December 2009

Super-Auto Shootout: Benelli’s SBE II Versus Browning Maxus

What happens when we take an ‘Our Pick’-rated Super Black Eagle II from three years ago and put it up against the newest flavor from Browning? Find out in this point-by-point comparison.

It is an old story in the gun business: Fancy new model gets announced; months later prototypes leak out for promotional media testing; then, finally, a year (or two) later, real guns start shipping. And so it is with Browning’s Maxus, which was announced in November 2008, with some prototypes available to shoot at the January 2009 SHOT Show in Orlando, and lagging production. Originally slated for late-spring-2009 availability, early-fall delivery has proved to be the case instead—and then, only for the 31/2-inch-chamber models.

The initial offerings of Browning’s new-for-2009 autoloader is the matte Stalker style and also a Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo version for $1499 MSRP, both with 31/2-inch chambers. The 3-inch versions are said to be arriving soon—again, in either Stalker matte black or camo for now.

Included in all the "Planet Maxus" hoopla, Browning has made several claims about the Maxus and touted several new features. A few of the features aren’t particularly meaningful, so let’s dispense with these first. The "Turnkey" quick-change magazine plug is hardly of any use in a dedicated field gun, one directed to waterfowl at that, where three shots (2+1) is going to be it.

Things like shim adjustments for drop are nice to have, of course, and were a bit more remarkable when they appeared 20 years ago. Now, they have become so prevalent that it seems more like a glaring oversight when new autoloaders fail to provide this feature. Naturally, we are glad they are included in the Maxus, but this is no different from many autoloaders. We do note that the Maxus has adjustable length of pull, with the appropriate buttstock spacers included right in the box—not an optional accessory, but already supplied.

Burrowing deeper into the Maxus, Browning has promised us not just cosmetics, but a new gas action and trigger system that moves beyond the similarly weighted Winchester SX3 Composite ($1239 MSRP) and its Browning rendition, the half-pound-heavier Browning Silver Stalker ($1179 MSRP). Rather than an afterthought, the Maxus was designed from the start to be a 31/2-inch gun, and it appears that Browning hopes the Maxus will outscore both the Beretta Xtrema2 and the stalwart Super Black Eagle II.

There are a number of shotguns against which we could pit the new Maxus, but to clean up the field and make the comparisons truly head to head, we chose to bring in an "Our Pick" from the January 2007 issue. There, we tested the Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10016 12 gauge, $1515, rating it above the Beretta Urika Optima and Remington 105Cti. Almost three years ago, we wrote of the SBE II, "The latest version of the evolving Super Black Eagle design is a comfortable, ever-functional hunting gun, with the capacity to shoot 23/4-, 3-, and 31/2-inch ammunition." If the Maxus could compete against the SBE II, we reasoned, then its successful launch into the world’s autoloading shotgun pool would be assured. Toward that end, we acquired a Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10101 Max-4 HD Camo 31/2-inch 12 gauge, $1759, to compete with the Browning Maxus Stalker No. 011600204 31/2-inch 12 Gauge, $1379.

Here’s what we found:

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