Goodbye Mossberg 500. Goodbye Remington 870. Goodbye to every pump-action shotgun I own. I never thought I’d say it, but the gun I’m counting on the most, the gun that has taken the place of every other shotgun I own, is an autoloader. And it’s the Remington Versa Max Tactical.
I shoot a lot of guns. I’ve had a few break and I’ve broken a few. But I’ve never put any gun through the length and variety of testing as I have with the Versa Max.
Last September I went on a white-winged dove hunt sponsored by Remington, with several other writers from different publications. For those of you familiar with my writing, I’ve been pretty hard on Remington’s shotguns over the last few years, specifically the 870.
I didn’t have a Remington shotgun set up for doves, so I brought a friend’s Remington V3. A Mossberg 500 was in my pick up, as always, just in case. I got to the hunt early and I had several hours to do nothing other than sit around and get to know the V3.
I took it apart and put it back together a few times. I inspected each part, and generally figured out how the internals functioned. Having said absolutely nothing good about Remington shotguns for a long while, I was surprised at the quality of work, fit, materials, engineering … just the whole gun.
Later, when the Remington staff arrived with a dozen Remington semi-auto shotguns, they were all broken down and needed to be put together. I then spent some time putting together the familiar 1100s, the now-familiar V3s, and several different versions of the Versa Max.
I saw the same thing on all of these guns that I saw with the V3. Smart design. Quality materials. Well-executed fit and finish. With that, I decided that I’d try the hunt with the V3 and the Versa Max instead of my Mossy. For the next day and a half, I shot clays and doves with several different models of semi-automatic shotguns. I limited out every day.
I left that hunt with a bunch of birds and a hard sideways stare at that Versa Max. I’m not a shotgun expert, but I’ve been really working my scattergun for the last couple of years. I’d gotten to where I knew what I could hit, (the biggest challenge) and hit it. And yet, over a very short period of time, I was shooting better with the Versa Max than I did with the shotgun through which I’d shot thousands and thousands of shells. Further research was in order.
TTAG’s resident shotgun guy, editor Dan Zimmerman, gave the V3 five stars. Interesting. Even the long-lost Nick Leghorn gave the Versa Max Competition/Tactical Shotgun high praise, noting the only thing he didn’t like about the gun was the price. Nick’s a bit of an FN guy, and a solid and methodical reviewer. If Nick writes a glowing report about a Remington shotgun, well, that got my attention.
I reached out to a couple of friends who allowed me to borrow their Versa Max shotguns for some hunts, and I also reached back out to Remington to try out some other versions. For the last year, I’ve hunted only with the Versa Max guns. I also patterned them, shot clays and skeet with them, and ran courses with them.
Nine months into shooting them, I ordered a Remington Versa Max Tactical for myself. I don’t know how many rounds I’ve put through the gun, but it’s well over 500. I’m completely sold. This is my go-to scattergun.
Mentally, hell, even emotionally, moving away from a pump gun was hard. I’ve carried a pump-action shotgun in my truck forever. For centuries now, if you could only have one gun, colonists, soldiers, mountain men and western farmers were all well advised to carry a smoothbore. After all, a slug, either from a modern shotgun or from a smoothbore blackpowder gun, can take large game at the most common hunting ranges. It can also take birds, something rifles can’t do. With the right load, they are absolutely devastating in defense against man, or even the largest of bears.
Because it’s so versatile, the shotgun is very much the thinking man’s gun. They give you a lot of options, so you have to be smart about how you take advantage of those options.
Unfortunately, semi-autos are rarely as reliable as pump guns. The great thing about shotguns, their versatility, is the downfall for any weapon that requires a specific load to cycle, as most autoloaders do. The Versa Max doesn’t have this problem. The Versaport gas system runs anything, perfectly.
Over the last year, I’ve easily put 3,000 rounds through a few different models of Versa Max shotguns. Probably a lot more. Through each of these shotguns I’ve fired everything from #7 1/2 birdshot and target loads all the way to tons of buckshot and slugs. I’ve fired 2 3/4″, 3″, and 3 1/2″ shells. (I still see no reason for 3 1/2″ shells to exist, with the possible exception of some goose hunting.) I haven’t shot the 1 3/4″ mini shells, but others have without issue. I have not had a single failure to load, fire, or cycle with any of these models, with any shell, under any conditions.
Last year I took one of the Real Tree Pro models dove hunting up in North Texas. It got hot and sandy in the sunflower fields. It never failed. I borrowed a Sportsman model, and then used it and one of the Competition Tactical Models for duck and teal hunting. They got wet, cold and muddy. They never failed. (They hammered the teal this year!) I took a Competition Tactical model on a shotgun CQB course, where I put about 500 rounds of buckshot through it over a three-day weekend. It never failed.
