The Beretta 1301 Tactical 12 gauge has a reputation as one of the best performing shotguns on the market. But how did it get there? And how does it hold up in the real world?
My History with Shotgun Shooting
A while back a large federal law enforcement agency decided it was time to upgrade from their venerable Remington 870 shotgun to a semi-auto. They got a number of contenders from different manufacturers at the time with both 18- and 14-inch barrels. Both tactical guns and competition guns were tested. I was front and center at the testing. Ultimately, we found they all lacked sufficient reliability with reduced recoil shells, which was what the agency issued. The project was shelved.
At the same time, I was big into sporting clays. Mind you I never said I was good at it, but I loved going out each weekend to try different courses. They call it “golf with shotguns” for a reason. My wife would often accompany me. I bought her a used Beretta A400 Xcel and was always impressed by how well it cycled every shell I threw into it, including some extremely light target loads. One day, I decided to pull out the recoil reduced shells that had jammed all the guns in our prior semi-auto shotgun test. It ran flawlessly. I realized I was onto something.
Origin of the Beretta 1301 Tactical 12 Gauge
Not long after that Beretta released their TX4 Storm gas-operated, tactical shotgun. I bought one, and it remains the gun I keep under the bed to deal with anything that goes “bump” in the night. But the TX4 wasn’t perfect. The bolt release and charging handle were tiny so I added a Briley oversized bolt release and charging handle. The sights sat up too high and I had to add Gel-Tek cheek pads to get my face up where it belonged. And it only held 5+1 so I added a magazine tube extension. Later I dumped the stock and upgraded to Mesa Tactical collapsible stock. I took off the magazine tube extension and added a Steiner Mk7 white light because I wanted to be able to see what I was shooting even more than have one extra shell. Finally I added a 3GunGear nylon sidesaddle velcroed to the receiver for seven more shells. When I was done I was happy, but it was never perfect.
Upgrading the TX4 to the 1301
Finally, in 2013 Beretta upgraded the TX4 and rebranded it as the 1301. Its Blink operating system is capable of firing four shells in less than one second. I know this is true because I’ve done it. Yes, it took a lot of tries, and no, I didn’t keep all four rounds on target. But that is my fault, not the gun’s. The 1301 fixed a lot of errors from the TX4. The sights no longer sat up too high and the oversized charging handle and bolt release came standard. But it still came with only a 5+1 magazine tube and no good way to mount a light. The Steiner Mk 7 light lacks a remote switch and is now discontinued. Even so, the 1301 quickly took the market by storm and became recognized as one the most dependable semi-auto tactical shotgun available.
Beretta 1301 Tactical 12 Gauge Details
Beretta recently decided to revisit the 1301 and made a few upgrades. The new extended magazine tube increases the capacity to 7+1. Then they added a magazine tube clamp that hooks to the barrel and provides increased strength. It is almost certainly unnecessary, but they added M-Lok compatible mounts on each side of the clamp so you can add a light or laser, and included a Quick Detach point for a sling. Every tactical gun should have a white light because it can identify friend versus foe, blind an attacker and can be used as a rudimentary way to aim. Beretta also added an optional Mesa Tactical Urbino Tactical stock.
Other than that, the upgraded 1301 still has the same features. It has a beveled loading port, no thumb pinch shell lifter (I just named it that, but shotgun afficionados will know exactly what I mean), perfectly placed safety in front of the triggerguard, short length of pull (13.25 inches) for use with body armor (spacers can be used to make it longer) and included shims to adjust drop and cast off/cast on for lefty vs. right-handed shooters.
Hidden Performance Features
But the best features are buried deep inside. The rotating bolt with reinforced lugs assures a solid lockup before it fires. The Blink gas operating system uses a self-cleaning, split-ring piston with elastic scraper band that seals tighter and needs only half as much gas to operate. It advertises 10,000 rounds between cleanings and the ability to fire 36 percent faster than any other semi-auto shotgun. Beretta’s proprietary tri-alloy steel containing nickel, chromium and molybdenum called Steelium makes up the barrel.
It also has a 80mm elongated forcing cone. This means it tapers down gently in front of the chamber. This is important because lead pellets push against each other as the barrel tapers and deforms the pellets or buckshot. Once the shot leaves the barrel, the flat side on each sphere makes it fly erratically. This widens your shot pattern. A long forcing cone allows the shot to move slightly forward or rearward in the “crush” as it moves down barrel and thus doesn’t get a flat spot. The result is tighter groups. A longer forcing cone also means less resistance on the projectile, which means a higher velocity. A typical shotgun forcing cone is less than 2 inches. People will tell you a longer forcing cone will also reduce felt recoil. Maybe that is true, but I can’t tell the difference.
On the Range with the Beretta 1301 Tactical 12 Gauge
Taking a tactical shotgun to the range is always a little different. Gun writers normally test shotguns by patterning them on quadrants with birdshot. I don’t do that. If you are shooting birdshot in a tactical shotgun, it is because you are practicing with cheap shells or you don’t understand ballistics. Birdshot doesn’t penetrate sufficiently and is woefully lacking when used for personal defense. I load my personal gun with slugs because I have seen the tests done on ballistic gelatin and slugs perform in a league of their own.
For accuracy testing, I elected to shoot at 25 yards. I normally use a LabRadar to check my velocities, but it doesn’t work great with shotgun shells. The radar bounces off the back of the projectile and the wad (which are travelling a different speeds) and it confuses the machine. I got out my trusty Oehler 35P for this test.
Pistol Grip Vs Traditional Stock
Beretta was kind enough to send me two different models of their newly improved 1301: the standard stock and one with the Mesa Tactical Urbino pistol grip stock. I am not a fan of this type of stock on any shotgun where they make it harder to manipulate the safety. However, it works phenomenally on the 1301. That is why I had upgraded my personal TX4 to a Mesa Tactical AR-style pistol grip and collapsible stock years ago. A pistol grip stock does allow you to bring your arms in tighter to the body which is important inside tight spaces like houses. It also feels more natural to those shooters who grew up shooting AR-15s. The traditional stock feels more natural to me, but I grew up shooting that style. In the end, it comes down to personal preference and both styles work very well.
Running the shotgun through drills was nothing but fun, using had boxes with every kind of 2 ¾- and 3-inch shells. I was dual loading shells, and it was easy. I made one mistake when ejection port loading where I came over the top and ended with hitting the bolt release while my hand was still over the ejection port. The charging handle gave me a little smack on the fingers and it reminded me why it is better to come from below for ejection port loading, or to be sure and roll that shotgun inboard enough that you can get your hand out of the way. That isn’t a shotgun problem; that is a shooter problem.
Lastly, I wanted to see if those pesky reduced recoil shells would stop the Beretta. The 1301 never hiccupped. It ran them perfectly. I may need to contact that agency and tell them I just found the perfect semi-auto, tactical shotgun. When testing the 1301, it is hard to come up with reasons why anyone would stick with a manual pump shotgun. This shotgun has all of the features I am looking for. I wonder if Beretta would notice if I shipped back my TX4 and held onto one of these new 1301s? For more information check out beretta.com.
(Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of Tactical Life, subscribe today to get even more great content like this!)