Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1988, the last “new” production shotshell cartridge of any note was introduced by Federal Cartridge Company: the 31⁄2-inch 12 gauge. It was the Mossberg 835 slide-action that helped launch it, and it was the proliferation of the long shell that sealed the demise of the 10-gauge shotgun, as you can actually get more performance out of a 12-gauge 31⁄2-inch load, chambering it in a shotgun that is less bulky, more versatile, and less costly to shoot than a comparable 10-gauge gun. Thats not quite obsolete, but Federal Cartridge currently lists only five 10-gauge loads, while the company offers more than 75 different 12-gauge shotshells. Whether a 31⁄2-inch 12 gauge makes a lot of sense today is another matter. The preconceived notion is that a 31⁄2-inch shell is automatically a Roman candle-but that is far from the truth. The 23⁄4-inch “baby magnum” lead shotshell has always had a 11⁄2-oz. payload. Typical steel 31⁄2-inch shells are 13⁄8-oz. to 11⁄2-oz. payloads: no heavier than many older 23⁄4-inch lead loads, much less 3-inch 12-gauge shells.
But even though standard-length shells and the guns that shoot them can certainly get the job done, we cannot deny the appeal of shotguns that will shoot 31⁄2-inch shells, in part because they will shoot nearly any 12-gauge shotshell out there. Here, we look at two of the latest and supposedly greatest of the long-chambered slide-action twelves, the Benelli SuperNova No. 20115 MAX-4 HD Camo 12 Gauge Pump, $599; and the new-for-2009 Remington M887 NitroMag No. 82500 12 Gauge, $399. We should note that Benelli offers a matte black version of the SuperNova at $499 and that Remington offers the camo version of the M887 at $532 MSRP, but the differences were so significant that finish and price were secondary issues.
Benelli SuperNova No. 20115 MAX-4 HD
Camo 31⁄2-inch 12 Gauge Pump, $599
The SuperNovaweighed right at 8 pounds unloaded and with a choke tube installed. Benelli is not known for its trigger quality, and the tested SuperNova is no exception-the trigger breaks at 7 pounds. Though not particularly crisp, it was noticeably crisper than the trigger of the Remington we shot alongside it.
During a recent 20-gauge pump-action comparison, we chided the manufacturers for omitting a shim-adjustable buttstock on less-expensive guns. But on the SuperNova, the stock was shim-adjustable for cast and drop. Having the stock easily adjustable for drop and cast with the included shims is an excellent addition-and something included on no other slide-action shotgun made today that we are aware of. Where the original Nova pioneered an over-molded, one-piece receiver and buttstock, the SuperNova, with its shim-adjustable ComforTech stock, is far better. Elsewhere, the Benellis action was buttery smooth compared to the Remington. Also, we found the Benelli to be far better balanced, smoother swinging, and notably softer shooting than the M887. The SuperNova had less muzzle jump and was quicker to get on that second bird, our testers said. Also, the Benelli shot to point of aim, and the M887 didnt.
The overall build quality of the Supernova is extremely well-done. The camo finish was without flaws, attractive and well-applied. The smooth way the barrel extension locks into the receiver screams quality and expert machining. The molded-in ridges on the stock felt good in the hands, offering a comfortable and functional gripping surface.
The more time we spent with the SuperNova, the more we liked it. If you want to remove the trigger group, the appropriate punch is built in to the magazine cap. If you want to unload your SuperNova without cycling all the shells through the magazine, the magazine cut-off is built into the forearm. What is so good about both of these features is that when you dont use them youll never know they are even there.
Our only little gripe was the 7-pound trigger; just too heavy for our tastes. We asked Benelli what the spec was for Nova triggers. The reply was “5-8 pounds.” So, our trigger was well within factory specification-not remotely a warranty issue. Still, when we asked, Benelli customer service said they would see if they could lighten it a bit. We decided that we would take Benelli up on the offer. Benelli turned the gun around promptly; the trigger as received back from Benelli USA breaks at 6 pounds on the nose. Not as light as we would have liked, but still a noticeable improvement and an appropriate trigger for this class of gun. The Benelli customer service response added to what we already felt was a superlative gun for the money.
Our Team Said: The Benelli shot flawlessly, comfortably, swung smoothly and steadily. Our only initial peeve was the trigger, promptly attended to by Benelli at no charge. It is an outstanding 31⁄2-inch slide-action waterfowl gun.
Remington Model 887 NitroMag 31⁄2-inch
12 Gauge Pump, $399
The tested Remington model is the all-black version of the “new for 2009” the M887 NitroMag. Where the forearm and buttstock are plastic, the barrel and the receiver are both what Remington calls “ArmorLokt” plastic molded over thin steel core components. Not only is it a plastic metal coating, it also forms the solid rib of the barrel.
