March 05, 2021
Rock Island Armory’s VR line redefined semiauto shotgun design, and this year the company is adding a pump-action variant to the family. Known as the “VRPA40,” Rock Island’s slide-action scattergun also breaks new ground by offering shooters a magazine-fed pump shotgun at a very affordable price point.
It’s remarkable how little pump shotguns have changed since the 1880s, and a defining characteristic of pump guns since their earliest days is a tubular magazine under the barrel. Tube magazines offer a convenient solution for ammo storage, but they are slower to reload than firearms with removable magazines. A few years ago, Remington and Mossberg addressed this concern with the launch of the box-magazine-fed Model 870 and Model 590, respectively. That may not seem like a dramatic change of course, but it represented the first major departure from a traditional pump-action shotgun design in more than a century.
Rock Island’s VRPA40 is the latest box-magazine-fed pump gun, but it’s priced considerably lower than either the Remington or the Mossberg. The Remington 870 DM (Detachable Magazine) carries a starting MSRP of $529, while the Mossberg 590M Mag-Fed has a retail price of $721. Rock Island Armory’s VRPA40 is only $399.
For that money, you’d expect the VRPA40 to be a stripped-down gun with few accessories, but that’s not the case. In place of a traditional bead front sight, the VRPA40 comes with a fiber optic front and an adjustable ghost ring rear sight with protective shields flanking the aperture. The rear sight is attached to an eight-slot top rail that offers roughly 3½-inches of mounting space for attaching a reflex sight, too. There’s also an 11-inch vented aluminum heat shield mounted over the top of the barrel.
In many regards, the VRPA40 follows the typical pump-gun design formula. The 7075 T6 aluminum receiver houses a 3-inch chamber and an ejection port on the right side. The polymer slide handle is attached to twin action bars instead of the single action bar found on early pump shotguns. The VRPA40’s slide handle rides on an under-barrel tube just like traditional pump actions, however.
Removing the trigger group is fast and easy thanks to a single cross pin that is countersunk into the left side of the receiver. Simply push the pin through the receiver and the trigger assembly and magazine housing will drop free.
Made in Turkey, VRPA40 shotguns come with 20-inch smoothbore steel barrels with interchangeable choke tubes. Three choke tubes are included — Cylinder, Modified, and Full — and the constriction can be determined by looking at the notches in the muzzle portion of the tube: five notches indicate Cylinder constriction, three for Modified, one for Full. And the barrel is held in place by a knurled forend cap with a sling stud. There’s a corresponding rear sling stud in the polymer buttstock.
The VRPA40’s bolt has a single, spring-operated extractor mounted on the right side of the bolt body. There’s a channel in the bolt that allows an ejector mounted to the left side of the receiver to knock extracted shells free from the action. Because it is magazine fed, the VRPA40 lacks the carrier traditionally found on tube-fed pumps, and the follower of the magazine tilts slightly upward at the front to ensure that shells, which are picked up by the forward stroke of the bolt, chamber smoothly in the gun. The magazine itself is made from metal and has a broad baseplate that makes it easy to grasp and remove quickly, and it can protect the magazine should it be dropped to the ground during a reload. The magazine housing is also made of polymer, and is part of the trigger assembly. Unlike some mag-fed pumps, it doesn’t look like a bolted-on afterthought. Rather, it fits nicely with the profile of the gun.
If you are used to standard pump-gun controls, the VRPA40 may initially baffle you. Instinct tells you to reach toward the front (as on a Remington) or rear (as with a Mossberg or Winchester) of the triggerguard to release the bolt. Instead, the bolt release is located on the right side of the receiver just below the ejection point at the junction of the receiver and the magazine housing. It’s shaped like an oversized slide stop on a pistol and works in the same manner. It requires a downward push to open the VRPA40’s action. Magazine releases aren’t standard equipment on most pumps, but Rock Island Armory placed the mag release on the right side of the gun just ahead of the triggerguard. The layout may take some getting used to for pump shotgun fans, but AR shooters will love the design of the mag release; it looks, feels and functions like the controls on your AR-15 rifle. The magazine release is large and easy to find, and the aluminum box magazine falls free from the gun for faster reloads.
The polymer forearm measures 71/2-inches long, roughly 11/2-inches wide and comes with aggressive, rearward-angled cuts for a positive grip. The buttstock is polymer with a widened comb and a generous ventilated recoil pad that is slightly curved to rest comfortably on the shoulder. It’s effective at absorbing recoil. That extra padding is especially beneficial when firing heavy loads because the VRPA40 weighs just 6.9 pounds without the magazine. Add a full five-round mag and the weight jumps to just more than 8 pounds. Length of pull is roughly 14.25 inches and overall length measured 41 inches. That makes the VRPA40 slightly longer and heavier than other defensive long-guns such as Mossberg’s MVP Scout rifle at 63/4 pounds and 371/2 inches, and Ruger’s AR-556 at 61/2 pounds and 351/2 inches with the stock extended. The advantage of the VRPA40, by comparison, is load versatility and price.
As you read this, don’t forget the VRPA40’s price compared to other guns. Some new shotguns don’t offer much in the way of accessories, but the VRPA40 utilizes the same magazine as Rock Island’s VR60 and VR80 shotguns, so there are 9 and 19 shot options immediately available. The accessory rail on top will also accept most popular optics.
On the Range
Smoothbore slug guns aren’t particularly known for accuracy, but the VRPA40 performed well off the bench at 50 yards. Firing three different reduced-recoil slugs by Fiocchi, Remington and Hornady, the VRPA40 produced three-shot groups ranging from 1.61 inches to just larger than 4 inches at that distance.
