We found that the Ethos might just be the best autoloader Benelli ever made. And that the Stevens 555 is a fine budget over-under. We also found a few things we'd change on the guns.
But for the most part, we had a blast with these brand-spanking-new firearms.
Benelli | EthosFit & Finish
The AA-grade walnut stock and the beautifully engraved nickel receiver are likely the first things that will catch your eye when you check out an Ethos
This is where the Ethos shines. Like the Vinci, it shoulders like few other guns. The gun is rounded where it should be and balanced as you would hope. The LOP is adjustable from 13.8 inches to 15 inches.
No, wait, here is where the Ethos really shines. (You get the idea, this is a fine gun.) The most significant feature is the locking bolt head. You don'™t have to let the bolt slam shut; you can actually slowly let it down, if you choose, and it still locks tightly in battery.
When you open the case on the back of a pickup truck in South Dakota or at your local sporting clay range, you'™ll probably draw a crowd. The Ethos is a beautiful shotgun that made me feel like a better shooter than I am while breaking clays and toting it in the field during testing. The new Progressive Comfort recoil system sucks up any unpleasant kick, yet all shells, even light dove loads, cycled well.
Chambering: 12 guage; 2 3/4, 3
Barrel: 26- or 28-inch, Crio System
Sights: Three fiber optic front sites
Chokes: Three chokes and wrench
Finish: AA-grade walnut, nickel or anodized receiver
Weight: 6 1/3 pounds
2,199 for nickel receiver (tested); $
Features a removable carbon fiber rib, making a repair or switch to a heightened sporting clay rib fast and easy.
Savage Arms | Stevens 555Fit & Finish
While nobody will confuse this for a high-end double, the 555 is not a bad-looking field gun. Stock and forend are walnut, and the gun breaks open and closes solidly. It'™s a very well-put-together shotgun for less than $700.
The balance on both the 20 and 12 gauge are good — weight-forward feeling.
comes in 12 and 20 gauges. Both have single-selector triggers, chrome-lined barrels (nice for cleaning) and aluminum receivers that are lined with steel (the aluminum decreases weight; the steel adds strength) and ex-tractor ejection. Every single mechanical aspect of both guns functioned flawlessly during our testing day at the range.
In both gauges the 555 is a well-put-together and thought-out budget O/U. The 20-gauge (at 5 1/2 pounds) and the 12 gauge (at 6 pounds) are relatively light and well balanced for economy shotguns. If you are looking for such gun, you should handle the 555 before buying any other gun.
Chambering: 2 3/4, 3
Barrel: 28-inch in 12 gauge; 26-inch in 20 gauge
Chokes: Five included
Finish: Walnut, matte black receiver
Weight: 6 pounds for 12 gauge, 5.5 pounds for 20
The monoblock is chromed line, allowing for a smooth, wear-resistant break, reload after reload.
Franchi | Intensity Fit & Finish
While the Intensity
is smooth and slick, it also seems delicate. But don'™t let that fool you: this gun blew clay after clay out of the air without a hiccup of any kind. The black synthetic buttstock and forend match well against the black metal, making it a hard-shooting, all-around shotgun.
The forend is what makes it look delicate, but it actually feels good in the hand, with excellent checkering and finger grooves. As such, this gun can be shouldered quickly and swings easily.
It has standard controls so anyone with semi-auto shotgun experience could pick it up and right away feel comfortable shooting it. While I do wish the bolt release was a little larger, it wasn'™t difficult to load using an underhand motion, similar to the method used by 3-gunners.
The Intensity swung lightly, maybe too lightly. Some shooters, myself included, occasionally stopped the swing when the gun went off. Its weight, however, makes it ideal for upland game, such as quail, grouse and pheasant. It also can handle heavy 3 1/2-inch loads for waterfowl.
Chambering: 12 guage; 2 3/4, 3, 3 1/2
Barrel: 26-, 28-, or 30-inch
Chokes: Three chokes and wrench
Finish: Black anodized
Weight: 7 pounds
XL Mag Well
Loading a second and third shell made easier when dealing with numb fingers or gloved hands.
Mossberg | 935 Magnum Duck CommanderFit & Finish
As is typical for a Mossberg, the 935 Magnum Duck Commander feels like a Clydesdale, a big horse that is well put together and has a whole lot of power. The camouflage finish (Realtree Max5 for waterfowlers, of course) is well applied and works well for hiding in grass.
Like most Mossbergs, the 935 is heavy, but it shouldered well and swung easily. In fact, the heavy weight of the gun helped with follow-through, making it easier to swing with the shot.
The 935 has instinctive, easy-to-use controls. The safety is on the rear of the receiver for activation by the thumb of either hand, and both the trigger guard and bolt release are large for use with heavy gloves.
is a big, hairy beast of a gun, which is what is required for hard-core waterfowling. My only complaint is the ports for reducing recoil. The ports increase noise from the gun, and they'™re just not necessary on so heavy a gun when shooting at game. According to Mossberg, half the Duck Commander crew liked the porting, half didn'™t. The haves won. Sounds like a good plot for a future 'œDuck Dynasty' episode.
Chambering: 12 gauge; 2 3/4, 3, 3 1/2
Barrel: 28-inch ported with vent rib
Sights: Tru-Glo Tru-Bead
Chokes: Accu-Mag Set
Finish: Composite stock, Realtree Max-5
Weight: 7 3/4 pounds
Features a specialized ported barrel to help reduce recoil, saving your shoulder for a strap full of ducks.
Remington | Versa Max Wood TechFit & Finish
The new Wood Tech
is not wood but a polymer that is smooth to the touch and looks like walnut. The stock and the forend have a smooth rubber insert that will be very easy to clean on a regular basis. I'™m not as fond of the way the forend overlaps the receiver; the forend had some wiggle in it, even when the cap was tightened as much as possible.
It comes with a complete set of comb inserts (low, medium and high) and that lets you modify the stock for perfect cheek weld. We can'™t all afford to get a custom stock, but this is the next closest option. The Versa Max is very well balanced and shoulders easily.
Loading the shell in the chamber was very easy and it seated well. However, several times while testing, the carrier would not allow me to load the following shell.
This is a very sturdy, all-around sportsman'™s shotgun. There is not a lot of recoil thanks to the effective SuperCell butt pad, and the action spit out spent shells and cycled new ones consistently. With its 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-inch chambers, and ability to cycle any shell, this is a very versatile gun.
Chambering: 12 gauge; 2 3/4, 3,3 1/2
Barrel: 28 inches
Sights: Four fiber optic sights
Chokes: Three chokes and wrench
Finish: Wood Tech finish
Weight: 7.75 pounds
Port in a Storm
The Versa Max is famous for its unique VersaPort system that keeps excess carbon away from moving parts.