By Andy Lightbody
In addition to being a career Outdoor Journalist with over 40-years of poverty-driven writing, editing and broadcast experience, I also do a lot of off-road/SUV and vehicle writings. Drawing upon those experiences with automotive manufacturers that are constantly changing their yearly vehicle lineups with such catchy slogans as “new and improved” or “same great feel at a reduced cost” and the infamous “one-size-fits all” I am hesitant to embrace those marketing sayings without a quizzical/questioning look on my face and a raised eyebrow.
And having owned and shot dozens of fine Beretta shotguns over the decades, I was skeptical of the A300 Outlander as a quality entry-level offering that I would want in my gun locker. After all, Beretta has been around since 1526 and that’s longer than I have been doing gun tests! Add to this their reputation for making fine high quality firearms, albeit pricey and concerns were high when the Beretta box with the new affordable 12 gauge semi-auto field gun arrived for evaluation.
Boy, was I wrong!
To begin with, the A300 Outlander is a good-looking field gun. It has similar sleek and flowing lines that could be found on the older model A391, which this new shotgun now replaces. At first glance and feel, the new shotgun melds the best features of its proven A391 with some nice touches found on the much more expensive A400 series. Available in 4-model offerings, the A300 can be had with a wood/walnut stock/forearm, all black synthetic or in a choice of Realtree Max4 or Max5 camo. Least expensive retail is the black synthetic, followed by the Max4 camo and wood stocked shotgun. At the top is Max5 pattern.
Regardless of the model you select, the Outlander series represents Beretta’s first venture into providing sportsmen with an affordable entry-level autoloader that comes in at less than half the price of the company’s flagship A400 line. Designed and sporting the MADE IN THE USA label, the shotgun is built at the Beretta factory in Accokeek, Maryland. All A300 shotguns are in 12-gauge and sport a 28-inch vent-ribbed Steelium barrel, with a single steel bead sight. Because the A300 is designed for a host of shooting and hunting opportunities, the 6mm wide vent rib is ideal for adding optional TRUGLO sights or bolt-on optics/sights for turkey hunting.
Coming out of the box, the first thing the shooter is going to notice is that there are only four major parts – stock, barrel, forearm and tightening nut/lug. This makes it simple to take apart and clean even when out in the field. Beretta says that it also has a self-cleaning gas piston that makes it much easier to clean than other shotgun actions. For the obligatory end-of the-season thorough cleaning, the trigger group is also removable, but make sure you follow the manual’s instructions. It is a little more challenging than you might expect!
The A300 series comes with Beretta’s MobilChoke system that includes three chokes—Improved Cylinder (IC), Modified (M) and Full (F). Unless you really want to fine tune the gun for personal preferences, for the entry-level shooter or budget-conscious hunter, these are likely to be the only chokes you’ll ever need for any of your shooting or hunting condition – upland birds, waterfowl, turkey, trap, skeet or sporting clays.
Tipping the scales at just 7.25 pounds, the gun balances nicely and comes to your shoulder naturally and with ease. From port-arms to shouldering, the A300 feels lighter than its stated weight and points effortlessly. Two features that we found to be outstanding were that the stock is adjustable in terms of length or length of pull and on the synthetic stock versions, you can fine tune the gun to your personal shooting style.
Out of the box, the gun has a length of pull from the butt stock/recoil pad to the trigger of 14-inches. This is standard for the average shooter. But by using or removing the butt stock spacers that are included, it has an adjustable stock length of from just less than 13-inches to 14.5-inches. For younger shooters or men/women with a smaller frame and shorter arms, this is an ideal feature for proper shotgun fit, without having to “chop and lop” the stock. If you have a longer reach, simply add a spacer or two.
