The Long, So-far Fruitless Quest To Build A Battle Scattergun
Story by Joseph Trevithick
The shotgun is an iconic weapon most often associated with the pump-action badassery of action films and video games. While awesome in fiction, its use in the real world is limited to close combat and breaching doors, not to mention bird and deer hunting. Despite its drawbacks, a mystique surrounds the weapon, and soldiers as well as law enforcement officers still use them. The draw of the gun is so powerful that the Pentagon has spent several decades and millions of dollars to improve on the basic design.
In the late 1960s, the military and private companies started tinkering with prototypes for a super shotgun. Three decades later, questions about the weapon’s purpose and practicality on the battlefield doomed the project. The proposed super shotguns were revolutionary, but perhaps to a fault.
Since World War I, scatterguns have been a fixture in American military arsenals. In the trenches, where fighting could be brutal and often hand-to-hand, the short-range idea wasn’t a problem. In World War II, individual soldiers or Marines, especially in the Pacific, carried shotguns to help clear out bunkers or break up ambushes. The same situation persisted in both Korea and Vietnam, but even throughout these eras, the US Army and Marine Corps mostly issued the weapons to military police officers on guard duty.
“The usefulness of the shotgun in combat has long been the subject of some controversy,” Carroll Childers wrote in the January-February 1981 issue of Infantry magazine. “Unfortunately, a great deal of romanticism about its use prevails.”
At the time, Childers was an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., as well as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard. In 1969, Childers started work on what he hoped would be a radical new design dubbed the special operations weapon, or SOW. Childers based his initial concept on the needs of and feedback from Navy SEAL teams and Marine reconnaissance troops. The shotgun’s features made it an attractive weapon for specialized units that often had very specific requirements.
During the Vietnam War, Marines complained about how contemporary scatterguns needed to be constantly reloaded during firefights, couldn’t reliably hit anything — let alone kill — at even modest ranges and couldn’t stand up to the abuse of a patrol, according to Childers. The SOW prototype looked fearsome and crude, but it solved many of these key problems. The gun was fully automatic and fed from a 10-round, detachable magazine. Unlike the fixed tubular designs on most shotguns of the day, a shooter with an SOW wouldn’t need to reload one shell at a time, and they could swap out ammunition types — pellets, solid slugs and more — with relative ease. Childers’ gun was also compact compared to the other types of firearms troops took into the Vietnamese jungle, at least in length. With its simple stock folded — or removed — the SOW was shorter than the pump-action Remington Model 870.
Three years after the project got under way, Dahlgren patented the SOW. That same year, Maxwell Atchisson, a former Marine and private weapons designer, introduced his Atchisson Assault Shotgun. Atchisson’s original weapon looked like an M-16 on steroids, but was clearly influenced by the same background as the SOW, and had a special recoil-absorbing system built in to make it less of a beast to shoot.
The benelli M-1014 semiauto shotgun still has not completely replaced all of the classic-style pump shotguns. (MARINE CORPS)
When Washington signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam and began pulling troops out of Southeast Asia, any interest in either design evaporated. In the years that followed, Pentagon budgets shrank across the board.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
Unlike many other projects, the post-Vietnam drawdowns couldn’t kill the SOW concept. By the end of the decade, the Pentagon had started up an overarching effort to cook up new guns across the services called the Joint Service Small Arms Program, or JSSAP. The new office declared that there was a need for an improved combat shotgun suited for military purposes.
“While the greatest threat is represented by Warsaw Pact forces in Europe, there is a growing belief that the most likely US military engagement will again involve third-world countries,” a May 1979 Pentagon memo stated. “Current shotguns are converted commercial weapons adopted under the pressure of wartime emergencies.”
If another small conflict were to break out, American troops would be in the exact same predicament they had been in Vietnam. The Pentagon felt soldiers and Marines fighting in dense wilderness or urban areas needed better guns.
The work at Dahlgren caught the eye of the JSSAP. With Childers’ experience, the Navy led the development of RHINO — repeating, handheld, improved, non-rifled ordnance.
