Remington Versa Max
The Versa Max is the softest-shooting semiautomatic shotgun I've ever fired. With seven gas ports in its chamber, this gun vents expanding gasses quickly from the barrel, greatly reducing recoil. The ports are staggered in such a way that the length of the cartridge determines the amount of pressure used in cycling the action. The gun thus cycles everything from 2 3/4-inch to 3 1/2-inch loads without a hitch.
The Versa Max also has a soft recoil pad and comb insert. Despite its alloy receiver, it weighs around 8 pounds, which further soaks up recoil. I don't shoot a lot of 3 1/2-inch shells, but if I did, the Versa Max would be my gun of choice. The Versa Max tamed the recoil of several boxes of hard-kicking HyperSonic Steel ammo for me on a trip to Alberta a few years ago. The stock adjusts for length, drop, cast, and comb height. This gun has interchangeable fiber-optic beads, comes with a synthetic stock, and is available in a budget Sportsman version, which is an excellent value. Remington is a proud partner of Ducks Unlimited. Remington.com
GREAT GUN INNOVATION NO. 1
The recoil-reducing properties of gas- operated actions help make today's light shotguns more comfortable to shoot. In 1956, Beretta and J.C. Higgins introduced the first gas guns, both coincidentally named "Model 60." In 1963, Remington brought out the Model 1100. That first reliable gas-operated autoloader was an instant, revolutionary success.
Browning's new A5 houses an inertia system inside a humpbacked receiver reminiscent of the original Auto-5. While it resembles the old version, the A5 is much lighter than its namesake thanks to an alloy receiver. It's much slimmer, too, and a natural pointer. The A5's stock is also straighter and more modern in dimensions than the classic "humpback" and comes with adjustable shims and spacers.
At around 6 3/4 pounds, the A5 seems like the perfect companion to pack into the marsh. It's now available in a 3 1/2-inch version engineered to be no longer or heavier than the 3-inch version. Recoil, however, is greater with 3 1/2-inch shells. Browning.com
GREAT GUN INNOVATION NO. 2
Inertia-operated shotguns don't vent gas from the action to cycle the shells. As a result, these guns stay cleaner longer and work in cold and wet conditions. Before the Benelli family founded their arms company in Urbino, Italy, in the late 1960s, they met an engineer with an idea for a new semiautomatic shotgun action. The result was the inertia action now found on Benelli, Franchi, and Stoeger semiautos, as well as on Browning's new A5.
Beretta A400 Xtreme
Beretta's A400 Xtreme combines a gas system with a hydraulic recoil reducer to become one of the softest-kicking autoloaders on the market. The A400s I have tested have worked flawlessly at the shooting range and in the field with everything from superlight 7/8-ounce reloads to 3 1/2-inch magnum turkey loads. With an action spring on the magazine tube where it's easy to reach, the A400 is simple to maintain. Like all Beretta semiautos, this one comes with shims to adjust fit. The Kick-Off recoil reducer, a hydraulic system that compresses like a shock absorber, works very well.
One of my favorite features is the magazine cap, which comes off with a half turn. While that is wonderful in itself, the cap is lined with bright lime green plastic for increased visibility in case you drop it in the field. Saltwater duck hunters take note: Beretta's Aqua rustproofing finish really works, too. Berettausa.com
GREAT GUN INNOVATION NO. 3
As guns get lighter and loads get heavier and faster, recoil increases. You can't change the laws of physics, but you can cheat them with devices that reduce felt recoil. New recoil pads made of materials like Sorbothane are much softer than the hockey puck–hard rubber pads on older guns. Stocks such as Benelli's ComforTech and Beretta's Kick-Off have soft comb inserts that reduce felt recoil even further.
Weatherby SA-08 Waterfowler 3.0
With its high-tech synthetic stock and camouflage pattern, Weatherby's SA-08 semiauto has all the external trappings of a modern duck gun. The gun's gas-operated system includes two pistons—one for heavy loads and the other for light loads—that help regulate the bolt speed in lieu of a pressure-compensated system. This gives the SA-08 the versatility to shoot almost any 12-gauge load and to serve a variety of purposes in the field.
Weatherby has sold these affordable Turkish-made shotguns for a few years now, and everybody I know who has one seems to love it. I have shot a few of them, and they are surprisingly slender guns that handle nicely. Weighing right around 6 1/2 pounds, the SA-08 feels light in hand, proving that not all inexpensive guns are clunky. Weatherby.com
GREAT GUN INNOVATION NO. 4
Some 12-gauge guns today weigh less than 20-gauges. Much of that weight reduction comes from alloy receivers, which are almost a pound lighter than comparable steel receivers. The first alloy receivers were made of aircraft-grade duralumin in the 1930s for European doubles. Remington offered the Model 31 pump with an Aeromet aircraft-grade aluminum receiver in 1941. It took another 20 years for these improved alloys to become widespread in gun manufacturing.