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In Search of the Best 12 Gauge

For those who are not in restricted states, magazine-fed shotguns can quickly switch from sporting uses to home defense and competition with some minor adjustments. In the November 2012 issue, we test-fired four high-capacity products with an eye mainly toward effective home defense, which is often done with shotguns that hold 5, 6, 7, and 8 rounds, usually in tubular magazines under the barrel. But there are bigger-capacity shotguns out there, so we examined the Akdal Arms MKA 1919 3-Inch 12 Gauge, a Red Jacket Saiga RTS-SBS-12 Short-Barrel 12 Gauge, the Kel-Tec KSG 3-Inch 12 Gauge, and the Saiga IZ-107 12 Gauge.

The KSG (Kel-Tec Shot Gun) was a bullpup pump shotgun whose short overall length tallowed for greater maneuverability, making it suitable for close-quarters combat. The KSG weighed a shade over 7 pounds and measured only 26.1 inches in length. The internal dual tube magazines held an impressive 14 rounds of 12 gauge 2 3⁄4-inch shells (seven per tube) or 12 3-inch rounds (six per tube). Because different types of loads can be placed on either side, the shooter can switch between tubes depending on his needs. There are many good fighting shotguns on the market, but no others are quite as handy and possess as much firepower as the Kel-Tec KSG, we found.

Another recommended shotgun from that test, and our favorite, was an older Saiga 12, graded as in Very Good used shape. It was manufactured at the Izhmash Factory in Russia and imported through EAA Corp. What we believe is an identical gun, the IZ-107 12 Gauge, is available from K-Var Corp. of Las Vegas (K-Var.com). Designed as an all-purpose shotgun, the Saiga comes with a chrome-lined barrel, which allows the use of many different types of ammunition, including steel. This shotgun was manufactured utilizing the Kalashnikov gas system, which reduced felt recoil dramatically over the KSG pumpgun. The Saiga shotgun was capable of cycling both 2 3⁄4- and 3-inch magnum shells. As with all Saiga 12s, this shotgun is not designed to use low-pressure shells. Saiga 12 gauges now come standard with a bolt hold-open feature, which allows for quicker magazine changes.

Since our last test, market availability for the Saiga 12 has tightened, making these shotguns difficult to come by and rather expensive — Gunbroker.com prices average around $1300 for an Izhmash-branded Saiga. We wanted to see how a Saiga-style shotgun, but made in China at less than half the price, would hold up to the real thing, so we acquired Catamount Fury and Fury II shotguns and put them through similar tests as the Izhmash Saiga. Here's what we found.

Super-Capacity Shotgun Mag: Is Roth’s XRAIL a Good Buy?

Shooters into 3-Gun competition are driving a lot of innovation in firearms and performance accessories, arguably benefitting the shotgun segment the most. Practical rifles and pistols already have plenty of development to improve sights, speed, and capacity, and many of those improvements — beveled mag wells, lightened hammers, expanded magazine capacities, various optics, lightweight materials — have found their way into mainstream guns at nearly all pricepoints. Shotgun development has lagged the other two gun types, but scatterguns are now the beneficiaries of drop-in triggers, rail systems, high-viz sights, collapsible replacement buttstocks, and other refinements, but capacity has been an ongoing restriction. Shotshells are big in both profile and weight, so they take up a lot of space.

Semiautomatic Shotguns for Self-Defense: We Like Utility

When it comes to defending the home, the shotgun is and probably always will be a popular choice. The favorite design for this purpose has long been the pump-action shotgun. Simplicity, low cost, and reliability are their hallmarks. Cycling a pump shotgun relies directly upon the operator, while semiautos load themselves. Perhaps this is why the pump is more widely trusted. In this test we will find out if two semiautomatic shotguns can earn the same high level of confidence as the shuckers have earned. Furthermore, we'll pit a base-model autoloader against a fully dressed tactical model to see just what upgrades help or hinder. Our test shotguns were the $458 CZ-USA No. 06029 712 Utility 12 gauge and the $700 Mossberg Special Purpose 930 Tactical No. 85360. Both shotguns were constructed with black synthetic stocks and black aluminum receivers. The CZ shotgun was a basic model, as its name would imply. The Mossberg was outfitted with several upgrades from the tactical aftermarket.

