To most guys of a certain age, any pump or autoloading shotgun not designed for skeet, trap, waterfowl, upland birds or deer was pretty much classed as a “riot gun.” Particularly if it was “plug optional.” Then, a decade or three ago, the term “tactical shotgun” came into vogue.
Now, with the popularity of 3-Gun or Practical competition, the basic platform — a handy, (relatively) short-barrel, high-capacity pump or auto has morphed into what can best be described as a game gun. Not “game” as in the classic sense of an elegantly understated British side-by-side, but something resembling what a Civil War-era press agent — in describing the Spencer Carbine — referred to as a “horizontal shot tower.” In other words, a delivery system for quickly putting as much birdshot, buckshot or slugs downrange to allow you to smack stuff down faster than the other guys.
Now we have the Beretta 1301 Competition. And make no mistake about it, in terms of dealing with plates or steel silhouette targets — or even aerial ones — this competition/tactical smoothbore might be the optimum tool for the job. It’s fast indeed, featuring a rotating bolt and revamped — and simplified — gas operation comprising the Blink system (which premiered on the A400 a couple of years back). Beretta claims that you can fire four shots in a second with it (I came kinda close to that but didn’t have a timer to verify).
The specimen we got in featured a 21-inch barrel with a full-length extended magazine tube. A 24-inch-barrel version is available for those who prefer, but if we had our druthers, we’d stick with the shorter one.
The most noticeable aspects of the 1301 are the oversize controls — bolt handle, bolt release and crossbolt safety button (reversible for lefties). The bolt release consists of a large, serrated tab right below the ejection port. It’s very quick to access from under the receiver with your support hand (assuming you’re right-handed). One caveat: If you’re carrying the gun with the bolt locked back, do not grasp the receiver over the top. You may get a nasty surprise if an errant finger trips that oversize release (yes, I did discover that the hard way).
The “oversize theme” of the 1301 is continued in the large ejection and loading ports. In competition, reloading speed is as important as “hitting the target” speed. And anything that helps out there, and saves your thumb from abuse in the process, is a good thing, as anyone who has ever been on a dove hunt in Argentina can tell you.
The synthetic stock is short, but has an adjustable length of pull (13 to 141/2 inches). The texturing is more than aggressive enough for a nonslip grip. The 1301 does not come with ghost-ring or open, rifle-type sights, just a large, red, fiber optic front and a midbead on a wide, sporting-type rib. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a rail mount, as some 3-Gun guys may want to modify the gun for Unlimited and put an Aimpoint Micro or something similar on it.
<h2></h2>Built for speed, the 1301 Competition should become a fixture on the 3-Gun scene.
The 1301, incidentally, handles Beretta’s Optima Bore HP choke system, although only one tube — a flush-fit Cylinder bore — was included. We did have another Cylinder-bore tube — an extended one threaded to accept Beretta’s Breacher attachment, which adds a certain “tacti-cool” intimidation factor (and could come in handy if you inadvertently lock yourself out of the house).
The first order of business with the gun was to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet with it. So “Wildfowl” editor Skip Knowles and I took it out to the nearest clay target venue (Peoria Trap and Skeet) and were very impressed with the gun. Recoil — as to be expected with 23/4-inch target loads — was very gentle, thanks to the gas system, generous recoil pad and seven (well-distributed) pounds of weight. Our scores ran from 24 to 21. And since neither of us would be much of a threat on the local skeet circuit, we were pretty pleased.
I’d done a bit of shooting with slugs out of rifle-sighted (ghost ring and open) smoothbores and was pretty curious as to how I’d fare with that large fiber optic front bead. I put up a large Shoot-N-C target at 25 meters and settled down at the bench. Since shooting slugs from a bench can be less than pleasant, I was a bit apprehensive, as always. I had on hand some 11/8-inch Dupleks Hexolit32 slugs, along with some 11/8-ounce Winchester Razorbacks. Both were 23/4-inch loads (the rationale for a three-inch slug load is totally beyond my understanding). I used the big front bead to make a figure 8 with the target and started shooting. I was gratified by the very manageable level of felt recoil — significantly less jarring than an inertia gun and infinitely less so than any pump.
I was even more surprised by the groups. The Winchester stuff gave me a three-shot cluster just under an inch and a half and only slightly left of my point of aim. The exotic-looking Hexolit32 stuff came in at about an inch more, also shading to the left. One contributing factor may have been the 1301’s nice trigger, which broke at a crisp four pounds. I tried some Hornady NobelSport Law Enforcement 00 buck (12 pellets) at 12 yards and managed to keep all of them in a fairly well-distributed 10-inch circle. Before I’d settle on any buckshot load, though, I think I’d want to try some other choke tubes — and other buckshot sizes — for a bit of mixing and matching. Buckshot’s kind of funny that way, particularly when you start stretching the envelope range-wise.
Beretta’s 1301 Competition appears to be just what its name implies, although it would make an awesome defensive tool in less regimented circumstances. And I happen to think it’s a pretty good skeet gun as well.