Youth Semi-Auto 20 Gauges: CZ’s Model 720 Is a Best Buy
Economical, soft shooting, and quick to cycle, we think CZ’s $499 Reduced Length Shotgun makes an ideal first shotgun. Also good: Benelli’s Montefeltro Combo, Browning Micro Midas.
New shooters, especially young ones, usually begin training with a rimfire pistol or rifle because recoil is minimal. This makes it easier for the shooter to concentrate on fundamentals such as sight alignment and trigger control. Introducing a young beginner to shotgun shooting with a bore smaller than 12 gauge is a good idea for much the same reason. In this test we will evaluate three 20-gauge semi-automatic shotguns with reduced-length stocks. A shorter stock makes it easier for the younger or smaller shooter to point the shotgun and achieve a solid mount. Semi-automatic operation relies upon energy from the ammunition to cycle the bolt, so, in effect, each gun offered a built-in mechanism to reduce recoil to some degree or another. Our test shotguns were the $1299 Benelli Montefeltro Combo, Browning’s $1179 Silver Hunter Micro Midas, and the $499 CZ 720 Reduced Length shotgun.
Our first step was to pattern each shotgun. This meant firing at a stationary paper target to determine the size, shape, and density of shot impact each gun would deliver at a given distance. For tips on patterning we visited the shop of Larry Feland located in Cypress, Texas (FelandGunsmith.com). Feland began his career in 1981 and soon found himself bending stocks and making leather pads for none other than Cyril Adams, one of the world’s renowned double-gun experts and author of Lock Stock and Barrel: Making an English Shotgun and Shooting With Consistency. An expert in the field of shotgun fit, Feland specializes in aligning the shotgun with the eye of the individual to deliver shot where the shooter is looking.
The first question we asked Feland was if the procedure for patterning a semi-automatic was any different than patterning over/under or side-by-side shotguns. We also asked if 20-gauge shotguns should be patterned differently than 12-gauge models. The answer was no to both questions. But Feland did advise that the shotgun should be benched and shot like a rifle. This would help evaluate tendencies of elevation or alignment to the right or left by reducing the effects of individual shooter fit.
All three of our guns arrived with removable choke tubes. The choke tube acts like a funnel to regulate the final diameter of the bore and the manner in which shot is metered into the atmosphere. Some shooters feel that patterning with a choke that is more open will reveal more about the bore. But Feland pointed out that using a tighter choke would actually be more definitive. Not all of our test guns arrived with a full set of chokes, so we decided to pattern using the most commonly chosen constrictions, which are Improved Cylinder (IC) and Modified (MOD). Feland advised a pattern distance of 20 yards for testing with the IC choke and a distance of 35 yards to test with Modified chokes. Our pattern procedure was to mount each gun in a rifle rest and shoot one shot per target per choice of ammunition. First, we shot an IC choke at 20 yards, then installed the Mod choke and fired on the 35-yard board.
Each shotgun was capable of chambering 3-inch ammunition. But since were trying to avoid unnecessary recoil, we chose 2¾-inch cartridges from Remington and Winchester. The Remington Premier STS Target Loads and Winchester’s AA Target Loads each launched a 7/8-ounce payload of No. 9 shot over a powder charge of 2½ dram equivalent. Our choice of Winchester Super Target threw No. 8s.
Our next step was to put each shotgun into the hands of a young beginner shooter under the watchful eye of an instructor. Our junior shooter was a 15-year-old young lady whose previous experience was limited to informal clay shooting with her father’s Browning A5 12-gauge shotgun, probably less than 75 rounds in total. Our choice of instructor came by way of recommendation from World Side by Side Champion Ed Arrighi. Brian Ash, the son of sporting clays gurus Gil and Vicki Ash, literally grew up in the sport. His input regarding course design has been sought repeatedly by the National Sporting Clays Association for the national championships held annually at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas. Ash (email: Bash390@aol.com) teaches at American Shooting Centers located in George Bush Park in Houston, Texas (AMShootCenters.com). Lessons for our beginning shooter utilized several shooting stations along the Blue Sporting Clays trail designated for beginning and intermediate shooters. She shot the stations a minimum of three times to cover all three shotguns. Because the Benelli Combo also shipped with a full-length stock, we enlisted an adult beginner to challenge clay targets on the skeet field. We chose the Winchester Super Target ammunition for the bulk of our field shooting with the supplied Modified chokes installed. Here is what we learned.