303 Berettas

Dear Technoid,

You’ve another A303 Convert. Two actually. After conversing with you on the merits of the 303 and searching shotgunreport for all the 303 info it contains, I decided to pick up a 26″ barrel A303 12 ga for Sporting Clays efforts. It came with a modified screw-in choke and thats what we used. I shot it well and my 13 year-old son shot it even better.

Knowing your “gas guns are like sheep” motto, that they know when they’re alone… I’ve a line on a 30″ A303 with fixed full choke. Is this likely the trap gun 303 configuration of which we read so often about that you shoot, or do you have the Mobilchokes ?

Should I consider, after it arrives, having it fitted for after-market screw-ins, or just leave it as is and shoot mostly trap with it?

A Convert,
Dear Jack,

I really ought to clear the air on this one. Yes, I do shoot 30″ 303 Beretta trap guns in standard factory condition except for a Timney trigger job, hardened hammer struts, link and 302 magnum main spring. Otherwise the guns are unmodified in any way. Actually, I just shoot one gun (about 70,000 rounds now). The backup gun is NIB and just waiting for the first one to wear out.

I use the 303 for ALL clay target games. One gun. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t the only gun I shoot by a long stretch. I have to review a new gun bi-monthly for my Shooting Sportman column. But the important thing is that I feel comfortable shooting that 303 on everything from wobble trap to sporting clays to skeet to ZZ to FITASC to whatever. The only game where I don’t think it’s ideal is International Skeet. There it is usable, but not ideal due to the extreme speed of the birds.

My guns do have the Mobilchokes factory installed. I have quite a collection of chokes for the gun, but have never found any that offered a noticeable improvement over the factory Mobilchokes. I use a Royal wrench to remove and insert my chokes because I don’t like them to come loose. Finger tightening extended chokes is an alternative, but I like the flush jobs as my gun has enough muzzle weight as it is. I just made sure to mike the chokes to get the constrictions I wanted.

Is the 303 the Holy Grail of gas guns? I certainly don’t think so. The 303’s gas action is really unchanged in design from all the Beretta gas actions that went before in the AL-1, AL-2, 300 (yes, there was one), 301 and 302. With each iteration of their gas gun, Beretta found ways to make production shortcuts. You can quickly see this by comparing the machined magazine tube of the AL-1 to the extruded tube of later guns. They experimented with various magazine cut-offs, gas port sizes, wood configurations and the like, but the basic gun remained unchanged until the 390 gas action.

The 390 and 391 gas actions are a real improvement over the 303 and preceding. I like the idea that I can “tune” the 390 gas action to a particular shell by using one of Rich Cole’s valve springs. With the 303, I had to use a magnum mainspring to tailor the action to the shell I was using. I felt that the 390 gas action was clearly superior, especially when constantly switching shell strengths. Don’t get me wrong. My 303 will eat any of the 2-3/4″ shells I have used from 7/8 oz to 3-3/4 dram 1-1/4 oz pigeon loads. It’s just that the new actions will do it with less stress on the gun at the high end and yet deal with lower pressure shells at the low end.

My problem with the 390 I first had was that silly stepped rib. I couldn’t believe that Beretta actually listened to the complaints of the sporting clays shooters and put the flat rib of the 303 target model on the 390. Will wonders never cease! My other problem with the 390 sporters was always with the stock. It just never suited me. The problem was mostly in the pistol grip for me. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably be shooting one.

I really like the 391. Really, really. I never should have returned my test 30″ sporter. The gun felt a little light, but Rich Cole now sells screw on magazine weights and stock weights to help fine tune it. Every now and then I sort of appreciate the lighter weight up front of the 391. My 303 trap is a good 1/2 pound heavier, which has good and bad points.

