Game & Fish editors racked five new shotguns in order to give you a heads up about what each gun does best. We shot them in the field, on the trap range and five-stand, and at a sporting clays course. We experienced no major malfunctions after dozens of boxes of shells, but we did find some hits and misses among the group of 12 gauges.
Each editor also took a turn blasting clays and targets with all the guns, and settled in for more time with one specific scattergun. We used a variety of shells and shot sizes. Brands included Federal Premium Gold Medal Grand, Hi-Bird, Winchester Super-X and Rio shotshells. To level the playing field, we selected some of the most popular semi-automatic brands. All were chambered in 12 gauge.
How We Tested: We spent two days on the range, focusing on shouldering, fit, accuracy, feel, swing and operation. Because our primary focus was on practicality for all readers, we also looked at functionality in relation to price point. In order to simulate the variety of situations and angles that game animals often present, we shot sporting clays, five-stand and also a few rounds of trap. The varied terrain and angles allow our editors to evaluate ergonomics and ease of point of aim relative to size amongst a variety of body types (our editors range from 5' 2" to 6' 5"). Fit, especially, is unique to each shooter.
We hope our time at the range helps you if you are in the market for a new gun. Thanks for dropping us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and letting us know if this test was helpful to you.
Waterfowlers are a different breed, and we weather the harshest elements, which means our guns must stand up to the toughest abuse.
BENELLI SUPER BLACK EAGLE III By Drew Warden
Benelli’s Super Black Eagle shotgun line has been at the pinnacle of waterfowl hunting performance ever since the original debuted in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The latest entry in the line, the Super Black Eagle III is no exception. At first glance, the III might not appear too different from the prior SBE II, but there are noteworthy updates.
The first of these is the Easy-Loading System, which Benelli has chosen to carry over from its Ethos shotgun line. The beveled loading port is nice for smoothly sliding in shells, but it’s the redesigned carrier that impressed me because it cures the common Benelli ailment of the carrier not achieving proper lockup when a shooter tries to quietly ease the bolt closed on a shell or of slipping out of battery if the gun takes a hard fall. I’ve had the former happen on a few occasions with the company’s M2 Field shotgun, and ducks have escaped unscathed.
In terms of ergonomics and shootability, the SBE III has a lot going for it, including an oversized bolt handle and safety and an outward-angled cartridge drop lever (also borrowed from the Ethos) — all plusses for gloved hunters. The gun is equipped with Benelli’s updated Comfort Tech 3 recoil reduction system in the stock and a new cheek comb pad, the Combtech, both of which I appreciated during testing. If there’s a knock against any of these features, it’s that on this particular gun the safety button was a bit rigid and difficult to operate; though, I suspect it would become easier with more use.
At the heart of the SBE III is its Inertia-Driven system, which, like previous models, remains reliable. During testing, I had no issues with function. The Inertia-Driven system’s ability to digest any and all loads from light 2 3/4-inch target loads to heavy 3 1/2-inch waterfowl loads, without adjustment, always set the gun apart. The SBE III is even more reliable. That’s exactly what most hunters, and especially hardcore waterfowlers, are looking for in our everyday hunting piece.
WHAT WE LIKED: Redesigned carrier that helps ensure proper lockup. Oversized, more ergonomic controls. Combtech cheek comb pad to reduce facial impacts, vibrations. Reliable Inertia-Driven system.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE: Price is a little steep for many. Slightly stiff safety button.
Chasing upland birds is exhilarating and requires a nicely balanced shotgun that is light enough to carry afield and soft recoiling.
WINCHESTER SX4 FIELD By John Geiger
This is a fast-shooting scattergun and would be perfect for hunts where you expect rapid follow-ups. Upland bird hunters or waterfowl hunters looking for doubles or even triples would take to this gun. If you like light shotguns, the Field version is just 6 pounds, 10 ounces. You’ll notice a pronounced front-end heaviness, even relative to the SX3. Really, this is a personal preference. I like an evenly weighted gun, especially for closer-in shots from a blind. But for longer swings, like crossers or pass-shooting, a heavier barrel generally will help you drop more birds.
I’ve heard the SX4 referred to as an evolution of the SX3 as opposed to a revolution. Winchester Arms increased the size of the bolt handle, safety and bolt release button; they slimmed the pistol grip but really left the action alone. The Super X line actually comes from the Browning Gold line. The actions are identical.
The SX shotguns inherited the Gold’s gas-venting system, which bleeds off excess gas pressure that’s not needed to cycle shells. The idea, like the Remington V3, is less gas, less mess in your action and pistons. I had no problem with cycling, although I’ve heard you’ll get a jam if the gun is not kept clean and well lubed. I shot a number of boxes of shells and didn’t have any problems.
The SX line is based on a legacy action, and it’s been refined and evolved over the years into a fine semi-auto. The Field has a walnut stock, composite forend, futuristic styling and acceptable fit and finish. There are 16 variations — from a cantilevered buck slug gun to an upland field with a nickel-finish receiver.
