I’m a Benelli owner and a bird hunter. So when the Stoeger M3500 hit my doorstep, I was curious to see what Benelli’s modestly priced Stoeger cousins bring to the table. Or rather the field . . .
The Stoeger M3500 is a 7.8-pound inertia-driven semi-automatic shotgun capable of cycling everything from light 2 3/4-inch to heavy 3 1/2-inch magnum loads. The 12-gauge M3500 ships with standard accessories including improved cylinder, modified, full,and extended extra-full turkey screw-in chokes. Not to mention a decent multi-gauge choke wrench and stock shims.
Stoeger boasts that there are only three moving parts in the M3500’s bolt — to help speed cycling and increase reliability. A steel recoil reducer is housed within the stock to improve up follow-up shots and balance the firearm. The shotgun’s balance point is ideally located directly beneath the step of the rib.
A classic ventilated, stepped rib runs the length of the barrel from receiver to muzzle, topped with a red fiber-optic front sight. The receiver’s top is drilled/tapped to accept an included Weaver base to mount and optic.
The standard shims included with the M3500 allow for some customization of drop at heel/comb, enabling a semi-custom fit for a natural point of aim.
Shouldering the M3500, both the forearm and grip filled my hands completely. The forearm has very little topography; some standard checkering and a step-down channel where it meets the barrel. It’s one very long, flat area that gives the shooter plenty of options for support hand placement.
The gun is well-rounded. Literally. There are very few sharp edges or corners; almost all surface transitions feel smooth and even.
The M3500’s trigger group feels like an unpolished Benelli trigger. It has zero slack, a tad of creep and a clean, crisp and resounding break, followed by a short reset. The trigger guard is about as sexy as pair of Birkenstocks, but it gets the job done.
The M3500’s semi-extended bolt handle reaches 7/8-inch past the side of the receiver, providing a welcome surface for positive contact and control, especially while wearing gloves. During takedown, though, the handle gave me a hell of a time. I resorted to vice grips and a forceful tug to pull it free.
Other standard features include sling attachment points in the usual places, side bolt release button and a cushy rubber recoil pad.
As I mentioned, our T&E M3500 had spit more than a few shells before I got the gun. It was filthy, with grime and gunk everywhere. The turkey choke showed surface rust and the safety was sticking terribly.
[Note: a shotgun is a field tool meant to withstand the wet, muddy, grimy conditions waterfowlers regularly face. Run the gun dirty or run it gun clean; it shouldn’t matter. The gun needs to shoot and cycle, regardless. So run it I did.]
After an initial safety check and choke swap, I ran both 2016 and 2017 Federal Black Cloud through the Improved Cylinder choke at 30 yards to pattern it. With an average of 53 percent of the payload landing in an 18-inch circle, the standard choke proved field-worthy, at least on paper.
Primer strikes and ejection were consistent and reliable. So I headed over to the trap and skeet range.
I primarily shoot 5-stand with a 0 Card. For those unfamiliar, this includes five “cages” (one per shooter) and a number of target houses from which clay pigeons are thrown to emulate birds, hare, fox, etc. in the field. Participants take turns shooting a total of five clays across three sub-rounds before rotating to the next cage. A 0 Card means all the clays are thrown randomly. It’s great practice for the field.
The Stoeger M3500 is set up for righties so that’s the way I ran it. The gun mounted naturally and, with its 28-inch barrel, swung smoothly. Felt recoil was surprisingly soft compared to my Super Black Eagle II. That sticking safety remained an issue, even after some cleaning and lubricating.
Given I shoot most of my birds left-handed, I ran a line of 5-stand that way…and earned an identical score to my right-handed pass.
Still, a score is a score and the gun smashed clays with only one mechanical issue: a double-feed resulting in a second shell becoming stuck between the bolt and elevator gate.
Regardless of which way you shoot the M3500 – righty or lefty – one thing is for sure, that loading gate will destroy your thumb. Gloves or not, you’re going to tango with it until you find a new technique for loading shells. It really needs some work.
Over the course of several outings, th M3500 helped put a few birds in the bag. It performed flawlessly eating several brands of 3-inch and 3.5-inch magnum loads without hesitation, mounting quickly and smoothly, swinging easily.
That sticking safety was an issue, causing me to miss lay-up opportunity ducks.
If you’re familiar with the Benelli/Franchi lines of inertia-driven semi-autos, the Stoeger will be a breeze to take down.
Given the filth I found, I was impressed the gun ran so well. The mag tube’s interior, the spring, and the plug were almost perfectly clean and oiled, indicating a good seal of the mag tube.
I did everything I could with the trigger group to remedy the safety issue — without success. To be fair, who knows what adventures this shotgun has been on before it came to me.
After fully stripping the gun and cleaning and inspecting all parts, I added some lubrication and reassembled the Stoeger in less than three minutes, just like her Benelli and Franchi cousins. So easy it almost isn’t any fun.
The M3500 surprised me. It’s a larger gun, seemingly built for taller, large-handed folks. But it shoots well for anyone but the smallest-framed shooters. At well under $700 retail (the standard synthetic version is $100 less) the Stoeger M3500 is a solid, reliable choice for any waterfowl hunter.
Specifications: Stoeger M3500 28″ 12-gauge (MAX-5)
Barrel Length: 28″ (also available in 26″ and 24″)
Overall length: 50″
Weight: 7.8 lbs.
Finish: Realtree Max-5 wrap
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Design: * * * * *
While the Stoeger M3500 isn’t built to be pretty, the Realtree® MAX-5 camo pattern pretties it up some. Ergonomically, the shotgun mounts well and is easily controlled. Mechanically, the simple inertia-driven design plays well with a variety of load types.
Weight: * * * *
The M3500 is a half-pound heavier than most high-end auto-loaders, making it borderline bulky.
Durability: * * * *
The T&E gun had plenty of wear and not much cleaning — and performed like a champ. A well-loved version should run and run.
Pattern density and consistency: * * * *
I patterned the factory Stoeger Improved Cylinder choke with two editions of Federal Premium Black Cloud High Velocity 3-inch #3 1 1/8-ounce steel shot. Results at 30 yards showed even pattern density.
Overall: * * * *
The Stoeger M3500 is a solid shooter that begs for field time. For waterfowlers looking for a reasonably priced field companion, the Stoeger M3500 is a solid choice.