I just spent the afternoon tuning up my Benelli M2 for the Nordic Components Tactical Shotgun match. I installed a new RCI magazine tube and a new recoil spring. I tweaked and polished some trouble spots. Then I did a complete disassembly, cleaning, lube and reassembly.
This gun was giving me trouble at the Iron Man match and that’s something I find unacceptable. But it’s not Benelli’s fault, this is a tricked out “competition” gun that’s been highly modified. In fact, over the years I have used two different M2 shotguns for 3-gun competition that have been worked over, tweaked, tuned and “improved” by two different big name guys. (Don’t bother asking, I am not going to name names.) Both guns are drama queens that give me trouble and require constant attention.
In contrast, I have another M2 that I set up myself without touching the moving parts. In five years of competition and practice, while shooting pallets of ammo it has never jammed or failed in any way with a factory load. I have another M2 that I left alone and while it’s newer and has seen a lot less action, it also has never failed. Proving the old adage that you can’t improve on perfection.
If tweaking these guns has bought me any edge in competition I have failed to locate it. I practice on a timer that measures to 1-100th of a second and I can’t find a bit of difference in my split times with the “improved” shotguns. I also can’t prove the claim they “run faster.” Not that it matters. I cannot outrun a Benelli when shooting at targets. The shotgun is capable of .13-second split times and my best when shooting at targets is always a bit higher. In fact, of all the shooters who claim they can outrun the gun on targets, I have believed only a few. If Danny Horner or Patrick Kelley (and a few others) say they can, I believe them. But most mortals, which includes some damn good shooters, will never outrun a Benelli when shooting at targets they intend to hit. If any shooter truly reaches that level of performance, then I suppose modifications might be justified. But, a shooter at that level understands the importance of reliability and will make modifications that work.
So what did all that expert work on my Benellis result in, other than a lighter wallet? Finicky, high maintenance shotguns that if they are not attended to constantly, and sometimes even if they are, will jam. Any jam costs a lot of seconds in a match. My old Benelli would run so dirty it was disgusting. Fouling, dirt, grime, dust; none of it bothered that gun. It survived the toughest matches and the worst conditions. At times it went hundreds, perhaps even thousands of rounds between cleaning. But it always went bang when I pulled the trigger. Which to my thinking is a huge advantage when the clock is running.
I see this “gotta change it” phenomenon time and again in all the action shooting sports. When I was shooting Cowboy Action I once looked at a revolver that was “tuned” to the point it was unsafe. The hand was modified so much that it no longer would rotate the cylinder enough to lock into battery. The shooter was relying on the inertia of the cylinder to run it far enough to lock up. She insisted this was necessary to win the match and that the guy who modified the gun was “one of the best.” I made sure to stay behind a barricade when she was shooting.
I also saw a lot of “short stroke” jobs on rifles that were now capable of firing out of battery. For the record, that’s a very dangerous situation. I have not shot CAS in a while so I don’t know if it is still going on, but back then a lot of people were messing with their guns to the point of making them unsafe.
I see it in USPSA all the time as well, shooters who just can’t leave well enough alone and keep tweaking their pistols, thinking that more work with a Dremel will help them win. You can identify them by the blue language smoking the air around them as they clear jam after jam while the timer marches on.
I am not saying that we need to stop modifying competition guns. That’s where innovation is born and sometimes, in fact often, it can improve the function and speed of the firearm. But use a little common sense. Just because the other guy is doing it does not make it right. Time and time again I see 3-gun shooters at big matches with firearms that will not run, often due to ill-advised modifications. I don’t understand it. That’s one thing you have total control over, so why not make sure the guns will run 100% before the match. Having your buddy modify the gun two days before will not make you good enough to win, but if the gun fails to run, it guarantees you will lose.
I think Pat Kelley is right when he says “the best accessory for your competition gun is ammo.” The best modification you can make is worn parts. The more you practice, the better you will shoot.
At the 2011 Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-gun match I listened to one competitor as he explained to another an elaborate and complicated process of milling parts and pieces on the operating system for the Benelli shotgun.
“If you do all that it will run without a hitch,” he smugly finished.
The other guy looked at him like he had two heads and said, “Mine runs without a hitch right now, why on earth would I want to mess with that?”
I’m with that guy!
Give me a reliable gun anytime.