When it comes to shotguns, most clone guns are copies of the Remington 870 or Mossberg 500, or similar designs that sprang from the Remington 31 pump-action shotgun. A very few are based on the High Standard Flite King. When I first saw the Stevens pump-action shotgun, I didn’t quite get the primogenitor.
A look at the bolt assured me this shotgun is a copy of the Winchester 1200/1300 shotgun. The Stevens 320 is not just a copy of the out of production Winchester, it is a very good copy with good fit, finish, and attention to detail. Despite fair pricing, the Winchester series did not survive competition from the big guys at Mossberg and Remington. That’s OK, because the 320 is an affordable alternative.
The Stevens 320 is offered in configurations as a sporting gun with a standard 28-inch barrel. The home defense versions are the subject of this report. Many of these shotguns are available for less than $250. Even the versions with a ghost ring rear sight and fiber-optic front sight is less than $300.
While the Stevens-branded import shotgun is an economy shotgun, it may be said to have everything needed in a defensive shotgun. There are several versions of the 18.5-inch barrel home defense pump-action shotgun, but all share the same action.
There are standard semi pistol grip, pistol grip, and even thumbhole stock options. The thumbhole stock looks odd at first, but when moving quickly and holding the shotgun with one hand, I found a credible option for home defense.
The Stevens 320 shotgun is a conventional pump action with a five-round tubular magazine. The standard shotgun features a brass bead front sight. This is all that is needed for most defensive encounters in the home or for use in area defense.
Each version features a generous forend that makes racking the action and controlling the shotgun fast and sure, for those who practice. The Stevens 320 features dual action bars. A carry over from the Winchester 1200 is a rotating four lug bolt head. This isn’t the easiest machining process, but it pays off in speed and rigidity.
The shotgun operates like any other pump action. The magazine is loaded with one shell at a time and the forend racked to loads shells. When you fire, the action unlocks, and you pump again. To unload the chamber or open the bolt from a cocked position, a bolt release is located near the trigger guard.
I suspect the decision to clone the Winchester 1200/1300 was based not only on the robust design but a reputation for smoothness. The 1200 was known as the Speed Pump for its smooth operation. Rapidity of fire comes quickly for those who practice.
In the past few years, pump-action shotguns from the major makers have suffered due to burgeoning demand during the pandemic and cost cutting. Remington was out of business for several months and some of the final run was not representative of Remington’s best work. I have examined several Mossberg 590 shotguns with a very stiff safety. The Stevens 320 is smoother than most.
In fact, it is as smooth as any vintage shotgun in the safe and smoother than most any of the modern economy-grade shotguns. There are no competitors in smoothness at this price point. So, the bedrock of the 320’s design is solid. After several years in service the reputation of the type seems watertight.
While the Stevens is smoother than most, the majority of the price-point guns are reliable. It is difficult to make a pump-action shotgun that doesn’t function well — even if it isn’t smooth. The choice will hinge on features.
The standard bead-sighted shotgun is a good choice. Advanced features and a tactical grade stock may cost a bit more. The stock is hollow, which means light, and it also has a hollow note when you tap it. Not exactly the key harmonic of the universe but sturdy enough for most uses.
A rubber recoil pad is a good choice. The pad gives enough to absorb some recoil. The stock is narrow, and the shotgun is light, so don’t look to run 12-gauge turkey loads or magnum buckshot.
Lean into the shotgun and keep a strong, braced stance when firing. A cross-bolt safety is located just ahead of the generous trigger guard. The bolt release is behind the trigger guard. I really like the treatment of the firing handle. Plenty of grip surface and abrasion on this one.
Likewise, the forend treatment is good. By the way, the forend is 2–3 inches longer than average. It works well in rapid manipulation and allows a shooter with long or short arms to obtain good purchase. The long the forend does not affect quickly loading the chamber with a single shell during speed loads.
I spent a good bit of time with the Ghost Ring sight version. The trigger is a typical shotgun trigger. It is smooth enough but not light. You don’t want a trigger to jump off the sear during recoil.
The trigger breaks at 6.75 pounds. Reset is audible. The rear sight is an excellent ghost ring/aperture design. If you are primarily a shotgun shooter, you may prefer a simple bead. A rifle shooter may prefer a ghost ring. For accurate placement past 15 yards, the ghost ring is preferred.
