Gun Review: Benelli SuperNova

By Holly A. Heyser

The first time I held a pump-action shotgun, I hated it. I had decided to take up hunting and I knew exactly nothing about shotguns. When the time came to make my purchase, I walked up and down the gun counter at my local hook-n-bullet store pointing at guns I wanted to try, shouldering them and assessing comfort and fit as if I were shopping for shoes. It wasn’t an entirely silly exercise – I later learned that precise gun fit could lead to greater accuracy and consistency. But my knee-jerk rejection to the pump, it turns out, was unreasonable . . .

I just didn’t like the play in the fore-end – I wanted the gun to feel solid when I picked it up. So I dropped $1,000 on an autoloader, and that was that.

After a few years of duck hunting, I learned that some autoloaders (read: my Beretta 391 20 gauge and a 3901 in 12) have difficult-to-reach parts that tend to rust if exposed to heavy rain, leading to tragic failures to chamber a round properly just when the most perfect greenhead glides over your decoys 20 yards out. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Given that hunting in the rain is pretty much routine for me (did I mention I hunt ducks?), the simplicity of a pump started to look pretty good. That’s how I ended up taking the Benelli SuperNova for a test drive this year.

I had two key questions: 1) Could I love a pump – specifically, this pump – after having hunted with nothing but autoloaders, and 2) was the SuperNova a man gun or was it female-friendly? The answers, it turned out, would surprise me.

First Impressions

Where to begin? The manual! Yeah, I teach, and RTFM (Read The Freakin’ Manual) is Rule No. 1 on my syllabus. I hadn’t so much as touched a pump since that first shopping trip, so I wasn’t about to try to put this gun together — let alone shoot it — without reading the manual.

The assembly instructions were clear and simple: Unscrew the magazine cap, slide the barrel onto the receiver, screw the magazine cap back on. That took all of about 12 seconds.

Now, time to hold this baby.

The first thing I noticed about the gun is that it’s huge. Though I’m female, I’m tall enough (5′ 8″) that most guns for adults (read: men) fit me just fine. When I shouldered the SuperNova it felt pretty close to what I’m used to. But at eight pounds it was heavy and with a 28” barrel it was going to be the longest gun in my safe. And dropping down to a shorter barrel would eliminate at most 2/10ths of a pound.

Next, loading the gun. This seemed pretty simple, but then I got to the part of the manual that said the mag can hold three 3½” shells or four 2¾” shells, which would be illegal for hunting. “To comply with federal and or local laws and regulations … the shell capacity of the magazine should be reduced with the appropriate magazine limiting device,” the manual warned.

Now, if you’re an experienced gun owner, you already know that the gun came with a magazine plug. But as someone who does a lot of volunteer work bringing new people into hunting, I’ve got to say it would’ve been nice for the manual include that fact – I could just see the noobs I’ve worked with wondering whether they were going to have to order a special part to stay legal.

Range Time

The next step was a trip to the shooting range. Skeet rules be damned, I just hunkered down at Station 1 and fired a few shots. The unfamiliar fit I’d noticed in my living room melted away quickly and I started hitting clays. Hard. So far, so good!

Time to fire two shots in a row, forcing me to do something my regular shotgun had always done for me: eject the spent shell, and chamber another round. I’m not gonna lie – it was awkward as hell, and I had some hellaciously slow second shots. But I was getting the hang of the additional step, and I was hitting clays. Not all of them, but enough.

After a few boxes of shells I decided it was time to give it a rest and wait for the next result of my test: Would my shoulder be sore? I’d scarcely noticed any recoil, but I hadn’t been shooting in nearly a month, and after putting that many shells through my autoloader under the same conditions, I could expect to have a sore shoulder the next day.

But I didn’t. I was blown away.

Recoil is a HUGE issue for women getting into hunting and shooting – probably their biggest fear, and the most important factor they take into consideration when buying a shotgun. I’d always assumed that a pump would stick me with a lot more recoil because the gun wasn’t channeling inertia or gas into cycling shells. But with the SuperNova, I was wrong.

I was also pretty excited that I had an affordable gun I could recommend to new shooters who are worried about recoil. Of course, it’s a trade-off: To enjoy this benefit, they have to feel comfortable lugging around an 8-pound gun.

After several more trips to the range, I was in love with the new shotty, all ready to shove my autoloader back into the darkest recesses of my safe. It was comfortable, it was easy to use, I was hitting clays, and hot damn, I loved the chk-chk sound of the pump.

