Forty years ago, a semi-auto was a cheap gun, selling for a few hundred pounds.
Then, as the guns became more mechanically complex, prices crept up until a “semi” sold for as much as a fairly good over-and-under. Prices seemed to be locked into an upward spiral until budget- priced guns – mainly made in Turkey – hit the UK market.
In 2011, Beretta introduced the ES100, the RRP was £835, more than its Turkish
opposition, but the buyer was able to boast of owning a Beretta, with its reputation of toughness, reliability and long life.
But was it a true Italian-built Beretta? It certainly bore the prestigious Italian maker’s badge, but with an inertia-cycled bolt rather than a gas-fed mechanism, more typical of a Benelli, a company owned by Beretta. The 28in barrel, with a 3in chamber, bore Spanish steel-shot Magnum proof. The gun came with a synthetic stock and fore-end, and three multichoke tubes.
The ES100 does not appear on the importer’s website, its place taken by the A300 Outlander, with a recommended price of £960, new Outlanders cost around £840.
The Maxus was introduced to American shooters in late 2008, and to Europeans shortly afterwards. The manufacturer claimed that its new Power Drive gas system featured a gas piston design with larger exhaust ports to dump gases faster on heavy loads.
Also claimed was a new patented, enclosed seal design that keeps residue out of the action for cleaner operation. “The piston has a 20 per cent longer stroke travel to be even more reliable with light loads,” it said. It also claimed its new trigger system offered a smooth, crisp feel with minimal travel, and lock times averaging .0052 seconds.
When the gun came out it really was a new design, with no parts interchangeable with previous models. Totally new and unusual was the spring catch to secure the fore-end, instead of the normal knurled nut.
This meant that the gun would not accept magazine tube extensions, which is not a problem for most shooters.
The gun weighs from 7lb upwards, depending on the model. Users say that the gun is very light and pointable, and recoil is very well controlled, even with heavy magnum loads. Included in the package with new guns are shims to alter the cast – either left or right – and the comb height.
There are also spacers to adjust the stock length. All of these items should be present with a second-hand gun.
There are eight different new versions currently listed, so the price may vary. New prices depend on how much discount retailers are prepared to offer, but seem to range from around £1,000 for a basic synthetic-stock model to less than £1,200 for top grades and 3½in chambered fowling versions.
If you want a lightweight 12-bore semi-auto, then the Beretta AL 391 Light may well be the gun for you. Most 12-bore guns weigh at least 7lb, and many are heavier than that. The AL 391 Light weighs a mere 6¼lb.
At this weight it’s a bit light for clayshooting, in spite of the fact that semi-autos usually have a lighter recoil than break-action guns. The gun is obviously intended for field shooting, and most shooters would be happy to carry one all day.
This lightness is down to the use of aluminium alloys for the action frame, magazine tube and fore-end securing cap, and a neatly profiled Optima-bore barrel with a 6mm ventilated rib.
Weight has also been saved by using a modified recoil spring guide. Yet the barrel is still chambered for 3in (76mm) magnum cartridges, which might prove a bit much for the shooter of such a lightweight gun. The barrel carries steel shot proof.
When the gun was introduced, the claim from Beretta was that the gas piston mechanism – the part of a gas-fed semi- auto that must be kept spotless for 100 per cent reliability – was self-cleaning.
In other words, carbon and muck gets blown out as the mechanism cycles, and this feature increased reliability by 40 per cent, Beretta said.
The gun’s butt terminates in a thin polymer buttplate, but a rather thicker rubber recoil pad was also supplied with each new gun. When buying a second-hand gun it is a bonus if this accessory is still with it, together with the shims for regulating comb height.
New guns also came with an ABS case, five choke tubes and a spanner to remove and clean the gas system.
When Sporting Gun tested a new gun in 2009, the RRP was £1,445.