Pheasants Forever’s 2015 Annual Shotgun Preview

For the upcoming season, we gathered 13 shooters eager to get their hands on nine new shotguns for 2015. We had 13 cases of Federal ammunition and an unlimited supply of clay targets. Our job for the day was to evaluate these new firearms and report our findings. It was a task we did not take lightly.

Beretta A400 Lite / 12 Gauge

The new Beretta A400 Lite is a Hunting shotgun that is not afraid to play hard and get dirty. The entire gun is built around the proven BLINK gas operating system that Beretta has been using for years and capable of firing 4 rounds in less than one second. There are a few things that make this new Beretta “Lite”, with “Lite” being some of the things that makes this Beretta a bit lighter in cost compared to others in the A400 line, that being said light does not mean that the key components are not part of this Beretta. Yes the A400 Lite still has the recoil reduction system “Kick-Off”, the Blink operating system and the Optima HP choke system. Beretta was able to reduce cost significantly in two areas. One of which it is only available in a black synthetic version and the second is it will not shoot the 3.5” rounds, both of which are not relevant if you are buying a “hunting” shotgun. The Lite does come standard with one new feature which as someone who likes technology finds pretty darn cool, the GunPod2 which is located in the pistol grip of the stock. This is a Bluetooth unit that works with your smartphone that allows you to create a map of your hunt, drop a “pin” on your hot spots or immortalize each shot with a photo, video or note! More to come in the future on the GunPod2. Shooter John Austin gave the A400 Lite perfect scores across the board and looked forward to having this gun as part of his collection. 

Browning 725 Citori Field / 28 Gauge

For those sub-bore shooters Browning has come out with a 28 gauge and .410 in the very popular Citori 725. The 725 is the evolution of John M. Browning’s legendary B25 Superposed. Shooters will instantly notice the slim low profile receiver appropriately sized for the gauge and how it allows you to almost become one with the gun – key to instinctive shotgun shooting in the field. Even with the low profile receiver you still will notice a full width hinge pin and tapered locking bolt design that will ensure this gun will last for many generations. Another feature of the 725 is the (FireLite) trigger that offers unmatched feel and lighter pull weights than ever before. This new mechanical trigger is reset with the breaking open of the shotgun and not recoil re-setting the trigger function ensuring your second shot. The silver nitride finish certainly makes this little field gun stand out while at the same time the finish is very durable for years of long life. For those of you looking to start shooting the sub-gauge shotguns we can always highly recommend the Browning products! Shooter Murray Walker along with our other shooters gave the Citori 725 high marks across the board finding the gun to be superior in both form and function and really enjoyed the low recoil of the little 28 gauge. 

CZ Wingshooter Elite / 12 Gauge

CZ-USA has replaced the predecessor, the Wingshooter with the Wingshooter Elite for this year. Overall at first glance the new Wingshooter Elite is very similar to the previous Wingshooter with the exception of the fact that the new version is now built on CZ’s new CNC’ed 1 – piece receiver which has added significant strength to an already fine shotgun. The Elite is a very distinct and elegant looking firearm with a two tone hand-engraved receiver, black and chromed finish nicely mated to Turkish walnut stock and forearm. That being said this is a gun you will want to take to the field as it comes standard with CZ’s best features in their over/under line. These would include a single selectable trigger, solid mid-ribs and independent auto ejectors. We tested the 12 gauge model but the Wingshooter Elite is also available in a 20 gauge model and both come with standard 28” selectable barrels. Make no mistake this shotgun functions and shoots very well but if your one who likes to make a statement with your shotgun but is also on a budget the Wingshooter Elite is the perfect gun. Our lineup of shooters found the gun to be very well balanced and very pleasing to the eye. 

Dickinson Plantation / 20 Gauge

For those of you that read my regular “Gun Shop” column you will not be surprised that the Dickinson Plantation was my favorite of the guns we tested this year. If you were to ask me to describe a classic upland shot gun I would paint a picture of the Dickinson Plantation. It would simply have these elements: deeply blued 28” side by side barrels, a hand rubbed oil finish on a premium walnut English stock with a splinter fore end, double triggers and a color cased hardened receiver. Throw in the things not visible on the inside including selective automatic ejectors and manual safety and you have one fabulous shotgun. The Plantation is currently available in a 20 gauge version and two sub-gauges, a 28 gauge and .410. You will find included in the 20 and 28 gauges a full set of interchangeable choke tubes while the .410 simply is choked Full/Full. Considering all that is included in this shotgun you will find it reasonably priced and should sell at retail for under $2000 and sold exclusively at Cabela’s retail stores around the country. Many shooters found the double triggers to be a bit of a challenge. Personally I found the Plantation a delight to shoot and hope to own one myself in a 28 gauge model. 

