The Stevens S1200, the company's first autoloader, performs under pressure and is attainable by the masses.
It was a hot summer morning when I joined a gang of gun industry compadres at a backyard shooting range to prepare for a day of fast-paced wingshooting. Our six-man crew gathered around a picnic table full of clay pigeons, shotguns and ammo to burn. We would warm up on clays flung from a Champion WheelyBird trap before heading to a nearby dairy farm to help with a real pigeon problem. However, the core of our mission that day was to test the new Stevens S1200. We uncased four of the hungry 12-gauge autoloaders and fed them until our supply of clays turned to dust.
Inside the S1200
Before we headed down the road to pound pigeons, I sat down with J.J. Reich, communications manager for Stevens, to get some insider details about the S1200.
Q. What prompted Stevens to bring this new autoloader to the market?
A. We wanted to expand the depth of our shotgun line by offering shooters more options in actions and provide a greater variety within each family. Stevens has a proven stable of field and security shotguns, plus a popular youth model introduced just last year. Adding a series of semi-automatics to the roster gives shooters even more choices that are equally at home busting clays on the range or helping you enjoy banner days in the field.
Q. How diverse is the S1200 line?
A. There are five different models in all, providing options in barrel lengths from 26 to 28 inches; black synthetic and walnut stocks; and two full-gun Mossy Oak camo patterns—Shadow Grass Blades and Bottomland. This kind of variety gives our customers the chance to choose the perfect combination for their style of shooting.
A. There’s nothing unique about our inertia system. What I will say is the S1200 is loaded with amenities that serious shooters will appreciate and at a highly competitive price point.
Q. What enables Stevens to keep the price of the S1200 so reasonable?
A. Like other Stevens shotguns, the new S1200 is crafted by trusted overseas suppliers who work tirelessly with us to provide great quality at an affordable price. Such a partnership helps us provide the kind of performance shooters have come to expect without cutting corners to keep costs down.
Q. Are there plans to expand the S1200 line?
A. Yes, we’re working toward releasing a few 20-gauge options (S1220) for 2017.
The S1200 is built with a 3-inch chamber to accommodate 2.75-inch (5+1 capacity) or 3-inch (4+1 capacity) shells. It weighs 6.6 pounds with a 14.25-inch length of pull. The receiver is made of lightweight aluminum. A carbon-steel barrel sports a front metal bead sight that sits on a ventilated rib. It accepts the Beretta Mobilchoke System, which offers a full spectrum of task-specific choke constrictions; the S1200 comes with five popular options: cylinder, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified and full. Prices range from $573 for the utilitarian black synthetic models up to $685 if you demand the more classic walnut stock, with camo models in between at $629.
Running the Gun
Our pigeon-hunting posse jumped into a couple of pickup trucks and rode into cattle country. As we pulled into the driveway of a farmyard, flocks of pigeons circled the barn overhead. It was a target-rich environment, well suited for our field test of the S1200.
There’s no limit on pigeons, so the first thing we did was remove the plug from our guns. The configuration of a plug might seem like a small detail, but if you’re jumping between waterfowl and upland birds with one all-purpose scattergun, a plug can become a pain in the rear. Unlike most shotgun manufacturers, Stevens really nailed it with the plug placement in the S1200. Unscrew the forearm cap and the plug pulls out effortlessly—no worries about a flying magazine tube spring or extra steps to access it.
We had a variety of Federal Premium cartridges with us for testing purposes. The S1200 smoothly cycled 3-inch Black Cloud steel and 2.75-inch Wing-Shok lead upland loads, knocking down dirty birds by the dozens. The guns shouldered comfortably, balanced well and smoothly swung through the avian acrobats.
In basic terms, an inertial autoloader cycles rounds with the aid of a tightly wound spring that compresses upon recoil, which forces the bolt rearward to eject the spent shell and serve up a fresh one. Benelli, Franchi, Beretta and Stoeger use this system, whereas Remington, Mossberg, Winchester and others use gas-operated systems.
The primary benefit of inertial autoloaders is that they run cleaner than gas guns, but generally this comes with a noticeably heavier dose of felt recoil. A proper grip and mount will do wonders for any recoil-sensitive shooter. I’ll never pretend to be a tough guy. Recoil sucks. After firing a couple hundred rounds through the S1200—at least half of which were magnum loads—I can say it’s certainly harder hitting than most gas guns I’ve handled, but it’s not overpowering by any means.
Felt recoil aside, there is another downside to running an inertial semi-auto: It won’t reliably cycle the little guys. A light, low-brass cartridge doesn’t generate a big enough of a bang to work the action. The S1200 didn’t escape this fault, as it was totally incapable of running tiny target loads. This is a standard issue for any inertia-driven shotgun, and for most shooters it’s not a concern because the application of shooting such light loads is pretty limited.
There’s one other literal chink in the armor of the S1200: All of our test models that wore a camo finish started to exhibit paint loss after minimal abuse. When we pointed this out to Reich, he immediately and urgently took note and passed the word on to Stevens’ production team. Hopefully this weak link in the manufacturing process can be strengthened. If this is a concern, one might opt for the rugged and gentlemanly walnut-stocked, blued-barrel version of this shotgun.
As a whole, the S1200 is a solid performer at a price point that’s difficult for a budget-conscious shooter to ignore. It’s a practical performer that won’t make you cry if it gets bumped or bruised.
Gauge: 12 ga.
Barrel: 26 or 28 in.
Barrel Material: Carbon steel
Barrel Finish: Matte
Overall Length: 47.25 or 49.25 in.
Weight: 6.8 or 6.9 lbs.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the December 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.