Our expert Mike George looks into the second-hand options for a Remington Versa Max
Most semi-automatic shotguns are gas-fed, which means that they are cycled by high-pressure gas. This is tapped off through ports (usually two) about a third of the way up the barrel, from where the gas enters a cylinder and forces back a piston.
The piston is connected to the bolt by a rod, and as the rod starts to move it first unlocks the bolt, then drives it backwards so that the spent cartridge case is ejected. At the same time, a fresh cartridge is brought up from the magazine tube and placed in front of the bolt. With the shot fired, a spring then closes the bolt and the gun is ready to fire again.
Semi-automatic shotguns are generally very reliable
It sounds complicated, but it all happens in a fraction of a second, and semi-automatic shotguns are generally very reliable, although they can be limited regarding ammunition. They are often not suited to case lengths shorter than 2¾in.
The problem is that a shooter may wish to use his or her gun with a light clayshooting load one day, and a 3½in magnum wildfowling cartridge the next. Gun manufacturers have employed much ingenuity in designing mechanisms to deal with cartridges at the light and heavy extremes of the scale with equal facility.
Most of these mechanisms consist of gas relief valves, which open to partially release the high-pressure pulses from heavy loads into the atmosphere, but stay closed when lighter cartridges are being used. However, Remington employed some revolutionary thinking when they designed the Versa Max for introduction in 2010.
Instead of placing the gas ports a third of the way up the barrel, they bored no less than seven (as opposed to the usual two), in a fore-and-aft array in the chamber. The principle was that a long cartridge case would mask most of the ports when the load was fired, while a short case would instead expose a maximum number of holes. Thus, the pressure to work the mechanism would be more or less constant with loads of different powers.
Second-hand Remington Versa Max in detail
The way it works, all seven ports are open when a 2¾in cartridge is used, four ports are open with a 3in cartridge, and three are open with a 3½in load. This seems to be an elegant answer to an old challenge.
There’s also a further advantage. With the ports in the chamber, there’s no need for the piston mechanism to be concentric with the magazine tube. So the magazine tube will not get fouled by hard carbon deposits, which are a curse, as most semi-auto users will tell you.
In fact, there are two relatively small diameter cylinders and pistons, which lay either side of the magazine tube. These mechanisms do need cleaning, but they are quite easy to remove. The gun weighs 7¾lb, which is towards the heavy end of the scale for an auto, but right for a gun that will handle 3½in cartridges.
There are several versions of the gun, in black synthetic and camouflage finishes, ranging from £1,300 up to £1,900. These are the importer’s recommended prices, and we have seen one version available new for less than £900. At the moment there are only a few of these guns on the second-hand market, hopefully indicating that most owners are satisfied with their purchases. The few good second-hand versions available seem to trade at £750 or more.
Available from the importers, Sportsmarketing, Commerce Way, Colchester, CO2 8HH. Tel 01206-
795333. The website lists the guns available in the UK. There’s more detail on Remington’s American website although not all of the guns listed there are available in Britain.