July 13, 2020
The evolution of shotguns in the United States has seen fundamental changes in the past 80 or so years. While finely made side-by-sides and over-unders have their devotees, with few exceptions they have generally given way to repeaters—first pump guns and soon thereafter autoloaders. As early as 1928, Col. Charles Askins Sr. observed that American repeaters offered a “better gun value for the money” than “any other shotgun in the world.” As detailed in Don Zutz’s great book, Shotgunning—Trends in Transition, this evolution has had many interesting designs. From John M. Browning’s famous long-recoil action of the Auto-5 to the many gas-operated guns and the “inertia” actions of today, repeaters are immensely popular in the game fields and on the clays ranges.
Gas-operated semiautomatics have the potential to fit this “mostest for the leastest” paradigm. They offer features that make follow-up shots effortless and fast, and many can shoot a variety of loads interchangeably. But they can be finicky, and if the gun hiccups, it can be tough to fix in the field.
At the 2020 SHOT Show, I wandered into the Savage booth and was casually ogling the rifles when a bright young Savage design engineer named John Linscott buttonholed me and asked if I was familiar with Savage’s new shotgun. “New shotgun?” I stammered. “It’s totally new and innovative,” he continued, guiding me to a display wall with three variations of the new Renegauge autoloading shotgun.
Linscott proceeded to answer my questions, even if I didn’t ask, and filled my ears with all manner of technical details. The more he talked, the more interested I became in the Renegauge. Catchy name, too, I thought.
As I was about to leave, he said, “Let me show you how it works.” In about five seconds (okay, maybe it was 10 seconds), he had the forearm and barrel off (they came off as a unit), pulled the one-piece action bar out of the receiver, and showed me how precisely it was machined and how the parts were welded together and then chrome-plated. He made a point to say the new gun is made right here in the USA.
By then I was hooked, and soon after the show, I ordered a new Renegauge for this report. As soon as the gun arrived, I gave it a thorough thrashing on my home range. I’ll get to the shooting results in a minute, but first, let me tell you about this unique scattergun.
The Renegauge is available in three versions: Field, Waterfowl, and Turkey. From the get-go, Savage wanted to make sure the Renegauge would “fit” virtually all shooters and went to considerable lengths to accomplish this. Thus, features common to all three versions are a buttstock with three squishy recoil pads for length-of-pull adjustment and three inserts for comb height adjustments that are made of a proprietary gel that softens recoil to the shooter’s face. Also included is a shim kit that allows fine-tuning for cast on or off and for drop.
The result of this fastidious attention to detail is reminiscent of the term “eumatic” that was coined by English engineer G.T. Garwood. He was a prominent shotgun writer who went by the nom de plume of Gough Thomas. Eumatic combined the functional concept of ergonomics but also incorporated a psychological component of the user. In a nutshell, a eumatic device is a manually operated implement, especially a shotgun, that is totally correlated to the individual using it. (Do you suppose Savage engineers read Gough Thomas?)
All Renegauge versions come with flush-fitting choke tubes in Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full constrictions; and the Turkey model also comes with an extended Extra-Full choke tube. The 2-inch-long tubes are clearly marked as to the type of shot (lead, steel, or tungsten) that is suitable for use in them. Their constrictions are as follows: IC, 0.717; Mod., 0.705; and Full, 0.695 inch. The bore is the 12-gauge standard of 0.729 inch. The tubes are the Beretta/Benelli-style, so extra aftermarket specialty tubes are readily available. My gun is the Field version, and its steel barrel and aluminum receiver have a black matte finish. The crossbolt safety is located behind the trigger, and it works positively and with ease.
The barrel is fluted, which reduces weight by 9 percent and improves balance. The barrel has a Melonite finish that is hard and corrosion resistant. A carbon-steel ventilated rib is laser welded to the barrel, and the front sight is a highly visible red fiber optic. Barrel lengths are 26 or 28 inches on the Field and Waterfowl models and 24 inches on the Turkey. My gun has a 26-inch barrel.
All Renegauge shotguns have tough, lightweight synthetic stocks. The color of the Field gun’s stock and forearm is a medium gray, and it has molded-in gripping surfaces. The Waterfowl version is covered with Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo, and the Turkey version is offered in Mossy Oak Obsession or Mossy Oak Bottomlands camo. Sling swivel studs are provided fore and aft. As issued, the Renegauge magazine holds four rounds, and while a plastic plug to reduce magazine capacity is provided, it is not installed. Each gun comes in a very nice hard-plastic case that is TSA-approved for airline travel.
After the SHOT Show, I talked further with Linscott and Jessica Treglia, Savage’s senior brand manager, who filled me in on some elements and features of the Renegauge. The development of the Renegauge started when Savage took a fresh look at many gas-operated shotguns, found room for improvement in most of them, and eventually perfected a new take on this action type. The goal was a top-quality semiauto with total reliability and good ergonomics.
Starting with a clean sheet of paper, Savage engineers came up with a new gas system they call the Dual Regulating Inline Valve (D.R.I.V.) gas system. This was no flash in the pan. As the engineers worked on fine-tuning the D.R.I.V., they essentially reimagined the gas system common to semiautos. “We began working on the action in 2012,” Treglia said. “We kept getting close, but ‘close’ wasn’t good enough. Renegauge had to be perfect.” The new model debuted in January 2020.
