Which Gas Gun?

Hi Bruce,

I need some help, which is nothing new. I shoot trap and skeet with some friends and find that I am at somewhat of a disadvantage because I shoot a 20 gauge while my friends have 12 gauge semi-auto’s. I really like the 20 because I am a small statured guy, but I realize that I am handicapping myself with it to some degree.

I have a 12 gauge pump, which I have used, but we tend to have long shooting sessions of 75-100 birds per person. My shoulder is pretty sore after a session like that with a 12G pump. As a result I have been looking for a reasonably priced semi-auto that is soft shooting. I have looked at all the major brands and am now thoroughly confused. The Beretta 391 is nice but quite light for a 12 and very expensive. It has to kick more than its predecessor, the heavier 391. The Browning Gold Hunter is a great gun, but the proportions on the gun feel too large for me. The Remington 11-87 feels like a very well balanced gun that is reasonably priced and now has a $50 rebate. I know that you prefer the Beretta 390’s, but I haven’t been able to find one except with a synthetic stock that has no butt pad and no stock adjustment shims. I believe that you mentioned in the past that the Remington is perhaps the softest shooting 12G available, however, I rarely see them in competition. Is this due to reliability or the fact that it doesn’t have any snob appeal to some shooters?

If I am going to step up to a 12G for my regular shooting sessions then it is important that it be a soft shooter. What do you recommend?

My shoulder thanks you for your suggestions and comments.


Dear Bob,

The most important thing in a shotgun isn’t the gauge or the shotload, it’s how well the shooter handles the gun. If you feel that you can handle a 20 better than a 12, then you will probably shoot the 20 better. The average miss is by a larger margin than can be accounted for by the difference between a 12 and 20 gauge payload. People fixate on shooting an entire ton of shot because they either think that they can buy extra birds or because they don’t want to admit that they are at fault when they miss. Look at all the hunters who keep getting larger and larger magnums to make up for the fact that they can’t shoot worth a darn because they don’t practice. Finally, they get a magnum gun so painful and awkward to shoot that it becomes self-defeating.

That said, a 12 does have an advantage over a 20 in pattern size. Whether that advantage makes up for the 12s heavier weight and higher recoil strictly depends on the shooter. If a gun isn’t comfortable for you, you won’t shoot it well no matter how ballistically magnificent it is. This is an area of compromise and balance.

The 12 gauge semi-auto does have some advantages. Most of gas operated semis will happily shoot a 7/8 oz (20 gauge) payload all day. The exceptions are the inertia recoil operated Benellis, Franchis and Stoegers. Inertia guns are very sensitive to loads. The Benelli Ethos will handle 7/8 oz loads, but it’s a light weight field gun.

Generally, 7/8 patterns better from the 12 barrel than from the 20, so in this case you can have your cake and eat it too. You can always go to a 1 oz or 1-1/8 oz load later if you wish. The 12 is usually a heavier gun than the 20, but 12 gauge autos come in all sorts of weights. Field guns are generally lighter than target guns. You will notice some difference in weight between the Beretta 391 field model and the sporting clays model.

Currently I prefer the Berettas to the Remington 1100/11-87 because I think the Berettas are slightly more reliable as to parts breakage and functioning with a broad range of shells. I don’t know much about the Browning Maxus as I don’t see them used often for targets. The 12 gauge Gold was a very soft shooting gun, but had some firing pin issues.

Beretta has also come out with a 391 replacement, the A400. The field version is quite light, while the target version is standard weight. As of yet, the model is too new to have much of a track record, but so far it seems pretty good, if expensive. I do have a friend who shoots an A400 Sporter with extremely light loads and it functions well. That said, I also think that the Brownings and Remingtons shoot slightly softer. None would be a bad choice. If it helps, today the Beretta is FAR more popular in clay shooting than the other two. There has to be a reason, but you may have personal requirements that give the other guns the edge.

The Beretta 390, 391 and 400s all come with stock shim kits so that you can adjust the height and cast to suit. Beretta also sells a less expensive A300 auto field version which is basically the 391 held over. They did the same thing when the 391 was introduced by selling the 3901, which was a version of the previous 390.

The Remington 1100 or 11-87 is a decent gun. It’s soft shooting and has a certain feel to it that many people still prefer. I shot them for years in International Skeet. Once they get some age on them they do start to eat parts more than the Berettas. All gas guns are a cinch to fix if you have the parts. There was a run of Remingtons with poorly installed screw chokes, but I think that the current ones have fixed that problem. I’d certainly check the point of impact of any Remington I bought just to make sure.

Don’t overlook the used gun market. Often you can get a real bargain in an older model. Personally, my gas guns are Beretta 303s, not the newer 390, 391s or 400s. I have nothing against the new guns, but I’m so pleased with the performance of the 303s over the years that I’ve never bothered to buy new ones. If it ain’t broke…

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

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One Response to Which Gas Gun?

  1. Tom Shaw says:

    At 63 I just got into skeet and sporting clay shooting about 1 1/2 years ago. I also had a total joint replacement of my right shoulder which made me think long and hard about recoil. I started with a 20 gauge Benelli Cordoba, figuring it would have less recoil. I have to say that it wasn’t bad at all but I got the itch for a 12 gauge. I tried a lot of different guns and settled on a Benelli Legacy Sport. It didn’t bother my shoulder too much but it was giving me a cheek slap that at first didn’t bother me but after 4 boxes of shells, I had a big black and blue mark. I tried every adjustment possible but couldn’t get rid of it.

    Then I read about the Browning Maxus. It has the Inflex recoil butt pad which helps prevent cheek slap and is a .742 bore, for softer shooting and better patterning. I was amazed at how comfortable this gun was to shoot. Absolutely no cheek slap or shoulder discomfort even after 6 boxes of shells. It fits me perfectly and is very well balanced. I liked it so much that I bought a second one, but this time with a tiger maple stock which is gorgeous. Of all the semi’s I had shot with; Beretta 391, 400, Remington 1100 and various Benelli’s, this was definitely the softest shooting of them all, IMO.


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