Stripping and Cleaning

Disassembly and cleaning has been a real sore spot for me. My boyfriend shoots an over-and-under and I’ve always shot an autoloader, so cleaning our guns after a particularly vigorous or soggy hunt has been, well, irritating. He’d be done in a minute, but if I wanted to make sure all the little moving parts in my gun were clean, dry and powdered, it’d take me a good 30 minutes.

Basic disassembly for cleaning the barrel was easy enough – just the reverse of putting the gun together right out of the box. But what if I hurled this thing like a javelin into swamp mud and needed to break it down and clean it more thoroughly?

Back to the manual, where I found a cool feature of this gun: no tools required! The magazine tube cap has a little peg that you can use to push out the pins holding in the trigger group. Then you can use the inside edge of the cap to pull the pins completely out of the receiver.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. The front pin came out just fine this way; the rear pin needed a little push with a drift and a light tap with a hammer. But still, I loved the fact that I could at least — in theory — break this gun down with nothing but a little cap.

What I also loved was how incredibly clean the bolt and trigger group were compared with my autoloader’s comparable parts. Breaking it down had been purely academic – I sure as hell didn’t need to clean those parts. Swoon!

Finally…Wingshooting!

There was just one more test I needed to do: hunt the dove opener. I went into the hunt with some trepidation, wondering how many doves I’d miss because I’d forget to cycle rounds after each shot. That turned out to be the least of my problems for two reasons: the first was that it was just a crappy hunt – there were hardly any doves flying where we ended up hunting. But that ho-humdom revealed something I never would’ve noticed about the gun at the range: the SuperNova was made for someone with bigger hands than mine.

At the range, it’s always bang, bang, bang, but in the field, whether I’m walking in search of pheasants or parked in a marsh hoping ducks will come to me, my default position is to have my trigger finger resting on the safety. The SuperNova’s safety is perfect for that because it’s located at the front of the trigger guard, so all you have to do is depress the button and slide your index finger back to the trigger in one smooth motion, same as with my autoloader.

But as I sat there waiting … and waiting … and waiting for the doves to come, I realized my hand was straining. For my hand to be comfortable on the grip – i.e., where it should be when I’m pulling the trigger – it was too far back to reach the safety.

That may seem minor, but for me it was a deal-breaker. About as uncomfortable as wearing a pair of shoes one size too small. The autoloader I’d been shooting – two, actually, because I started with a 20 gauge and switched to a 12 – had a grip that fit my hand better, and that matters to me.

Does this mean the grip would be too big for all women? Not necessarily. I told a friend who hunts with me occasionally about the problem, and though she’s shorter than I am, her hands are larger. The grip works fine for her. In fact, she’s totally sold on the SuperNova. But it does reinforce the need for gun buyers to put a firearm to a thorough, real-world test before laying down their cash.

Conclusion

I found myself disappointed. I loved this gun. It was simple, affordable and a good working gun. Even more important, the SuperNova came with plenty of room to adjust fit, which is hugely important for women because our dimensions are so different from most men’s.

The safety can be reversed for left-handed shooting, which is great for women, because many of us are cross-dominant – generally right-handed, left-eye dominant. I can adjust drop and cast with a shim kit. I can install one of three gel recoil pads to adjust length of pull. And I can install one of three combs to raise my eye – good for target shooting and even better for me because I have high cheekbones.

So this is how I find myself in the odd position of saying that while this gun didn’t really work for me, I can recommend it for anyone who values function and simplicity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be going back to my persnickety autoloader.

SPECIFICATIONS
Gauge: 12, takes 2¾”, 3” and 3½” shells
Sights: Red Bar
Barrel Length: 28” (also available in 24” and 26”)
Overall Length: 49.5”
Weight: 8 lbs. (It loses 1/10th of a pound for every two inches shorter you go on the barrel)
MSRP: $669 for RealTree APG or Max-4, or $549 for black synthetic

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style: * * *
It’s camo on plastic – what do you want? This gun is about function; if you want style, go get yourself a spendy side-by-side. (And if you believe, as I do, that a black gun kills ducks just as well as a camo gun, save yourself some money and get the black synthetic version.)

Ergonomics: * * * *
With the exception of the distance from the grip to the safety, which was a touch too long for my fingers, this gun was VERY comfortable to shoot. At 8 pounds, it’s heavy, but that weight is part of the reason I could shoot the hell out of this thing without a hint of shoulder soreness.

Reliability: * * * * *
I put nearly a case of shells through it and had zero problems.

