By Todd Burgreen
While semi-automatic shotguns have shown capability, few have demonstrated the “hell and back” reliability necessary to gain the confidence of users in life or death tactical situations related to law enforcement or personal defense. Leave it to Benelli to adapt their ultra-reliable inertia operating system to the tactical shotgun format; thus challenging assumptions as to what a tactical shotgun should be with the M2 Tactical. With the M2 Tactical, form follows functions with its svelte lines contradicting the often brutish appearance that generally distinguishes other tactical shotguns.
The M2 Tactical uses Benelli’s patented inertia operating method. Most auto-loading 12 gauge shotguns use some form of gas-operated feeding system. Benelli’s M2 semi-automatic uses the kinetic energy generated by the gun’s recoil to eject the spent shotshell and load a fresh one. The system has three basic moving parts: bolt body, inertia spring and rotating bolt head. The M2 operates by means of a spring that is freely interposed between the locking head and bolt. As the gun recoils during firing, the inert breech bolt moves about 4 mm forward, compressing the spring. When the spring is fully compressed, it overcomes breech bolt inertia and thrusts the bolt to the rear, under residual pressure. The gun extracts the shotshell case and reloads another shell from the magazine tube. The spring pressure is designed to delay the opening of the action until after the shot has left the barrel. This compensates for the different pressures produced by shotshells of varying power. The M2 Tactical’s inertial recoil operation is simple; there are fewer parts to add weight to the shotgun or to fail mechanically. The Benelli inertia operating method eliminates the drawbacks of both the barrel recoil systems in terms of barrel vibration and increased recoil impulse as well as gas operated systems which tend to have reliability degraded as use increases due to fouling in the receiver area.
The Benelli M2 Tactical features a matte black receiver, 18.5” barrel, and dull black forend and buttstock. Capacity is 5+1 with the M2 able to accommodate both 2 ¾” and 3” shotshells. While a pistol grip M2 variant is available, it was decided to go with a standard buttstock profile to enable the evaluation of the Benelli ComforTech recoil abating stock. Benelli reports that the ComforTech system reduces felt recoil by as much as 48% compared to a standard stock. This is accomplished via a combination of ComforTech cheek and buttstock recoil pads as well as 12 synthetic chevrons placed in the stock per computer analysis to better absorb and extend recoil pulse. While “soft shooting” and 12 gauge is oxymoronic, relatively speaking, the 7 pound M2 Tactical is one of the softest shooting 12 gauge shotguns on the market.
One of the Benelli M2’s greatest assets is the LPA “ghost ring” sights. The front sight features a M16 style post protected by steel wings. The rear sight is a ghost ring type and fully adjustable in terms of windage and elevation. It too is protected from abuse with protective wings on either side. The front sight sits about one 1/2 inch above the barrel to mate with the rear ghost ring. The Benelli LPA ghost ring sight allows a user to take full advantage of the wide range of 12 gauge ammunition available. Slugs can be placed on target out to 100 yards and buckshot or other shot sizes are well accommodated for accurate quick placement at close range with the Benelli ghost ring style sights.
In terms of combat or personal defense, shotguns fire two primary types of shells—slugs or buckshot. This ability to handle different styles of projectiles is at the root of shotgun effectiveness and popularity. The Benelli M2 Tactical was tested with Hornady Critical Defense and TAP buckshot as well as Federal Premium Flite Control 2 ¾” #00 buckshot. The Federal Premium and Hornady buckshot loads tested utilize special wads for tighter buckshot patterns—thus longer effective range. Generally, buckshot loads have a velocity between 1100-1600 fps giving muzzle energy over 2000ft/lbs to its multiple projectiles.
