The first gas-operated, autoloading shotgun was introduced to American hunters in 1956. Called the Model 60, it was made by High Standard for Sears and sold under the J.C. Higgins banner. It was quite heavy, and its forearm was oversize to house a bulky gas piston along with a huge action spring, but it was more comfortable to shoot than recoil-operated guns of day.
Most gas-operated guns today are basically refined versions of the Model 60. Cycling is simple. During firing, gas flows through a port in the barrel, which is usually located inside its magazine tube loop. Gas enters a chamber to push on a piston, and the energy is transferred to the locking bolt of the action by a long action bar. Remington’s new Versa Max dispenses with the gas port about a third of the way down the barrel. Instead, there are seven ports in the wall of the chamber. All those parts sliding to and fro on the magazine tube are missing as well. It’s called the Self-Cleaning Versaport Gas Piston System, and when a 23/4-inch shell rests in the chamber, all ports are located forward of its mouth, allowing just the right volume of gas to flow to the operating pistons. The three-inch shell produces a higher volume of gas than is needed to operate the action, but since its longer case seals off three of the seven ports, the amount of gas flowing to the pistons is reduced to about the same volume as generated by a 23/4-inch shell. And since the 31/2-inch shell is even longer, it blocks off four of the seven ports when chambered.
Rather than one large gas piston riding on the magazine tube, two smaller ones rest inside their cylinders at the bottom of the chamber section of the barrel. As gas enters the two cylinders, their pistons push on both sides of the bolt face to shove the bolt through its operating cycle. The pistons are free to travel about ⅜ inch before coming to a stop, and as they reach that point, two large ports in the sides of the cylinders are opened. At this point the gas has done its job, so it is exhausted outward and deflected upward along both sides of the barrel by the walls of the forearm.
I did find one fly in the ointment. While shooting into the wind, my face got lightly peppered by a few unburned propellant particles. It only happened twice during four days of high-volume shooting, but it was enough to make me glad I was wearing eye protection.
The Versa Max can be completely taken down for cleaning without tools. With the magazine cap and forearm removed, the barrel can be pulled from the receiver. Removing the bolt handle with a twist of the wrist allows the bolt to be pulled forward and out of the receiver. Turning the bolt on its side and giving it a light tap while pushing the firing pin against its spring with a finger frees its retention pin, allowing the firing pin to be removed. The firing pin is then used for further disassembly of the bolt and to punch out a retention pin in the side of the receiver for removal of the entire trigger assembly. This is all that needs to be done for routine cleaning, and it can be done in only a few seconds.
The Versa Max has a rotating bolt head, and the bolt return spring is housed in the buttstock. A transverse safety button just behind the trigger is reversible for left-handed shooters, while the bolt release button is located at the front of the receiver.
Currently, the Versa Max is available with a synthetic stock featuring overmolded soft rubber grasping strips. Color options are black, Mossy Oak Duck Blind and Realtree AP-HD. A thick SuperCell recoil pad soaks up the pain of heavy loads, as does a snap-out interchangeable recoil-absorbing comb insert (standard height). A medium and a high insert are offered as aftermarket parts. The gun comes from the factory with a pull length of 141/4 inches, but it is easily lengthened with one or more of the supplied spacers. LOP can be shortened to 14 inches by using a thinner SuperCell pad.
Pitch and castoff in the stock can also be adjusted to suit the individual shooter, and while some other shotguns offer the same option, designers of the new Remington came up with a more simple way to skin the cat. The Versa Max has a removable steel plate resting about halfway back in the stock and accessible when the rubber comb is removed. The stock bolt passes through one of several holes in the plate, and the hole chosen determines the amount of castoff and pitch in the stock. A compressible rubber gasket keeps the fit between receiver and stock snug regardless of how the stock is slightly angled during adjustment. A hex wrench supplied with the gun fits both the stock bolt and the gas cylinder caps.
Barrel lengths are 26 and 28 inches with a ventilated rib that tapers from .555 inch at the receiver to .270 inch at the muzzle. Sights consist of a .080-inch silver midbead and a Hi-Viz up front with eight interchangable pipes of three colors and two diameters. The bore is hard-chromed, has a two-inch forcing cone and my trusty Brownells digital bore gauge indicates light overboring at .735 inch. The barrel and the aluminum receiver wear a TriNyte coating, the same protection seen on a number of M700 rifles. Internal parts are protected by a nickel/Teflon coating.
The black gun comes with four flush-fit ProBore chokes in IC, LM, M and Fl. The camo version is accompanied by four extended chokes designated by Remington as Flooded Timber (.004 inch of constriction), Over Decoys (.009 inch), Pass Shooting (.014 inch) and Turkey/Predator (.060 inch).
During four days of shooting eared doves, blue rock pigeons and perdiz in Argentina, I burned up far more shotshells than many hunters will shoot in years. The ammunition available there leaves behind a lot more residue than U.S.-made ammo. A gun goes from squeaky clean to filthy right before your eyes. At about the 2,000-round mark, the bolt began to occasionally stop just short of pushing a shell all the way into the chamber, and I had to push on the bolt handle. After scrubbing the chamber with brush and bore solvent, however, it was clear sailing and remained so as long as I scrubbed every 80 boxes of shells or so.
When I got home I headed to the range with a variety of shells ranging from light target loads to 31/2-inch waterfowl and turkey loads. Even with three different shell lengths loaded in the gun at the same time, it digested every round without a single malfunction.
I simply can’t find anything major to complain about. I do wish that the bolt release button on the side of the receiver were a wee bit larger in diameter, but I like the oversize safety button. Same goes for a cartridge release lever at the right-hand side of the triggerguard that allows quickly switching from, say, a duck load to a goose load in the chamber. I also like the way the wide range of stock adjustments makes a mass-produced gun feel like it was made just for me. And the thing I like best about the Versa Max is how gentle it is on my shoulder.