Beretta 303 Mystique


Sporting clay shooters have raised the Beretta 303 to mythical status. Used 303s seem to sell for more than they cost new. Why does the Browning B-80 not share the rarified air of the 303? Other than the slight humpback of the B-80 they look the same. The Beretta 390 silver mallard (I think) had the same style hump.

I think I remember you saying you had B-80s at one time?

Any info would be great.



Dear Mike,

People always want what they can’t have. I’ve had a few B-80s and still have one. I also have two 303s (30″ flat rib Mobil Choke trap guns with the parallel stocks). The two guns are mechanically virtually identical, but the ergonomics are very different. The B-80s had “dog leg” stocks (lots of drop) with a very relaxed pistol grip plus the A-5 receiver hump. Depending on the model, some of the 303s came with pretty good stocks. Also all the 303s came with aluminum receivers, while only certain models of the B-80 did. Most came with steel receivers.

The configuration of the B-80 made it pretty good for hunting, but not as good for targets. The 303 came in both versions and I think that’s where the reputation came from. Clay target shooting is like car racing in that they both get most of the publicity, compared to “civilian” use, while really reflecting a very small percentage of the product usage.

The B-80s were assembled by Browning from Beretta parts and designs. At that time Browning and Beretta had interlocking corporate directorships. Browning was just coming out of its unsuccessful gas operated 2000 series and wanted to “borrow” a proven design from Beretta until they could come up with their new Browning A-500 designs (which proved equally unsuccessful).

The big difference between the B-80s/301~3s and the newer gas autos from Browning and Beretta is that the older guns aren’t design to interchangeably take 2-3/4″ and 3″ shells. It’s one or the other. In fact, the early versions of the Beretta required a pretty crisp 2-3/4″ shell to get them to work with light target loads. The Beretta gas gun was never as popular as the Remington 1100 until Beretta figured that out. It only took them 20 years. Go figure.

My 303s and B-80s weren’t (aren’t) quite as reliable in the rain as the newer models. Once my guns get sopping, soaking wet, it’s all over. Others have figured out ways to keep their old guns running when wet, but I never did. I think that the newer 390 and new 391 are just as reliable as the B-80/30x series guns were. Sure there were a few teething problems with the 390 and 391 with buffers, shell cut offs, struts and links, but those have long since been figured out. The Beretta designed gas guns are certainly very reliable.

I have one 303 that I have shot a ton. Well, over 90K according to my log books. The only modifications I’ve made to it have been to get Allan Timney to do the trigger. I also used his hardened hammer struts and link. Additionally, I use a magnum recoil spring in place of the standard one. I replace the spring every 5~10K. Other than that, the gun just chugs along. I’ve replaced most of the parts (including a couple of bolts) over the past 15 years, but nothing approaching what I had to put into my 1100s. My other identical 303 is virtually unused as I kept it for a spare and never really needed it.

I had a 12 gauge B-80 that I also shot a bunch, though not as much. The gun never gave me the slightest trouble. Considering that the insides were the same as the 303, there is no reason why it should have. Someone talked me out of it, but then I found an as new B-80 20 gauge at a tag sale for a ridiculous price. I bought it, but then had to sink an equal amount into getting the stock adjusted to fit me. That took it out of the bargain category for sure, but it’s still a neat dove gun.

So, why are the 303s so much in demand now? I don’t have a clue. They are a good gun, but nothing magic. A properly set up 391 ought to be just as good. Funny though. I recently sold my 391 to someone who just insisted that he have it, and now I’m back to my 303s for clays. Maybe there is something to that 303 myth after all.

Best regards,

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

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