This question is perfect for you.
I am looking for a very reliable, quality, utility back-up semi auto shotgun. I am a long time inertia action shotgun shooter (i.e. A5s & Benelli). In fact, I have never owned a gas gun. I use my Benelli SBE for almost all hunting situations. I do not have a suitable back-up gun in case the SBE should ever break. The SBE performs extremely well, but I would feel better having a spare field gun that I could also use periodically for sporting clays.
I see Beretta offers a synthetic stock 390 priced near $600. The price is more attractive than the 391 or Benelli. I would appreciate your view on the 390 gas gun and how it compares to the 391.
What are the mechanical and operational differences are between the 390 and 391? Is the 390 as reliable as the 391? I was informed the 390 is now made in the US. Is this true? If so, then is this 390 the same as 390s made in Italy, or is it a lower quality gun? I never owned a gas operated gun. Is the 390 difficult to clean? How often does it require cleaning? Do you know how long Beretta will provide parts for the 390? I do not want to buy a gun that could soon be obsolete and have trouble finding parts? Based on you vast experience with Beretta gas guns, what spare parts should a 390 or 391 owner have in possession?
Thanks in advance for your help.
I believe that the gun you are talking about is a Beretta 3901. That’s basically a Beretta 390, but it is made in the same USA plant that makes (made, now that the US armed services are going back to the .45) the Beretta service pistol. Google “Beretta 3901” and you’ll get plenty to read about it.
For a backup to the SBE and occasional Sporting gun, I can’t think of a better choice. I don’t think that you are giving up anything to the 391 in a practical sense. The 391 is a little better in handling a wide variety of shells. The 390/3901 will handle the same range of shells without requiring any adjustment, but it’s happiest with one of Rich Cole’s (www.colegun.com) spring kits to get the absolute perfect bolt speed with real hot or real light loads.
I can’t remember whether or not the 3901 has a magazine cut-off like the 390 and 391, but that really isn’t such a big deal either way. I’ve really not spent much time with a 3901, but did use a 390 for quite some time. The actions are identical and that’s what you care about. I’ve also heard that the 3901 doesn’t come with the stock adjustment shims, but I can’t substantiate that. Doesn’t matter as they are only a few dollars from Beretta.
As to parts, I don’t see any issue as I can still get all the parts I need for my 303s. Rich Cole is a great source of parts if you choose not to go through Beretta.
As far as I could tell from the 3901s that I’ve seen, the interior is of no lower quality than any of the Berettas made in Italy. The exterior is plainer (and to my eye, more attractive), but that’s just cosmetics. Personally, I prefer the synthetic stock for general use, so the 3901 would be my pick.
While I can’t comment directly on the performance of the 3901, I sure put enough rounds through the 390 and 391. My 391 had some teething problems because it was one of the earlier ones (magazine block failure, recoil buffer failures, bent lifter), but all were sorted out and it now is flawless. My 390 never had any real problems of any kind. One of my 303s is approaching 100K and has has most of its parts replaced at one time or another, just as any gun will require after much use.
The one area where I think your SBE is better than the Beretta gas guns is in shooting when the gun is soaking wet. Sometimes I think that the Benellis will run under water (NO! Don’t really try that.) When my Beretta’s get soaking wet, they don’t like it. A little rain won’t hurt things, but when I have to pour water out of the gun, it doesn’t like it. Of course, if I cleaned my gas guns more often it might make a difference. The 391 seems to be able to go forever without cleaning. Ditto the 390 (and I assume 3901). A Canadian pal of mine once ran a dirt test on his 390. He ran thousands and thousands and thousands of shells through the gun without cleaning. You won’t have to worry about cleaning it until you feel guilty. Just slosh BreakFree CLP all over it and keep on shooting. The 303 won’t go as long, but it does pretty well, certainly much, much better than the Remington 1100.
Mechanical differences in the 390/3901 vs 391 are really mostly in the gas valving. The 391 uses a different piston and secondary gas valve. My impression was that the 391 changes were due as much to the desire to use a thinner forend as they were to change performance. I believe that the trigger groups are mechanically identical, but don’t hold me to that.
Bottom line: I think that the 390 was a heck of a gun and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one. I understand that the 3901 is a cosmetic variance of the 390, so I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it either. MSRP on the 3901 synthetic is $750, but I’ll bet you can find them for $650 or even a bit less.
One last thing- if you’ve never owned a gas gun before, you will be surprised a the reduction in recoil compared to your Benelli.
Shotgun Report’s Technoid