AL-2 Vs 390 Beretta


Dear Technoid,

Can you give me some information on the differences between these two shotguns? Beretta AL 390 Sporting and Beretta AL – 2

Look very similar.

Thanks Charley

Dear Charley,

The Email is really stacking up, so I have to make this quick. (NOT!) The AL-1, AL-2, 300, 301, 302, 303 and 304 Beretta gas guns were all basically the same. They ran this basic design from about 1971 (first importation into the US) to 1997, later in Europe. Each iteration of that gun design used increasingly simplified parts. A quick comparison of the machined magazine tube of the AL-1 and the simple extruded one on the 303 is a case in point. Still, they all used the same basic gas port and piston design.

On these guns, shell “power” acceptance was based on gas port size. The 3″ barrels had smaller ports than the 2-3/4″ ones. This enabled the 3″ barrels to handle all 3″ shells and hot 2-3/4″ ones, but not light target loads. This was typical of gas gun design at the time. The Remington 1100s worked this way too. Unfortunately for Beretta, the early 2-3/4″ barrels were gas ported to handle the hotter Italian loads and often wouldn’t work with American target loads. It literally took Beretta 20 years to do something about this and in the mean time, Beretta gas guns got a horrible reputation of not working.

It still amazes me that they didn’t figure this out. The first place that most hunters take their new gun to break it in is to the local skeet or trap club. If he expects that 2-3/4″ gun to work with target loads and it doesn’t, the word gets around. The fix was simple enough (drill the ports out a bit), but most people just sold the Beretta and bought a Remington 1100. It’s a shame because the Beretta has always been the more durable gun.

In 1997 Beretta introduced the 390 model. While the design principles are the same as the previous models (single moving piston), there was one big added feature. The 390 added a simple spring controlled gas bleed valve at the front of the barrel’s gas chamber and they made all their barrels with 3″ chambers. With light target loads there isn’t enough pressure to open the gas valve and all the gas operates the action. With heavy hunting loads, the high pressure opens the valve, vents the excess gas down to normal pressure, the valve closes and the correct amount of gas remains to operate the action.

The 390 gas action is, I believe, the simplest, most reliable and best “shoots anything” gas operated action on the market. It is easy to clean and maintain. It also works where the all-purpose actions of Remington and Browning Gold are more suspect.

Lest I get bombarded by happy 11-87 and Browning Gold owners who “have never had a malfunction in 100,000 rounds”, I happily admit that those are good guns too and may have handling and fit characteristics that some shooters prefer. The 390 is a long way from being perfect.

BUT… Look at it this way. Both the Browning Gold and the Remington 11-87 field guns come in 3″ models claimed to “shoot everything”. Why is it then that their target models are sold with 2-3/4″ chambers said to be “optimized for target loads (Remington’s words). If the 3″ barrels really can handle everything, why don’t they use them on the target guns with target loads? Beretta’s 390 field and target barrels are all 3″ because the 390 gas action really does handle everything from lighter target loads to rhino-rolling 3″ shells.

The Beretta 391, has even been successfully tested with those wimpy English subsonic loads that I haven’t been able to get to work reliably in any semi-auto (including the 390).

So, the bottom line to your question is that the AL-2, depending on its barrel chamber, will limit the kind of shell you can use. The 390 can shoot just about any 2-3/4″ and 3” shell. The AL-2 can easily be modified to shoot a “lighter” load by drilling out the gas ports if it needs it.

There, once again more than you ever wanted to know from the master of arcane drivel and pointless factoids.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC

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5 Responses to AL-2 Vs 390 Beretta

  1. I would not trade or sale my AL2 for any gun on earth. Bought mine in ’70 or ’71,full choke 12ga.

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  2. L. Stewart says:

    I purchased an AL2 new in 69 or 70. In the mid 70’s I purchased a browning 3 inch magnum barrel for the AL2. The browning barrel adjusts the gas pressure, and handles all 2 3/4 and 3 in magnum loads beautifully. The barrel also has the inside choke tubes. Never had any kind of problem with the gun.

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  3. joe says:

    You definitely can. I have an AL-1 that I received for my 15th birthday in 1973 with a 30 full barrel. I happened to mention that I had one to my wife’s cousin who is a gunsmith and he sent me a later model Beretta barrel with choke tubes that works perfectly.

    BTW, I have shot everything from heavy duck loads to very light clay loads in that gun and never had a single jam. I do keep it pristine clean.

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  4. Bruce Buck says:

    I think (“think”, not “know”) that the Beretta 303 barrels with the Mobil Chokes should fit. You should probably call Beretta service or Rich Cole at http://www.colegun.com to make sure. But it would probably be easier just to have screw chokes installed in the AL-2 barrel. Anyone can do that for you.

    Bruce

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  5. A. Lazzarini says:

    I found this informative. I inherited a fixed-choke AL-2 from my father-in-law which I have used for some ten years without a hitch. However, I wish it had removable choke tubes. So my question is whether I can replace the original barrel with any of the later-series (and how late) Beretta barrels that are outfitted with removable choke tubes.

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