September 2000

Magnum Pump-Gun Matchup: Benelli, Mossberg Go At It

Wanted: A simple, all-purpose 3 1/2-inch-chamber pump shotgun. Must be low-maintenance, tough, attractive, handy, inexpensive, and reliable. Serious inquiries only, please.

[IMGCAP(1)] If you like pump shotguns and don’t want to be bothered with wood-stock maintenance, there are plenty of choices available, usually for bargain prices. There’s no complicated gas or inertial recoil system to worry about, either in terms of operation or expense, and pumps will usually last a lifetime if the metal’s cared for properly.

Two pump-gun variations we haven’t covered include the Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Special Hunter ($335 MSRP, with street prices around $300) and Benelli’s Nova ($390 MSRP, with street values in the $375 range), both with 3 1/2-inch chambers, ventilated ribs, all-matte-black finishes, and synthetic stocks. In addition, they both had interchangeable chokes with a variety of optional tubes available. Both had extremely hard recoil pads, but there was an excuse for this on the Nova. Here’s what we thought of the guns individually:

Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Special Hunter
Our recommendation: We liked its solid feel, classic design, and promise of excellent patterns given by its back-bored, ported barrel. The 10-year warranty is impressive, too. Buy it.

At 7.7 pounds the $335 Mossberg was not a lightweight. With its 28-inch barrel and a magazine full of shells (both guns were blocked to two in their tubular magazines, irrespective of shell length), the muzzle-forward balance of the Mossberg was intimidating. The barrel was ported, and held a Modified choke tube, a good all-around choice for most hunting needs.

Some of the other Mossberg features were its top-mounted safety, which we didn’t find all that easy to use at first because of the stiffness of a new gun; over-boring, for “pattern control,” but only extensive testing by the individual owner will establish the true value of this; drilled and tapped receiver for scope mounting. Don’t laugh. Many shotgunners like a simple 1X or 1.5X scope for bird hunting, and some like the red-dots too. Also, if you’re taking your shotgun after deer, you’ll want a scope.

Click here to view the Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Special Hunter features guide

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Over-bored barrels typically produce better patterns than those without, simply because a 10-bore will produce better patterns than a 12 with the same shot charge, all else equal. This is not a 10-bore, but you get the idea.

The buttstock was an adequate fit onto the receiver. Both it and the hand-filling forend were very slightly roughened where the hands touched them, in an attempt to offer a better grasp on the gun. The forend had slight finger grooves also. The mechanism had two action rods extending to the bolt, and the action—though a bit stiff—worked well. The metal finish was matte-black Parkerizing, and this showed scratches that would soon be bare steel on the magazine tube not far into our testing.

The buttstock had a sling swivel stud, and there was another one in the box to attach to the magazine-tube end plug. The overall workmanship was very good, though not finely finished. The gun gave an impression of solidity, if not of grace. The fit of the very hard buttpad was not all that good, and appeared to be plugged into the back of the stock rather than added on. We’d have liked it a whole lot softer, though we could live with the workmanship.

After some handling, the safety came off easily enough, and was a bit tougher to put on, which is probably what you want. The plastic trigger, held in the plastic holder that contains the lockwork, broke at an appalling 7 pounds, but was relatively creep-free. If we owned this Mossberg we’d reduce the trigger pull to about 4.5 pounds. The length of pull was too long for all of our testers at 14.5 inches, and it would be problematic how to shorten it, though Mossberg may offer shorter plug-in pads. The one on this gun was an inch thick. The top of it was ground off to ease mounting. However, this shotgun was not all that handy, with the long barrel and long pull. We wouldn’t choose it for upland game hunting where quick shots were the order of the day, but the Mossberg would be nearly ideal for deliberate tracking of such things as waterfowl, or for any deliberate shooting. The sighting plane was glare-free. The front bead was large and white, and a central bead was of brass. This setup helped give a consistent sighting picture, again ideal for deliberate shooting.

At the range we had no problems whatsoever with feed or function. The gun took everything we threw into it and fired it off with zero problems—unless you count the bone-crushing recoil from the 3.5-inch shells as a problem. We’d recommend you limit your uses of those big shells with this shotgun unless you’ve got lots of padded clothing on. We could feel very little difference between this gun, with its ported barrel, and the Benelli Nova in recoil with the hottest, heaviest loads. There was a bit less muzzle flip with the Mossberg, so its ports did accomplish something.

All the controls were straightforward, and everything worked. Also, this gun was essentially ambidextrous because of the safety. We noticed it was slightly difficult to load long shells into the magazine, and ejection was not that strenuous..

Benelli Nova
Our recommendation: Buy it. The Nova worked perfectly and was better balanced than the Mossberg, in our view. It sells at a slight premium compared to the Mossberg, but it also has features the other gun lacks. Whether those features are worth the extra money is your call, but we liked them.

