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Best Benelli Semi-Auto Shotgun: M2 vs M3 vs M4

Looking for a Benelli semi-auto shotgun? We go over the differences between the M2, M3, and M4 variants. By the end, you'll know which one is best for you.

Italian gun makers make lots of cool guns, but for some reason, they excel at shotguns.

From beautiful double-barreled clay guns to tactical shotguns, the Italians know how to make good guns. 

Beretta 1301 Tactical Shooting
Beretta and Benelli both make excellent combat shotguns — like the Beretta 1301 Tactical pictured here.

Beretta and Benelli make the best combat shotguns by far.

This isn’t surprising since Beretta owns Benelli as well as Franchi and Stoeger, giving them a quality control chokehold over the Italian shotgun market. 

Benelli is mostly known for its semi-auto designs, specifically the M series. The M1/M2, the M3, and M4 are all fascinating and revolutionary designs.

Benelli M4 (4)
Benelli M4

What makes them so great? What makes them so different? 

Well, I’m glad you asked because we are going to be talking about it in-depth today. By the end, you’ll know which one might be the best one for you.

Table of Contents

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The HK Beginnings 

The Benelli inertia recoil system is actually best described as the HK recoil system. However, the system was created by Franchi, who designed and built the Heckler and Koch shotguns under contract.

To make things even more interesting, Franchi is owned by Beretta, who also owns Benelli. 

always sunny crazy gif
Me explaining to my normie friends how everyone owns everyone in the firearm industry

The HK 512 is a cool shotgun, but exceedingly rare. This gun was designed for tactical use, and apparently, the GSG 9 adopted them, as well as special police and military units in Spain, Portugal, and Austria. 

GSG9 circa 1972, note the HK 512 and the MP5s.

HK and Benelli seemingly had a great relationship, and HK imported and marked Benelli shotguns for import for quite some time.

It’s not uncommon to find Benelli M1, M2, and M3 models with HK markings.

Now that Beretta owns Benelli, though, the importation is easily taken care of by the massive Italian gunmaker. 

Inertia vs. Gas 

Benelli made their bread and butter on their rotating bolt inertia-driven designs. These shotguns, like the M1, M2, and M3, proved to be reliable, fast cycling, and clean.

Benelli M2 (3)
Benelli

Better yet, the system proved to be more reliable and simpler to produce than the old Browning long recoil design used in guns like the Browning A5. 

Benelli only stepped out of the inertia-driven box to produce the famed M4, which became the Marine Corps M1014 Joint Service Shotgun.

Benelli M4 Thunder Ranch
Benelli M4

The M4 is Benelli’s gas-powered gun that uses the ARGO system. 

There are pros and cons to both systems when it comes to semi-auto shotguns. 

Inertia-Driven

The inertia system works in a way that’s simple but complicated to explain.

Benelli didn’t invent the inertia system, a man named Carl Axel Theodor Sjogren did in 1900. He created about 5,000 semi-auto inertia-driven shotguns and was moderately successful. 

sjogren shotgun
Sjogren’s shotgun

Benelli uses the same principle but a simpler and more robust recoil system. Inside the bolt is a very strong spring called the inertia spring. When the gun fires, it recoils, causing all the fixed parts of the gun to move rearward.

The bolt and inertia spring are basically free-floating and therefore stay put initially.

The difference in motion between the bolt and spring and the rest of the gun causes this super-strong spring to compress between the rear of the bolt and the bolt head. 

Benelli M2 (4)
Benelli M2

After the shot leaves the barrel, the recoil force begins to dissipate. The spring is released because the spring is so strong the power of it rebounding causes the bolt body to unlock the rotating bolt head and throw the bolt rearwards. 

This ejects the spent shell and recocks the gun’s hammer. The bolt then meets a recoil spring that sends the bolt back forward, and on its way, it picks up the next round and locks the bolt into the barrel. 

This all happens faster than you can possibly perceive. 

Why Go Inertia? 

Shotguns are best when they are lightweight and quick to action, and if you want a light shotgun that swings easily and quickly, then inertia guns are for you.

Inertia guns like the M2 are more than a pound lighter than the M4 when you compare similar models. 

Inertia guns are great for waterfowling hunting and shooting clay birds because they are so dang light. Better yet, another reason to love inertia guns is how little maintenance they need.