Customizable: * * * * *
Safety and cast can be switched for left-handed shooters and there are shim kits that allow you to make further adjustments to drop and cast. Optional ComforTech Gel Comb Inserts can further raise the comb, and optional ComforTech Gel Recoil Pads can be swapped for 13 7/8”, 14 3/8” and 14 ¾” length of pull.

Overall Rating: * * * *
While it wasn’t the perfect gun for me, it may well be for you if you’re comfortable with the dimensions and weight. A tad on the big side for me, even though I’m 5’8” and can generally shoot guns right off the shelf without problems. Still, the SuperNova is a great gun.

22 Responses to Gun Review: Benelli SuperNova

  1. avatarMatt in FL says:

    Good review (I like reviews that make me laugh), great photos. Nice to see a new writer in the house.

  2. avatarAverage_Casey says:

    This is just me thinking but I would suggest trying something other than a Benelli. They are nice but not the only game in town. Winchester/Browning/FN makes very nice shotguns as well as Remington.

    • avatarLolinski says:

      No love for the Ithaca 37? And I was wondering does there exist a shotgun which can switch calibers between 12,16 and 20 gauge(preferably pump or autoloader) or would I have to get a custom job done( would like a Ithaca 37 in multiple calibers, that would be ideal)

      • avatarJim B says:

        Of course there are double where you can switch gauges but I don’t think it is possible in a repeater.

        Ithicas are good guns. I had a girlfriend that had one and loved it. She shot left handed and appreciated the bottom ejection instead of having the empties flying across her face. I was never much of a pump fan. My first gun was a double have owned mostly doubles with a few autos. In fact I don’t think I ever hunted with a pump in the US although I have in Africa where Remington 870s seem to be in every camp. 870s are a good pump. I know this retired biologist that used to shoot seals off the coast (they don’t do that anymore!) and he said they used Winchester Model 12s and 870s. Despite the M 12s reputation of being the best pump ever made he said the 870s held up in the harsh environment much better.

  3. avatargunenthusiast says:

    OK wow. Excellent Review. RTFM. This should have told me you were a woman with a refreshing approach to a review. Reading the manual first. This is generally not in male dna. I would have never known the nub was for pushing out the pins. Or that the machined ledge was for pulling them further out. Thanks for the review.

  4. avatarJustAJ says:

    I’ve fondled this gun in my LGS, and while I can appreciate how smooth the action is compared to my Mossy 500, I’m not a shotgun guy so would never buy one. Good review though!

  5. avatarOHgunner says:

    Great review. I’m glad to see that the shotty ran well, as its on my “to-buy-soon” list. This review just might have bumped it up one gun higher on the list!

  6. avatarjwm says:

    For me it’s about the pump gun. When I was a kid we were still getting paper hulled shells. I saw auto loaders choke on wet days duck hunting but the pumps kept on ticking.

    Since then I have stuck with pumps and break actions in shotguns. I know that the ammo is much better today but I see no compelling reason to switch.

  7. avatarTheSleeperHasAwakened@wakeup.org says:

    I own a Benelli Nova and a SuperNova and love both of those guns!

  8. avatarJim D says:

    Great writing! Very well put together article. Now, before you give up on a pump gun, please please please take a good look at the Winchester SXP! Very nice light gun that seems to fit well. I am a big guy but my daughter is quite petite and she loves it and really shoots it well. I do too. It deserves a look, maybe you could review it for us (please)

    • Thanks, Jim. And don’t worry – I haven’t given up on pumps! I really was disappointed when I realized it wouldn’t work for hunting for me, because I really enjoyed shooting it.

  9. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    1. As you said, gun fit is important. In shotguns, gun fit is of major, major importance. This is because shotguns don’t have a rear sight on the rib – the rear sight on a shotgun is your eye. If the comb of the buttstock puts your eye too high or too low when you mount the gun, you’re going to miss high or low (respectively) quite frequently.

    A well-fit shotgun should allow you to throw the gun up to your shoulder and face and result in a consistent cheek weld that gives you a consistent sight picture.

    Some shotgun shooters will specialize their gun’s fit and sight rib for one purpose – eg, trap guns. Trap guns have very high ribs and very high combs to keep the shooter’s head up, to keep his eyes up, which keeps him from missing targets because his face was scrunched down on the gun. Trap shooters also like a different sight picture – the front bead should be pretty far under the point of impact.

