Best Ducking Auto?

Dear Technoid,

I would like to get your opinion on the best autoloading duck gun on the market today, especially in terms of reliability. I have owned and hunted with a Remington 1100 2 3/4 chambered modified choke 12 ga. for the past 15 years. I am in need of a new gun.

My father just bought a Benelli Super 90. Though it is easy to disassemble and clean, he has had a few (not many) problems with the gun jamming and with his accuracy. To be fair to Benelli, I think that he may have “overcleaned” the gun, as he was used to his old 1100. Also, he has been experimenting with the three different stock positions that Benelli offers, and his accuracy problems may be a result of too much tinkering. Other friends of mine swear by their Benellis, but some swear at them.

I’ve heard good things about Beretta’s autoloaders, and would like your opinion of how they stack up and which models are best. I understand they have both gas and inertia models. Any comments here would be much appreciated.

I have not heard much good about Browning lately. This surprises me. Any comments here would also be appreciated.

I have decided that whatever gun I buy will have a black matte finish. Please keep that in mind, though it is certainly not more important than the overall performance of the gun.

I hunt in south Louisiana marshes and my guns are typically exposed to the elements quite a bit. So which gun is best for my situation? Benelli, Browning, Beretta, or Remington? I will count on your advice tremendously, as I trust you are an objective source of information. Performance and reliability are key for me.

Thanks in advance, Robert

Dear Robert,

Best semi-auto duck gun? For my money, probably a Beretta 391.

It’s not an open and shut case though and I wouldn’t argue with you if you chose the Benelli. Here’s my personal, opinionated, semi-sagacious breakdown of each of the four guns you mention. Remember, it’s based on one guy’s point of view and even my dog doesn’t always come when I call her.

Remington 11-87: Along with the Gold, the softest shooting. Reliability in wet is fair. When they get really wet (soaking, constant, horizontal rain) they become single shots. Parts reliability is fine for the amount of shooting a hunter will do, but the guns are made out of beer cans. Some of the 11-87 models (sporting clays model for example) are beautifully balanced. Stock is small, but seems to suit a wide range of shooters. Stock is not adjustable by shims. 3″ gun not totally reliable with clay target loads. Should be cleaned every 500 rounds or so. A big plus to the Remington is that you have used one for many years and know how to deal with them. You wouldn’t have kept it 15 years if you hadn’t liked it and gotten it to work. The “new” 11-87 is really changed very little from you 1100 except in its ability to handle 3″ shells and still function well on most 2-3/4″ shells.

Browning Gold: Soft shooting. Dwarf stock and not adjustable. Significant weight forward bias. Nicest safety of the four. Works pretty well in extremely heavy rain. Parts reliability problem areas are firing pin and erosion of lower inside of ejection port. The latter is cosmetic, the former is for real. 3″ gun not totally reliable with clay target loads. The inside is made of beer cans, safety pins and plastic, but works OK. Should be cleaned ever 1000 rounds or so.

Benelli Super 90: Nice looking in the synthetic. Nice forend feel. Tiny, weenie, dwarf stock, but it is shim adjustable. Stupid cut away end of rib (drives me loonie, don’t know why). Awful trigger feel. Light weight, heavy recoil. 3″ gun not particularly reliable with clay target loads. Too much recoil for extended target shooting anyway. Not as reliable as everyone says as to parts breakage. Very nicely made inside. Will probably work underwater- very reliable in the worst possible weather conditions. Costs a couple of hundred dollars more than the others. Stays almost perfectly clean when shot, clean once a year if you remember. If not, doesn’t matter.

Beretta 391: Decent sized stock, shim adjustable. Interior parts better quality than Remington or Browning, not quite as nice as Benelli (now owned by Beretta). Should be cleaned every 3000 rounds or so. Only one of four that will reliably shoot ANY 2-3/4″ or 3″ shell, from lightest target to heaviest 3″. Good parts reliability, probably best of the four. As well balanced (though differently) as the Remington, better than the Gold or Benelli. Decent trigger. Mediocre reliability in very heavy rain. Recoil very slightly heavier than Remington/Browning, but very much lighter than hard kicking Benelli.

Beretta does market a short recoil operated gun very similar to the Benelli (perhaps made by Benelli?). It’s hard to find in the shops. If you want to go that route, get the Benelli because you get more choice in models and features.

For what it is worth, the Beretta 303/390/391 now dominate the auto segment of the clay target market where it is not uncommon to shoot 25,000 rounds per year. Their average long term reliability is unquestioned. That said, clay target shooting sure isn’t duck hunting. Target shooters wear their guns out from the inside out. Hunters from the outside in. The Benelli has a lot going for it and I don’t dismiss it. Its ability to work perfectly after being dropped overboard and fished out of the mud is important. It’s just that for me the Benelli doesn’t have the same “shootability”. The Beretta just seems to handle better for me. I like the handling of the Beretta and Remington best, the Browning and the Benelli least. It’s probably mostly in the stock configuration and that’s personal.

As far as a shotgun’s “accuracy”, they are all just a smooth tube. As long as the rib was soldered on straight (not always a given), they will all be “accurate” if the stock fits the shooter. The adjustable stock features of the Benelli and Beretta are a real plus in this department, though it isn’t all that hard to make small adjustments in the Remington and Browning if you know what you are doing and don’t over do it.

Bottom line: Reliability is very important in a duck gun, but I think that the way the gun shoots is more so. After all, what’s the point of reliably missing? Of the four guns, the Beretta shoots best for me and for most other people if you judge by the clay target market. Don’t dismiss the clay target market as being irrelevant for a duck gun. The configuration of today’s sporting clays gun is about ideal for a duck gun, though I prefer 28″ in a duck auto and 30″ for clays.

People happily shoot ducks each day of the season with each one of the four guns you are looking at. They are all reliable enough for the small amount of shooting a hunter does. If one of them feels noticeably better to you when you pick it up, then that’s the one to get. If you could learn to love any of them, I’d go Beretta, Benelli, Remington and then Browning, in that order.

By the way, I use an 870 in the duck blind.

Best regards,

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

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2 Responses to Best Ducking Auto?

  1. Hugh Chinn says:

    Beretta 390, IMHO. Cleaning regimen for any semi-auto shotgun should be after every waterfowl hunting outing, if to save the finish if nothing else. Reliability equals clean, in every shooting environment. Bruce was never a United States Marine (or if he was, he was in the air division). Never ceases to amaze me that folks who spend hours in front of the boob tube can’t find time to clean their shotguns. Priorities?


  2. Spider says:

    Another option would be the new Beretta A400 Extreme. I have been shooting one for about 8 months now, and am very pleased. Shim adjustable, multiple length of pull adjustments through both the two stock spacers and different recoil pad thicknesses, a hybrid of the Beretta gas system and the Benelli rotating bolt action. And, has a recoil reduction system built into the stock. Synthetic stock, as appropriate for a hunting gun. 7 lbs 8 oz on my scale.

    I have shot at least 5000 rounds at clays through it, and most everyone that shoots it comments on the “pointability”. I shoot it at least as well as my 391, which has been tweaked over the years to fit me very well. Reliability seems good, as I went for a very long time without cleaning it just to see what happens. Will note that I have not shot it in lousy weather conditions yet, but will have a better report after I take it to South Dakota, where my guns end up ingesting lots of dust, grass stems, seeds, water and maybe icy conditions, as I hunt ducks and pheasants hard for four or five days straight no matter what the conditions. Beretta reportedly designed it for such conditions.


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