To test our shotguns we did not take them to the skeet range. Nor did we take them hunting. Here is what we were looking for: First, we wanted to find out the size and the density of pattern we could deliver shooting nine-pellet 23/4-inch 00 buckshot. Our buckshot test patterns were produced from a maximum distance of 25 yards. We also fired for pattern from 30 feet, a typical distance between a bedroom door and the main entrance of a home. For this test we fired the Winchester Super X XB1200 load, the Federal Low Recoil H132 00-buck shotshells, and Rio Royal Low Recoil shotshells, No. RBLR 129. At first we chamber-loaded one at a time. Then we loaded the magazines to check for cycling. What we found was that our entire supply of Rio slugs and buckshot would be useless in this test. Neither shotgun would cycle the Rio ammunition. In fact, the Mossberg would not even allow it to enter the magazine. Both shotguns were built to chamber 3-inch rounds, so the added length of the Rio (about 0.12 inches) was not the problem. After failing to pass through a MEC shell-check gauge ($12, from recobstargetshop.com), we think it was the high-wall brass that was responsible. However, these rounds cycled easily in the two pump shotguns we tried, a Remington 870 Express Magnum and a Mossberg 590A1.

We also tried firing slug ammunition from a benchrest at a distance of 50 yards. Our choice of slugs was the Federal Vital-Shok TruBall Low Recoil Rifled Slug HP No. PB127 LRS. To help us steady the shotguns and also soak up recoil, we mounted the shotguns in a Caldwell Lead Sled. Test rounds were chronographed to measure velocity and compute muzzle energy.

Semiautomatic firearms require energy supplied by the ammunition to cycle. So we fired less powerful ammunition as well. For this segment of our test, we fired Super Sport Competition Target loads from Estate Cartridge, Inc., and another inexpensive round, Rio's Trap 32 target load. Both rounds were rated at about 1150 fps and were 23/4-inch 23/4-dram shells with 11/8 ounces of No. 8s. Each of these rounds featured low-brass hulls. Our function-fire test included a timed rapidfire exercise aimed at a steel target placed 12 yards downrange. To ensure safety we chose an Evil Roy Practice Target from actiontarget.com. The Evil Roy was safe to use because it directed the ricochet downward almost directly in front of its collapsible stand. We used a shot-activated timer to record five five-shot strings of fire beginning with an audible start signal. Our intent was to drive the guns as fast as possible to see if we could make them stumble. By racing against the clock we were adding artificial stress. In this way we hoped to learn more about the basic operation of each gun. That is, knocking off the safety, achieving a mount, finding the target and keeping our hits on steel. Start position was port arms with the butt of the gun lowered to about the belt line with the front sight, or bead, held high enough so that it was at the periphery of our sight picture between our eye and the target. Would the performance and reliability of either shotgun be enough to win over a pump-gun devotee? Let's find out.

