Remington introduced its Versa Max autoloading shotgun back in 2010. Since then, there’s been the inevitable morphing—black tactical versions, waterfowl versions, etc. Up to now, the MSRP of the Versa Max began at around sixteen hundred bucks. The latest addition, however, the Versa Max Sportsman, was obviously conceived to ameliorate sticker shock among old-time 11-87/1100 shooters who might have a hard time envisioning paying that much for an auto from The Big Green. The Sportsman lists for slightly over a grand—a bit over most of the company’s 11-87 lineup but not quite up there with the “B-initialled” Italian autoloaders either.
The heart of the Versa Max operating system remains unchanged in the Sportsman version. In short, it’s a twin-piston gas-operated 12 gauge that’ll handle 2¾-, 3- and 3½-inch shells. The gas ports are just ahead of the chamber and set to accommodate all three shell lengths. Cycling pressure is regulated based on the length of the shell.
What’s different? According to company literature, the Versa Max Sportsman is “a workhorse shotgun designed for today’s American sportsman who wants the ultimate in autoloading technology and performance but doesn’t require a full-featured gun like the groundbreaking original.”
Obviously, some of the bells and whistles of the full-priced Versa Max have been left by the wayside in offering the Sportsman version. So, what are they? Well, you don’t get the adjustable drop-and-cast feature, the overmolded grips, the hard carrying case or the length-of-pull shim kit. Plus, with the Sportsman, you don’t get the Hi-Viz sights (just a straight front bead/mid-bead setup) or the five-pack of various Pro-Bore choke tubes (just one). One feature Remington (mercifully) does retain on the Sportsman is the very effective SuperCell recoil pad.
Personally, the lack of stock adjustment flexibility doesn’t bother me. I’ve done all right (usually) with out-of-the-box shotguns fitting my whole life as do, I suspect, most average guys. A straight bead/mid-bead setup is all I ask for. And I’d have no problem buying an extra choke tube or two (at most). I’m not all that concerned about having a monster assortment of constrictions; maybe I would if I were a serious sporting clays shooter, but that would seem a moot point here because the Versa Max is a hunting gun anyway.
I’m not a big fan of 3½-inch loads, but I will admit that there’s a reasonable argument for owning a 3½-inch gun—namely, that you can shoot anything with a “12” on the headstamp (provided we’re not talking about those British 2½-inch loads). But when you factor in the improvements in premium steel shot loads over the past couple of years, the case for the 3½ inch isn’t as strong as it used to be. But be that as it may, in taking a look at any autoloader set up to handle a wide range of shell lengths, the first thing is to see if it’ll run them reliably in a mix-and-match order. When we got in a Versa Max Sportsman—a 28-inch-barreled specimen in Mossy Oak camo—that’s what we did.
Our ammo assortment included Federal 2¾-inch 1 1/8-ounce target loads, 3-inch Wolf 1¼-ounce Waterfowl Steel and some copper-plated Winchester Max Dram, 2¼-ounce 3½-inch Double X Magnum Turkey Loads. The Sportsman ran through them all without a hitch, whether we loaded them up separately or mixed. Naturally, the 2¾-inch loads were pussycats. The three-inch steel loads were not all that obnoxious.
The 3½-inch turkey loads? Well, let’s just say that—despite the touted kick-reduction benefits of the Versa Max gas system combined with the SuperCell recoil pad—recoil was quite noticeable. If I were using them on gobblers (which I would not), I’d take special care not to have the back of my shooting shoulder in contact with anything as unyielding as, say, a tree trunk.
One thing about the Versa Max that may require getting used to is the fact that the shell carrier hangs down below the receiver a bit. If you’re used to a flush-fitting carrier, this may be a bit disconcerting, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The oversize crossbolt safety button is easy to access, even with gloves on.
Finally, we shot a couple of rounds of skeet and trap with the gun using what was left of our Federal target loads. Despite its 7.7-pound weight, the Sportsman was lively enough from a hand-ling standpoint for us to post some respectable skeet scores. It was even better at 17-yard trap, where its weight settled things down enough for us to do pretty well. It’s not a dedicated target gun, but it’ll handle targets well enough to justify those pre-season tune-up shooting sessions.