Mike George chooses his top three value-for-money semi-auto shotguns for those looking to pick up a bargain
Hatsan Escort Magnum
Target Price: £330
In the 1960s, two trend-setting semi-autos were introduced – one from the USA and the other from Italy. Both were no-nonsense guns that became favourites, primarily with clay target and pigeon shooters.
The American offering was the Remington 1100, while the Beretta A300 came from Italy. The Remmie was so good it is still in production, more than 50 years on, while the Beretta marked the start of a whole family of semi-autos, each more sophisticated, and more expensive than its predecessor.
This growing sophistication of design and increase in price, in all semi-autos and not just Berettas, in a way transformed the semi-auto from a tough and simple knockabout gun to something in price on a par with a reasonable break-action double. Then, as the second decade of the new millennium opened up, there came a new family of guns which took the semi-auto back to its roots.
One of the best of the new, affordable range is the Turkish-built Hatsan Escort, and it is the Escort Magnum you see in the illustration. This isn’t the cheapest among the Hatsans, but a new one is only around £475, and £300 or a little more is a reasonable estimate for a well-conditioned secondhand semi-auto shotgun. The Escort is a simple, reliable gun and there’s quite a lively secondhand scene. It is a great entry-level semi-auto, and ideal for anyone with part-time keepering duties.
Target price: £625
In the mid 1980s, Remington was looking for a replacement for the Model 1100, which had been around for more than 20 years. Although the 1100 did have a few faults – fragile extractor claws and bolt followers mainly – it became close to a don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” exercise.
The great thing about the 1100 was, and still is, its super handling. If I had a pound for every 100 straight shot at skeet on both sides of the Atlantic with an 1100, and a further pound for every woodpigeon shot with an 1100 in the UK, I’m sure I would be writing this review in a luxury Monaco harbour-side penthouse.
The fact is, the first 11-87s on sale in Britain in 1988 were overweight, caused largely by very heavy barrels. I always thought this was to do with the Americans getting paranoid about the introduction of steel shot and the potential horrors of American litigation if a barrel burst, but fortunately the then importers, Hull Cartridge, had a word in the right ear, and a much lighter barrel was introduced on guns for the UK market. This transformed the handling, and tweaks over the years made the 11-87 an excellent stablemate for the 1100.
Although the Remington 11-87 doesn’t appear on the UK importer’s website at the time of writing, it features strongly on the USA site and there are plenty to be found on secondhand racks. Around £625 is the going rate for a reasonably recent secondhand 11-87 Premier model.
Imported by Sportsmarketing, on 01206 795333 or visit their website.
Target price: £1,000
Benelli’s selling point on this gun is that it can be easily broken down into its three basic pieces – literally the lock, the stock and the barrel. At first its assembly looks a little complicated, but with a
little practice it is soon mastered.
There is, however, another procedure involved if the bolt is to be removed for cleaning – and cleanliness is usually one of the keys to reliability in all semi-autos. Three-piece basic assembly may be a good sales ploy, but underneath the hype the gun is pure Benelli – that is, it is not yet another gas-fed auto, nor is it cycled by recoil in the conventional sense. Rather, succeeding cartridges are fed by an inertia system, and the bolt head turns to lock in the firing position – a bit like a Kalashnikov. The absence of a gas system means that the gun is easy to clean, with no gas ports and piston to get fouled up with baked-on carbon.
As with all good semi-autos, shims are provided to alter the comb height through an impressive rage, while length can be altered by the use of different butt pads. Overall weight is around 7lb, which is light for an auto, so firing a long succession of heavy loads may be a little tiring. If this is so, there are heavier guns in the Benelli range. There are also other finishes if you don’t like camouflage.
A new gun like the one illustrated is listed at £1,775 by the importer, but most dealers sell it more cheaply. £1,000 should get you a good secondhand version.
Importers are GMK on 01489 579999.