I had read all the technical tests and seen the adverts… now it was time to get the gun and find out if the reports were true.
First impressions of the Remington Versa Max were good. It was surprisingly well balanced for a gun with a synthetic stock and fore-end and didn’t suffer the front heavy tendencies of some other semi-autos I had been hanging my nose over.
And as I was soon to discover, its 7.3/4lb weight didn’t turn long walks on the marsh into salt crusted, sweaty, slogs either.
It scored useful Brownie points for weight and balance and then won a few more for good measure in the fitting department.
Quite a few semi-autos are still built with under-sized synthetic stocks and insufficient comb height but not the Versa Max.
Out-of-the-box stock dimensions are plenty sufficient for the average shooter but the gun also comes with a set of shims for further lengthening if required.
The cast can also be altered by way of an adjustable plate between the stock and receiver.
THE REAL MCCOY
Maker’s claims sometimes amount to nothing more than over inflated sales hype but Remington’s promises proved true of this gun’s recoil reducing features – the stock’s soft rubber comb piece delivered noticeable cushioning to the cheek without rubbing or feeling sticky.
And the soft butt pad soaked up a terrific amount of recoil from super heavy magnum cartridges as well as staying put once it was in the shoulder.
Another impressive feature – especially on wet, bitterly cold flights – were the grey over-moulded fore-end and pistol grips which helped me keep a secure grip even with really numb fingers.
In addition, the well shaped beavertail fore-end proved comfortable with or without gloves and it was long enough to accommodate a stretched or bent leading arm depending on individual shooting style.
When it comes to choke options you’re spoilt for choice with Full, Modified, Improved Modified, Light Modified and Improved Cylinder – but I only ever used 1/2 choke for wildfowling and 1/4 on the clays.
I didn’t bother pattern testing the Versa Max because kills on the marsh were clean with all the loads I used.
ALL CHOKED UP
What I did discover was that the flush mount Pro-bore chokes are very tight fitting straight out of the box and they had a noticeably long thread which meant they took a fair while to change, even with the four notch universal choke key supplied.
On the plus side though there’s no way they will ever work loose through shooting, so you can forget about muck and carbon getting between the barrel and choke threads!
IT’S A REAL GAS
I also liked the changes Remington has made to its gas ejector mechanism – compared to the good old 1100 model with its two separate metal piston rings and rubber gas ring the Versa Max system is a huge improvement.
The 1100 system was fiddly to take apart and put together again.
And when you finally did get it reassembled again the rings had probably gone on back to front – or there were parts still left on the work table.
Gas ports, rings and all moving parts on the Versa Max are contained within the barrel and are removed as one, after which the bolt slides out and the trigger unit can be removed by punching a single pin.
The entire gun can be stripped to its bones and cleaned or dried with little fuss – fewer moving parts makes the gun easier and less time consuming to clean.
STRIPPED AND CLEANED
The only maintenance issue I came across was the long, over-bored forcing cone, which attracted fouling and proved tricky to clean no matter what ammunition was used and despite the surface being finished with a nickel plating.
On the other hand Remington’s ‘Trinyte’ blacking on the barrel exterior and trigger mechanism dramatically increased resistance to rust and saltwater corrosion, and both scrubbed up with ease.
Putting the gun back together after cleaning proved to be child’s play with the bolt slotting back into receiver easily and the barrel relocating effortlessly over the magazine tube and inside the receiver housing.
Knowing the gun was intended for cold weather conditions and the shooter would likely be wearing gloves, Remington made the safety catch oversized and very pronounced.
Being located behind the trigger rather than in front makes it easier to reach with the trigger finger and less of a stretch.
The trigger guard has also been made larger to accommodate a thicker pair of winter gloves.
SIGHTS FOR SORE EYES
The barrel features a rear bead which acts as a final check to make sure alignment is correct and the top bead is interchangeable.
The choice of eight different beads allows the adjustment of colour, shape and size with some that gather light and provide a subtle glow.
I found this to be extremely effective especially for flighting wildfowl on the darker sides of dawn and dusk.
The beads aren’t at all overpowering to the eye and when light levels fall even further, they appear as a sharp black point to still be of use for when say shooting under the moon.
The gun tended to be pretty consistent across the board from light through to heavy loads with a similar level of recoil for all cartridge lengths.
For anybody unfamiliar with the Versa’s ejection system, the length of cartridge fired determines how many of the seven gas ports come into play.
The longer the cartridge, the more pressure is generated and the fewer ports are needed to eject the spent case.
Lighter 2.3/4in inch shells tended to kick slightly more than expected but this is likely down to the momentum of the relatively heavy bolt-body and rotating locking head inside the action.
At the other end of the scale the gun handled 3.1/2in magnum steel shells with great absorption, very little muzzle flip and no cycling issues whether hot, cold, dry or wet.
The Versa Max couldn’t be more different to the 1100 model other than the location of the safety catch behind the trigger and the fact that Remington still use the basic principles of the gas ejector system.
Its American roots are all too obvious – what other nation would stamp the words ‘DANGER – UNLOAD GUN BEFORE CHANGING CHOKE’ on its choke key?!
All changes to this new model have been justified and the gun is more reliable, harder wearing and much more user friendly in terms of handling, shooting and maintenance.
The Versa Max comes with a fairly hefty £1,800 price tag putting it firmly at the top end of the market but the features, reliability, technology and handling allow it to roll with the big boys such as the Beretta Xtrema.
Gun reviews: Remington Versa Max semi-auto shotgun