August 2006

Semi-Auto Shotguns: Browning Gold Sporting Beats Benelli

By all measures, Benelliís new SuperSport is a fine shotgun, but when we compared it shot for shot against the stalwart Browning, the Italianís higher price knocked it out.

Browning's Gold Sporting 12 gauge (top) and the Benelli SuperSport (bottom).

As the average age of clay-target shooters continues to inch higher, many veterans are turning to less expensive, lighter, softer-shooting semiautomatics as substitutes for their over-unders. The common objective is to find a firearm that doesn’t strain the pocketbook; is easy on the arm muscles; and doesn’t send the shooter into shoulder shock from recoil.

However, because the single-barrel shotguns are lighter and quicker to get on a target, all of them require a little more finesse if a shooter is intent on being competitive or filling a game bag. This means there is more need for a little extra push or pull by the shooter, rather than relying on the glide of a heavier stackbarrel.

Browning Gold Sporting No. 011103403, $1105

The Browning Gold Sporting Semiautomatic 12 gauge, $1105, has earned a good reputation as a moderately priced shooting tool at clay target courses across the country, despite some travails. The initial burst of enthusiasm for the shotgun when it first entered the market was slightly deflated by problems with broken firing pins and other mechanical failures with early models. However, those failures seem to have subsided with the more recent production runs.

Following the pattern of the legendary Remington 1100 semiautomatic that once dominated the skeet shooting community (and also suffered some early mechanical problems); the Browning Gold Sporting has become one of those shotguns that nearly everyone gives the old college try.

But there are plenty of challengers out there vying for the Browning’s sporting-clays spot, one of which is the other semi-auto in our test, the Benelli SuperSport. The model we tested is the latest version of another veteran line that has been favored by both bird and clay target shooters. With its space-age looks and feel, the Benelli SuperSport Semiautomatic 12 gauge, $1735, is one of those love it or hate it shotguns.

The sharp angle of the trigger guard and the Comfortech stock’s synthetic design, plus the two-toned receiver, are all striking innovations that make the Benelli stand out in a gun rack. We found that most of these innovations earned high marks in both function and appearance for testers who like an updated look.

To put our test shotguns through their paces on the sporting clays course, our shooting crew fired a variety of ammunition, including Remington Premier STS Low Recoil 2.75-inch, 2.5-dram shells. We fired two versions of this loading, one which had 1.125 ounces of No. 8s, and the other with same payload, but in No. 7 1/2s. Both shells are low recoil, with an average muzzle velocity ranging from 1100 to 1145 fps. Because the Browning would only handle 2.75-inch shells, no 3-inch shells were used in our test sessions. Here’s our test report:

Our test firearm was the latest version of the shotgun to be marketed by Browning (readers will note that Gun Tests reviewed a 28-inch-barrel model in 2003). Like the earlier model, two of the shotgun’s features are a shim-adjustable stock that allows the comb to be raised or lowered up to one-eighth of an inch; and two separate gas pistons to be used depending upon whether the shooter is firing shot charges of 1.125-ounce or less, or heavier loads of 1.25 ounce or greater.

Weighing 7.9 pounds, slightly heavy for a semiautomatic, we found that the Browning was both comfortable to shoot and quick on targets. One of the common comments about the Gold Sporting is that is has the best pointing ability that can be found in any out-of-the-box shotgun. With a longish 14.25-inch length of pull, a drop at comb of 1.5 inches, and a drop at heel of 1.75 inches, the Gold providing a very straight stock and a comb similar to high-dollar over-and-unders with parallel combs. With its 30-inch barrel, the Gold measured 50.5 inches in overall length,

A common complaint about most shotgun manufacturers is that the factory-set trigger pull is much heavier than required. The Browning trigger broke at an acceptable 6 pounds; however, we would prefer something in the range of 3 to 5 pounds.

With its gas-operated system, the Browning is well-known as a soft-shooting shotgun. Even after firing several hundred rounds, there was no shoulder shock from recoil. Also, we continue to be impressed with the speed-loading function unique to the Browning that automatically feeds a shell into the open chamber when it is loaded into the magazine. Quick and easy loading of a semiautomatic is always a plus.

