The Gun Doctor Is Not In


I don’t know alot about shotguns so I’m hoping you can help on a problem that I’m having with my Beretta AL391 Urika shotgun. Here’s the problem:

I fire a shot (3″ Mag 1 1/4 oz 4 shot steel) and then next shell doesn’t always make it all the way into the chamber. The breech bolt is left 1/2 way open. It seems like the breech bolt is catching on the metal guide thing on the bottom but that’s just my guess. If I take out all the shells and open the chamber and slowly let it close it will also hang 1/2 open. The problem occurs with different brands of shells.

Is this how these guns operate? The manual was of little help and customer service at Beretta told me I need to send in the gun which I don’t want to do unless I have to (it’s still pheasant hunting season in MN).

Here’s a little more background. This gun is about 2 years old and has had maybe 4 boxes of shells shot through it. I’ve completely disassembed it a couple times and cleaned everything that the manual said. Last week I fully cleaned everything again and the gun jammed after the first shot with the chamber left 1/2 open and the new shell 1/2 into the chamber. I didn’t have this problem until this year. The temps have been around 30 degrees if that may have anything to do with it.

Thanks for any help,


Dear Dave,

I’d love to help, but long range gun malady diagnosis over the internet isn’t one of my strong points. I get questions every day about inoperative guns and I always have to say the same thing- I’m not a gunsmith. Take it to a real gunsmith.

If a particular gun model has an inherent design flaw, then I’d be happy to pontificate on it until the cows come home. I will help you think up new bad names for the designer. But if a gun that normally works, like your most excellent 391, gets the hiccups, you’re much better off trotting it over to your local gunsmith and having him glance at it.

You are quite right in not wanting to send it in to Beretta service, or most other factory services. Sometimes they’re OK, but usually factory service reminds me of the last scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the Ark of the Covenant gets stored in the endless gummint warehouse. I think some factory service departments work that way.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s all I can do to keep my own guns running when I have them in my possession and fuss with them. I’m utterly hopeless in telling you what is wrong with your gun when I can’t see it. I’d probably be hopeless if I were holding it in my hands too (though I would check the shell lifter for burrs and I would also pull and relube the mainspring).

So, adding to my original Ask The Technoid policy of NO OLD GUNS, I’ll have to add NO GUN REPAIRS. It’s for your own protection from my incompetence. Trust me on that. Why, according to my wife, I even have trouble properly managing my household chores to her satisfaction. Imagine that.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Load Pressures And Recoil


I’d would really appreciate some advice. I have an old shotgun, on which I get differing opinions on whether it is safe to shoot. My father in law has shot it for years with no problems.

Question is, if I do shoot it later, is it safer to use normal 1oz 2-3/4″ loads? Is the pressure / recoil lower in a 24gm load than a gee whiz 34gm load?


Dear Mark,

I really don’t do old guns. If you have doubts as to the safety of a particular gun, take it to a gunsmith and get his opinion. This isn’t the kind of judgment you can make over the internet.

As to the pressures in various shells, that depends on a particular shell. You can’t always equate pressure to payload. The little .410 operates at higher pressures than most 12 gauge loads. Loads with large amounts of shot tend to use slower powders which broaden the pressure curve without excessively raising the pressure. Your operating pressure just lasts longer to push the big load out the muzzle.

Standard 12 gauge lead shot loads have a maximum working pressure of something around 11,000 PSI according to the latest manuals. This is true whether the payload is 1-1/2 ounces or 7/8 oz because it is the gun and the SAAMI (in the USA) governing standards which determine maximum safe pressure, not the shell.

Pressure has nothing to do with recoil. Low pressure shells don’t kick any more or less than high pressure ones. Calculated recoil takes into account only the weight of the ejecta (shot, wad and powder), the speed of the ejecta and the weight of the gun. Nothing more. Pressure is not part of the equation.

Some people feel that low pressure loads or loads with slower burning powders should produce more of a “push” than a “poke” and that this makes them seem as though they kick less. I doubt this very much as the slowest burning suitable shotgun powder is only a few micro seconds slower than the fastest. I doubt if the human body can sense the difference. I arrived at this conclusion after conducting several blind tests with a number of shooters. No one could consistently spot any difference in recoil between slow and fast powders which generated the same shot load speed.

