HK's Benelli M1 Super 90

By Walt Rauch

To get to the bottom line first, the H&K Benelli Super 90 Police Tactical Shotgun is a very good gun. It's as simple and durable as a brick! On a rush basis, I requested and received a Super 90 Tactical gun for testing. The H&K staff certainly took me at my word that the gun was needed quickly; it arrived with a loose front sight and the rear sight that had to be snugged up a bit. Obviously, this particular sample had already been used and slightly abused. (I'm not pointing this out to criticize H&K, by the way. The gun's condition is worth noting because it shows that no one tried to "cherry pick" a gun writer's sample!)

The specimen tactical gun specs out as follows: 12-gauge caliber for both 2 and 3-inch shells, capacity seven rounds, weight 6.5 pounds, length just short of 40 inches with the 18-inch barrel. Both barrel and receiver are bead-blasted blued steel, while the fore-end and stock are polymer with impressed checkering and an overall dull black finish. A solid rubber recoil pad is standard equipment, as are mounts for a tactical sling. The front sling swivel is adjustable in three directions - right, left and straight down beneath the barrel. The rear sling attaches to the side of the buttstock via a mounting cut in the stock.

The rear ghost ring sight is both windage- and elevation-adjustable and is mounted inside two "ears" to protect the sight from damage. The bead front sight is mounted on a pedestal base and also protected by metal "ears." This test gun features a pistol grip that is very comfortable, particularly so since the grip is covered with a semi-soft rubber coating that "gives" when gripped. The trigger weight speced out at 5 pounds. A big bonus is the screw-in barrel chokes. Three insert chokes are supplied: improved cylinder, modified and full choke constrictions. choke-changing tool is also provided.

The Benelli operates on the recoil principle. Paraphrasing the very complete instruction manual (printed in French, English and Italian), when the gun is fired and recoils, the breech block's inertia makes the block move forward in proportion to the power of the shotgun shell fired. The distance is approximately 0.16 of an inch. This compresses the spring that is contained between the bolt head and the bolt. Once the spring is compressed, it forces the breech block back and the shotgun shell is extracted and ejected.

The bolt head, a separate piece connected to the breech block, is a revolving unit that locks into the shotgun's breech via two locking lugs. The advantage of this setup is that there's no gas system to clean or adjust. The down side is The a that the shotgun must be held firmly, not unlike any hand-held semi-auto pistol, for the action to cycle properly. The Benelli can be 'limp wristed," just as a handgun, with the same resulting jam.

Loading the Benelli is simple, but it can only be loaded if the hammer is cocked so that the carrier latch can retain the shells as they're loaded into the magazine. The Benelli has a device identified as the "cartridge drop lever" that protrudes from the lower right side of the receiver just above the trigger. When the lever and its red dot are exposed, the hammer is cocked. (NOTE: The lever doesn't tell you that there's a shell in the chamber, only that the hammer is cocked.)

After the magazine tube is topped off, to get a round into the chamber, you have two choices. You can drop a shell directly into the chamber or you can hold the bolt back and press upward on the cartridge drop lever, which will then permit a round from the magazine to drop on the shell carrier. Releasing the bolt then chambers the round.

This operation is a good news, good news situation. The first good news is that ammo can be changed out of the chamber as the tactical problem changes. If a slug is called for, all that's necessary is to open the bolt, which extracts and ejects the chambered round and, while holding the bolt back, drop the selected round into the chamber. Or, if you want to lock the bolt back, retract the bolt completely to the rear and push up on the carrier drop lever, then insert a new round.

The second good news is that the Benelli can be carried in "cruiser ready" condition, with the magazine tube loaded, chamber empty and the hammer uncocked. To do this, you cock the gun and let the bolt go forward to fill the mag tube. Next, pull the trigger, 'firing" the gun. The last shell in the magazine moves backward to lie on the shell carrier beneath the closed bolt. Pulling back and releasing the bolt then chambers a round.

I had a smorgasbord of ammo on hand - Remington, Winchester and Federal police 00 buckshot, as well as the same brands' one-ounce slugs. The Benelli Super 90 digested everything without a problem. I also ran Remington 3-inch 00 buckshot as well as Federal 3-inch BB shot duck loads. Again, the gun worked just fine. (A bit too well, perhaps. The recoil from the 3-inch shells is fierce in this light shotgun!)

Through a federal government contact, I had been sent samples of an experimental load developed by Remington. According to my source, the ammo was loaded in an attempt to develop a light 00 buckshot load that would stay on target through a modified choke to a distance of 25 yards. The ammo contains eight rounds of copper-plated 00 buck. No velocity data is available, but it was the lightest-shooting of all the ammo we fired. In fact, this experimental ammo's so lightly-charged that the Benelli failed to cycle on two occasions and would not lock the bolt back when the last round was fired. Shooting this stuff, we could actually watch the gun cycle. However, the pattern results bore out the 25-yard effective-distance criteria that originally prompted the experimental round.

