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Benelli Shotguns for Law Enforcement


January 15, 2014
By Dave Brown

by Dave Brown

only had to travel a few miles down the road from our Markham, Ontario corporate headquarters to see what may be one of the world’s best police patrol rifles being made, but ironically we would have to travel across the ocean to watch the manufacture of what may be the world’s best police shotgun.

Thankfully the Benelli line of tactical shotguns are available on this side of the pond. Imported by Stoeger Canada, Benelli military and law enforcement shotguns are part of Beretta Defense Products. We had an opportunity to review and test two of their top police models: the SuperNova Tactical pump-action and the Benelli M4 Tactical semi-automatic.

{SuperNova Tactical}

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This modular design pump-action has a lightweight steel skeleton frame over-molded with a polymer shell, resulting in what Benelli says is a super-light, super-strong shotgun, almost completely impervious to any weather conditions. Dual-action bars and a two-lug rotary bolt locks steel-to-steel inside the barrel. It is capable of handling everything from light 2 ¾ -inch target loads to 3 ½ -inch magnum shells.

Law enforcement versions come with either low-profile rifle sights or a military ghost ring sight, adjustable for both windage and elevation. Optional three-dot tritium inserts can be added to the ghost ring. Options include a full-length pistol grip stock, standard “ComforTech” full stock and a collapsible multi-position stock. Barrel lengths are 14 or 18-inches. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a top picatinny rail.

We found the ComforTech a little long, especially when wearing a jacket, but optional butt pads come in three sizes to accommodate different pull lengths.

Regardless of stock or barrel length, the Supernova Tactical was able to put every slug through one ragged hole at 20 meters. Recoil may not have been pleasant but was easily managed. Something as simple as changing slug brands can sometimes affect point of impact and this is where fully adjustable sights come in handy. For example, Remington Managed Recoil 1-ounce slugs seemed to consistently shoot about six inches to the right of everything else.

No matter how fast we pumped, the shells used or how much we neglected the cleaning, we could not induce a single misfeed. That is pretty impressive performance for a shotgun not even ‘broken in’ yet.

So what’s the downside? Well, looks are subjective but this thing is uuuugly. To me, it looks more like an exoskeleton alien weapon than a police shotgun. Thankfully, looks have no bearing on how well it works and equally thankfully, Benelli does not consult on its designs!

But it is still ugly.

{Operation}

The SuperNova Tactical is designed to feed and cycle any shells, low or high brass, all the way up to 3 ½-inch. It uses a unique magazine bypass button, called the push-button shell stop, located about half way up the forend so an officer has full and complete control of when to cycle shells from the magazine tube.

When you cycle normally, shells eject from the magazine tube and sit on the carrier, ready to go into the chamber. Every user of a pump-action firearm will be instantly familiar with this drill, but should you not want a round to eject from the magazine, the push-button shell stop can be depressed. That activates a stop and bypasses rounds from feeding from the magazine. With the chamber empty, the user pushes the slide release lever upward and starts the pump moving backwards. After about an inch of travel, the shell stop can be depressed to block shells from leaving the tube.

In a police vehicle, normal carry would be locked inside the rack with empty chamber and loaded magazine. To bring into action, an officer simply pushes the slide release up to unlock the bolt and cycles the action as required.

If no rounds are fired, the SuperNova Tactical is returned from loaded to cruiser-carry by pushing up on the slide release to open the action slightly and then depressing the push-button shell stop located in the middle of the forend. This ensures no rounds will be ejected while the action is completely pumped to the rear. The chambered shell is removed and replaced back into the magazine tube and the shotgun goes back in the rack.

If an officer wishes to insert ammunition different than what is loaded in the tube, holding the push-button shell stop while operating the action ensures no shells come out of the magazine; the replacement shell can then be dropped directly into the ejection port.

It is simple and instinctive. Cleaning, when we finally got around to it, was also simple. The magazine end cap comes off easily if the user needs to separate the barrel from receiver and a nub on the end of the magazine cap doubles as a takedown tool if you need to remove the trigger group.

The action is smooth, with perhaps more of a plasticky sound than you may be used to on an 870. The polymer finish seems very tough and did not show any scratches or marks even after hard use.

The cross bolt safety is forward of the trigger and within easy reach of an extended finger. The slide release is just forward of the safety, in roughly the same position as an 870. When speedloading, a 3 ½-inch chamber means the ejection port is a large and smooth-sided target.

While some find it ugly, users report that the SuperNova Tactical’s reliability and smooth action gives it a beauty all its own.

