By Daniel McElrath, Shooting Illustrated
The Benelli M4 shotgun, the civilian version of the U.S. Military’s M1014 Joint Service Combat Shotgun, has been with us more than a decade and in that time has produced an excellent—though not unexpected—service record. In creating the shotgun, Benelli eschewed its own inertia recoil system and instead borrowed from the then-new Benelli R1 semi-auto rifle, using the ARGO (Auto Regulating Gas Operation) system. Using two stainless steel, short-stroke pistons located just ahead of the action, ARGO meant that the M4 was clean-running and, more importantly, able to instantly self-adjust to everything from standard 2.75-inch shells to 3-inch magnum loads.
The Benelli M4 shotgun’s adoption went a long way toward endorsing the reliability of semi-autos for tactical/self-defense use. The pump-action, by reason of simplicity, familiarity and reliability (not to mention affordability), has long dominated that market and continues to do so. However, the M4 represents an upgrade in performance that does not sacrifice all-important reliability. Oh, it may still require testing with light target or reduced-recoil loads, but it’s basically a sure thing with standard and/or magnum rounds.
Benelli’s latest iteration of this shotgun is an M4 offered with Cerakote coating of the external metalwork. In the interim since the introduction of the Benelli M4 shotgun, Cerakote has emerged as a premium firearms coating, one that the gun-buying public evidently considers a highly desirable feature. The coating incorporates super-hard ceramic particles and self-lubricating materials in its matrix. It clings tenaciously to its substrate, withstands both abrasion and saltwater corrosion better than virtually anything else out there and looks good doing it. Essentially, it allows you to get a cool-looking gun while extending the service life of your investment. For the M4, Benelli has chosen one of the most popular colors among firearm coatings, Flat Dark Earth. To borrow an overused expression, when it comes to guns, FDE is the new black.
Is a new finish that notable? Well, yes, in terms of what Cerakote brings to the table. A self-defense shotgun may sit unattended for months, yet has to be ready at a moment’s notice. Stainless steel is OK, but its light color can be a tactical liability. Cerakote offers corrosion protection in a color that is discreet and blends well with a number of environments. Teamed with the Benelli M4 shotgun’s black furniture, the color scheme is also handsome. Lastly, the coating should preserve or enhance the M4 Cerakote’s resale value.
Beyond the coating, the new M4 Cerakote continues to offer all of the M4’s lauded features. Its synthetic stock includes a thick, comfortable buttpad as well as recessed, ambidextrous sling-attachment points. A rubber-coated pistol grip provides leverage and quick, comfortable handling of the sizable shotgun.
The safety button located at the top rear of the trigger guard on the Benelli M4 shotgun is reversible for lefties. An exaggerated bolt handle reduces fumbling under stress. The bolt-release button is small enough to be unobtrusive, but large enough to find and activate without delay.
The iron sights are excellent. A rear ghost ring—adjustable for windage and elevation using no more than a shotshell rim—is protected by sturdy ears, as is the front post. The front and rear sight combine in a three-dot pattern with tritium as an option.
In addition to the iron sights there is an M1913 rail section just forward of the rear sight, allowing the easy installation of optical sights or a laser. Just ahead of the handguard is a front attachment point for a sling.
Everything about the Benelli M4 shotgun is robust—a benefit of it being derived from a military arm.
In shooting, we noted that though the M4 is no lightweight, the leverage provided by the pistol grip made it adequately fast-handling. The 18.5-inch barrel that comes fitted with a Modified choke tube, is nearly as short as is legal. It’s compact enough to be nimble and overswing tends not to be a problem. The gun shoulders well and sight alignment is especially easy, with the ghost ring “disappearing” as it should, allowing you to focus on the front sight without claustrophobia or the sense that part of your vision is being obstructed.
The manual of arms for the Benelli M4 shotgun is a little quirky and takes some getting used to. The key is the cartridge drop lever, which must be mastered in order to be proficient with this scattergun. Essentially, the gun will not permit loading unless the action is cocked, the carrier obstructing access to the magazine. Once the action is cocked—and the bolt closed—load the magazine tube (the capacity is limited to five rounds by a blocker). You can then open the bolt, drop in an additional round and close the bolt, or hold in the cartridge drop lever while cycling the bolt and feed a shell from the magazine. If you don’t hold in the cartridge drop lever, no shotshell will be forthcoming from the magazine.
Reliability from a mixed bag of standard 2.75-inch and magnum 3-inch loads was flawless. We fired mostly buckshot, but some buck-n-ball, too. Felt recoil was very moderate with 2 3⁄4-inch loads, but 3-inchers still kicked unpleasantly, though maybe less so than in a pump gun. At 15 yards, the M4 consistently put all pellets inside the torso of a reduced-size silhouette target until the front sight eventually worked loose. We tightened it with pliers and accuracy was restored.
The Benelli M4 shotgun is an example of a proven product being improved. It is more weatherproof/corrosion-resistant and should have a longer service life and greater long-term value. And, if nothing else, it simply looks better. The price is, well, considerable. However, after more than a decade in military service, the underlying design has proven its worth.