I read the article on Gas Operated shotguns becoming more popular. I wanted to get your thoughts on gas operated autoloaders vs. recoil operated autoloaders.
I do some upland hunting and am getting interested in clays. Currently I use a pump 12 gauge but I have been looking at O/U and autoloaders and I am leaning towards the autoloaders. The article did not mention recoil autoloaders, is that because there are so few of them or are there inherent problems with the design or are there problems shooting lighter loads. I did notice that Benelli, the only manufacturer that I saw making recoil operated autoloaders, lists suggested loads from 11/8oz and up.
I have been looking at a Benelli M1 Field or a Beretta A390/391. I would appreciate any insight, thoughts and suggestions that you can offer.
This question comes up frequently and it’s a good one. Historically, the recoil operated design is simpler and was initially more reliable than the gas operated design. The first semi-auto shotguns were all recoil operated. Designing a semi-auto shotgun is quite a demanding task due to the wide variety of ammunition it must be able to handle. Designing a semi-auto rifle or pistol is easier due to a less extreme variety of bullet weights/pressures. In rifle and pistol ammo, pressures are kept relatively equal regardless of the bullet weight. In shotgun, pressures can vary widely.
Today, the Benelli (wholly owned by Beretta) is the archetypical “recoil operated” shotgun, while the Beretta is probably the best gas gun on the market. The Benelli recoil system uses a split bolt and a fixed barrel. It cycles quickly over a short distance. As only part of the bolt is moving during the initial cycle, there is a low mass of movement. Benellis shoot extremely clean and work well when dirty or wet.
Benellis have two disadvantages: 1) they have more perceived recoil than an equivalent gas operated gun, and 2) they are less flexible as to the range of shells they will operate with.
I’ve always likened Benelli recoil to a pool ball shot. Sometimes when you hit the cue ball dead center on an object ball, the cue ball will just freeze while the object ball will scoot away with exactly the same speed and energy as the cue ball had. It’s sort of total and instant transfer of energy. That’s how the Benelli feels to me. No, this isn’t very scientific, but the result perceived by many shooters is accurate. The bottom line is that many people feel that the Benelli doesn’t reduce recoil the way a gas gun does. The fact that it has a dinky short stock doesn’t help either.
Some of my readers have reported that the 3″ Benellis don’t handle light one ounce target loads well. Others have had better luck. It varies. My test Benelli “Sport” with 3″ chambers (basically a Montefeltro), did OK with some 1 oz loads and not with others. In addition to the shell, gun break-in and ambient temperature may be a factor here. The guns worked great on all the heavy stuff.
The Beretta 391 gas gun, to use the latest iteration, is softer shooting than the Benelli. The gas mechanism operates more slowly than the Benelli and recoil is stretched out over a longer period of time. Perceived recoil is less. Additionally, the Beretta 391 is completely comfortable using a wide range of shells from 7/8 oz standard velocity up to the heaviest 3″ shells. On the downside, the Beretta 391 works fairly reliably when soaking wet, but not as reliably as the Benelli. The Beretta also gets dirtier than the Benelli as it is used and will require cleaning more often. This is especially true for waterfowlers who drop their guns overboard into salt water. The Beretta is harder to completely disassemble due to the mainspring in the stock. That said, I’ve heard stories of 391s going thousands of rounds between cleanings and. sloven that I am, have personally run my own 303s over 2,000 rounds before any attention. I don’t drop mine into salt water though.
Both guns appear to be about identical as to mechanical reliability. You hear about Beretta autos breaking more than Benellis because there are so many more Berettas being used in high volume target situations, while the Benellis are used mostly by hunters who don’t shoot as much. One of the ranches I shot at in Argentina had Benellis as house guns. They liked them because they didn’t have to clean them very much, but they broke parts just as often as the Berettas did. This isn’t a knock on either gun as neither breaks very often at all. Both are very good this way. The 390 Beretta did have some breakage problems with links and struts that weren’t properly hardened, but that is long past and the current model holds up well. Still, if you shoot any gun long enough, something will break sooner or later.
Generally, the Benelli appeals to hunters who aren’t concerned with recoil because they take so few shots, while the Beretta appeals to clay target shooters and those to whom recoil is a factor. Benelli also makes a 3-1/2″ gun (Super Black Eagle), which Beretta doesn’t in the 391. Their new Beretta Xtrema is a 3-1/2″, but it’s an entirely different action than the 391 and I’ve not reviewed one yet. I’m going to get Beretta to send me one as it has a very different feel from the 391.
In clay target shooting, the Beretta 391 and previous model 390 have come to dominate gas gun usage. This used to be the territory of the Remington 1100, but the Beretta is simply a better and more reliable gun than the Remington. Time has moved on and Remington hasn’t. Beretta updates their guns quite frequently to keep them current.
Benellis tend to cost a bit more than the Berettas.
Bottom line: If you shoot only clay targets, definitely pick the Beretta 391 over any Benelli. If you were only interested in field shooting, one of the Benellis is a good choice if you like the feel of the gun better than the Beretta. In the field, I think it’s more of a toss-up. The Beretta would be good in high volume dove shooting. If you were exclusively a waterfowler, then the Benelli gets the nod (until I can test the Xtrema). If you are recoil sensitive, pick the Beretta.
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)