See a pattern here? One of the reasons I was so hesitant to switch from a pump-action shotgun is the pump action’s supreme reliability. In fact, I was less reliable with the pump guns than I am with this Versa Max.
“Blasphemy!” you say. The Versa Max never failed at any time, under any condition. Every time I shouldered the gun, from any position, it fired and then was immediately ready to fire again.
My Mossy never failed ether. But I failed with it. You probably have, too. Ever short-cycle a pump gun? I have, and I bet I will again.
Before you say “practice more.” I’ll say “no, there are only so many hours in the day.” The Versa Max doesn’t care if I get stressed and I don’t quite make that bar travel that last half inch. It doesn’t care if I get excited during a mallard ducknado and don’t pay enough attention. It doesn’t care if I’ve bled out too much to be smart, or have all the feeling in my arms and hands. With its Versaport gas system, it just cycles the gun, every single time.
Since I had the chance to shoot several models, both borrowed guns from friends or from Remington, I had the opportunity to pick what my first semi-auto would be. In the end, the Tactical version was the one I wanted. It has a lot of the features I want that the hunter-specific versions don’t have, like an extended magazine tube and the enlarged loading gate.
The shorter 22″ barrel length doesn’t swing quite as well as the longer 26″ barrels, and I will certainly lose a little velocity. With how I shoot though, the only real difference I noticed was that I had to use a longer dowel as a plug to limit the gun to a maximum capacity of three rounds to keep it legal for hunting.
The Versa Max Tactical version comes with several extras, but a few are of particular note. First, like the Competition Tactical, it has an enlarged loading gate. No matter if it’s for a duty, competition, or going after the doves, you’re likely to need more rounds than the shotgun holds. So loading the gun as fast as possible is always helpful. The Versa Max Tactical is set up for easy single, dual or quad loading.
The Tactical version also includes big controls all the way around. The operating handle, the bolt-release button, and the safety are all larger than other versions. The oversized versions of most shotguns ought to be what’s standard.
If you are stressed and in need of a shotgun for defense, big controls help make up for that loss of fine motor control you will experience. If you’re hunting, you very well may be cold or wet, or both, and wearing gloves. Either way, the larger controls (notably the trigger guard, safety, charging handle and bolt release) included on the tactical model are a big plus.
Of course, it also has an extended tube for eight rounds of ammo and a barrel clamp for a sling and a short section of Picatinny rail.
The Versa Max Tactical comes with a bright-green fiber-optic front sight and a brass mid-bead. The receiver is drilled for an optic rail, and that rail is included with the package. That’s particularly valuable if you intend to use the shotgun as an occasional slug gun.
I had no trouble putting Breneke slugs into a 12-inch circle at 100 yards with the stock “irons”, so a rail-mounted scope would make this gun a deer- and bear-slaying machine for shotgun-only hunts.
If you haven’t spent any time with an auto-loader like this under a red-dot optic, don’t. Not until you’re ready to shell out the coin for the shotgun and the optic. It’s so fast, it feels like cheating. The ability to put eight 00 buck rounds into a target in fewer than three seconds, accurately, is pretty darn cool. The terminal effect is nothing short of awe inspiring.
The Versa Max uses Remington’s ProBore choke tube system. There’s a wide array of them available manufactured by about a bazillion different companies. If you have a 1100 G3 or Competition, Model 105 CTI, or the Premier Over/Under in 12 gauge, the same Remington Pro Bore chokes will work for the Versa Max and for those shotguns. The Versa Max Tactical comes with a flush Improved Cylinder choke as well as an extended “breacher” style cylinder bore choke. Both were easy to install and remove. For the flush tube, a wrench in included (I hate flush tubes).
With the Versa Max Tactical and Competition Tactical, I’ve shot quite a few rounds of buckshot and slugs with the cylinder bore tube. The Remington website advertises that the Versa Max recoil system reduces the recoil of 12 gauge to that of a pump-action 20 gauge. There are a whole lot of variables to consider in that statement, but I can verify that recoil is reduced when shooting 0000 buckshot through the Versa Max tactical with the cylinder bore tube.
And it’s more than just “reduced.” This gun isn’t particularly light, but at 7 3/4 pounds it’s only 1/4 of a pound heavier than a similarly set up Remington 870 pump-action shotgun. The recoil reduction from the Versa Max is far more than can be accounted for by the weight of half a glass of water.
If your goal is to put ridiculous amounts of energy out of the muzzle in very short order, this is the shotgun for you. Every experienced shooter at The Range At Austin who shot this gun was surprised at how fast they could get eight rounds of 00 buck out of the chamber. There were a lot of smiles.