“I wanted to keep the name SOW, but that, being a female pig, never gained the support of those conferring program titles,” Childers wrote in a letter to Benjamin Schemmer in 1982. “RHINO was a little more catchy.” Schemmer, editor of Armed Forces Journal, had just published an article on the current state of JSSAP’s project. Childers felt the piece had fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented his work.
The Pentagon had hoped the end result would be a revolutionary gun, not limited like existing shotguns, but the JSSAP-sponsored plans called not just for a new gun, but new projectiles to go with it. The RHINO would spit out pellets, high-explosive grenades, signal flares, tear gas bombs and more. Troops would use the weapon for house-to-house searches, combat and standing watch.
Tank crews would trade in their old WWII-era submachine guns for these new weapons. Even better, the resulting design could replace existing survival rifles, but plans for such a broad and sweeping firearm would run into trouble. Two years after JSSAP’s memo got the RHINO project going, the office renamed it the Multipurpose Individual Weapon System. A year after that decision, the Pentagon changed the moniker again to Combat Shotgun. Each shift reflected an internal debate about just what the new guns were actually supposed to do.
By 1982, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., had taken over what was by then known as the Close Assault Weapon System, or CAWS. Much of the original logic for the new weapon was getting lost along the way. The CAWS requirements had largely dispensed with plans for a multi-purpose weapon. Ammunition development focused on trying to build pellet-filled shells that would be accurate at longer ranges. These new rounds would make a troop armed with the shotgun less of a liability to his comrades on a traditional battlefield, but no one had ever really expected a soldier to use the weapon in that manner anyway. “I certainly wouldn’t want an automatic shotgun,” retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith, founder of Delta Force, told Schemmer in an interview. “I’d have to have four boys along just to carry the ammunition!”
The Heckler and Koch and Olin Close Assault Weapons System (CAWS) prototype. (H&K)
The Olin CAWS Spec Sheet
(COURTESY OF H&K)
Perhaps worst of all, the whole thing was becoming a political nightmare for everyone involved. “It is important that JSSAP show some development success [on CAWS] or lose credibility as a research and development vehicle,” Ray Thorkildsen, an ordnance expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, wrote the same year. Thorkildsen wanted Crane to hurry up and build something. With Childers’ in-house project scrapped, private companies were eager to scoop up the now open contract.
The AAI Corporation and Heckler & Koch took the lead. Like Atchisson’s shotgun, AAI’s prototype looked and handled like a beefed-up M-16. H&K offered a more radical “bullpup” design, which had its magazine all the way in the rear. Pan Associates, a much smaller company, planned to offer an even more futuristic-looking gun called the Jackhammer, but the Pentagon demanded all manufacturers have a line of specialty ammo ready to go with their submissions.
Despite a protest to the Government Accountability Office that held up the contract, Pan gave up trying to meet the goal. Atchisson also declined. A year after Thorkildsen sent his memo, H&K finally won out. The German gun manufacturer brought in Olin to design the new all-metal shells full of shot made from a tungsten alloy.
For the next three years, the prototypes were put through their paces. The new buckshot was indeed more accurate and deadly, historian Kevin Dockery notes in his book Special Warfare Special Weapons.
But with the project’s supporters increasingly unable to explain who would use the weapons or why, the project finally came to a close. More than a decade later, JSSAP chose a conventional semiautomatic as the Pentagon’s new scattergun, but the Benelli M-1014 still hasn’t completely replaced aging pump guns.