    Many guns are too long in the pull for many women, and don’t have high enough combs – because most mass-produced shotguns are sized for the average male. Today’s larger males (6’0″ and up) find that many guns are too short in the pull. Short women (5’0″ to 5’2″) might need 0.75″ or more lopped off the butt to bring the pull in to where they mount the gun correctly. There are two things to look for in the length of pull – what’s the angle of your grip hand’s elbow when the gun is mounted (90 degrees or less is what we’re looking for) and where is your grip hand thumb in relation to your nose? Your grip hand thumb should be 0.75 to 1″ in front of your nose when your gun is mounted.

    Women with, um… er, vast tracts of land… would benefit from having the toe of the butt angled outwards. Some people like a bit of cast off, especially if the buttstock has a cheekpiece, or if they have a wider face than average.

    The eye mounting point is checked in a way that looks unnerving to non-gunsmiths: We make certain the gun is unloaded, ask the customer to “just throw the gun up” and then the gunsmith positions his eye at the muzzle and looks backwards down the rib to see where the customer’s eye is in relation to the rib.

    2. Cleaning a pump in 30 minutes and you’re not a professional gunsmith? You’re doing quite well. Take a bow there. Remember to pull any removable choke, clean the threads, coat them with a bit of copper anti-seize before putting the choke back into the barrel. You can find anti-seize at your auto parts store.

    Never clean the barrel without the choke in and never store the gun without the choke in. The barrel at the muzzle is very easily dented or crushed without the choke in the barrel. Cleaning brushes can make a mess of the threads. Chokes that aren’t cleaned at least once/season and have anti-seize applied are often destined for an appointment with a gunsmith to get the choke out and the threads cleaned up because moisture and dirt gets into these fine threads and the shooter can’t get the choke out easily.

    3. 8 pounds could be a tad on the heavy side for a modern single-barrel shotgun for upland hunting. You could look at 20 gauge guns – you won’t be giving up anything in upland or clay loads, but you’d give up the capability that 3″ 12ga shells provide for ducks/geese/etc. For upland guns (doves, as you mentioned), 20′s and 28′s are very nice, because they’re often a fair bit lighter and as a result they swing faster.

    • I’m a huge fan of proper fit, and I recommend gun fittings for all the women I meet who are new to hunting (men too, but mostly I work with women). While my arms are a good length for most guns out of the box, my neck is really long, and my cheekbones are really high.

      I had my gunsmith (Dale Tate) fit my first Beretta (391, 20 gauge), but when I got the 3901 in 12, there wasn’t a lot he could do with a plastic stock. I ended up getting an adjustable-comb stock for it, and that was the year my shooting really took off.

      The stock is a total pain in the butt because it takes a round washer, not the fitted washer Beretta stocks use, and that means it comes loose really easily – so easily that I keep a torque wrench in my car when I’m out hunting. But it works for me, so I put up with it.

      I also got a stainless steel bolt tube to get around that rust problem. With the crazy storms we’re having in Cali this season, that should be good for a little peace of mind.

      Oh yeah, I think I’ll never go back to 20 gauge – it is SO much easier to find steel shot for a 12 gauge. Also makes it easier to mooch rounds off of friends in the field when I’m shooting like crap :-).

  10. avatarGS650G says:

    I had a first gen Nova 10 years ago. I liked it and the gun was quality. I installed a recoil reducer in the stock, didn’t do much in my opinion.
    The only complaint I have was the forearm slide would rattle a bit. It made a lot of noise and that was that. I sold it because of this excessive play and bought a 870. The Nova was a better gun in most regards but that noisy slide was a problem.

  11. avatarNathan says:

    Does it require extensive work to switch the safety to left handed? Or is it a simple disassemble of the trigger assembly and flip it around?

  12. avatarsimon [kiwi] keating says:

    I enjoyed your review,better than the sexist pillock on the other one I found.Took delivery of my gun a few hours ago,looking forward to shooting this weekend.I have a Winchester s x p black shadow,ok,I’m not well liked at our clay shoot,but I bring ‘em down [English traditions and such] Keep up the work.Thanks. Kiwi

  13. avatarLorna says:

    Ooooooh Ms. Holly!

    I stumbled across this and I’m glad I did. I love to shoot and I LIKE to think I can take a hit… but I’ve learned the hard way: uncomfortable guns are a misery to shoot and you don’t shoot them well.

    Nothing is more aggravating – when you’re walking around with a busted-up shoulder and bruised-up pride – than hearing some 6ft 250 pounder tell you (a 110lb wee skinny thing): just put some fat on, and man-up.

    Gee whiz, why didn’t I think of THAT sooner…?

    Great perspective, great article, I have super monkey fingers, so I’m going to go try one out! :-)

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.