Semi-automatic defensive shotguns offer softer recoil and faster follow-up shots compared to a pump-action shotgun. Semi-autos are also more expensive and require more maintenance than the ubiquitous pump gun, and they come in different operating actions — inertia operated and gas operated. In the gas-operated category itself, there are different types of gas-operated shotguns. So we decided to take a look at three semi-automatic shotguns with different operating actions.
The Stoeger M3000 Defender uses a simple inertia-operated action with a two-piece bolt and spring. Your shoulder basically helps cycle an inertia-operated gun. The plus side with an inertia-operated gun is there is less maintenance since there is no gas piston to foul. All the gas from the shot goes down the barrel. The negative side with an inertia-operated gun is there is more felt recoil compared to a gas-operated gun.
The first gas-operated shotgun tested here is a Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical. The Mossberg 940 uses a single gas piston and is designed to run cleaner than the previous Mossberg Model 930. Mossberg says you can easily fire 1500 rounds between cleanings, and from our experience with this 940, that seems about right.
The Radikal SAX2 is a clone of the Benelli M4 and features the ARGO (Auto-Regulating Gas-Operated) system that uses two gas pistons that are self cleaning, which means you can run the Radikal longer than most other gas-operated shotguns. The manual suggested cleaning the shotgun every 250 to 500 rounds. So if the negative aspect of a gas-operated shotgun is maintenance, the plus side is less felt recoil. And in our view, both the Mossberg and Radikal were softer-recoiling guns, while the Stoeger had more felt recoil, but was tolerable even with heavy loads.
Common features on these three shotguns are 18.5-inch barrels, manual safeties, and polymer stocks. The Stoeger has a fixed choke, while the Mossberg and Radikal feature choke tubes. We like choke tubes because they allow the user to fine-tune the shot pattern. A fixed choke tube, however, keeps the cost of the gun down. The Stoeger and Mossberg both feature standard stock configurations, while the Radikal has a pistol-grip tactical-style stock. The team was split between preferring the standard-style stock or the pistol-grip stock.
We wanted to review these shotguns for use as home-defense guns and vehicle guns. Maneuvering through hallways and bedroom doors (with an empty gun) provides a good sense of how easy it is to deploy when the boogey-man comes. The stocks make these guns long, but we found we could handle them and pie-slice through open doorways fairly easily — not as easy as with a handgun, however. Other criteria we looked at included reliability, ease of loading, shot-pattern consistency, and felt recoil.
For live-fire testing, we set up IPSC/USPSA cardboard targets at 15 yards. These targets are 18 inches wide, and we fired several ammo choices at them, including Remington Premier STS Light Target with 11⁄8 ounces of No. 8 bird shot with a factory muzzle velocity of 1148 fps; No. 4 buckshot with 34 pellets from Federal Vital-Shok, with a factory muzzle velocity of 1250 fps; Hornady Critical Defense 00 buckshot with eight pellets and a factory muzzle velocity of 1600 fps; and Brenneke 1-ounce slugs with factory data stating 1600 fps. To check function, we also loaded a mixed bunch of orphan 12-gauge shells with different shot sizes and muzzle velocities.
If you have had any experience with semi-automatic shotguns, you know that light loads may not cycle, causing failure to feed (FTF) and failure to eject (FTE) jams. Some shooters gripe about light target loads not cycling, but we test them because we cannot know what might be used in a defense shotgun. We did our due diligence and fired light target loads and found the shotguns didn’t care what we fed them. They all ran exceptionally well. To trip up the shotguns, we also fired them from the hip to see if the lack of a shoulder to recoil on would cause a jam. All ran with no issues when fired from the hip. We ran an excessive amount of shells through these guns not only to test reliability, but also for the sheer fun of shooting these soft-recoiling shotguns. Our biggest takeaway was that the Federal No. 4 Buckshot had a pronounced kick to it, and the shotguns also flung these empties into the next zip code compared to the other shells.
At the end of the extended shooting sessions, we also tested Huntego Cleanshot shells ($10/5 shells, HuntegoLtd.com) to clean the dirty barrel bores. Cleanshot shells are built with squeegees that wipe the bore, and high-density composite felt that scrubs the bore, trapping particles and pulling them out the muzzle. The idea is you fire a Cleanshot shell after shooting your shotgun, and it cleans out the barrel. We found these shells worked, but they weren’t a replacement for a thorough cleaning. The shells did, however, make cleaning the bore easier because they scraped out much of the gunk.
Toting the shotguns to and from the range with a 5.11 42-inch Single Rifle Case ($92; 511Tactical.com) was convenient. In fact, this case has become our go-to case for long-gun reviews. Because all the shotguns had 18.5-inch barrels, they easily fit in the soft padded case. The case has internal padded muzzle and buttstock sleeves and dual retention straps to secure the guns. It also has a top-carry handle and removable shoulder strap and YKK zippers that operate smoothly.
Want to know which semi-auto 12 gauge we’d buy? Read on.
