By Ralph M. Lermayer
Nothing in a shooter's battery is as "Class" sensitive as the shotgun. Among firearms, shotguns are clearly divided into status categories. On my blue-collar end fall the pumps. Not particularly pretty, but hard working, inexpensive and, most importantly, reliable to a fault.
In life-and-death situations, for military or law enforcement, reliability is a must. No matter if you use iffy ammo or have shaking hands, a pump will chamber, eject and fire every time. One way or another, you can muscle a shell in or out. Those same attributes make them near and dear to a lot of hardcore hunters, especially when rough conditions are the norm.
On the uptown side are side-by-sides and over/unders. These are prized possessions, meticulously fitted wonders of wood and steel that often sport gold engraving and elegant artwork. They leap to your shoulder and hang featherlight in the arms. They are as pampered, admired and cared for as a new high-society bride.
Semiautos fill the middle ground. They can take a lot more abuse than the double, although not as much as the pump. They run the gamut from elegant to utilitarian in appearance and with a modicum of care are extremely reliable. We like them for the fast follow-up shots, their trim lines and the fact that they tend to ease felt recoil by using some of that reverse energy to eject and reload the shells. Semiautos make up the majority of shotguns carried in the field today.
The mechanics used in the semiauto eject/reload cycle vary. Some employ a gas system that traps a portion of the gas generated by the shell, then directs it through a port below the barrel to drive a piston and get the job done. Here, you'll find the Winchesters, Brownings and Remingtons carried by millions to the upland fields and duck blinds each season.
Others, notably Benelli, use an inertia-driven system. The term "inertia," when applied to shotguns, can refer to two areas. When you break open the action of some doubles, the firing pins for both barrels are reset mechanically. In others, the recoil or inertia from firing the first barrel moves an internal weight that sets the second barrel's firing pin to the fire position. In semiautos, inertia means something different. It describes the system used to eject and reload the next round.
The inertia system, as pioneered by Benelli, is brilliant in its simplicity. There are only two moving parts and no gas vent to clog up. Its blowback design allows the fired shell to move slightly to the rear upon firing. That motion compresses a spring on the bolt and drives the bolt rearward. As it moves, it pulls out the spent hull, hits a stop on the back of the receiver, then bounces forward, picking up and chambering a new shell in the process. Locking lugs on the front of the bolt then "cam" into cutouts in the chamber. It is one of the strongest lockups found on any semiauto shotgun system. Since the receiver's only job is to guide the bolt, it need not be as strong as others. All of the pressure is contained in the steel breech. It is simple, near foolproof and extremely reliable.
Benelli holds worldwide exclusive patents on the system. In the late '90s, a Brazilian manufacturer began using the patented inertia system without permission. Benelli's lawyers paid the company a visit, and an unexpected outcome of that visit will have a significant impact on American shotgunners. Benelli bought the firm, sent engineers and quality-control people to Brazil, incorporated the full Benelli system into the gun, and is now importing the result. The Stoeger M2000 is an inertia-driven semiauto with all the Benelli reliability (and then some) retailing here for $400.
I had a chance to test the M2000 last fall on a combination quail, duck and pheasant hunt in Illinois. The model I used had a camo-finished 28-inch barrel. I never cleaned that semiauto in four days of heavy shooting with both 2 3⁄4- and 3-inch loads. The gun carried and pointed well and never failed to eject or load. Spent shells were tossed out with authority. After the hunt, I arranged to have the same gun sent to me at home so I could continue to abuse it at the trap and skeet range.
To date, I've shoved over 600 rounds through the gun and have yet to clean it. A quick spray with action cleaner in the bolt is probably due, but I've not done it, wanting to see just how tough the gun is. I found this kind of reliability in a semiauto pretty astounding, so I called Ted Hatfield, head of Benelli's PR, and asked what the return for repair rate was on the M2000. His reply follows.
"Here's the scoop on the Stoeger M2000. This gun has an inertia-driven operating system similar to Benelli's, and like Benelli's, is incredibly dependable. The fact is, we never get them back. They just don't break and work every time, no matter what you shoot through them. No matter how dirty, wet, dry, cold or hot, the M2000 just keeps right on shooting.
"As far as wear goes, the M2000 has oversized rotating locking lugs that lock into cuts in the barrel, so it's steel-to-steel lockup with the receiver acting only as the box to hold the springs. Consequently, the life of the gun should be many hundreds of thousands of rounds, or God only knows - it's not wearing out no matter how much you shoot."
Since the receiver isn't a part of the lockup system, it doesn't have to be built for the stresses associated with locking shut a firing chamber and containing an explosion, Hatfield added. "The result is a shotgun that weighs less than 7 pounds (except the walnut-stocked versions that weigh on average 7.1 pounds)."
The M2000 will shoot anything from 2 3⁄4-inch field loads (it may or may not cycle reliably on loads of less than 3 drams, 1 1/8 ounce) on up to the heaviest 3-inch mags. For slugs, there's a new fully rifled cantilevered barrel (so that the scope is mounted on the barrel's cantilever rather than the receiver of the gun) that flat drives tacks (1 1⁄2-inch groups at 100 yards) with Federal Premium Vital-Shok 3/4-ounce Barnes Expander sabot slugs."The M2000 is available with 24-, 26-, 28- and 30-inch ventilated rib barrels or with 24- or 26-inch fully rifled cantilevered slug barrel, stocked with walnut, black synthetic or Advantage Timber HD or MAX-4 camo.
Prices start at $400. MSRP for a basic black synthetic-stocked gun is $475. An accessory slug barrel goes for $209. Bottom line: The M2000 is a world-class semiauto hunting gun at a Wal-Mart price.
My testing to date seems to support Hatfield's comments.
The M2000 is supplied with three choke tubes: full, modified and improved. A choke-removal tool is also furnished, but most two-slot 12-gauge tools work, as will a quarter.
Assembly is a little different than with most semiautos. The fore-end must be attached to the barrel before it is installed on the receiver. With other semiautos, the fore-end goes on last. A crossbolt safety located on the trigger guard blocks the sear. A bigger button would be nice when wearing gloves, but this one works well enough.
The bolt locks to the rear with the last shot and releases by pushing a bolt-release button located on the side of the receiver. Manually releasing that first shell didn't fully close the bolt after gunk built up. It took a slight push with the thumb to fully close it, but when firing, the bolt slams fully home even when dirty. A simple spray out of the lug and recess area after heavy use should eliminate this.
The camo finish is very durable. After many trips through the tangles, it doesn't show a single scratch.
My complaints are few. The gun is definitely muzzle-heavy, understandable since the entire buttstock is hollow. Since inertia systems don't reduce felt recoil as much as a gas-operated system, it could use a more resilient recoil pad.
I expect one solution will solve both problems. I will install a mercury recoil-reducing cylinder from C&H Research (available through Brownells) into the buttstock. I'll hold it in place with insulating spray foam after fitting a section of PVC pipe to maintain access to the buttstock screw and house the mercury tube. This will add weight to the rear for better balance and tame the recoil in this light gun with 3-inch loads.
Shooters who prefer a weight-forward shotgun will find the M2000 fine as is. Others will put a mercury tube in the magazine. Besides that, all the Stoeger M2000 needs is lots of field time.
Reprinted from the July 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.