There are no ports, and all gas is expelled out of the barrel. This means you can shoot and shoot and shoot, and your inertia gun will keep running like a clock. 

The downsides to inertia guns are few but should be noted. First, they are sensitive to weight changes. When you change the weight of a gun, you change the way it recoils. 

Trijicon-ACOG-648-GIGACOG
Don’t do this to your inertia shotguns

When a gun relies on recoil to operate, you have to be careful about weighing it down with optics and accessories.

Your average red dot and side-saddle aren’t going to mess it up, but I’m sure if you kept adding weight, you’d find the spot eventually. 

Also, inertia guns tend to be a little rougher recoil-wise. Still better than a pump-action, but a little heartier than a gas-operated gun. 

Gas Guns

The Benelli M4 doesn’t use a standard gas system but uses the ARGO system. This gas-powered system was created by Benelli for the Marine Corps. ARGO stands for Auto Regulating, Gas Operated. 

Benelli M4 ARGO
Benelli M4 ARGO

The ARGO is a short-stroke, dual gas piston design. When the weapon is fired, gas is created by the exploding gun powder.

This gas propels the shot downrange, and a little is bled off to operate the shotgun. 

A gas port feeds gas to the pistons, which cycles rearward and has direct contact with the bolt. They throw the bolt rearward and eject the fired round and cock the hammer.

In the end, it meets a recoil spring and is sent back forward, loading the next round and returning to battery. 

Going Gas Powered 

Gas-powered guns offer less recoil and a fast cycling design. You can get several shots on target very quickly with minimal effort. Gas guns also work with a lot of different loads. 

This means lighter loads are more likely to cycle with fewer issues. You are also going to get less recoil that gets noticeably more comfortable with heavy-hitting slugs.

The ARGO system, in particular, does an excellent job of reducing recoil. 

Also, these guns can be weighed down quite a bit and will keep running. Add on your favorite red dot, side saddle, flashlight, sling, and the kitchen sink, and the gun will still run. 

Benelli M4 Thunder Ranch
Benelli M4

The downsides are that gas guns can be heavier. Benelli does a good job of eliminating heavy linkages and other parts to reduce weight, but even their efforts give you an ultimately heavier gun. 

Also, a gas gun requires more maintenance than an inertia gun. Again, Benelli’s ARGO system is much cleaner than most gas systems and requires less maintenance than most gas guns.

Benelli M4 Handguard

However, setting a Benelli M2 beside a Benelli M4 and I’m betting the Benelli M4 chokes first. 

It’s likely not going to choke until you are into the thousands of rounds, but it will eventually. 

M2 vs. M3 vs. M4

Now that we know the biggest differences between the different Benelli operating systems we can discuss the actual guns.

This means we are talking about the M2, M3, and M4. Now you may be asking what about the M1? 

Benelli M1 Super 90
Benelli M1 Super 90, Rock Island Auction Company

The M1 is still a good gun, and if you find a cheap one, snatch it up. However, the M2 has replaced the M1 as their primary inertia-driven semi-auto shotgun meaning the M1 is no longer produced by Benelli. 

The M2 

This series is likely the most popular of the Benelli series of shotguns. The M2 also comes in the widest variety of configurations.

Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15 (1)
A solid 3-Gun set up featuring the Benelli M2, CZ75, and AR-15

It comes in the tactical model we all know and love, but also comes in a Field model, a Field Rifle Slug gun, a 3-Gun model, a Turkey Performance shop, and a Waterfowl model. 

Within all these models, you get a wide variety of different finishes and 20-gauge and 12-gauge calibers. The M2 is inertia-driven and a fantastic shotgun. 

They are quite popular for 3-Gun in a variety of configurations. And it was the shotgun of choice for John Wick in John Wick 3.

Not to mention, the Benelli pro team commonly cleans up the competition. 

Benelli M2 in John Wick 3

The Tactical model has three different configurations that include the standard with a pistol grip, the Comfortech with a recoil-reducing stock, and a standard model with a straight stock.

You can also choose between open rifle sights and ghost ring sights. 

Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15 (4)
3-Gun: Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15

The Benelli M2 is also the lightest of the Benelli shotguns and weighs only 6.7 pounds.

I believe shotguns should be nice and lightweight, and they are best when they are quick on target. Benelli hits it on the head with the M2 certainly gives shooters that advantage. 