Gun Tests Grade: A- (BEST BUY)
The Radikal SAX2, along with many other M4 clones, are colloquially called a “Turknelli” for the fact they are manufactured in Turkey and are based on the Benelli. The patent for the Benelli M4 expired, and many Turkish manufacturers are building “Fakenellis.” These clones have gotten a lot of shooters excited because they promise to perform like a Benelli at a fraction of the price — maybe 90 percent of the M4’s performance at quarter of the M4’s price tag. The clones also promise some parts compatibility, so stocks, for instance, can be swapped out. We didn’t start swapping Benelli OEM parts into the Radikal, but we did want to see if the SAX2 had merit on its own as a defense shotgun.
|Action Type||Semi-auto, auto-regulating gas piston|
|Chamber Size||3.0 in.|
|Overall Length||40.2 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||7.8 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||8.5 lbs.|
|Barrel Length||18.5 in.|
|Choke Tubes||Improved Cylinder, Modified, Full|
|Buttstock||Textured polymer, pistol grip|
|Buttstock Length of Pull||14.2 in.|
|Fore End||Ribbed polymer|
|Front Sight||Protected post|
|Rear Sight||Ghost ring, optics ready|
|Trigger Pull Weight||6.8 lbs.|
|Safety||Manual trigger block|
The SAX2 does look a lot like a pure-bred Benelli M4, but it is easy to spot the clone’s differences. The SAX2’s pistol-grip stock is the first clue. It has a finger-groove front strap. The Benelli has a flat grip front strap. The trigger guard on the SAX2 is also over sized. Under the hood, the SAX2 uses a similar dual piston-driven ARGO system that features two gas pistons just in front of the chamber. The system promises to cycle shells ranging from full-power loads to light target loads.
In hand, the SAX2 is hefty and feels solid and well built. The action is smooth when the bolt is manually racked. The weight is just forward of your supporting hand. It wore a matte-black finish that was well executed, and the polymer-to-metal fit was good, too.
The SAX2 uses an 18.5-inch barrel and the threaded muzzle accepts choke tubes. Three tubes, a wrench, and a choke-tube case came with the sample. The sights are constructed of steel with an adjustable rear ghost-ring sight and, at the front, an adjustable post protected by wings. There are two white dots on either side of the ghost ring and white dot on the front post. These are easy-to-acquire sights and offer the user more precise aiming compared to a plain bead or post. The SAX2 also has a Picatinny-style rail to mount a red-dot optic.
The stock and pistol grip are one piece and fitted with a vented rubber recoil pad that had some give to it, and the edges were slightly rounded. We would prefer even more rounded edges on the pad for easier shouldering and less snagging on clothing. It is slightly better than the Stoeger butt pad. The pistol grip was rubbery with plenty of texture and filled our hands well. A sling-swivel stud was installed in the butt, and we noted the appearance of a sling loop on the magazine tube. The fore end was ribbed and offered good traction when shooting. The extended magazine tube is attached to the barrel just under the front sight.
The action handle was oversized, rounded, and tapered, so our finger slid into the groove for the best leverage. It was easy to use quickly, our shooters found. The bolt-release button was standard size and serrated. We’d prefer a larger bolt-release button. The triangular safety is located behind the trigger and is set up for a right-handed shooter. A red dot on the cartridge drop lever indicates that the hammer is cocked.
Load the SAX2 by locking back the bolt, dropping a shell in the chamber, and press the bolt-release button to allow the bolt to slam forward. Then, stuff shells in the magazine tube for a total of seven rounds in the tube and one in the chamber for eight total. With a ghost load, you get another shell for a total capacity of nine. To ghost-load the clone, fill the gun as normal then retract the bolt and place the ejecting shell back into the chamber. Then with the bolt partially retracted, drop a shell on top of the carrier and press it down on the carrier so, as you release the bolt, it clears the shell on the carrier as the bolt moves fully forward. We also loaded two shells at once, our attempt at a 3-Gun speed load, and found it fairly easy to load, though the beveled Mossberg loading port was much more user friendly.
Recoil is very tolerable with the SAX2. The hot Federal No. 4 buck load provided an 8-inch group on average, with the larger pellets in the Hornady Critical Defense 00 buckshot load providing 3-inch groups on average. The Radikal patterned 18 inches with Remington bird shot, and we would consider a tighter choke to be more surgical with all those No. 8 pellets. The rifle-style sights made shooting slugs easier. Slugs averaged groups of 2 inches at 25 yards.
Our Team Said: It may be a clone, but it’s not a turkey. The Radikal SAX2 is impressive with its reliability, accuracy, and soft recoil. We won’t say it is as good as a Benelli, but it sure does come close. Buy this if you want a Benelli-esque M4 at a fraction of the price. For us, in this match up, it’s a Best Buy.
|Federal Vital Shok||Mossberg||SDS Radikal||Stoeger|
|2.75-in. No. 4 Buckshot||940 Pro Tactical||SAX2||M3000 Defense|
|Average Pattern Size||7.5 in.||8.0 in.||9.0 in.|
|Remington STS Light Target||Mossberg||SDS Radikal||Stoeger|
|2.75-in. No. 8 Shot||940 Pro Tactical||SAX2||M3000 Defense|
|Average Pattern Size||19.0 in.||18.0 in.||19.0 in.|
|Hornady Critical Defense||Mossberg||SDS Radikal||Stoeger|
|2.75-in. 00 Buckshot||940 Pro Tactical||SAX2||M3000 Defense|
|Average Pattern Size||3.0 in.||3.0 in.||2.0 in.|
|Brenneke K.O.||Mossberg||SDS Radikal||Stoeger|
|2.75-in. 1-oz. Slug||940 Pro Tactical||SAX2||M3000 Defense|
|Average Pattern Size||2.5 in.||2.0 in.||3.0 in.|