Four years ago, the Army started buying shotguns that fit underneath standard M-4 carbines. These M-26 Modular Accessory Shotgun Systems give troops an option for breaking down doors without having to lug a whole separate weapon around. Still, private industry has refused to give up on the idea of a fully automatic shotgun. Over the years, many companies purchased the rights to Atchisson’s design. Daewoo in South Korea built a derivative of that shotgun, too, but without real interest from the Pentagon or any other military around the world, the various guns have spent far more time in Hollywood productions and video games than in actual combat. AmSJ
[su_heading size=”30″]Benelli’s Montefeltro has made the journey from European novelty to the world’s most respected repeating upland shotgun. [/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY BRAD FITZPATRICK
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap]n 1911, as John Browning was ﬁnalizing his semiautomatic pistol stateside, Teresa Benelli was helping her six sons invest in a small automotive repair shop in Urbino, Italy. The brothers did well with their business and eventually began building motorcycles, selling their bikes in the U.S. through Montgomery Ward catalogs. By 1967, the brand had earned enough capital to allow Giovanni Benelli to design and market semiautomatic shotguns, a byproduct of his love of hunting. Little did he know that the gun that bore his name would reinvent the shotgun market in much the same way that Browning’s 1911 forever changed pistol design.
The Montefeltro has a reputation for harsh recoil, but it isn’t abusive. The author fired this field gun – which wore a black plastic butt plate – more than 500 times on this day in Argentina, and although his shoulder was sore it wasn’t enough to keep him from heading to the field at first light the following day.
Although the name Benelli was stamped on the very ﬁrst gun to leave the Urbino factory in ’67, the real genius behind the gun was an Italian designer named Bruno Civolani. Civolani’s system was different than the gas systems that were becoming popular in the States. One of the hallmarks of the Benelli design was that it was so simple and basic that it rarely broke and, as shotgun enthusiasts quickly learned, it required less frequent cleaning and could go hundreds of thousands of rounds before a failure.
That design was the Inertia Driven System, and it had three basic components: a rotating bolt face, a bolt body and an inertia spring. As recoil pushes the gun rearward, the bolt stays in place for an instant and the inertia spring compresses, eventually developing enough energy to unlock the bolt face. The bolt body is then forced rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent casing. The recoil spring shoves the bolt back forward and slams the bolt body back into place after picking up the next shell. The ﬁnal step in the process is for the rotating bolt head to lock into battery for the next shot.
Waiting on birds in Argentina. The wait was rarely longer than 30 seconds, so this Montefeltro took a beating, and that’s just one day. In addition, it cycled dirty shells and busted hard primers without any issues.
BENELLI WAS ALREADY BIG IN EUROPE before American hunters and shooters started noticing a few of these slim, sleek Italian autoloaders showing up in duck blinds and upland ﬁelds. One of those early guns was named the Montefeltro in honor of the Duke of Montefeltro and his family who lived in the region of Urbino. Benelli’s Montefeltro had some similar features to popular American guns at the time, but there were a few obvious differences.
For starters, the forearm was trim and slim, very different than American gas guns that housed pistons and gas systems under the barrel. The Montefeltro was also lighter by as much as a pound, a result of the simplicity of the Inertia Driven System, as well as an intentional design feature – gas guns tend to work better the heavier they are, and inertia guns are quite the opposite. The Benelli was a gun that could easily be carried all day long, and upland hunters liked this.
There were a few other nuances found on the Montefeltro that are different than traditional gas guns. For one thing, the bolt was much lighter. Whereas it was a chore to pull the bolt rearward on a gas gun, the Montefeltro, by contrast, could be racked with a single ﬁnger and a slap of the wrist. Another difference – one that I have seen baffle ﬁrst-time Benelli shooters – is that simply pulling the bolt rearward doesn’t automatically feed a shell from the magazine tube into the chamber.
There’s a very, very good reason for this, though. If you jam a Montefeltro down on the ground, you can actually open the bolt, and if a shell happened to feed during that process, you would be suddenly carrying a shotgun with a chambered shell and not be aware of that fact, which is dangerous. New Benelli shooters have to get used to the idea of depressing the shell release lever and then racking the bolt. It takes some time, but I’m so familiar with my Montefeltro that the order of operations on a traditional gas gun has begun to feel foreign.
This Idaho partridge fell to the Montefeltro with a 1-ounce load of size 6 shot. The Benelli is light enough for allday carry even in this steep country.