If you deploy slugs, this set up allows the shooter to properly sight the shotgun for slugs. All shotguns fire high or low with slugs and bead front sights. Usually, it is only an inch or two. The Stevens 320 allows fine tuning for slug accuracy. A green fiber-optic front sight offers rapid sight acquisition.
The shotgun is easily disassembled. The magazine cap is unscrewed, the bolt retracted slightly, and the barrel is lifted out. Maintenance and storage are quite simple.
Operation and Handling
As expected, firing tests went well. The shotguns were fired with a wide range of birdshot shells including Fiocchi, Federal, and Winchester. I fired quickly at widely spaced targets and found the Stevens 320 to be a fast-handling shotgun. Although I usually favor a straight-stock shotgun, the thumb hole handled well. The pistol grip stock offered good leverage in carrying and in tactical movement.
I moved to buckshot firing Fiocchi buckshot in both #4 and #00 with good results. Recoil is there but controllable. Patterns were more than acceptable. I included a table of the performance of some of the buckshot loads tested.
Moving to the ghost ring shotgun, I also enjoyed perfect function. The shotgun handles very smoothly. It is interesting to note that the bead-sighted shotgun is faster to a centered hit at 5 to 10 yards. The ghost ring is superior at longer range.
Firing buckshot in the Stevens 320, I centered punched the X-ring with regularity. Moving to slugs the ghost ring sights really came into their own. Firing Hornady slugs at 25 yards, it took 4 slugs to get the sights looking where the slugs hit. Slugs landed on top of one another at this distance.
Curious, I took advantage of the 50-yard rifle range. This is a smooth-bore pump that was not intended for hunting. Just the same, you would not be helpless in substitute rifle shooting. At a long 50 yards and bracing on a range barricade structure, I put three Hornady American Gunner slugs into four inches. This dog will run!
Note: On any shotgun with a ghost ring/adjustable rear sight, check the rear sight and tighten it occasionally. Whether you have a Benelli, Mossberg, or Stevens shotgun, recoil occasionally works them lose.
Action type: Pump-action shotgun
Gauge: 12 with a 3-inch chamber
Capacity: 5+1 (2.75-inch shotshells)
Barrel length: 18.5 inches
Buttstock: Black polymer with pistol grip
Sights: Bead front or ghost-ring rear; winged, fiber-optic front
Trigger pull weight: 6.75 and 7.1 pounds (two test samples)
Length: 38.25 inches
Weight: 6 pounds, 14 ounces — 7 pounds with the ghost ring gun
Shotgun Buckshot Testing
Shotguns are individuals as far as patterns go. Since I am adding this shotgun to my battery as a truck and emergency gun, I elected to test it with several defense loads (all buckshot). As an avid bird hunter in my youth, I autopsied hundreds of doves, quail, and more than a few rabbits and squirrels. After all, you don’t want to bite down on #7 ½ or #8 shot.
Most often the pellets — it only takes a few to humanely kill a fowl — were found just far enough into the body for a humane kill. This isn’t the type of performance needed for a dangerous quadruped or biped. I use buckshot for defense. While #00 is the safe route, some of the other sizes have merit. I prefer a tight pattern; others prefer a larger pattern against running targets.
The following chart shows my results with the Stevens 320 and a variety of shells. At typical home defense range, all should be effective. Even the #4 buck with its wide pattern had a tight center with 8–12 pellets in a group half the size of the total measured group.
Pattern Testing 10 Yards
Velocity recorded with a RCBS Chrono, backed up by a Competition Electronics Chrono for validity.
|Winchester #4 buck 27 pellets||1,141||16 x 12|
|Hornady #4 Varmint Express 24 pellets||1,222||13 x 11|
|Remington #1 buck 12 pellets||1,099||9 x 10.5|
|Remington Managed Recoil #00 8 pellets||1,144||2.5 x 5|
|Hornady American Gunner #00 8 pellets||1,230||4 x 6|
|Sellier & Bellot #00 9 pellets||1,029||15 x 12|
I like the value of the Stevens shotgun, but more so, I like the performance. Reliability and function can never be compromised. The Stevens 320 is a great shotgun for the money. As for specific choice… I would not feel particularly limited by a bead front sight. On the other hand, the thumbhole hole, which limited recoil in the opinion of some shooters, isn’t something I am used to. The pistol grip shotgun and ghost ring are my first choice.
What do you require in a defensive shotgun? What pattern testing have you done with your shotgun? Share your answers in the comment section.
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