Although several different colors for the HiViz Pro-Comp front sight are provided with the test shotgun (white, red and chartreuse), our pick for best visibility was the chartreuse-colored light pipe. The white center-sight bead on top of the tapered, ventilated rib gave us the best view to form the recommended figure-8 picture (front bead on top of the mid-bead to make sure the shooter is looking straight down the rib).

The oversized, cross-bolt safety on the back of the trigger guard (which can be reversed by a gunsmith for left-handed use) was simple to operate and easy to determine if the shotgun was ready to fire.

Benelli SuperSport No. 10635, $1735

There are two sporting guns in the Benelli lineup: The SuperSport in 28- and 30-inch barrel lengths and the Sport II, a gun similar to the SuperSport except that it has wood stocks. And the Sport II is $200 cheaper ($1515 MSRP). As we noted above, we tested the 30-inch-barrel, carbon-fiber-stocked SuperSport.

Naturally, the furniture is the biggest difference in the two guns. Although the Benelli is slightly longer (51.6 inches) than the Browning, it tips the scale at 7.2 pounds and feels much lighter than its counterpart with a wooden stock and forearm.

As advertised, the Comfortech stock that incorporates chevron-shaped cut outs filled with recoil-absorbing synthetic material handled our light loads with ease. Still, there was no appreciable difference between the recoil of the Benelli and the Browning, despite claims that the SuperSport’s stock and porting reduced felt recoil by 48 percent.

The Benelli offers an adjustable comb in the ComforTech stock, which arrived with a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and drop at the heel at 2 inches, with a 14.4-inch length of pull. In addition, shims are included to adjust the drop.

We were satisfied with the configuration out of the box and would recommend a visit to a professional gun fitter if adjustments are required.

We thought the feel of the both the double palm swell in the grip and the grooved forearm was slim and comfortable. There were some original concerns about potential recoil because of the Benelli’s light weight, but these concerns proved to be unfounded.

Just like the Browning, the trigger pull on the Benelli was heavier than we would have liked — breaking at 6.5 pounds. While shotgun shooters tend to slap a trigger rather than use a rifle-shooter’s squeeze, a lighter break point would have been appreciated by our test group.

While the Benelli was quick handling, there was a tendency for the shotgun to be a little whippy. As noted earlier, semiautomatics of all types tend to require a little more push or pull than heavier over and unders to swing through targets. A conscious effort was required to keep from blowing through targets with this light and quick Benelli.

The Benelli’s simple inertia-driven recoil system, which requires few moving parts, cycled shells in a smooth, reliable manner. Some of our veteran shooters with hunting time behind the legendary recoil-operated Browning A-5 were pleasantly surprised with the quick cycling and lack of "double punch" from the mechanism.

Unlike the A-5, the Benelli’s recoil system does not require the movement of the barrel, and only the bolt is driven back by the firing of a shell. We found this system quick and satisfactory. We encountered no problems with the function and performance of the Benelli.

We had three areas of concern about the Benelli. First was the small mid-bead and front bead, which were hard to see by some of our older test members. Aligning the mid-bead and front bead allows a shooter to determine if he or she is properly looking down the rib. Second, we did not like the recoil pad on the Benelli. Its unique shape and design to help reduce recoil are fine ideas, but the lopsided gel pad was slick and came out of our shooters’ shoulders several times between shots. Third, we think Benelli should improve the choke-tube designations. The etched markings explaining the constrictions on the front band of the chokes were hard to read.

Gun Tests Recommends

Browning Gold Sporting 12 Gauge No. 011103403, $1105. Our Pick. The simple fact that this moderately priced, smooth-handling semiautomatic fits just about every shooter right out of the box and allows for easy target acquisition gave the Browning the edge in our test.

Benelli SuperSport 12 Gauge No. 10635, $1735. Don’t Buy. Many GT readers, and certainly Benelli, will think this is an unfair recommendation for this gun. And we recognize there is a legitimate case for this gun to carry a Conditional Buy or Buy It recommendation, because the Benelli handled well and showed reduced recoil and easy, reliable functioning. But the hard-to-read choke-tube designations and a slick recoil pad concerned our testers enough that they could not justify a circumstance in which they would eat the higher price tag of the Benelli when the Gold was the SuperSport’s match at every turn.

Written and photographed by Ralph Winingham, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.