12-Gauge Semi-Auto Shotguns: Dont Buy the Franchi I-12

Looking at the market for semi-automatic 12-gauge shotguns with a price tag of under $1,000 can give shooters quite a variety of options.Questions like Should I decide based on price or go for the pretty package? or How does the handling, balance and function of this model compare to the others? all seem to ?ow together. More often than not, the bottom line is often the bottom line - how the purchase hits the pocketbook.We jumped into the issue with three semi-automatics that ranged in price from $435 to $907. The low-end model was the recently released Stoeger 2000; it was followed by another newcomer, the Franchi I-12 at $749; and the highest-dollar member of the trio, the veteran Remington 11-87 at $907.Acknowledging that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, each of the models has its good points and bad points based on appearance. Some shooters prefer the wood and metal look of the Franchi and Remington, while others favor the spaceage features of the Stoeger.One of the major surprises in checking out the three models right from the box was the very pleasing trigger pull of about 4 pounds for each shotgun. When an out-of-the-box shotgun arrives with a trigger pull of less than ?ve pounds (heavier trigger pulls are favored by most manufacturers for safety reasons), a new owner should put a check mark on the plus side of his ranking ledger. A lighter trigger means that the shooter can be smoother in the move, mount and shoot practice of engaging targets.All three of the models also received favorable marks in their ease of assembly and disassembly for cleaning. Although the Remington is gas operated and the Franchi and Stoeger are ?xed-barrel inertia-recoil operated, all test models found favor during cleaning sessions.On the handling side, we focused on smoothness to the target and how the shotguns allowed for ease in follow-through. Balance and ease of handling rank almost as high as reliability for most shooters.Our test ammunition for the trio on the sporting clay argets was Winchester AA 2.75-inch 2.5-dram shells in both No. 8 and No. 7 1/2 shot. Both shells were 1 1/8-ounce loads, with an average muzzle velocity ranging from 1,100 to 1,145 fps. In addition, each of the shotguns was tested with a few Federal 3-inch 1 1/4-ounce steel BB shot loads with a muzzle velocity of 1,300 feet per second to check out recoil from heavy loads. Heres our test report:

Semi-Auto Shotguns: Browning Gold Sporting Beats Benelli

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.

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:

Weatherbys SAS Field Kicks Grass in Duck-Blind Showdown

There's probably no activity tougher on a shotgun than waterfowling. Between the extreme elements (mud, muck, and often uncommonly cold temperatures), the tight confines of blinds, the general roughness of the sport (dogs that won't sit still, an oversized buddy who knocks something over everytime he turns around), sharp boat edges, action-clogging cattails and Johnson grass, and loads that pack significant punch, a waterfowler's shotgun takes a beating from trigger to choke tubes.

We thought it was time to examine just how far development in these guns has come, and toward that end, we acquired a trio of 3- and 3.5-inch chambered guns to shoot side by side. From Browning came the relatively new Gold FLD Stalker No. 011118304, a black synthetic-stocked 12-gauge offering that takes 3-inch shells and retails at $981. We chose the brand-spankin'-new Xtrema2 from Beretta, again in black synthetic. This model (No. J391D28) chambers up to 3.5-inch shells and hangs a retail tag of $1,498. For our last choice, we picked the SAS Field from Weatherby, No. SVF1228PGM. We had originally wanted this gun with the synthetic stock, but it was backordered at the time of testing, so we went with a wood-stock model. Retailing at $925 in the wood version (the synthetic is $879), the SAS proved a stellar competitor against the two big "B" brands.

Being May when the testing took place, duck and goose seasons were long closed. Thankfully for us shotgun nuts, sporting clays ranges are in full swing this time of year, so it's there we took our trio. The shooting gods must have been watching, because it rained during the entire testing day—is there anything more appropriate to testing duck guns?

We also put all three guns in the freezer, loaded with a variety of upland and steel waterfowl loads, and fired them immediately upon removal for function testing. Finally, we performed a point-of-impact test at 40 yards, both from a bench rest (we used the Steady Rest on the MTM shooting bench from Midway USA) and standing, using the National Target Company's clay shotgun patterning target. Here's what we found.

12-Ga. Semi-Auto Sporting Clays Shotguns: Browning Vs. Beretta

Winning or losing a sporting clays tourney can come down to hitting just one more target than your competitor. Does the Browning Gold Sporting or the Beretta AL 391 Urika give you that edge?

Winchester Super X2 Versus Mossbergs Model 935 Magnum

Having a gun safe full of firearms that can be picked through to be just the right tool at just the right time is an unattainable luxury for most average hunters and shotgun enthusiasts. More often than not, there is a "go-to gun'' that will get the job done in all kinds of conditions. Rugged, reliable workhorses that may not be as pretty as some, these firearms might be called tools of necessity.

While several steps above a power saw or set of socket wrenches, utility shotguns are expected to function well and be relatively comfortable to handle under adverse conditions. They are used in places that might not be appropriate for a finely engraved, high-grade-wood showpiece.