Fabarm L4S Grey Hunter / 12 Gauge

New from Fabarm is the L4S Grey Hunter semi-automatic, which was designed specifically for bird hunting. The Grey Hunter is flat out a cosmic looking firearm, blending the classic look of a satin hand oiled finish to Turkish walnut with a modern look of a silver matte finish on the receiver with a little splash of color! We first noticed the detail in this shotgun when initially assembling the firearm. The innovative design allows for the fore-end to be removed without fully disassembling the gun – what we found to be impressive was that the barrel was fastened to the receiver with a primary screw on “bolt” that was significant in size that relieved any stress  from the wood fore-end which virtually eliminates any chance of damage. Based on Fabarm’s Pulse Piston gas operating system shooters will find the ability to shoot both 2 ¾” and 3” loads while also seeing a significant reduction in recoil. The L4S weighs in at just over six pounds and is part due to the lightweight aluminum alloy receiver. Our shooters were the first in the country to put the L4S Grey Hunter to the test and all were extremely impressed. The L4S Grey Hunter was the top pick of the lineup at the end of the day. Dave Brown found the Grey Hunter to function flawlessly and very easy to get on target with.

Franchi Affinity / 20 Gauge

We first reviewed the Franchi Affinity in 2012 in the 12 gauge version and now new for 2015 we have our first look at the 20 gauge version. Obviously the first thing you will notice is the overall size as it is built on a true 20 gauge frame, pick it up and you will find it to be just under a full pound lighter than its 12 gauge big brother! This makes it perfect for those long days in the field. It is a sleek semi-auto 20 gauge that comes in black or your pick of three camo patterns and for the upland hunter that prefers the rich look and feel of a classic wood finish it is now available in a “A” grade satin walnut. Franchi – a Benelli company – uses the versatile Inertia Driven action that allows you to shoot the light target loads to the heavy 3” magnums without changing a thing. The Affinity 20 gauge is available only with a 26” barrel weighs in at just 5.6 pounds. Our shooters fired just over 1500 rounds without a single malfunction, attesting to the gun’s reliability. Shooter and longtime Pheasants Forever volunteer Brian Nelson found the Affinity 20 gauge to be a favorite sighting a great overall fit and the superb balance of this shotgun. 

Syren USA ELOS Venti / 20 Gauge

Syren is a great line of shotguns that has become extremely popular over the past few years. This is a line of shotguns designed exclusively for the fastest growing segment of the shooting sports – women! Syren is the one company that has taken notice of this new group of shooters and hunters and has built their entire line around them. They have learned that this group of shooters does not compromise. Their shotguns are designed just for women and led by women. From their female management team to the female pro staff all are intimately involved in every firearm designed with no compromise when it comes to women shooters and their needs. You will see the attention to detail in the ELOS Venti starting with the 13.875” length of pull and raised comb on the beautiful Turkish walnut stock to the more feminine engraving on the trim round body Titanium Silver receiver. The combination of features and sleek lines of the Venti make this the perfect shotgun for the woman target shooter and hunter. Women hunters and shooters need to take a close look at the entire Syren line when you have decided to purchase your next shotgun. After shooting firearms designed for men shooter Lacey Anderson found the ELOS Venti a very refreshing change compared to the firearms she has shot and owned in the past! 

Weatherby Orion / 12 Gauge

Weatherby has brought an over/under shotgun back into their line for 2015! For the past few years the iconic rifle company has been providing budget conscious shooters with some fine firearms and in keeping their consumers in mind have introduced the Orion for those looking for an over/under shotgun. At first glance you would not think that this is an over/under shotgun that will most likely sell at retail for under that $1000 mark! The high gloss finish on the receiver with the Weatherby name engraved with a gold finish and an “A” Grade Walnut stock and forearm certainly give a perceived image of an over/under shotgun that a upland wing shooter would pay much more for. The Orion is currently only available in a 12 Gauge model with your choice of 26” or 28” barrels, however it will fire both 2 ¾” and 3” rounds which makes it a great all around over/under for the range and the field for late season roosters. One of our testers Jared Austin gave the Orion high marks overall with a top rating for overall design and style. For those looking to get into a nice over/under shotgun for under $1000 the Orion might just be the gun you have been looking for. 

Winchester SXP Black Shadow / 20 Gauge

New for 2015 Winchester Firearms has introduced their popular SXP pump action shotgun in a 20 gauge model. For shooters who love to shoot a pump-gun and quick follow up shots or for pulling down doubles on roosters or quail the SXP will not disappoint. Winchester touts the SXP as the world’s fastest pump action on the market today. Their reasoning for this is the inertia-assisted slide action which uses the energy produced by the explosion of the shot shell to assist in the stroke of the pump itself to eject the spent round. In testing the gun has delivered three shots in just one half of a second. Personally I cannot shoot a pump gun that quickly and be accurate but for those shooters that can the SXP could be the gun for you. The model we tested was the Black Shadow version which is thick brush tough with a non-glare matte finish on the receiver and barrel for years of rugged use. The four massive lugs on the rotary bolt itself will provide all the strength needed as this 20 gauge will shoot both 2 ¾” and 3” rounds! Shooters will tend to feel a bit more recoil from a pump action shotgun over a semi-automatic but with the inertia-assisted slide action and the use of an Inflex recoil pad perceived recoil did seem to be dampened. Shooter Ashton Brady placed the SXP in his top three of the review and did additionally comment on what he perceived to be a reduction in felt recoil. 
Story by Brad Heidel, Pheasants Forever’s director of corporate sales