Low pressure loads often kick less because low pressures are usually associated with low velocity loads. It’s the payload velocity that’s the key here, not the pressure.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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12 Vs 20 Hunting Range Difference

Dear Technoid,

I do a lot of rough shooting and find that after a few hours the weight of my 12 bore over and under excessive. I have tried a lighter side by side but do not shoot so well with this format of barrels. A friend has recommended I try a 20 bore over and under as the weight of gun is similar to an English side by side. My questions are : What is the effective killing range of both bores?. What loss of shot spread can I exspect at ranges between 25 yards and 45yards?. I look forward to your reply.


Dear Malcom,

It really all a question of shot load, not of gauge. Let’s say that you typically shoot 1-1/4 oz of #6 shot in your 12 gauge and 1 oz of #6 shot in the 20. If the vital area of a departing pheasant is 4″ x 4″ (just a guess), you have a 26.5″ killing circle with the 12 gauge and a 24″ killing circle with the 20. This is based on an optimum-sized pattern at the target (about 75% to 85% with #6s) and using the criteria of an 80% chance of a two pellet strike (same as 95% chance of one pellet or 50% chance of three) at the fringe of the pattern. In the real world, you might want to increase the fringe requirements, but for comparison it’s valid.

What it comes down to is that the twelve throws a bigger payload and this bigger payload covers a wider area. The diameter difference of 12 ga (1-1/4 oz) to 20 (1 oz) is 26.5″ compared to 24″, or on an area basis its 552 sq/in vs 453 sq/in. The 20 covers 18% less area than the 12 in this example. My goodness! That 18% is almost equal to the 20% difference in shot weight between the shells. Who would have thought it?

Note that I’m not doing this in terms of range, but in terms of pattern density at the same range. Each 10% change in pattern density is normally equivalent to about, sort of, one full degree of choke change and is good for an extra 5 yards of range. Each full degree of choke change gives the same pattern percentage (more or less, sort of) at each five yard increment. Example: IC is generally considered to be a 50% pattern, Modified generally a 60%, Full is over 70% (remember I said “sort of”- nothing to do with choke nomenclature is absolute). IC gives the same pattern at 25 yards that Modified does at 30 that Full does at 35.

Soooo- when you go from a 1-1/4 oz load down 20% to a 1 oz load, optimizing everything else, you will now be getting the same pattern density at 25 yards that you had gotten at 35 yards before. The reduction in shell size has cost you 10 yards in effective range. In exchange for an18% smaller pattern, you get a gun that is lighter to carry and faster to point. Whether the trade-off is worth it or not is strictly up to you.

You can always fudge the equation by using larger shot loads in the 20 or smaller ones in the 12. At a certain point pattern efficiency raises its head. A 20 will not pattern a 3″ 1-1/4 oz load as well as a 12 will pattern a 1-1/4 oz load, but the difference is less than the popular press would lead us to believe. I regularly get over 70% patterns from Remington Nitro Mag 3″ buffered 1-1/4 oz lead #4s out of my .015″ barrel of my 20.

Everything in hunting is a compromise. There’s no point in trying to hunt for long periods with a gun you can’t lift no matter how good that gun is ballistically. There’s also no point in hunting with a shot charge so small that you can’t humanely kill the prey. You want to find the happy medium. Being able to shoot accurately is VERY much more important than any discussion of payload and pattern. If you center the bird, it really doesn’t matter what kind of pattern you have. It’s only when you are operating on the fringe of the pattern that payload becomes important.

Generally, I think that the best advice I ever received was to hunt with the gun I shot best, not necessarily with the one that threw the biggest load of shot. The bird doesn’t care how hard you miss him.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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Fast Powders Vs Slow Powders

Dear Sir:

I am trying to resolve the issue whether or not “slow” powders have less recoil than “fast” powders in shotgun shells. To illustrate the source of the difficulty I am including a few expert and non-expert quotes.

Excerpts from articles on the subject:

1) Slow powders exert less pressure than fast powders. Pressure does not enter into the recoil calculation.

2) For the same velocity one uses more slow than fast powder. The products of combustion are part of the ejecta and the more ejecta the higher the recoil.

3) Some shooters use International Powder because it shoots softer than Clays.

Non-Expert verbal communication: 700X kicks and Green Dot doesn’t.

I am looking forward to your reply.

Dear Dieter,

This is heavy stuff and I’m not sure you should trust me where sensitivity to anything (recoil, mushy movies, babies) is concerned. I’ve covered this question before, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it again for our new readers. Besides, maybe I’ve changed my mind.

