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.