its paces.
“The gun was much lighter once I got it in hand than I expected, and from there things got even better,” said Rall. “It’s one of the nicest semi-automatics I’ve shot in its price range. It sure operated like a more expensive gun.”
The Element does come in a wood model ($1100), but the gun tested featured a synthetic stock and fore-end and also came with swivel studs and four choke-tubes - all for an underwhelming price-tag of $750. www.weatherby.com
Those pheasant hunters looking for an O/U that won’t break their backs or their bank may want to take a look at the new offering from Stevens. That was the consensus of the shooters who handled the Stevens 555 E 12 gauge. Jeff Erickson, PF’s newest member of its Board of Directors, thought the 555’s light weight (6.5 pounds) may have contributed to more felt recoil, but was otherwise impressed.
“It’s a nice looking gun that swings well and feels like you could walk all day with it and not get too tired,” Erickson said.
The 555 E is also available in 20 and 28 gauges, as well as a .410. Each model features hard-wood stock and fore-end, matte barrels and engraved receiver. $865 www.savagearms.com
Many shooters agreed that the Mossberg SA 28 gauge would fit a hunter of smaller stature, but the overwhelming consensus was that this little gun would perform well on the big stage.
The SA-28 takes on a simple, classic design with its gloss-finished walnut stock and laser-cut checkering on the fore-end and grip. This gas-operated semi-automatic weighs 6.5 pounds, earned limited remarks concerning recoil and cycled shells without any issues over an afternoon of heavy use.
“You could use this gun in a lot of situations,” commented Luke Hagen of the Mitchell Daily Republic. “Because of the recoil, I think it would be a great entry-level semi-automatic for someone new to hunting or shooting.” $645 www.mossberg.com
New Shot Shells from Federal
In addition to trying out a full line-up of quality shotguns, shooters at Hunters Pointe were treated to a pair of Federal Premium Ammunition’s new offerings for 2017.
The Gold Medal Grand is the latest rendering of a shot shell that skeet, sporting clays and trap shooters have come to trust for consistent performance at the range. Among the upgrades found in the new Grand are decreased perceived recoil and uniform patterns thanks to a new two-piece wad and SoftCell technology. This new offering from Federal – a long-time supporter of Pheasants Forever’s conservation mission – also features the Rigid Primer Lock head, which produces proper ignition even at the lightest firing-pin strike. The Grand is available in 1 ounce and 1-1/8 ounce loads of 7.5 and 8 shot producing muzzle velocities between 1100-1235 feet-per-second.
The same SoftCell technology can be found in boxes of Federal’s new Hi-Bird, but don’t let the soft-shooting load fool you; there is plenty of strength in this shell. These high-powered 12 gauge 2-3/4” loads are built to deliver a knock-out punch for doves, pheasants and other upland game birds, though they proved to be equally as effective on the range. Federal’s Hi-Bird is available in both 1-1/8 and 1-1/4 ounce loads of 6, 7.5 and 8 lead shot that is engineered for the optimum hardness and density to produce even patterns and increased downrange energy. www.federalpremium.com
Story by John Pollmann