I think that the 390 gas action is a bit simpler to deal with than the 391, but I could learn to live with it. Both guns are every bit as reliable as my 303. There is some problem with the interior of the magazine caps on the 391. The 391 forends are actually little recoil reducers. They contain a spring and recoil absorbing chunk of polymer. Apparently, they are hard to take apart, though I don’t really think that you would have to do that very often. I’m sure that I would be just as happy with the 391 as I am with my 303s. Maybe happier. I shot the 391 sporter lights out on pigeon. For me the 391 30″ sporter is a better “heavy field gun” (South American dove, pigeon tower releases, retriever waterfowl trials, that sort of stuff). My 303 is set up a big higher for clay target consistency at the sacrifice of game bird maneuverability.

Basically, I stick with the 303s for clays because that’s what I have, I’m used to them, and I don’t think that I would shoot the newer guns much better. If someone gave me equivalent new 391s (hint, hint, Mr. Beretta), I’d say ‘thank you’, set the stocks up and never look back.

As to reliability and parts breakage, I don’t think that there’s much to choose from. The new struts and links solve that problem. Every gun breaks something sooner or later. Controlling bolt speed with a fresh mainspring and/or tailored exhaust valve springs is important as you don’t want to break one of the rear legs off the bolt. Those bolts are expensive. I broke one, but only one, in my 303. I also broke two links before installing a specially hardened one. Ditto two hammer struts before installing the new ones. That’s about it for those 70,000 rounds. The trigger job that Timney did for me about 60,000 rounds ago is almost crisp today as it was when new. Remarkable.

If I were a new shooter considering a gas gun, I’d probably go for a used 390 or used 391 simply because they are easier to find in the most popular configurations. If you are considering a new gun the 390 and 391 are discontinued, but the 391 lives on as the Beretta A300. The other Beretta option is to step up to their premium semi-auto the A400 model.

303s are becoming scarce in the popular setups. I don’t think that the 303s merit the cult status of the Super X, not because they aren’t a better gun, they are, but because there are equally good alternatives available in the later models.

No discussion of Beretta gas guns is complete without discussing the competition from Browning and Remington. As to the Browning Gold, it was never one of my favorite guns. Pulling that piston apart to clean inside is a bear. The gun has too much weight up front for me, they eat firing pins and the stocks are dwarf sized, at least the one on my test gun was. Some people shoot them well in competition, but those are usually people who would shoot anything well. It’s no surprise that Berettas gas guns outsell them by a wide margin among clay shooters.

The 11-87 sporter is a really nice gun. It’s soft shooting and balances quite well. The only problem is that in my experience, Remington autos don’t do high mileage very well. I’m not sure how important this is on a $700 gun. I’m sure that all sorts of people will claim to have shot their 1100/11-87s for a million billion rounds without a single malfunction (usually claiming never to have cleaned them too), but that hasn’t been my experience with the six 1100s I owned. I shot three of them literally to pieces, one almost to pieces and sold the other two when I bought Berettas. The receiver rails do wear out, the receivers do develop the “death crack” from the relief slot behind the bolt and the magazine tubes do crack where they are sweat into the receiver. Still, I like their balance and stock fit of the old straight stocked 1100 trap guns better than anything available today. Too bad that Remington doesn’t make that stock any more.

And finally, to your question. Screw choke the 30″ Full 303? Why not. Briley will do it with three of those nice thinwalls for around $250.

Of course, if you just want to use the gun for trap, the Full is fine. Use #8s from the 16 and #7-1/2s for handicap. I shoot much more international trap (mostly wobble) than I do ATA. The 303s will handle the hot little 24 gram loads just fine and Full choke is appropriate. It’s just that autos at international trap are not common and I usually use an O/U.

Best regards,

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

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1 Response to 303 Berettas

  1. Murray Smith says:

    you can easily tune the 301, ports can be drilled, springs can be shortened to remove pre-load for light loads 24 gram for sporting and 21 gram low recoil for learners, adjustable by using a 7.62 NATO case as a preload on the main spring for heavy loads. My 301 has a 24″ cylinder barrel, coming in at 6@5/8 lbs, for vermin and slugs. For clays, a 26″ multi-choke B80 barrel, they may be old school but they have old school virtues, they are simple, long lived and brutally effective gas guns and for virtually no money, similar positives for the B80 if you have big hands and you like the Hump.


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