{Benelli M4 Tactical}

A semi-automatic police and military shotgun based on the US Military’s M1014 shotgun, first issued to the Marines in 1999, the M4 uses an inertia-operated bolt to eject and load rounds from a magazine tube, plus a unique gas-operated mechanism to assist the bolt operation.

Benelli refers to this as the Auto Regulating Gas Operated (ARGO) system. It utilizes two gas ports located just slightly ahead of the chamber to bleed a small amount of combustion gases from the barrel and operate two stainless-steel pistons and operating rods to assist the opening of the bolt. This gives the M4 significantly reduced recoil compared to the average pump, plus the ability to add rails and accessories as required without worrying that the extra mass would reduce reliability, as is sometimes found on inertia-operated semi-automatic shotguns.

The lightweight bolt and twin pistons result in what may be the fastest cycling police shotgun in the world. In previous tests conducted by shot-to-shot times of the M4 were all easily under .20 seconds. This means it will cycle as fast as one is physically able to move their trigger finger. A shooter who could keep their sights on the target at this speed could conceivably put five slugs into it in under one second.

In comparison, a Remington gas 11-87 Police semi-auto averaged .24 to .26 seconds shot-to-shot and a Remington 870 pump turned in times of .29 to .31 seconds.

Like all Benelli law enforcement shotguns, the M4 is tested for reliability in extreme conditions such as cold, heat, water, mud and sand. It will fire 2 ¾-inch or 3-inch shells of varying power without adjustments. The simple design of the gas ports, dual self-cleaning pistons and dual operating rods result in a minimum of moving parts that still function with minimal cleaning. There is little residue buildup and an occasional shot of spray lube on the bolt is about all that’s needed to keep it going for thousands of rounds.

In our tests, it digested every single round of police shotgun ammunition that we threw at it without hang-up and it even cycled training rounds of heavy target birdshot.

{Operation}

Unique among police semi-autos, the M4 uses a free carrier, which means that a round is not fed from the magazine tube onto the shell carrier unless the trigger is pulled or the cartridge drop lever on the side is pushed upward.

This is ideal for use in a police car. It is locked into the rack in cruiser-carry condition (empty chamber; loaded magazine tube; safety on) until required. An officer exits the vehicle and simply pushes the clearly marked cartridge drop lever upward and then aggressively cycles the action.

If no rounds are fired, it can be returned from loaded to cruiser-carry by cycling the action and ejecting the shell from the chamber. No further shells are ejected from the magazine tube no matter how many times the action is cycled.

If an alternate round is desired – for example a slug instead of buckshot – the officer simply holds the bolt handle back and drops in a shell. If the shotgun is fired, each subsequent round will continue to load from the tube the instant the bolt clears the carrier.

Once the encounter is over, any remaining rounds in the chamber can be ejected without feeding a new round simply by manually cycling the bolt to eject the round and replacing it back into the magazine tube. This quickly and safely returns the shotgun to cruiser-carry.

When empty, the bolt locks to the rear. This makes it very easy to safety check the M4 before placing it in the car. Cycle the bolt and if it locks to the rear, there are no shells in the shotgun. If the bolt cycles freely forward and back, there is at least one round in the magazine tube.

It only takes minutes to become totally familiar with the action and officers will instantly appreciate the advantages of a design that can be moved quickly and safely to and from cruiser-carry as required.

{Police shotguns}

The market for police shotguns is still healthy and one hopes that most Canadian police agencies can see the advantages of having one racked beside a patrol rifle. They are designed for different purposes.

I recently talked to a shotgun trainer for a federal law enforcement agency (who wishes to remain anonymous) and he explained why they will likely never go away from the shotgun. The nature of their threat is not always the two-legged variety; sometimes they deal with the very large, very fast moving and potentially very angry four-legged kind.

He discussed problems he has recently encountered with other makes of police shotguns and what had to be done to get them serviceable.

“I unpack a brand new shotgun and then spend a couple hours in the shop with each one, getting them to the point where I can trust them to our staff,” he reports – “but I can take a brand new Benelli out of the box, screw the barrel onto it, shoot a few rounds and send it for training in five minutes. I know it’s going to work and I know it will come back with every piece still attached.”

To him, looks are secondary. Dependability is the key.

“I’m old school. I love a big ole solid, dependable, steel shotgun that I just know I could beat a grizzly to death with if I had to,” he explains.

But then he adds, “I would prefer not to have to.”