Guns & Ammo’s staff shot everything from light and affordable #8 target loads to slugs and buckshot through the VRPA40. We were surprised by how comfortable the gun was to shoot. The front of the mag well is concave and offers a hold point for the support hand when firing off sandbags. The widened comb helped distribute recoil. If you’ve shot slug guns from a bench, you know that sight-in sessions with slugs can be a brutal affair. With the three slug loads tested, however, the VRPA40 was actually pleasant! Even small-statured shooters were able to handle the recoil from (light) slugs in this gun.
After accuracy testing, Guns & Ammo’s staff headed to the patterning boards with a box of high-brass upland ammo. We set up a sheet at 40 yards and used Federal’s high-velocity Wing-Shok #6 paired with a Modified choke and fired at a central aiming point. We then repeated the process four more times to determine the VRPA40’s point of aim (POA) versus point of impact (POI). On average, the VRPA40 put 91 #6 pellets in a 21-inch-diameter circle at 40 yards, and 157 pellets in a 30-inch circle. Based on the average pellet count for a 11⁄8-ounce load of #6 shot (225 pellets), roughly 70 percent of the original shot payload struck within the 30-inch circle. The VRPA40’s out-of-the-box point of impact was slightly low and left, but the advantage of adjustable sights is that POI can be corrected by the shooter. The average maximum pellet-to-pellet spread with a modified choke at 40 yards measured just more than 42 inches. With the Cylinder choke in place, maximum pellet spread with the Federal #6 load exceeded the size of the paper at 48 inches. With the Full choke in place, maximum spread was just more than 37 inches, and when we overlaid a cutout of a turkey head on the target, 26 pellets were in the vital zone. Hence, the VRPA40 is a suitable gobbler gun as well as a home defense or one part of a competitive 3-Gun rig.
After pattern testing was complete, we moved on to the timed portion of Guns & Ammo’s test. For that, we set up 10 clay targets on a bank; five on the left side and five on the right. Using #8 target loads, the object was to see how quickly we could break the five clays on the left bank, perform a magazine change, and shoot five targets on the right bank. Gunwriter Brad Fitzpatrick’s fastest time to break all 10 clays (with a magazine change in the middle) was 12.3 seconds. His average run time of 14.1 seconds was for three rounds. When he transitioned to low-recoil slugs, the average time jumped to just more than 15 seconds for the same course of fire.
Everything changed when Fitzpatrick switched to the 19-round detachable box magazine. Eliminating the need for a mag change dropped his average 10-shot time to 8.2 seconds. Worth noting, the 20-inch, 19-round magazine turned the 8-pound VRPA40 into one that weighs nearly 11 pounds. It’s not the most nimble setup, but recoil was virtually nil. Plus, you’ll shoot it empty before your arms grow tired.
Despite the gun’s ability to chamber 3-inch shells, the 19-round magazine only accepts 23/4-inch shells. However, that’s not really a bad thing. Firing 20, 3-inch, 12-gauge magnum rounds without stopping would be sadistic regardless of gun weight.
Overall, we were quite impressed by the VRPA40’s performance. Reliability was very good, and some concerns that the single extractor might be a problem when firing so many rounds quickly were unfounded. This gun runs. Except for one instance when there was a double feed while firing Remington’s low-recoil slugs, there were no issues with cycling or firing.
The overall quality of the components is great for this price point. Other than a few soldering marks where the lug meets the barrel, finish was excellent, too.
Many shotguns, particularly hunting and clay target guns, are nose-heavy. This added weight at the front of the gun helps smooth out a shooter’s swing, and it’s a byproduct of the pump gun’s tubular magazine. By moving the weight of the loaded shells to the middle, the VRPA40 balances between the hands, which is better for a defensive shotgun. This balance allows for faster target transitions and quicker target acquisition. Unless you’re planning to use the VRPA40 to shoot doves, you’ll appreciate how this gun handles.
The VRPA40’s controls took some getting used to, but after our range sessions, we grew accustomed to the layout and could run the gun smoothly. All four magazines tested — the two five rounders, the nine-round mag and 19 rounder — performed well. They all secured in place with an audible click. Our one complaint about the magazine is that the rim of the shell being loaded has a tendency to hang up on the forward portion of the brass on the shell below it. The remedy is to press down on the loaded shell and slip the next one fully into position before releasing spring tension, which isn’t always convenient. Still, the magazines worked without issue and stood up to mistreatment.
Anyone who appreciates the simplicity and low cost of ownership of a pump gun should consider Rock Island’s shotguns. It’s impossible to find a magazine-fed shotgun that can compete with the price of the VRPA40. It’s fun to shoot and well-suited for defense, hunting and competition. Rock Island Armory’s VRPA40 is poised to make waves in the magazine-fed shotgun market, and we predict that it will.
Rock Island Armory VRPA40 Specs
Chamber: 3 in.
Capacity: 5+1 rds. (nine- and 19-round magazines are optional)
Weight: 7 lbs., 6 oz. (unloaded, 5-round magazine inserted)
Overall Length: 41 in.
Barrel length: 20 in.
Length of pull: 14.25 in.
Sights: Adjustable aperture (rear); Fiber optic (front)
Stock: Black synthetic
Finish: Anodized black
Accessories: Cylinder, Modified and Full chokes
Manufacturer: Armscor USA/Rock Island Armory, 775-537-1444, armscor.com
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