In a previous blog post I indicated my need for a new, reliable, all-purpose 12 gauge autoloader for my various shotgunning needs. I decided to test a Remington Versa Max and drag it from the spring turkey woods all the way through some of my late-season (blistering cold) grouse haunts—with dirty duck sloughs and whatever shooting excursions come my way in between. I grew up shooting an 11-87; it treated me well over the years, so I was instantly drawn to the Versa Max. I also noted that, if all goes well, the Versa Max will become my primary autoloader and I’ll punish it for years to come.
After several hunts, a few fun shoots and a couple hundred spent rounds, here’s the report:
- I shot the gun for the first time at the end of April. I patterned several turkey loads with the predator/turkey choke that came with the gun. The recoil was light and the patterns were solid. The gun was light and comfortable to carry in the field. I carried it through more than 100 hours of turkey hunts. The finish held up, with only a few minor scratches in the camo (likely from one of my unnecessary belly crawls through unnecessarily rough terrain; I didn’t get a bird this season).
- I shot the gun for the second time in June. I put close to 100 Federal Premium target loads through it while shooting clay pigeons and hip-shooting dirt piles as fast as I could pull the trigger (just for laughs). The gun functioned flawlessly.
- I shot the gun again (more than 140 rounds) in July at Outbreak:Omega (an off-the-wall “zombie” shooting event). I purchased Remington Game Loads in the on-site gun shop because they were on sale. I pulled the trigger at the first shooting station and all I heard was click. I manually cycled the gun and loaded a new cartridge into the chamber. I pulled the trigger and still, nothing. I emptied the gun, analyzed the cartridges that I had tried to shoot and noticed the primers were dented. I assumed the firing pin wasn’t striking hard enough (perhaps the bolt wasn’t fully closing?). I loaded another cartridge, but manually slammed the bolt closed with some force. The following rounds fired just fine. The gun performed well the majority of the day, but I encountered the same issue at two other times throughout the day. I was perplexed.
I returned from my trip and immediately contacted Remington for some answers. I got in touch with David Blankenship, the product management director in their shotgun division. David spoke with the Remington ammo team and informed me they had previously made a “corrective change” to the primer material in those particular game loads because of similar issues reported in the past. He stated it was possible I received an “old” box. He offered a few options to resolve my problem: send the shotgun and remaining cartridges back so they could test them, or send me a new bolt assembly.
Before answering David, I spoke with North American Hunter Editor (my boss) Gordy Krahn. He offered to take the gun for the weekend to shoot at his gun club. He returned the following Monday with good news: The gun cycled every round he put through it. But he observed something else that was intriguing: The brass was being dented on all the cartridges—some more than others. Here’s a photo:
Turns out, Gordy was heading to Remington’s research and development facility the following week (where they first unveiled the Versa Max Tactical); again, I chose to wait to contact David so Gordy could do some further digging for me. Gordy returned with a deep appreciation and respect for the Versa Max, but witnessed more dented brass.
- In early October I hunted ducks with the Versa Max. Again it was light, comfortable, delivered low recoil with heavy loads, cycled every round flawlessly, and the finish held up nicely after some abuse. (I killed some ducks, too.) I was shooting Winchester Blind Side 3-inch cartridges, and again found dents in the brass.
I contacted David about the brass-denting issue and he responded immediately. He quoted a Remington engineer from their Ilion, New York, manufacturing plant:
“This is seen on a small percentage of ammunition types. The dent will occur on some high-brass/high-velocity shells. The combination of high exit velocity and shell geometry (weight, center of mass, brass geometry) results in the condition. We have never seen this on any low-brass target loads, and have not seen it on most high brass loads.”
I decided to contact North American Hunter’s gun columnist, Ron Spomer, to see what he’s experienced with the Versa Max. Ron has put more than 5,000 rounds through the gun and hasn’t witnessed any brass denting. Overall, he says his experience with the gun has been very positive, and the simple design (very few moving parts) should stand up to Remington’s claims of lifelong reliability. And Ron—like many—agrees it’s perhaps the softest-shooting 12 gauge ever built.
So, where do I stand at this point? Well, I don’t reload shotshells, and frankly I never plan to. For me, the positive characteristics of the Versa Max outweigh the minor brass-denting issue I’m experiencing. (All brass looks the same when it hits the dirt.) Unless something extraordinarily negative occurs with the Versa Max in my remaining shooting endeavors this year —which I don’t foresee happening—I think my gun safe will be welcoming a new resident.