The Baffling, Bewildering Inertia Shotgun
Many are aware that the so-called inertia action goes back to the Sjögren Inertia Shotgun of 1908, developed in Sweden but only 5000 or so were made. The modern kinematic / inertia action was developed by Bruno Civolani in the 1960s. Initially picked up by the Benelli brothers who needed a shotgun to make, Benelli eventually failed and was absorbed into the Beretta Group where it currently resides.
It seems almost everyone has an inertia action. There is the Stevens S1200 imported by Savage Arms. Weatherby has two lines, one made by Armsan of Turkey (the Element line / ATA NEO) and another (18i series) made by Marocchi of Italy. The Beretta Group offers Stoeger, Franchi, and Benelli brands. There is Breda, SKB (HS300), the Charles Daly / Chiappa Firearms CA612, Girsan, FAIR, the new Browning A5, Retay Arms, the CZ 1012, the Dickinson Arms 200 series, and more. Are you getting a headache yet? You should be. Right now, you can get a Weatherby Element synthetic (previously reviewed) for $436 from Bud's. Or, you can consider a Benelli Performance Shop Waterfowl M2 (starting price, $2799, according to Benelli).
It is largely a headache for the consumer, for many of these examples do the exact same thing, with no benefit over each other. The generic Civolani action shotgun can now be had from some twenty different sources. When new (?) inertia shotguns are announced, it is hard to keep a straight face when the gush of press releases and ad-copy all claim the same exact benefits.
Yet, the Weatherby Element is one of the better low-dollar inertia guns out there. Aside from an excessively heavy trigger which is hardly a Weatherby exclusive, and the curved recoil pad that cannot be easily replaced, it is a decent gun, functionally. It fared far better than some, such as the embarrassing jam-o-matic Breda.
The problem with the flavor of the week inertia gun is that they seem to vanish just as quickly as they appear, and any semblance of parts and service along with them. The Savage-Stevens S1200 is gone from the Savage line-up, the 3 inch Girsan M312 (handled for a time by Bud's) is gone, replaced (kinda-sorta) by a 3-1/2 inch MC312 from European American Armory.
Despite the hoary inertia-driven hyperbole, the generic inertia gun is very cheap to make, with a raw manufacturing cost in the area of $150. How else does anyone think that you can pay for the boat-ride from Turkey, pay freight, pay importing fees, pay distributors, pay gun dealers, and still sell them for $400?
INERTIA GUN PROBLEMS
There are several longstanding, well-known, and often groused about issues associated with inertia actions. By now, most have experienced or at least heard of the “Benelli Click,” the “Benelli Thumb” and related stiff-loading, often more pronounced in 20 gauge models. Inertia guns sometimes have a problem with handling lighter than 1-1/8 oz. loads in 12 gauge, and the inertia action does very little to address recoil as compared to gas actions, and even properly set-up long action (Automatic-Five) actions.
Despite the nagging issues, inertia (or kinematic) autoloading shotguns are not without their good points: no gas system to clean and while they don't run dry, they run dirty for a long, long time. Many inertia guns (okay, many guns in general) don't get cleaned until they stop working. While not at all an ideal choice for clays, the generally thin forearms and generally light weight makes them generally pleasant to carry.
WHY NO IMPROVEMENT?
Good question. While Civolani inertia guns have been in production for over 50 years, you might think the basic functioning problems would have long ago been eliminated, but the reality is anything but.
For Benelli inertia guns, the action was essentially ignored until the Benelli Ethos and the Benelli SBE III, which added a little spring-loaded ball detent to address the “Benelli Click.” The Ethos retails starting at $1999, the SBE3 (with its tragic POI problems) retails at $1899 and up. Yet, that little ball-dent bolt which costs nothing more to produce, is still left out of all other Stoeger, Franchi, and Benelli inertia guns, a single finger salute to those who don't care to drop close to two thousand dollars to drop a dove or whack a duck.
Browning has their new A5, a hard gun to love with its screwed-up factory chokes and heavy triggers, but the A5 does have speed-loading, although the “Benelli Click” is still ignored. Though Browning hasn't done much with their A5 “Sweet Sixteen” beyond the one initial model, I do like it more than the 12s. Browning has ignored the 20 gauge with the A5 thus far.
BANG FOR THE BUCK
I confess to feeling a bit sorry for generic inertia-gun makers, for most do the same thing with no benefit over the other. Right now, late June of 2019, if you want the most for the least in a generic but good inertia-driven shotgun, consider the Weatherby Element line.
If you want an improved no-click action with better build quality (alloy quick release trigger group, etc.), see the Bohler-steel barreled Retay Arms Masai Mara line. Currently 12 gauge only, the 2019 3-1/2 inch models are shipping right now.
Finally, if you want a 16 gauge, the Browning A5 is the only game in town.
Copyright 2019 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.