The Stevens shotgun carries an old-time name once found on frugal field-grade shotguns. The 320 shotgun is an affordable home-defense gun that makes sense for many users. A shotgun for home defense is easier to use quickly than a handgun since it has a natural point and is very powerful. Practically any standard 12-gauge loading has four times the energy of common handgun cartridges.
Designed for reliability and economical operation, the Stevens 320 features the traditional lines of an American pump; Savage imports it from China. The 320 is also available in a sporting configuration, although the home-defense shotgun is of primary interest to us. The 320 features a pump-action, side ejection and tubular magazine under the barrel. The stock is the pistol-grip configuration. Since you must handle a personal defense shotgun in close quarters, this design makes sense. You must carefully aim the shotgun at close range, as the pattern does not spread to a useful degree until 10 yards or so. The design of the Stevens 320, then, is ideal for general defense use.
The Stevens is a utility shotgun—no doubt about that. The finish is matte black, and the stock and fore end are black as well. The front bead sight is easy to pick up in rapid-fire testing, and the hit probability rated high. Oftentimes, it is recommended for the home defender who does not practice much to use a .410 bore or 20-gauge shotgun. There is some sense in this; however, the gauge is not a weight or dimension since a light 20 gauge will kick as much as a heavy 12 gauge. Lighter weight negates the advantages of a smaller gauge. The Stevens 320 weighs more than 7.5 pounds, a good weight for comfortable practice and controlling 12-gauge recoil.
The Savage locks up tight. The four-lug bolt extension helps this, I am certain. The safety is at the front of the trigger guard and is not difficult to manipulate. The Savage is smooth, aided by dual-action bars. Trigger compression, according to the RCBS registering trigger pull gauge, is 6.8 pounds.
To disassemble the shotgun:
- Unscrew the magazine end cap.
- Move the barrel forward and off the magazine tube.
That is all that is required for routine maintenance. The finish needs a little wipe down from time to time, and the bolt, rails and rail guides need lubrication. The pump shotgun will survive many hours riding in the trunk or in a gun safe—neglected or ignored— and come up shooting.
For more years than I care to remember, when beginning a firing evaluation of a shotgun, I have used light loads first. This allows the testing to proceed based on smoothness, fit and feel without introducing the recoil and shock of full-power buckshot and slug loads. I took the Stevens shotgun to the range with an eclectic choice of both field loads and heavier defense loads. The field loads included Fiocchi’s excellent grade birdshot loadings.
Perhaps wasted on the open choke Stevens’ shotgun, as this is not a fowling piece, the recoil was light, and the powder burn was clean. The 320 would do for birds at close range in the bush or even rabbits. A strong advantage of the pump is that the action will function with any shell—whether a light or heavy load. I found the 320 smooth enough in operation: the pump action is smooth and similar to the “Speed Pump” action of the Winchester 1300. Twenty-five birdshot shells proved the Stevens 320 is reliable out of the box, with good handling and a smooth action.
I also tested a good number of the Fiocchi 2.75-inch reduced-recoil buckshot. When self-defense is the mission, you do not need full-power buckshot. Intended for use in taking down deer-size game at longer ranges, the full-power loads work best in a long-barrel, full-choke shotgun. For personal defense, a good, tight pattern at 5 to 10 yards is desirable. That is the best program for human adversaries, feral dogs and coyote around the homestead. The Fiocchi reduced-recoil buckshot offers lighter recoil and excellent patterning on target. These shells burn clean, feed smoothly and overall offer excellent performance. At 15 yards, the pattern centered on the point of aim with the bead front sight.
In slug loads, I was split as to the choice. The full-power slug load is accurate at longer range, and that is what slugs are about—increasing range. The reduced-recoil Fiocchi slug is also a good choice. However, I have fired the Aero slug at a long 50 yards in conventional shotguns and found it quite accurate. The drop is noticeably greater with reduced recoil slugs. Without starting a debate that has no conclusion, I can state that my experience indicates that slugs are more effective than buckshot, even at close range.
For home defense, the Fiocchi reduced-recoil slugs are an excellent choice. While buckshot gave a good pattern at 7 yards, three slugs cut a single, ragged hole. Considering I aimed all with the front bead sight, that is good shooting. The point of impact was just over the point of aim at 15 yards, and on the order of an inch or less, which is excellent sight regulation. If I were using the Stevens as a defense against dangerous animals, such as bear or big cats, I would load the full-power slug and am glad to have the choice.
The pistol grip stock makes for rapid handling. Even if you are forced to move quickly with one hand, the pistol grip offers good hand purchase. When firing the Stevens 320, the recoil seems better controlled with the pistol design as well. When all is said and done, the Stevens 320 is a good all-around shotgun for personal defense. The piece is affordable, reliable, fast handling and offers some comfort in a dangerous world.
I am glad to have this shotgun as my newest truck gun.
What are your thoughts on the 12-gauge Stevens 320? Is it part of your arsenal? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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