The comparison of fast and slow powders brings out the differences between “calculated” recoil and “perceived” or “subjective” recoil. As in any debate, you’ve got to define your terms to have the discussion mean anything.

I define calculated recoil as free recoil expressed in foot pounds that is calculated by the standard recoil formula. The one I use is from the SAAMI Tech Data sheet 1.0401, but there are many other sources. Basically the formula for calculated free recoil takes into account the weight of the gun, the weight and speed of the ejecta (lead shot, wad, powder) and assigns a fixed value to the speed of the exiting gasses. There is no other factor in the formula.

A standard 8# gun shooting 1-1/8 oz with a 33 grain wad and 17 grains of fast powder at 1200 3 foot velocity generates 19.73 ft/lb free recoil. A super slow powder charge of 25 grains, producing the same speed, has 20.60 ft/lb free recoil. That’s less than a 5% recoil increase for an extreme powder difference, but it does exist.

So, according to the formula, when you increase the amount of powder (usually slower powders require more grains of powder than faster powders), you increase recoil. Has to be. Got to be. Maybe not by much, but since ejecta weight increases, calculated recoil increases.

Frankly, the key to it all isn’t calculated recoil, it’s subjective recoil. It’s what you feel, not what some formula tells you. A gas operated semi-auto has exactly the same free recoil as a fixed breach gun of the same weight with the same shell, but the subjective recoil is much lower. That’s because the gas gun stretches the recoil pulse out over a longer period of time. The recoil becomes a long push instead of a sharp stab. If you graphed it, there would be exactly the same area under both curves, but the time axis of the recoil curves would differ substantially.

In theory, it’s the same with fast and slow powders. In theory, slow powders give you a push, while fast powders give you a poke. The funny thing about it though is that different people perceive it in different ways. For everyone who thinks he feels that the slow powder gives a softer push, I’ll show you someone who thinks that the faster powder is softer because it doesn’t push as long. I’ve done blind tests comparing 700X and Unique (even further apart than 700X and Green Dot)and split 50/50 with my test group as to which one kicked more. As I said, it’s real subjective.

I have found that it’s easier to get a tight patterning shell with slower powder because I think that the slower powders distort less shot at ignition. Still, the difference was slim and there are many other variables. I wouldn’t write that one in stone.

Bottom line: If you think that slower powders kick you less, then by all means use them. They only cost a little more due to the large charge weights required. But remember one thing- if you notice a lot of difference in the recoil, get out your chronograph and recheck the speeds. Slower shells definitely, positively kick less than fast ones when the payload is equal.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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28 Gauge Reloading


I have a quantity of AA (not AAHS) 28 ga hulls and looking for a 3/4 oz (or 7/8 oz I wish) load for 1200 – 1250 fps using standard wads and primers. Alliant site now only gives data for 28 ga AAHS. I shoot a 28 ga Beretta BL3 that I have had for 30 years and I consistently kill more doves with it than with any of my 12 or 20 gauge guns.


The Hodgdon reloading data site lists loads for both the 28 gauge “2-3/4″ Winchester AA Plastic Shells” and also the new “2-3/4″ Wincester AAHS and Super-X HS Plastic Shells”. Of course, you will have to use Hodgdon powder for these recipes.

If you already have some Alliant 28 gauge powder, why not just give the company a call and ask if they still have any data on reloading the older AA hulls? In the past, I’ve found them very cooperative for such requests. They have all the data, but they just don’t publish it when they feel a hull is outdated.

Like you, I love the 28 and have amassed a large supply of the older AA plastic hulls. I’ve had good luck loading Unique, Universal and 20/28 under the appropriate Claybuster wad.

In the current market situation, getting the reloading recipe is one thing. Actually finding some shotgun powder to buy is quite another. But that too will pass.

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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Schnable Forend’s Purpose?

Dear Technoid,

What is the function of the schnable fore-end shape? Is the dip at the far side for hand placement or for an ascetic purpose? I have long arms and it still seems to be too far out on the barrel to hold the gun in an effective way.

Cheers- F.B.

Dear F.B.

The Schnable forend is pretty much a cosmetic item originally via Germany or Austria. Some shooters like the Schnable lip as a forefinger locator, others find that it gets in the way. I had a Belgian Superlight with a Schnable forend and I had the front cut off and rounded to the more traditional shape of the earlier Superlights. Teutonic stock design, like Teutonic engraving, is an acquired taste and I have yet to acquire it.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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