The Winchester PDX 1 12 gauge loading combining a 1 ounce slug and three-#00 pellets was also tested. The Winchester PDX 1 load harkens back to the “buck-n-ball” loads used by our forefathers against the British in the Revolutionary War and each other during the Civil War. Another interesting slug load from Winchester was also tested; the PDX 1 segmented slug. Winchester designed the segmented slug to break into approximately three 150 grain pieces upon impact with a penetration limited to 13 inches. This Winchester PDX 1 segmented slug load should be considered by law enforcement or civilians concerned about over penetration of traditional slug loads. Standard Federal Premium, Winchester, and Wolf 1 ounce slugs were also tested with the M2. These slug loads were designed for hunting, but work fine in any role including defense. Slugs leave the muzzle between 1200-1600fps depending on particular manufacturer producing over 2500ft/lbs of energy and offer a ballistic track of +3 inches at 50 yards to give a 100 yard zero.
The Benelli M2 arrived with an Improved Cylinder choke tube screwed into the end of the Crio treated barrel. Other choke tubes were included as well. However, Improved Cylinder seems to be preferred choice for tactical shotguns contemplating both slug and buckshot use. The M2 generated spreads of 3-8 inches at 10 yards with the tested buckshot loads. The buckshot spread increases to 8-22 inches at 25 yards with the Federal Premium and Hornady loadings being on the tighter side of the average. The Federal Premium and Hornady #00 buckshot loads are the epitome of the new age tactical buckshot taking advantage of advances in wad technology to keep patterns tighter and thus extending effective range of #00 buckshot.
Many would comment that past 30 yards one should resort to slugs. Testing with the Benelli M2 combined with Federal Premium FliteControl and Hornaday Critical Defense/TAP buckshot indicated otherwise. The combination was able to place the majority of its pellets on IPSC style silhouette targets out to 40 yards. Each pellet strikes with the force equivalent to 32ACP or 380ACP. Slugs performed in the 3 inch range at 50 yards in the M2 Tactical with the ghost ring sights proving their worth. Steel man sized targets were hit regularly at 100 yards with a certain amount of satisfaction derived witnessing the 1 ounce Federal, Winchester and Wolf slugs rocking the target back on its base.
The Benelli inertia operating action is simple, effective, and reliable. Nearly 400 rounds of various loads were fired in this T&E, including light birdshot. Low recoil buckshot or slug loads need to be proofed with any semi-automatic shotgun. The Benelli M2 Tactical worked with everything from low brass birdshot, low recoil buckshot and slugs.
Range time consisted of the patterning described above along with other exercises trying to get a better appreciation of how the Benelli M2 Tactical shotgun handles and performs. The relatively limited capacity of shotguns compared to high capacity magazine fed rifles is often listed as major detriment of choosing a shotgun over another weapon type. One of the most crucial things to learn when choosing a shotgun for defense is how to keep it from running empty of ammunition. The drills involved moving between barricades engaging shoot and no-shoot targets. Another drill used was based on engaging several shorter range targets out to 30 yards before having to engage a designated target placed 90 yards away. This necessitated a switch from buckshot to slug before engaging. The Benelli manual feeding cut off button makes this a simple thing to accomplish.
A great test for any shotgun, especially one to be used in a quick reacting CQB setting is shooting tossed clay targets. This also verifies reliability with ammunition with less recoil impulse than slugs or buckshot and helps get more rounds fired to verify operating soundness. Low brass Winchester #7.5 shot was used with no issue. The ghost ring sight was no problem at all with the rear sight “disappearing” naturally as the eye focused on flying clay target and front sight leading it. The low brass shells were a welcome relief in terms of recoil. Yes, the M2 Tactical is semi-automatic and equipped with the ComforTech stock, but it still is a 12 gauge and anyone telling you any different should be scrutinized. Recoil was not prohibitive and one gets used to it, but do not start using a shotgun after a day of firing an AR or AK as it is significantly more.
Time with the Benelli M2 Tactical will convince anyone that the Benelli M2 is worthy of consideration as an alternative to the long time standard pump action shotgun for LE or personal defense roles.
SITES OF INTEREST
Echo Valley Training Center
Federal Cartridge Company
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N10 (December 2016)|