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This series is also the most affordable and common of the Benelli shotguns. But don’t let price fool you. It’s still massively popular, and the price isn’t a reflection of lower quality.

The M3

The Benelli M3 is my favorite shotgun of all time. It might be the most capable and versatile shotgun on the market. And it’s one of the rare convertible shotguns.

Benelli M3
Benelli M3

A convertible shotgun is one that allows the user to swap between a semi-automatic action and a pump action. 

The benefit of the M3’s system is that you can use any shotgun round on the market. The pump-action mode allows it to cycle low recoiling rounds that won’t cycle in a semi-auto action.

This includes less-lethal rounds, as well as breaching rounds, low recoiling birdshot, flare rounds, and more. 

The M3 should best be thought of as a semi-auto shotgun with pump capability.

When it comes to being a fighting shotgun, the semi-auto mode should be the primary mode utilized. The pump action is reserved for those special rounds. 

Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun Shells

Also, if you gum the gun so bad it won’t function, then I guess pump-action could be handy. However, this is an inertia gun with a system almost identical to the M2, so it won’t gum up without outside influences.

The M3 only comes in a tactical configuration with a stock and pistol grip as well as ghost ring sights. This gun is most famously used in the film Heat, which is where I grew my affection for it. 

The Benelli M3 also gets lots of military love overseas — New Zealand, The UK, France, the Czech Republic, Canada, and many more use the weapon.

Benelli M3 NZDF
Benelli M3 with a shortened barrel in use with the NZDF

From a military and police perspective, the gun makes a lot of sense.

The Benelli M3 can be a little harder to find compared to the M2 and M4 and is right in the middle when it comes to price between the two. Also no optics rail. 

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The M4

Finally, we get an optic rail. The Benelli M4 is Benelli’s first gas gun, and it was purpose-built for the Marine Corps.

The reason Benelli went with a gas system is that the Marine Corps wanted the ability to toss on thermal and night vision optics. 

Benelli M1014 USMC
Benelli M1014 USMC

The Benelli M4 is one of the cleanest running and most reliable gas-operated shotguns on the market. It’s the heaviest shotgun in Benelli’s lineup, but still only weighs 7.8 pounds.

Configurations vary between fixed stocks with pistol grips and standard stocks. 

Benelli M4
Benelli M4

The sights and scope rail are identical to all guns. Its sights are very well done ghost ring sights while the standard anodized black is the most common the titanium Cerakoted H20 models and a desert camouflage model. 

The M4 is a ton of fun to shoot and incredibly smooth shooing. Recoil is quite comfortable, and the gun runs everything from light to heavy loads without issue.

This includes reduced recoil Flitecontrol rounds. 

The M4 is being used by the Marines, the LAPD, and the militaries of the UK, Australia, France, South Korea, and many more. It’s also the chosen weapon of John Wick in John Wick 2, and I think that bears mentioning. 

Downside: it’s also the most expensive of the Benelli Shotguns. But it’s an excellent weapon and worth the price from a heavy user perspective. 

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Want to know more about the M4? Check out our full review or watch the video review below.

Conclusion

You may consider the Beretta 1301 the best tactical shotgun, or maybe you hate semis and stick to pumps, but I bet you’ll also admit the Benellis are fine guns. 

Even the Nova is a fantastic pump action with a forward-thinking design. Benelli just knows shotguns and knows them well.

Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15 (2)
Benelli M2, CZ75, AR-15

We can’t say the same about semi-auto rifles, but they make a darn good shotgun. 

What say, you fine folks? Like Benellis? Love a particular model? Let us know in the comments! For a ton more info about shotguns and the best loads to run, take a look at these articles also:

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20 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    David Nelsen

    In no particular order: Browning auto 5 light, Remington 870, BENELLI M2 and REMINGTON TAC 13. M2 pistol grip with Ghost sights and TAC 13, makes LARGE GRINS. Auto 5 light and 870 cover bird hunting. The best of all worlds.

    January 31, 2022 2:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael David Miller

    I have an M2, field grade, not really pretty, but it does shoot very well. Have never had any issues with a variety of different shells.

    January 30, 2022 4:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    4eyesNshakey

    Just purchased an M4. I don't know much about guns but I think I'll have a lot of fun learning on this one. Any help is much appreciated.