Falling into this category are two semi-automatics, both gas operated, being described as "workhorses'' by a couple of well-known firearm manufacturers — the Winchester Super X2 of the U.S. Repeating Arms Company Inc. and the recently released Model 935 by O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc.

Both shotguns are designed to handle heavy-hitting 3-inch and 3.5-inch shotgun shells, which have a reputation of reaching out to touch waterfowl with killing effectiveness. However, the ammunition also has a reputation of setting some shooters back on their heels from the recoil of sending up to 1 3/8 ounces of shot into the sky.

12-Gauge 3-inch Semiautos: We Shoot the ADCO Diamond, MKV Conquest

Many all-around hunters like to keep a "user" shotgun in their collection to handle situations where rough and tumble conditions may not be favorable for a fine fowling piece. As a veteran shotgunner once said of his well-worn scattergun: "She might not be the prettiest gal at the ball, but she'll keep you dancing."

An inexpensive, all-purpose shotgun can be a useful tool. Whether you hang it on a gun rack in the back window of your pick-up truck (unloaded please) or store it at the hunting lodge to help the cook keep meat in the stew pot, you don't want anything too fancy.

Falling into that "user" category are two semi-automatics — an ADCO Diamond GE manufactured in Turkey and a MK Conquest Model 901 from Germany — we recently put through a shooting test both in the field and on some Five-Stand clay targets. Both shotguns carry a MFRP of under $500 and each featured 3-inch chambers that provide versatility in a variety of wingshooting conditions.

The concept behind extending the firearms' chambers beyond the normal 2.75 inches for standard length shotgun shells was developed to increase the tools of today's modern shotgunner. Waterfowl and turkeys are just two of the bird species that can send a hunter looking for 3-inch loads. The bigger birds often require more knockdown delivered by the longer shells, which allow for extra powder and shot.

Standard-Chamber Semiauto 12s: We Shoot Remington and Lanber

Not every hunter needs to shoot 3- or 3.5-inch magnum shells. In fact, a 2.75-inch chamber is usually enough for hunting. Should you buy a more expensive 1100 or a cheaper Spanish gun?

Box-Fed Shotguns: Valtro Pump Dispatches Saiga Auto 12 Gauge

In the wide world of shotgunning, you got your tube-fed pumps and semiautos, your one- and two-shot break-action single shots, over/unders, and side by sides, and the occasional bolt action. But few shotgunners have beheld a magazine-fed pump or semiauto, which on the surface at least, offer simple operation and a lot of capacity.

We recently tested two box-fed shotguns from overseas that are sold in America. The first was the Saiga Semi-Auto 12-gauge, $380, which we obtained from CDNN, P.O. Box 6514, Abilene, Texas 79608; (800) 588-9500; fax (915) 695-4898. European American Armory of Cocoa, Florida, imports the Saiga from Russia. Documents packed with the Saiga describe it as appropriate for "amateur hunting of small and medium winged game," but to our eyes, it was configured much more like a self-defense shotgun. This was due in part to the gun's black metal and plastic finish, rifle-type open sights, and five-round magazine (5+1) capacity. Ditto that for the Italian Valtro Model PM5 (Versione Calcio Plastica, MSRP $350), a slide-action seven-shooter (7+1) that came with an attached pistol-grip stock, sights, a thread protector/Cylinder choke, and a wrench.

Benelli Montefeltro Super 90 Bests Fabarm Gold Lion

For many years, the Benelli line of Italian-made shotguns were imported into this country exclusively by Heckler & Koch Inc. in Sterling, Virginia. However, this distribution arrangement was not renewed when it expired at the end of 1997.

In January 1998, Benelli started handling its own importing, marketing and distribution through a newly-formed company called Benelli USA Corp. The new company is headquartered in a facility near Beretta's Accokeek, Maryland location.

During the first part of this year, Heckler & Koch began importing the Fabarm line of shotguns. Established in 1900, Fabarm (Fabbrica Bresciana Armi S.p.A.) is the direct descendant of one of the great gunsmithing dyna...

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