March 27, 2015
When I was old enough to buy my first shotgun, I debated on barrel length, action type, and model, but not manufacturer — it would be a Remington. Back in 1986, by my way of thinking, there really was no other choice — Remington ruled the roost. Not only did they have a bombproof reputation, but also they came with a certain panache.
So I saved up a couple of summers' worth of lawn mowing money and headed down to our local gun shop with my dad. I fondled the 1100s, but the extra cost was well above my budget, so I proudly bought a secondhand 870 Wingmaster. I still own that gun today and have put literally tens of thousands of shells through it — without a single failure, ever.
However, the 1990s would bring a decade of change.
In 1980, domestic shotgun manufacturers controlled nearly three-quarters of the hunting market. By 2010 that was down to less than a quarter.
It was a phenomenon I remember well. By the mid 90s I started seeing Berettas in the upland fields, and by the turn of the new millennium, every goose pit had at least one guy shooting a Benelli Super Black Eagle — and for good reason. They were durable, super-reliable, and had the ability to fire 3½-inch shells. This was the start of the domestic shotgun death spiral.
While Beretta and Benelli cracked the door, other imports flung it wide open. Today, imported semiauto shotguns dominate the scene. Obviously not happy about this changing tide, Remington set out to bring back the glory days of the great American shotgun.
While President Barack Obama was pontificating from his pulpit about amnesty this past October, I, along with other gun writers, listened to Remington executives unveil their own version of immigration reform — the product was the V3.
At first blush, the V3 looks similar to the original Benelli M1 Field, but there was something else. It was svelte, well balanced, and distinctly Remington. Also, it wasn't an inertia gun, it was gas operated.
The heart of this autoloader is the VersaPort gas system. Originally developed for the Versa Max 3½-inch waterfowling gun, it is a unique system that has proven itself reliable from duck marshes to goose fields. Most gas-operated autoloading shotguns have a gas port located around the end of the forend near the barrel-locking band. Through this port, gas bleeds out, travels into a piston that rides around the magazine tube (nine to 11 inches down the bore), driving it rearward, thereby imparting movement on the bolt and cycling the action.
The system works, but it has some disadvantages. It is finicky — what is reliable with a 3-inch shell is not reliable with a 2¾ without changing the piston setup. The other disadvantage is the weight of the piston is far forward, away from the mass of the receiver, creating a gun that feels heavier and slower to swing. The VersaPort system changes the piston setup completely.
The gas ports in the Versa Max are located right in the chamber and are spaced to be either covered up or exposed depending upon the length of shell. With a 2¾-inch shell, all of the ports are exposed allowing the maximum amount of gas to impact the piston. With a 3-inch shell, the 2¾-inch ports are covered up, only allowing the remaining ports to take the gas. It is a pretty ingenious system.
Since the piston assembly itself rides right in front of the receiver, the weight is placed squarely between the hands, not out toward the end of the magazine tube, creating a much lighter feeling, faster swinging gun. From there, Remington looked at other factors that were making imports so popular and tackled them one at a time.
Hunters want a lightweight autoloader. They are easier to carry and are quicker on fast-flushing birds. Since the design team fixed the perceived weight by moving the piston closer to the receiver, the next step was to look at overall weight. They were able to shave off a full pound from the 11-87.
Some of this was achieved with a lighter contour barrel, which reduces critical muzzle weight; the rest came from the receiver. At a shade over seven pounds, the V3 falls right in the middle of the competitive pack, the lightest being the Benelli M2 at 6.9 pounds and the heaviest the Remington 11-87 at 8.25 pounds.
While good balance, feel, design, and weight are all important, none matter much if the gun is unreliable. Who wants to carry a 7-pound single shot? The quality imports are proven to be unfailingly reliable. So Remington focused on that core competency. In Remington's testing the V3 had a malfunction rate of less than one percent — which is excellent by all measures.
In our field-testing at the range, I shot over 500 shells (both light trap and heavy field 3-inch loads) on three different occasions with several different V3s and did not experience a failure of any kind.
When I was done testing, shooting, disassembling, and handling the gun, I was impressed, but had sort of a "so what?" attitude. The V3 is every bit as reliable as the best imports; it is in the same weight category, it looks fine, it shoots and swings similar, but where is the advantage over an import?
The final question is price. And here is where the V3 really shines. The price was a shocker. With a real world price of around $750 for the black/synthetic model, the V3 is sure to draw some attention. Most of the Turkish imports are less expensive (and not nearly as well made or reliable), and most of the Italian autos are much more expensive.
So if you are looking for a shotgun with the performance of an Italian job at the price of a Turkish delight, the V3 fills an important role. Plus, it was designed and is made in America — and that counts for a lot.