    October 5, 2021 3:05 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greck Cleggers

    Why do you need a gas system for thermal optics? why can't you mount thermals on inertia systems?

    "The reason Benelli went with a gas system is that the Marine Corps wanted the ability to toss on thermal and night vision optics."

    I don't understand this part.

    March 22, 2021 6:01 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Richard J. Purdes

      Weight of the optics the Marines anticipated using, but have not so far, it appears. Weight can have a negative effect on the inertia system alone. Frankly, a shotgun with optical sights makes little sense to me as it is such a close-range gun. To me, speed is of utmost importance close up.

      March 29, 2021 9:14 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      EJ Markert

      Thermal and NOD’s combined with mounts usually weigh between 1-1.5lbs.

      July 20, 2021 7:16 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mike Berger

      The inertia system passes a lot of heat out of the muzzle and would flood thermal and infrared optics.

      January 30, 2022 6:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    TZH

    The Benelli M3T (top folder) was my very first firearm back in 2010. Got it for a fraction of the price from a family friend. Its still a favorite in our collection. I had to remove that clamp that holds the barrel and magazine tube coz when I shoot it a bunch the clamp slides out and pinches the mag tube and sometimes stops a shotgun shell from coming out. So ditching that clamp got rid of the problem. Its an ass kicker of a firearm and there's hardly any reviews on it. Thank you for putting this article together!

    May 6, 2020 12:57 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jarnathan

    Is the M4 ideal for quad-loading? I know the M2 is great for that, but I don't like the way it looks lol. I'm weird like that.

    March 31, 2020 7:21 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jacob H.

    The Benelli Supernova has been my family's favorite pump-action gun for nearly 20 years now. Heavy, but reliable and easy on the shoulder. I'll take a Benelli any day, if I got the cash.

    March 31, 2020 8:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Marvin

    Great article!! I’ve always wanted to buy a firearm, but living in NYC it’s almost impossible to get one. I recently moved to Long Island and I just bought my first firearm. It’s a Beretta 1301 tactical. I haven’t Seen that many videos or arrivals online on it and haven’t been been to shoot it as we are all in quarantine and the gun ranges near me are all closed. Been looking online to do some upgrades to this shotgun. Right now I’m looking at the MAGPUL - MOSSBERG 500 SGA BUTTSTOCK & M-LOK FOREND KIT and the Aridus Quick Detach Carrier. Any advise on a good quality optics?
    Thanks

    March 31, 2020 7:16 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Vlad the Impulsive

    "You may consider the Beretta 1301 the best tactical shotgun"
    Yes. Yes I do.

    March 30, 2020 12:54 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    mauro

    Excelente artículo. Gracias.

    March 29, 2020 6:09 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Frank Lattanzio

    Enjoyed reading your Benelli shotgun article. If I knew you were writing the article in advance, I could have provided you with a photo of my H&K Benelli M-121 Military & Police shotgun which I purchased in 1982 one of the early imports. It was advertised as the fastest shooting shotgun at that time and it is fast and smooth. I do also own a Benelli M-4.

    March 29, 2020 5:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Eric

    Excellent writeup, I wanted a semi automatic shotgun and did lots of research before purchasing. As we all have limited budgets I’m glad I went with the mossberg 930 JM pro. It’s lightweight, incredibly low recoiling, holds 10 rounds and functions flawlessly for about 750 rounds between cleaning although jerry recommends 500. Best of all it saved me at least $1000 from these other semi automatic shotguns to buy other guns and ammo!

    March 29, 2020 4:27 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Shane Holt

      have you seen the 940 yet? i have searched everywhere, and cant find one. they started shipping in january.

      March 30, 2020 9:01 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        We got to shoot it at SHOT show! Very nice shotgun, VERY nice. We're in touch with Mossberg to get a T&E for a full review, but the ETA we were told was July... and that was before COVID-19 shut everything down so... it might be a while before we can get that done. But we're working on it!

        March 30, 2020 10:23 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jtrosse

    How about a comparison of the M4 to the 1301 Tac? Thanks

    March 29, 2020 4:24 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    J Harl

    Have a collection of Benellis and if it's good enough for Jon Wick, it's good enough for me

    March 29, 2020 4:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim Hovater

    Don't forget the 121 M1..

    March 29, 2020 3:58 pm
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