For many of us, the very first firearm that was “ours” was a break-action single-shot shotgun in either .410 or 20 gauge. It was the perfect combination of simplicity, light weight and effectiveness for a young new hunter and I’m sure many of you still have that first single-shot tucked away somewhere. Sadly, when the Freedom Group bought up Marlin Firearms back in the late 2000’s they decided to discontinue the H&R break-action single-shot firearms – both the Handi-Rifles and the Pardner shotguns. This left a big void in the market for such firearms and prices on used examples are often higher than what they sold for new. Savage saw this vacancy in the market and saw it as a perfect match-up with the Stevens brand which has long been know for providing high quality yet economically priced utility-type firearms, and as such has launched their new Model 301 Series of break-action single-shot shotguns for 2017.
The new Stevens 301’s very much resemble the Brazilian-made break-action single-shots that used to be offered by Rossi, and like the old Rossi’s the Stevens has a safety lever on the left side of the receiver (more on this later). The 301’s are being made in China by the Sun City Manufacturing Company – the same company making the Stevens Model 320 pump-action shotguns. Presently they are being offered in three versions; 12 and 20-gauge with 28″ barrels, and .410 with a 26″ barrel. The latter is what I requested and received for this article.
My initial out-of-the-box impression of the Stevens 301 was quite good considering I had a lot of reservations about this new model given it’s country of origin. The finish is pretty thin and lack-luster and there were a few big scratches with bare metal showing through on the barrel, but that was really the only thing I found to complain about. The fitment of the furniture is excellent, everything functions smoothly as it should, it has a real brass bead front sight, and the trigger – while not great – wasn’t ungodly horrid.
The furniture is glass reinforced nylon and is very rigid. As you will see in the video a great deal of force is required to even get the slightest hint of flex out of it. The recoil pad is a nice soft rubber piece that should tame the recoil on the 12 and 20 gauge models nicely. The comb is fluted with 1.5″ of drop, while the drop at the heel is 2-5/8″.
The molded in checkering on the grip and forearm isn’t overly abrasive yet still offers plenty of traction. There is also a pair of styling lines molded into the furniture just above the checkered areas to dress up the looks a little.
The .410 gauge barrel is of the plain variety sans a vent rib and is chambered for 3″ shells. At the breech is fitted with a strong ejector while the muzzle end is threaded for Win-Choke choke tubes. A single Modified choke and stamped steel choke wrench are supplied from the factory.
Take-down is quite simple and intuitive on the Stevens 301. With the action closed and the hammer in the down position, depress the button on the end of the forearm and pull it away from the barrel. Next break the action open and lift the barrel rearward and upward off the hinge pin. Simply reverse to reassemble making note that you will need to depress the takedown button on the end of the forearm to get it to go back into the fully seated position.
MSRP for all three versions of the Stevens 301 is $173. Current online prices are ranging from just over $140 to just under $160 with the .410’s fetching the highest prices at this time.
For my field testing I gathered up a small assortment of different types of shells. For bird shot I chose two varieties from Remington – the 2.5″ #6 Game Loads and the 3″ Express XLR #4 loads. For slugs I went with Winchester’s 3″ Super X 1/4oz. Rifle Slugs, and for buckshot I went with some Federal Personal Defense 2.5″ #000 Buck with 4 pellets per shell. Last but not least I grabbed a box of Hornady’s Critical Defense Triple Defense 2.5″ which features a FTX bullet and two .35 caliber balls. Testing was done at 25 yards for all of the loads except the slugs which were shot at 50 yards.
As I found out during testing the Hornady loads aren’t intended to be fired through constricted bores, but rather cylinder or rifled bores. Hornady does not indicate this on the box or on their website, but the lack of rifling vains on the .41 caliber FTX bullet prevent it from being able to swedge down like a typical Foster-type slug in a constricted bore. This is why this load exhibited high pressure signs during my testing as you will see in the video.
With all but the slugs this particular Stevens 301 seemed to pattern about 4-6 inches below the point of aim at the 25 yard distance. Patterns for both varieties of bird shot looked good with no significantly large gaps. The low printing made breaking clays a challenge, but once I figured out just where to hold the shot patterns were plenty effective. The Buckshot patterned fairly good as well but consistently printed to the right side of the target. Not sure if that was me or the load to be honest. The Hornady Triple Defense didn’t do well at all, but given the above note regarding this load that’s understandable. The slugs grouped very well once I got used to trying to aim a slug gun with just a bead as it’s been 30+ years since I’ve done that.