WHAT WE LIKED: If you’re looking for quick followup, this is your gun. The trigger is crisp for a semi-auto.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE: Many SX4 models come with a 3.5-inch chamber, but not the Field, and that limits its versatility.
REMINGTON v3 FIELD SPORT By Paul Rackley
Utilizing the patented VersaPort gas system, the Remington V3 Field Sport is a very mild-shooting semi-auto shotgun, even with 3-inch magnum shells. As such, the V3 is very fast, both in the speed of the action and getting back on target for follow-up shots.
In many ways, the V3 is a slightly lighter and less expensive version of the Versa Max, which handles up to 3 1/2-inch shells and comes with a few more features. However, the V3 holds its own for everything from dove to waterfowl and more in both handling and features.
The V3 Black Synthetic performs and handles nicely, with both a good swing and a very decent trigger. The dual beads make getting on target quick, and the texture on the forend and handgrip has enough aggression for secure purchase on the gun, even with gloves, but is still comfortable against bare hands.
The controls — bolt, bolt release, etc. — are fairly standard except for the oversized safety, which is the only complaint on the V3; the new style — straight from the 3-Gun circuit — is large controls that are much easier to manipulate, particularly when wearing gloves. Sure, hunting isn’t the race of 3-Gun, but being able to quickly get more rounds into a shotgun can often result in more game on the ground.
However, considering this soft-recoiling semi-auto costs less than a grand, it is an excellent shooter with good reliability against everything that 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells can take, which is just about everything.
WHAT WE LIKED: Dual front bead makes acquiring targets very fast and easy. The VersaPort gas system cuts down on felt recoil.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE: The controls could be slightly larger to accommodate gloved operation, and that would also make it easier to run the gun quicker.
Whether you’re a clay shooter, occasionally chase upland birds or like to pelt squirrels, these scatterguns are solid all-around contenders.
MOSSBERG 930 By Dr. Todd Kuhn
The Mossberg 930 is a utilitarian offering from one of the oldest names in shotgunning. A dual gas-vent system anchors the design, shuffling shells while reducing felt recoil. When shouldering the gun, you quickly notice its weight. The Mossberg is heavy by many standards; however, many shooters, such as myself — appreciate the added heft. The gun’s swing is steady and controlled, with the added bulk reducing barrel rise, keeping it on target for follow-on shots. For those who gravitate toward ultralights, this gun may not be your first choice.
The bright fiber optic sight is easily acquired even when light is at a premium. The drilled and tapped receiver is appreciated, allowing users to mount their favorite scope easily. While on the range, the 930 loaded and ran without incident, with smooth cycling.
The top-mounted tang safety is signature Mossberg; immediately available for both left- and right-handed shooters. I really like that the safety can be checked without canting the gun on its side — a valuable feature in the field.
The standard three-choke set (improved-cylinder, full and modified) should accommodate most shooting and hunting applications, with the exception of those turkey hunters who opt for custom constrictors. The synthetic stock is rugged, built for the grind of a cluttered duck boat or muddied goose pits. Ergonomically, the cheek comb could use refining, as it can be a bit unfriendly when indexing the gun hurriedly.
At a very reasonable retail, the 930 will find a home with those shopping for a rough-and-tumble, no-nonsense design — one capable of delivering a neatly patterned, lethal load without fuss.
WHAT WE LIKED: Has a lot of features for its price tag.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE: Ergonomics could be better; quickly indexing the shotgun can be a bit clunky.
FRANCHI AFFINITY 3.5 By Laura Kovarik
This elegant soft-shooting 12-gauge is a tip of the hat to its Italian engineering roots and also harnesses the superiority of the Inertia-Driven systems of its Benelli brethren. It features over-sized controls that make it easy to manipulate even if you’ve got gloves on or damp hands from setting decoys out.
I’ve spent time behind both the regular and compact version and prefer the more compact version for its shorter length of pull. However, longer-armed shooters will rejoice; the Affinity 3.5 ships with shim kits, making adjusting drop of cast and length of pull easy.
You’ll note the “3.5” in the name signifying that it can shoot the heaviest 3 1/2-inch magnum shells without any adjustments, and I can attest that even with the Inertia-Driven system, it won’t punish your shoulder. During testing, the controls were easy to manipulate and the over-sized safety button is a nice addition. It handled well on the sporting clays course with its average 7-pound weight, which also handles recoil nicely. It cycled the Federal Gold Medal Grand seamlessly. A little known fact is that housed in the stock is an internal balance weight that can be removed and customized for proper and custom weight distribution.
Overall, with its tough finish, ease of use and ability to handle almost all loads, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile 12-gauge. One issue is that assembly/disassembly could be better outlined. While most shotguns require the action to be open when assembling, the Affinity 3.5 requires it to be closed to properly slide the barrel into the receiver — a minor detail not described in the manual.
WHAT WE LIKED: Will withstand whatever shells you throw at it. Customizable in weight and also length of pull. Great price point.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE: Overall fit is a bit finicky, with assembling and disassembling challenging. Smaller-framed shooters should consider looking at the compact version.