The Montefeltro was – and is – a beautiful gun. The curves of its long action, stylized receiver and trim proﬁle were once considered revolutionary, but have now become a blueprint followed by other makers. The rib is quite ﬂat, but the Benelli is so light and well balanced that it is quick to the shoulder and ﬁts a wide range of shooters. Wingshooters liked that, and they also liked the Montefeltro’s scant weight. If you are a serious bird hunter – the kind that climbs mountains in search of Huns and chukars, or who wades through alders and grapevines for a shot at a ruffed grouse – that difference in weight makes, well, a difference.
Serious bird hunters began carrying Montes, and soon something else became very apparent about these guns. Since the Inertia Driven System doesn’t rely on gas to be vented through the gun (these gases are pushed out of the barrel for less fouling), these guns could go for thousands of rounds between cleanings and would ﬁre a wide array of loads without the need for modiﬁcation or adjustment. Want to break a few clays or walk-up a covey of quail or two? You can use light loads without any problem. Want to follow that up with a hunt for hard-ﬂying roosters or large ducks? Fine, your Benelli will eat those loads as well without indigestion.
The Montefeltro is available as a combo gun with two satin walnut stocks—perfect for a young shooter who is still growing.
Not all semiauto shotguns are available in left-handed versions, but the Montefeltro is. With so many options with regard to stock design and length, as well as action, it’s little wonder that so many shooters like the Montefeltro.
The basic Montefeltro has an anodized receiver and blued barrel and comes with a very nice satin walnut stock or durable black synthetic, and there’s also a Silver version
with AA-grade walnut and a nickel-plated engraved receiver. The trigger assembly drops out and the trigger guard is big enough that I can easily shoot my gun when wearing rather large leather gloves. Crio choke tubes are included, so named because Benelli cryogenically treats both their barrels and chokes to relieve stress on the steel, smooth surfaces, and, as a result, produce more consistent patterns. Additionally, the Montefeltro comes in a left-handed version for southpaws and a compact version for anyone with short arms. With so many options and features, it’s little wonder this gun has won over a legion of shooters in the United States and elsewhere.
THE DOVE FIELDS OF ARGENTINA test a shotgun as brutally as any other place on earth, and among the many lodges that cater to dove hunters, those belonging to the David Denies group are perhaps the ﬁnest of all. Denies offers a variety of excursions throughout South America, everything from hunting roaring red stag to ﬂy ﬁshing in some of the world’s most incredible waters to duck hunts with 50-bird limits. But the David Denies brand specializes in dove hunts, and in a land where birds are shot daily by the thousands, I doubt if any outﬁtter can put you in ﬁelds where you will pull the trigger more frequently.
The Montefeltro accounted for these Kentucky doves on the opening morning of season. Benelli’s autoloader is certainly one of the most versatile upland guns you can own, perfect for clay shooting, doves, pheasants, rabbits, and more.
We were hunting Cordoba Lodge, and on our ﬁrst day in camp we headed to a cutover dove ﬁeld into which the birds were streaming by the thousands. I doubt that more than 30 seconds passed without a shot opportunity, and since our guns hadn’t arrived yet, we were given the lodge guns. These were, as you might imagine, Benelli Montefeltros. It was the exact same 20-gauge autoloader I carried at home for quail, rabbits, grouse and chukars, but this Argentinian gun had seen tens of thousands of rounds more than my own Monte.
The gun performed ﬂawlessly, coming quickly to the shoulder and crumpling birds that were passing left-toright, incomers, and doves that presented high overhead shots. As fast as I could shoot we reloaded, and by day’s end we had put better than 500 rounds through the gun – a light afternoon by Argentina standards. At the lodge, over a steak and wine (what else in Argentina?), I asked the lodge owner how many rounds the Benelli had gone through. He squinted, tilted his head to the sky, and did some math.
“Probably … 150,000. A hundred thousand, at least.”