I’d have to guess that with all my years of shooting, testing and writings, probably 90 percent of shooters that are using a shotgun out of the box, don’t give much consideration to some important shooting/comfort specifics such as the gun’s comb height, drop and cast of the stock. In plain English, this means you can adjust how the shotgun fits to your face, making it easier and more comfortable to shoot when you shoulder the gun and get your sighting picture when you look down the vent-rib barrel. It’s pretty easy to make adjustments by removing the recoil pad, loosening the stock screw and making adjustments. If your shotgun is “biting” your cheekbone when you shoot, you are adjusting your face and shooting style to the gun and not the other way around – the way it should be! With the A300, a simple 5-minute adjustment, using the spacers and following directions in the owner’s manual can make a world of difference in shooting comfort. If it fits and doesn’t hurt your face when you pull the trigger, chances are you are also going to become a better shooter and hunter.
Another nice feature is that both the stock and forearm grip have the sling studs factory installed and quite literally makes the addition of swivels and a shoulder sling, a snap.
Hmmmm, one-size-fits all and everyone’s shooting needs? We’ll see.
When familiarizing yourself with the shotgun, you’ll notice that the A300’s safety is located in front of the trigger and is actually over-sized as compared to many other shotguns where the safety is located behind the trigger group. It takes a little getting used to if most or all of your other shotguns have the safety behind the trigger, but once you do a little “relearning,” it is easy to operate bare handed or even when wearing bulky field gloves. For those of us that are left-handed when shooting/hunting, a small Allen wrench (not included) enables you to convert/flip it for a much more natural fit.
Great lines, nice features and affordability add to the A300’s overall appeal. However, some of the best looking guns and vehicles I’ve tested over the years turn out to be DOGS in the performance department. Head to the range or the field and it’s time to validate that Beretta’s new offering is not just a pretty wall hanger.
While the gun is chambered to take 3-inch magnum shells for chasing tough-feathered waterfowl, it is also designed for light 2 ¾-inch shot shells. We mixed up a couple of handfuls of cheapy/light 7/8th ounce #8s, some 3-inch Winchester Blind Side waterfowl 1 ½ ounce #2s and some of their fire-breathing 3-inch turkey shells with 2-ounces of #4 shot. The A300 has a hybrid gas system that is remarkably fast in cycling whatever shells the gun was fed. Our test shooters that missed a practice clay bird with the first shot were impressed with how quickly the shotgun’s action cycled and allowed for a second/follow up shot.
The trigger was smooth with very little creep and breaks nicely. Unless you are a trigger-job fanatic, there is no reason to take it to the gunsmith. In the recoil department, the light loads were easy to handle by all and there were only a few complaints when shooting the super duper hot magnums. With 300 rounds of mixed ammo fired by four different shooters, we experienced absolutely no jams, extraction/ejection problems or malfunctions.
After the clay target testing, we immediately headed to field for the opening afternoon of dove season and switched back to the cheapy/light #8 target loads. With a few of our invitees being relative “newbies” to actually hunting fast flying doves and properly guestimating ranges, angles and leads, there was a whole lot more shooting going on as we passed the A300 around and let everyone fill the air with pellets. With a simple Phillips head screwdriver, we were able to add and delete the stock spacers so that everyone was able to have the gun properly fitted to their arm lengths. Individual dove counts were not real high for the afternoon, but it sure wasn’t the shotgun’s fault. Again, no problems or malfunctions after now cycling through another couple hundred shot shells. Many in the group simply said that the doves were flying too fast and were wearing Kevlar protective vests!
Back at the home front, the shotgun broke down into its four component pieces easily. A liberal spraying with my favorite can of Gun Scrubber to clean out the powder residue, a quick swabbing of the barrel and a light coat of gun oil and the A300 was reassembled and readied for the next outdoor/shooting adventure.
As an affordable semi-auto shotgun offering, the A300 was a very pleasant surprise in terms of styling, features and capabilities. Without breaking the bank and purchasing the Beretta name/heritage, this shotgun is as close to the truth in the saying that one-size-fits all as anyone could hope for.
Beretta is running a $100 rebate on all new A300 Outlanders purchased between May 24, 2015 and June 30, 2015, so head on into your Sportsman’s Warehouse store and get yours while they last.