In previous tests, I shot Winchester, Federal and Remington buckshot and Foster slug ammo through Remington models 11-87 and 870 as well as a Mossberg Model 590 that were choked in the traditional improved cylinder bore. I used International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) humanoid targets for the pattern testing, since this target is probably the most widely-recognized standard for combat-style shooting.

At that time, I confirmed that a cylinder-choked police-type shotgun using standard 00 buckshot will only keep all the pellets on target to a sure distance of 15 yards, with a few exceptions. Past this distance, all pellets could not be counted on to stay within the target confines. Also (no surprise), at distances back to 50 yards we were fortunate to get four pellets in the center scoring zone at any time. The cylinder-bored short shotgun is a sure hitter at 15 yards, but that's it.

Subsequently, I've learned that the DEA and the FBI purchased a good quantity of Remington Model 870s with a specification of modified choke. My sources said that the modified choke insured good hits back to 25 yards with standard nine-pellet 00 buckshot. The US Secret Service is also using Remington 870 shotguns but has specified full chokes on all the guns. (Getting any info about the guns of the USSS is harder than penetrating the KGB. Their policy is a plain "no comment.")

The point of all this is that various federal agencies have already conducted extensive and reliable testing of shotguns, ammo and chokings and have gotten very worthwhile information. The problem is that none of the agencies voluntarily publish their findings. In fairness, they may well be precluded from doing so by various governmental regulations.

What this all means is that we still have to develop our own information, so back to the Benelli and what we found during our test. The following chart shows results using the full choke insert with Remington Tactical 00 buckshot, nine lead shot to the shell; Remington experimental 00 buckshot, eight copper-plated shot to the shell; and the Federal Tactical 00 buckshot, also nine lead shot to the shell. IPSC regulation humanoid targets were again used, courtesy of CP Law Enforcement Specialties. These targets have the most representative kill zone, otherwise known as the "A" zone, of the common silhouette targets. The center scoring area measures 6 x 11 inches or 66 square inches. The overall target measures 24 inches long by 17.75 wide, for an area of 426 square inches The next chart was fired using the modified choke insert with the same ammunition.

Conclusions? Both the modified and full-choked short-barreled shotgun will almost always guarantee all shot on target to a range of 25 yards without any strays. This means that the entire payload is delivered and that the chance of collateral damage is minimized. So, why are police shotguns usually cylinder choked? According to one industry rep, he doesn't know why, other than, "That's the way they've always been done."

The experimental Remington eight 00 round shows promise for both a duty and a training round, for its recoil is that of a dove load. At the other end of the spectrum, if you know that you're really going up against it, load up with the Remington 3-inch15-pellet 00 buck rounds. They certainly recoil smartly, but in the heat of conflict I doubt that anyone will notice the kick.

A limited amount of slug shooting was done by Sgt. John Lysakoffhand at 50 yards with Remington, Federal and Winchester Foster one-ounce lead loads with the HK tactical gun still full choked. Groups ran from two to five inches and, when the sights were zeroed, shot to point of aim.

I also had a chance to shoot the H&K Benelli M1 Super 90 Entry Shotgun, thanks to Officer Robert Thomsen of the Upper Dublin Township, PA, police department. This model differs from the test gun in that it has a 14 and 1/2-inch barrel so that the gun can be handled better in confined quarters and it has open sights. We didn't notice any difference in recoil and the shorter gun would be a better choice for law enforcement providing the ghost ring rear sight is specified, along with the screw-in chokes.

Although the H&K 1994 catalog doesn't show a choke option on the short barrel, this is not to say that they won't build it to order. When doing an article on Remington police guns, I found out that just because the option isn't listed, doesn't mean you can't get it. (It never hurts to ask for exactly what you want. The worst they can do is say, "No," and they might surprise you and say, "Yes.")

Check out the Super 90 guns for sport, personal defense or law enforcement. The Super 90 is Super!

First published in the May 1995 edition of Guns and Weapons for Law Enforcement

M1 S90 Entry Technical Specifications
Caliber 12 gauge
Magazine Capacity 7 shells
Sight Radius 11.75 inches (298.5mm)
Weight: with empty
6.5 pounds (2.95 kg)
Barrel length 14.0 inches (355.6mm)
Overall length 35.5 inches (901.7mm)
Width 2.25 inches (57.15mm)
Height 7.25 inches (184.15mm)