We would have sworn the $390 Nova was a whole lot lighter than the Mossberg, but we would have been wrong. The Nova weighed 7.5 pounds, only about 0.2 pounds less. In a nutshell, the Nova was by far the better balanced shotgun. The Nova design features a plastic receiver/buttstock, which you might think would make it muzzle-heavy, but that was not the case. The gun was lively and the obvious choice of these two test guns for snap-shooting for game. Yet it still handled 3 1/2-inch magnum shells.

Benelli has put many features into this gun that either aren’t available in other guns (specifically in the test Mossberg) or are extra-cost options. One of these is a button located on the bottom of the forend to deactivate the magazine. If you want to change the shell in the chamber for something different, you bring the forend back about 2 inches with the normal action release (a lever on the right front of the trigger guard) and then press the button under the forend. Then bring the forend all the way back and swap shells, and the magazine won’t feed the next round.

Click here to view the Benelli Nova features guide

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The same thing can be accomplished with the Mossberg by not bringing the forend all the way back. The shell is drawn back out of the chamber and can be picked off the extractor with the finger. Toss another into the action, slam it shut, and you’re done. Although this trick takes practice, the magazine doesn’t have to be brought into play. The Benelli, on the other hand, can accomplish this operation with much less dexterity, and the outgoing shell is ejected fully.

Ejection by the Benelli Nova was positive and powerful. Empties left the gun briskly. Also, even the longest shells were easy to load into the gaping maw of the action bottom. We had no trouble with our hands slipping on the deep grooves molded into the forend or pistol grip areas. The action was noticeably easier to operate than that of the Mossberg, and the Nova had a feeling of liveliness that was lacking in the other gun.

We didn’t like the rattle of the Nova’s forend when the action was closed. It gave the shotgun a feeling of cheapness that the Mossberg didn’t have, even though the latter’s forend was also free to move about when the action was closed. The noise of the Mossberg action was a metallic shucking sound, contrasted to a hollow-plastic noise from the Nova when cycled.

The Nova had cast-in mounts for a sling at buttstock and under the front of the magazine. The front of the magazine plug had a protruding pin that was designed to be used in removing the trigger mechanism from the bottom of the action for cleaning. The sighting plane was very good, though the rib-top was just matte finished without the Mossberg’s glare-cutting longitudinal serrations. The Benelli, like the Mossberg, had two beads on the rib, both silver-colored and smaller than Mossberg’s. The only visible metal parts on the Benelli were the barrel with its rib, and the cartridge lifter. The barrel and rib were smoothly polished and nicely matte blued. The lifter was light-brown-anodized aluminum. Three choke tubes came with the package. There was no way to mount a scope.

Benelli offers an optional recoil-reducing buffer inside the buttstock, but it was not fitted in this gun. The gun’s recoil pad comes off without tools to permit the owner to mount this option himself. The pad was rounded at the top, but it was very hard—even harder than the Mossberg’s. In use, the Nova’s action came immediately rearward on firing the gun. Some folks like this, but others prefer the action of the Mossberg, where solid pressure rearward may be maintained throughout the shot cycle.

When you want to cycle the Mossberg’s action, you’ve got to move the forend very slightly forward. This was one more indication of the deliberate nature of the Mossberg and the instantaneous nature of the Nova. The latter was very quick on follow-up shots as an offshoot of this action mechanism, in our view.

We found exactly no function problems with the Nova. Again, the recoil from the 3 1/2-inch magnums jarred our teeth loose, and we felt they became just a slight bit looser from shooting the Nova than from shooting the Mossberg. We found the Benelli to be very easy to load, and liked the push-button shell-changing mechanism a lot. The gun handled very fast, permitting us to shoot pairs of shots extremely quickly, and it mounted much quicker than the Mossberg Ulti-Mag. We’d have liked to see the safety button made a little larger. It was a typical crossbolt in the front of the trigger guard. The trigger broke at just over 7 pounds and was very creepy.

Gun Tests Recommends
Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag Special Hunter, $335. Buy it. The slight additional weight and porting of the Mossberg would make it the better choice if wildfowling were more important than upland bird hunting, in our view. Also, the company’s 10-year limited warranty shows a great deal of faith in the gun’s longevity.

Benelli Nova, $390. Buy it. The lighter and faster-operating Benelli Nova would make it the better choice for upland birds, but it would still have the capability of handling large charges of steel shot for waterfowl—a cause helped by the extra chokes. The magazine cut-off was a plus, and we thought the Nova was more comfortable to carry than the Mossberg because of sharp edges of the 835’s operating arms. The Benelli Nova’s slightly better feature set gives it the edge in this matchup, though we’d be happy with either gun.