I may never press the trigger on my Monte that many times, but it’s good to know that the gun can handle that kind of abuse. But that longevity is only one reason that people buy the Montefeltro. The other is that if you hunt hard, it’s one of the best shotgun options you can own.
The synthetic stock version is perfect for anyone who plans to take their gun through the briars or into flooded timber and who doesn’t want to damage that fine walnut stock.
The Silver version is truly a magnificent firearm with a nickel-plated receiver and AA-grade walnut. MSRP on this gun runs above $1,700, but the quality of this gun justifies the cost.
AMERICA ALSO OFFERS TREMENDOUS wingshooting opportunities on public lands throughout the west. The only caveat is that you’ll have to climb and hike – a lot. In this country, if you’re averaging a bird a mile, that’s pretty spectacular, and the average is probably more like one bird every 5 miles. But for those who love this kind of open range hunting, there’s nothing that can compare.
Idaho’s Tom Loy, famous for his line of superb Gordon setters, introduced me to chukar hunting. The ﬁrst gun I brought along was a 7½-pound over/under, which was a terrible choice. For one thing, it was too heavy, a real burden when you’re hiking in steep country. For another, I needed that extra shot.
This past year I hunted with Tom again, but I’ve since learned that there are upland guns built for this kind of task and the Montefeltro is one of them. My 20-gauge Monte weighs a hair over 5½ pounds and it carries very well. That’s a good thing, because Tom knows some of the best places to hunt birds in Idaho but you’ll have to walk. We covered a moderate distance on our last hunt, perhaps 5 or 6 miles, and we really had great success, harvesting ﬁve Huns and a pair of California quail. The Montefeltro accounted for about half those birds, but my back wasn’t aching when I was ﬁnished. The only strain was from a heavy game bag.
I have carried my Benelli to the ﬁeld in search of a variety of different upland species across the United States, and it has never failed me. But before you run out and buy a Montefeltro, there are a few things that you should know. For starters, gas guns recoil less. I don’t think it’s a lot less, and if you aren’t shooting hundreds of rounds a day, I doubt you would notice. The Montefeltro’s other quirk is that the bolt head must be dropped with enough force to rotate and lock it. Ease it forward and you’ll hear that dreaded “Benelli click.” With a few days’ practice you will quickly learn how to handle the Benelli so that this doesn’t happen, but I still occasionally forget and miss a shot.
The author shooting doves in Argentina with a well-worn Montefeltro. Guns rented by Argentinian dove lodges see more abuse than most any other shotgun, and Montefeltros are one of the handful of weapons you’ll see in regular use here.
Those foibles are minor compared to the Benelli Montefeltro’s many, many strong points. It’s little wonder that this svelte little Italian gun with its ingeniously simple operating system has spawned so many copies, with more and more inertia guns hitting the market each year. But there’s only one Montefeltro, and it’s hard to beat the original. ASJ
[su_heading size=”30″]HELICOPTER COYOTE HUNTER KILLS 13 IN 24 MINUTES [/su_heading]
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]W[/su_dropcap]ith coyote populations rapidly increasing, coyote hunters are taking to the skies to get the job done in less than 30 minutes.
When packs of coyotes infiltrate your area and present a clear threat to livestock and local wildlife, it’s time to get serious about thinning them out quickly.
Watch as this coyote hunter takes to the skies to do some population control from a chopper.
Nice shooting, Heli Cowboy!
Whether you’re taking out coyotes from a chopper or shooting them in a hay field, having the right weapon will help make all the difference. If you’re hunting coyotes in close proximity, using a semi-automatic shotgun will be your best bet.
The Super Black Eagle II from Benelli is a great choice to use as a predator shotgun, simply due to it’s fast cycling action, optional SteadyGrip stock and ability to chamber 3 1/2-inch shells. Mount an optic up top and you’re instantly a coyotes worse nightmare.
For shotgun shells that are specifically designed to knock down tough coyotes, look no further than the Dead Coyote! round from Hevi-Shot.