Added versatility part II: Carlson’s aftermarket replacement barrel for the Benelli Nova

Benelli Nova tactical with aimtech scope mount

A few months ago, I acquired an aftermarket barrel for my Benelli Nova Tactical that was manufactured by Carlson’s of Atwood, Kansas. The barrel is 18.5-inches in length and it arrived with a Carlson’s rifled choke tube installed. Although the Nova’s OEM smooth bore barrel with a fixed improved cylinder choke is surprisingly accurate with many types of slugs, I wanted a barrel for the gun that was threaded to accept choke tubes in order to make the gun a little more versatile, and hopefully a little more accurate with slugs than it already is.

My first attempt to test the Carlson’s barrel was a bust. It turned out that the front sight on the aftermarket barrel was too low to be compatible with the ghost ring rear sight on my gun. In order to try the barrel, I was going to need to install an optic.

Scoping the Nova

After a few months of scrimping and saving, I purchased an Aimtech saddle mount for the Nova, along with a BSA Deerhunter 2.5 power scope. In general, I’m not a huge fan of saddle scope mounts on shotguns as I tend to find them aesthetically unappealing. The Aimtech mount, however, blends nicely into my gun and does not get in the way during operation. The fact that the mount installs quickly without gunsmithing is an added bonus.

The scope, while not the most expensive on the market, sports a generous 6-inches of eye relief, which is perfect since I don’t want the eyepiece anywhere near my face when I touch off a heavy recoiling slug load for fear of ending a range session with a bloody ring around my right eye. So far the BSA Deerhunter has absorbed the recoil of approximately 50 slug rounds without showing any signs of damage.

Aimtech saddle mount on a benelli nova tactical close up

With the scope installed, I set out to finally see how the new barrel would shoot with a variety of ammo during two separate range sessions.

I limited the type of slug ammo I tried to nose-heavy designs such as Foster slugs and Brenekkes. Prior experience with rifled choke tubes has led me to conclude that modern sabot slugs will not stabilize out of a rifled tube and will keyhole into the target, if they find the target at all. While there may be some extant sabot slugs that shoot accurately out of a rifled tube, at $20 or more per box, finding the magic ammo would be a prohibitively expensive exercise.

At the range

My first range session was problematic. A winter storm that was on its way to the region was causing persistent winds that were sometimes gusting heavily. Not only does wind tend to blow targets off their stands, but shotgun slugs are very susceptible to wind drift due to their low velocity and large surface area. In spite of the gusting winds and temperatures in the low 20’s, I proceeded to shoot a series of 3-shot, 50-yard groups with the limited selection of ammo I had on hand. At the time of this article’s posting, the availability and selection of ammo at most retailers is still limited following the panic buying of 2013. This limited ammo availability reduced the variety of ammo I could try and also limited how many groups I could shoot with each type of ammo on hand.

Range session 1 results

All shots were fired from a bench rest at targets 50 yards away.

Remington Slugger: 2-3/4 inch, 1 ounce

Above: The 50 yard Remington Slugger group through the Carlson's barrel.

Above: The 50 yard Remington Slugger group through the Carlson’s barrel.

I expended most of my supply of Remington Sluggers just getting my scope dialed in. With a few rounds remaining, I fired a 50 yard group and wound up stringing all three shots along a horizontal line 4.5-inches long. Such a group is nothing to write home about, but is more than adequate for medium and large game hunting.

Winchester Rack Master: 2-3/4 inch, 1-1/8 ounce

Above: The 50 yard Winchester Rack Master group.

Above: The 50 yard Winchester Rack Master group.

Due to their higher velocity (1625 f/s advertised) the rack Masters impacted the target higher than the Remington Sluggers, with two rounds impacting within 1-1/2 inch of each other and the third hitting about 3-inches above the paper.

Brenekke K.O.: 2-3/4-inch, 1-ounce

Above: The 50 yard Brenekke K.O.  group.

Above: The 50 yard Brenekke K.O. group.

I just love Brenekke slugs as they seem to consistently shoot well out of any shotgun. Out of the Carlson’s barrel and rifled choke tube, the Brenekke K.O.s printed a neat triangle that was about 2-1/8 inches from end to end.

Range session 2 results

The only type of slug ammo I was able to acquire for my second range were 2-3/4 inch Winchester 1-ounce rifled slugs (once again due to locally limited ammo selection and availability).

Having neglected to bring the Nova’s OEM barrel during my first range trip, I made the purpose of the second trip to compare results yielded by the aftermarket barrel to those yielded by the original barrel. All rounds were fired from a bench rest. Photos of the two, 5-shot, 50-yard groups I fired are pasted below.

Above: The 50 yard group through the Carlson's barrel (left) compared to the 50 yard group through the original barrel. All slugs were Winchester 1-ounce 2.75" rifled slugs.

Above: The 50 yard group through the Carlson’s barrel (left) compared to the 50 yard group through the original barrel. All slugs were Winchester 1-ounce 2.75″ rifled slugs.

Interestingly, the Winchester rifled slugs shot more accurately out of the original OEM barrel than they did out of the Carlson’s barrel with the rifled choke tube in place. This was primarily due to a round that went wild out of the Carlson’s barrel and landed more than 5 inches away from where the other slugs impacted. The wild round may have been a result of shooter error.

Overall impressions so far

Since I have fired a relatively low number of rounds through the Carlson’s barrel, it would be unfair to judge the product’s potential with any degree of finality. At this point, the aftermarket barrel seems to yield accuracy that is basically on par with Nova’s original barrel. That said, it is possible that the Carlson’s barrel will come into its own after a longer break-in period, or upon finding a type of slug load with which it is particularly compatible. I will hopefully be able to post updates about the barrel’s performance as I have more opportunities to work with it. (1783)