New Shotguns: Practical, Efficient, and Versatile

We may love older shotguns, but modern models beat them handily.

Contemporary Classic Benelli’s 828U has cryogenically smoothed bores, and adjustable drop, cast, and comb height.

New guns are like modern cars. They are designed on computers, built by machines, and have less steel and more plastic than their predecessors. They lack individuality and character. My black-synthetic-stocked Beretta 3901 semiauto waterfowl gun is the firearms equivalent of my Honda CRV: Put the gun in a rack at duck camp, or the car in a crowded parking lot, and I’d be hard-pressed to pick out either one from all the others. But both are trouble-free, they pollute less (the Beretta runs on steel), and with minimal care they will run forever.

So you give up some aesthetics with most new guns. What do you get in return? Choke tubes, 3- and 31⁄2-inch chambers, any-load capability, steel compatibility, softer recoil pads, easily alterable stock length, light weight, chambers that don’t rust—the list goes on and on.

Then there’s reliability: A few years ago I shot a Browning Silver semiauto without cleaning it to see how long it would run. After 1,500 rounds it had some trouble cycling very light 3⁄4-ounce target loads. Try doing that with an old semiauto.

Computerized Craftsmanship
The new Benelli 828U exemplifies this new age of shotguns, and not merely because its name reads like a vanity plate. Benelli's first-ever over/under, the 828U is most definitely not your father's Superposed. It's a fresh, 21st-century take on the o/u, long on new ideas and nontraditional materials, short on Old World handcraftsmanship. Benelli guns are designed by engineers on computers, built by machines, assembled and packed by humans, and then warehoused by a robot forklift.
"We don't build Benellis here," says Benelli's Andrea Luini. "We clone them."

Indeed, some of the world’s best guns, from English Purdeys to Italian Fabbris to America’s own Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing guns, are now made by computer-numerical-controlled machinery up to the final fit and finish, which is then done by highly skilled craftsmen.

Cost savings is another benefit. The tight tolerances to which Benelli’s machines work means no hand fitting is needed on the 828U, which is unheard of with break-action guns. Even barrel regulation (adjusting both barrels to shoot to the same point of impact) is no longer required. While the 828U isn’t cheap at $2,500, it would cost more if those steps were necessary. Moreover, all parts are completely interchangeable, so you’ll be able to buy extra barrels without having them fitted to your gun.

The 828U, like so many modern guns, makes use of nontraditional materials. An aluminum-alloy receiver and a carbon-fiber rib keep its weight under 7 pounds in 12 gauge (a polymer recoil reduction system in the stock offsets the recoil of heavy loads). About $1.29 worth of plastic shims enable you to tailor the gun’s fit through a wide range of dimensions instead of paying hundreds for a gunsmith’s stock work.

Last fall, I found it carried and pointed as well as or better than many traditional o/u’s I have hunted with. I even think its futuristic lines are handsome.

That said, I’m always pleased when I see slight overruns in the checkering on a new gun—a sign it was done by imperfect human hands, not infallible machines. The real truth is, I like them all, new guns and old, but if what you want in a shotgun is practicality, efficiency, and versatility in the field, it’s time to send in the clones.

Tip of the Month: Teach Your Off Side to Shoot
I have only had to shoot one turkey from my off-side shoulder (for me, the right), but the day a silent bird came in from the left, I was glad I had practiced the shot. It's difficult, if not impossible, to scoot yourself around so you can shoot with your dominant hand without spooking a bird. If you use an optic, you'll be able to shoot with both eyes open; otherwise, close your dominant eye. Use field loads when you practice because turkey-load recoil is bad enough on the side you're accustomed to shooting from, and horrendous when you try switch-hitting.