Before heading to the range, we installed the supplied Remington magazine plug, which is supposed to limit the 887s capacity to two shells in the magazine (plus one in the chamber, for a total of three) to comply with state and federal hunting regulations. We were surprised that the green Remington plastic plug was the wrong one-it easily allowed us to load three shells in the magazine (plus one in the chamber) for a total of four shells.
Most pumps exhibit some forearm play and rattle, but the NitroMag had an annoying tinny rattle coming from the action. The culprit is the sliding bolt shroud, a thin piece of metal that slides back and forth on the side of the breechblock to hide its length. It is a cosmetic piece, having nothing to do with function of the gun-and, it rattled on our gun.
We found a rough, poorly finished area on the barrel guide for the action bars-apparently, already starting to corrode. It was rough in appearance and to the touch. The side of the barrel that is bare steel, machined out to accept the eccentric bolt face, was roughly machined as well. When the barrel was slid into the receiver, there was noticeable slop. We could easily twist the barrel left and right. With the Supernova, the barrel locked perfectly in place with none of this loose fit.
The slide release on the M887 was in front of the oversized trigger guard. We liked it; it was effortless to use and just the ticket for cold, gloved hands. The safety button-small and nestled into the side of the rear of the trigger guard-is not the ticket for cold or gloved hands, our team said.
When they worked the guns actions side by side, our testers said the Nitro887 was rougher to operate than the SuperNovas. We had to apply what our team characterized as more-than-usual effort to get the fore end to slide backward and forward, opening and closing the action, respectively. Of course, the action did open and close when enough force was applied to the fore end. It was the opposite of the SuperNovas slick and smooth action, in our opinion.
Out of the box, the 887 weighed in at 7.25 pounds on the nose-a clear three quarters of a pound less than the Supernova. However, the lighter 887 gave up what could have been a handling advantage because the NitroMag was too muzzle heavy, our testers said.
The Remingtons trigger was extremely mushy, but it broke at about 4.6 pounds-far lighter than the Supernova. The Remington came with one choke tube, a standard Remchoke Modified piece. We patterned the 887 and were disappointed to discover that it did not shoot close to point of aim. The patterns it threw were about 5 inches low at just 20 yards.
During our shooting sessions, we looked carefully at Remingtons claims that this 887 is “our [the companys] softest shooting pump gun ever,” due in part to the companys SuperCell Recoil Pad. Measuring actual recoil is a fairly easy physics problem, with the major variable being gun weight-that is, a lighter gun will recoil more than a heavier gun, assuming the same shotshells are used in both. So, with the 887 weighing about 10% less than the Benelli, we wondered how Remington could achieve its claim that the 887 produced “54% less recoil.” We gave Remington the benefit of the doubt in that statement, assuming the company was talking about perceived recoil; that is, the shooters perception of how hard or softly a gun kicks. Stock drop at the comb and heel, stock cast, stock pitch, gun weight, and recoil pad quality all have a role to play in how the shooter perceives recoil at the shoulder. So a subjective side-by-side test is the only way to assess perceived recoil. Shoot, switch guns, shoot again-a 54% difference in recoil would be clearly noticeable.
We shot the 887 alongside the SuperNova, as well as a Beretta 391 Urika 2, switching from gun to gun with identical shells. Short version: In the view of our testers, the 887 was harsher kicking with more muzzle flip than the Benelli SuperNova (which in turn had sharper recoil than the gas-operated Beretta 391). Still, we think the SuperCell is a good recoil pad, far better at attenuating recoil than the skimpy rubber pad on the Beretta 391 we recently evaluated. In sum, we believe the 7.25-pound Remington kicks just like any other 7.25-pound pump-gun with a decent recoil pad attached.
Our Team Said: The M887 we tested was a poor shotgun. We didnt like the nose-heavy balance, the hard-to-access safety, the rattle in the receiver, and the poor machining and finish of the barrel extension and the action-bar guide ring. We didnt like the action at all, as it was rough and sticky, in our view. That the gun did not shoot to point of aim made our opinion go from bad to worse.
The NitroMag was so deficient that we promptly reported the major issues to four officials at Remington. The reply was prompt. Remington said we had a “preproduction model” with some sort of factory mix-up. We dont know what serial number range could be affected, or if this rises to the level of a factory recall. We invited Remington to comment in more detail, but no further information has been forthcoming from the company. We believe the problems weve detailed above should be covered under the manufacturers warranty, so well return the gun to the factory and report what happens. We recognize that in high-volume manufacturing, mistakes can occur. If Remington resolves this guns problems under warranty and replaces it-the right course of action for a “pre-production” unit, in our view-then well follow-up and see how a “production” 887 does at the range.