I don't care for the connotation the word "budget" brings to the mind. Every time I see a product described as a budget item, I cringe to see what us poor folk have to settle for. The fact is everyone is on a budget, especially the family that shoots. The difference is some shooters can overlook value and price, and go straight to gear touted as the best.
In the sport of 3-gun, the best product is not necessarily the most expensive, but it had better be reliable. Case in point: the Stoeger M3000 semi-automatic shotgun, which retails for less than $500. After 2,000 rounds of testing I can safely say the M3000 is ready to play.
Stoeger is a name I remember from my youth. It was emblazoned across my Christmas wish book, otherwise known as the "Shooter's Bible". I wasn't what you'd call a reader as a kid, but I read and re-read the "Bible." Stoeger was a big importer and purveyor of all kinds of good things I hoped to find under the tree. From P08 Lugers to reloading presses, if I wanted it, chances were Stoeger offered it.
While the Stoeger name faded over time, it never quite left us. In 2000 the brand was revived, refreshed and brought under the Benelli family banner, which has turned out to be a good thing for both the company and shooters. The 12-gauge M3000 is one of Stoeger's recent offerings that definitely shows how Benelli has influenced the brand.
Built in Turkey, the M3000 shares many design elements with Benelli shotguns, chief among them the Inertia Driven operating system. The M3000 bolt body, rotating locking head and inertia spring look much like those from the Benelli M2, while the action spring and action bar resemble those from the unique Benelli M3 semi-automatic/pump convertible shotgun. Keep in mind, the M3000 offers these features at significantly less than half the price of the M2 or M3.
But there's more. Made of high-strength aluminum alloy, the M3000 receiver is drilled and tapped for optics. The synthetic buttstock is fully adjustable for drop and cast via the included shim set, while the trigger group can trace its origin to the M2, right down to the cartridge-drop lever (which also indicates whether the hammer is cocked).
A couple of minor departures from Benelli guns are the carrier latch and the orientation of the cam on the bolt's locking head. The carrier latch on the M2 is a one-piece, spring-steel unit that flexes at the end to allow loading. In contrast, the M3000 carrier latch uses an actual hinge. The hinged latch offers less resistance when loading, an attractive feature for 3-gun shooters because it can help improve times.
The M3000 employs the same Inertia Driven mechanics as Benelli semi-automatics, but the location of the cam that actuates rotation of the locking head is different. In the M3000, the cam is integral to the rear extension of the locking head instead of the bolt body as found in the M2. The cam pin in the M3000 is oriented horizontally, while in the M2 it is vertical. Although the M3000 uses a slightly different arrangement than the M2, the system is equally as reliable.
Another interesting feature of the M3000 is the location of the action spring, which adds even more utility to the design. With many popular semi-auto shotguns, the action spring extends into the buttstock. In contrast, the M3000 carries its action spring around the magazine tube, like the Benelli M3. While operationally the same, the forward-positioned action spring allows shortening the buttstock to fit any family member without interfering with the stock's mounting hardware. (This also explains why the Benelli M3 will accept a folding stock.)
While I prefer a shorter barrel for 3-gun, the sample M3000 I used for testing had a 26-inch, chrome-lined tube with a ventilated rib. Stoeger now offers a version of the M3000 with a 24-inch barrel that would be even better for the sport. All M3000 barrels are compatible with the screw-in choke tubes used by the Benelli SuperNova pump gun. A spring-loaded ejector mounted to the barrel extension drives empty hulls well clear of the breech.
My initial impression left no doubt the M3000 had good bones, but I saw some areas where it could be improved to compete even more closely against high-end semi-autos in the 3-gun game. First, however, the gun had to prove it was worthy of my time and effort. I took the M3000 right out of the box and to the range, where I pushed 1,500 rounds through the bore. The M3000 showed great potential, running smoothly and failing to eject only a half-dozen light, 1-ounce loads during the test. Groups with slugs were very good; the gun could put five Fiocchi low-recoil, 1-ounce loads into a 3-inch circle at 50 yards, albeit 4 inches high and3 inches right.
Happy with this strong baseline performance, I went about making some minor tweaks and home-gunsmith modifications to the M3000 to optimize it for competition. After reliability, reliability and reliability, a shotgun needs to be easy to reload at speed. I removed some material from the underside of the receiver to improve access to the loading port and replaced the factory bolt-release button with an oversize version. Next, I added a magazine-tube extension to bring the gun's capacity up to 11+1 rounds.
Other modifications included installing a rear sight, slicking up the edges of the chamber and extractor, and rounding the heel and toe of the buttstock. I also exchanged the factory choke tubes for a set from Carlson's to provide more flexibility. None of these tweaks required expensive tools or an abundance of gunsmithing knowledge, and when I was finished, I had a customized shotgun ideal for 3-gun matches at a fraction of the price of competing brands.
Well-engineered and built using modern materials and techniques, the Stoeger M3000 has tremendous value to offer to 3-gun shooters. It is neither a compromise gun, nor a gun solely for folks on a tight budget. The M3000 is more than a shotgun competitive shooters might settle for—it is one they would be well served to actively seek out.