I highly recommend everyone go out and pattern their shotgun with the load and choke they intend to use for whatever particular task they are using the gun for. I went ahead and used a Carlson Pro Bore Long Beard Choke Tube and Winchester’s Long Beard ammunition with a borrowed Sportsman Versa Max.
I couldn’t get the Toms to pay any attention to me at all this year, they were all hen’d up. But if they would have gotten clear within 60 yards of me, that combination would have done the trick. Be advised, that combination of shotgun, choke, and ammunition will shoot tiny groups far away, but even with this reduced-recoil gun, you will surely know when you pulled the trigger.
Fit is important on any firearm, but never as important as it is with your shotgun. With a shotgun, you are expected to mount the gun to your shoulder and hit a small, fast target coming from any direction. That’s far more difficult if you have to work your body around the gun. The Versa Max helps solve this problem by allowing the user to modify the length of pull, comb height, drop, and cast right out of the box.
The ability to modify comb height and length of pull out of the box has been common in lots shotguns and rifles for a long time now. That length-of-pull adjustment is much appreciated for those of us more than six feet tall, and I’m sure even more so for those of you under 5’8″. It’s the drop and cast adjustment that’s the new interesting part.
Cast and drop are modified by pulling the stock off and using one of two supplied cast plates. The best picture for explaining this isn’t actually the gun, but the instruction manual itself. The effect is subtle to the eye, but fare more meaningful once you mount the gun.
The Versa Max fits me out of the box … kinda … a little. But modified with the lowest comb height, added 3/4 inch on the length of pull, and moving to a 2-inch drop at the heel and 1/4-inch right cast, the gun fits perfectly. Making those adjustments took me 10 minutes and all I needed was a screwdriver and the supplied hex wrench.
The value of this level of adjustment, easily modifiable by the user, just can’t be overstated. I knew my stock shotguns didn’t quite fit, but I didn’t realize how much they didn’t fit until this shotgun.
Set up as above, it made an immediate difference in my clay shooting. Not so much with the clays going out, but definitely with the disks going across the field at closer ranges. I have to get in front of those clays fast, and I’m just not that fast. But by not fighting the gun, by making fewer movements to get the muzzle where it needs to be, I was hitting those cross-flying clays at a much higher percentage. Birds too.
As Nick noted in his review, the thing that gave me pause with this gun was the price. An MSRP of almost $1,500 is no joke. Yes, that’s in line with other autoloaders of this quality. But dang, all of my pump guns have been dirt cheep, and most of them have run well enough, after I did some work on them and got used to them.
The good news is that the MSRP is grossly more than what the gun is actually being sold for. The first three major dealers I checked online sold this same model for right around a grand. If you want the versions more geared directly to hunting, you can get one for $700 to $800 pretty easily.
Be on the lookout for sales of the Versa Max and V3. Last fall, when I suspected that I wanted this shotgun but hadn’t committed, Remington offered a rebate that, combined with the sale price offered to the public, would have amounted to $100 less than what I paid for the gun. If they offer those rebates again this year, I will be picking up at least one more of these shotguns. This is a good gun, but at those prices, it’s also an incredible value.
I’ll put it as simply as I can. If I was to walk out the door right now into an uncertain future, and I could take only one gun, the Remington Versa Max Tactical would be it. I can’t give a gun higher praise than that.
Specifications: Remington Versa Max Tactical Shotgun
Caliber: 12 Gauge
Barrell: 22-inch barrel
Capacity: 8 (2 3/4-inch shells), 7 (3-inch shells)
Receiver Finish: Anodized Aluminum
Overall Length: 43 15/16 inches
Length of Pull: 14 1/4 inches
Drop (Comb): 1 1/2 inches
Drop (Heel): 2 7/16 inches
Stock: Synthetic stock, w/overmolded grips
Avg. Wt.: 7 3/4 lbs
MSRP: $1,456 (easily found for 70% of MSRP and less.)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit and Finish * * *
It’s “tactical black.” I don’t care because it’ll get rattle-canned anyway. Probably a few times. The finish is smooth and even throughout. The internals are polished and smooth without burs or rough edges where there shouldn’t be.
Customization * * * * *
There are already quite a few aftermarket parts for this series of rifles, but the options available from Remington are beyond what most offer in this segment. The ability to alter the fit of the gun so significantly sets them above their competition.
Reliability * * * * *
All the stars. Whatever stars we have for reliability, the Versa Max gets them all. Any round, any condition. The gun runs.
Accuracy * * * * *
Not sure how this category fits for a shotgun, but it makes repeatable patterns. The included rail allows for great use of slugs or fast use of buckshot, depending on the optic.
Overall * * * * *
Infinitely reliable, versatile, and practical. The Remington Versa Max is everything a shotgun is supposed to be. I’d trust my hunt or my life with this gun any day of the week.