The Renegauge is designed to work with a wide variety of loads without adjustment, and the gun is easy to use with the enlarged controls and trigger guard. Additionally, the operation of the action is very fast. Savage says that you can’t “outrun the trigger” waiting for the action to close.
The action bar assembly is a unit that we mortals would call the bolt proper, a bolt head, and the bar itself. All three parts are made of extremely hard steel, precision welded together, and then chrome-plated.
At ignition, expanding powder gases push the ejecta (shot and wad) down the barrel, and this pushes the bolt back and ejects the fired case. A strong return spring on the magazine tube then pushes the action bar assembly forward, picking up a fresh shell off the shell carrier, inserting it into the chamber, and locking the bolt into battery. All reciprocating parts, including the action bar and gas rings, have a super-slick hard chrome plating for wear resistance. This also helps keep the gun clean, for easier maintenance.
The rub with many semiautos is that if there’s too much gas, like with a hot magnum load, the action opens with tremendous force. This can place undue stress and wear and tear on action parts; limit serviceability and reliability; and increase felt recoil.
The converse of this scenario is that with a low-brass light load there may not be enough gas to cycle the action, turning it into a heavy single shot. Various methods have been developed to close or open the ports, as needed, but that is a less-than-precise approach.
Enter the patented D.R.I.V. The barrel has eight to 10 gas ports, depending on the barrel length, and they are staggered to prevent wad shaving. The dual D.R.I.V. ports are precisely sized for optimal reliability and relieve gas pressure simultaneously, so the action regulates energy with every shot. This is necessitated by the inherent variation in even the finest factory shotshells, to say nothing of haphazardly constructed handloads. This is not marketing hype. I have chronographed hundreds of factory-loaded and handloaded shotshells, and velocities typically vary all over the place.
With a low-brass light load, the Renegauge valves actually stay closed, as all of the powder gases are used to operate the action. However, as load power increases, the D.R.I.V. system removes more energy from a hot magnum load than it does from a light load and instantly siphons off just the right amount of gas to work the action, regardless of the load. Excess gas is vented out the front of the forearm. This process is precisely timed so that the excess gas escapes before it has a chance to slam the action back. As long as loads have at least one ounce of shot, they will have enough juice to work the gun.
Treglia also said that you can spend an afternoon on the range and the next morning in a duck blind without worrying whether switching from 1-ounce target loads to 3-inch hyper-velocity steel loads will affect functioning. I confirmed that in my tests.
The recoil sensation of the Renegauge is reduced by the D.R.I.V. gas action itself and by a “stock rod buffer” in the buttstock that further reduces recoil. The only similarity of this part to the buffer tube of an AR is that both are housed in the buttstock.
Okay, all this technical talk is fine and dandy, but the important thing is how well the gun shoots. In a nutshell, it shoots pretty darn well. The Renegauge is well balanced and handles nicely, and I am delighted to report that the recoil sensation is modest, except for the cannon-cracker loads, of course. Here’s another plus: The trigger pull is a delightful 4 pounds, 9.0 ounces, which is downright excellent for a shotgun.
I evaluated the Renegauge in three phases. Shotgun ammo varies a lot, and I like to know what they’re doing in my gun, so first I checked functioning and chronographed a variety of loads, ranging from a 7/8-ounce target load to 3-inch hyper-velocity steel ammo. The velocities of these loads were only slightly lower than those listed by their manufacturers, which is pretty much the norm. Rifle shooters are no doubt aghast at the (relatively) huge standard deviations of some of the shotshells. Sorry, folks, but that’s also the norm for shotshells.
All loads slithered through the Renegauge like mustard and custard except for the 7/8-ounce target load, but it isn’t supposed to work in this gun anyway. Just to be mean, I tried some of my 3/4- and 7/8-ounce ultra-light loads that I use in over-under shotguns. Most of the empties ejected, but as expected, they did not have enough oomph to cycle the action or lock the bolt back. All loads were fired in succession without any cleaning or other maintenance, and the Renegauge ran smoothly.
Second, I patterned the gun at 25 yards with a 1-ounce load of No. 7½ shot with the IC choke tube, and at 40 yards with Federal’s 3-inch turkey load with 1¾ ounces of No. 7 TSS shot through the Mod. tube. The 7½s were evenly distributed, maybe a tiny bit above the point of aim. I think that’s about right for a field gun. The turkey loads proved that any gobbler within range is gonna be belly up on a plate.
Third, I set up my Do All trap and shot a bunch of clay targets (still without cleaning the gun). There were no malfunctions, and whenever I centered the target with the red fiber-optic front sight, they broke convincingly. The great trigger pull and light recoil made shooting a treat.
Overall, I am very impressed with the new Renegauge. The trigger is a delight, and the recoil pad and soft comb really soak up recoil. The MSRPs—from $1,449 (Field) to $1,549 (Waterfowl and Turkey)—seem a bit high to me, but they are right in line with the prices of contemporary top-of-the-line autoloaders. With three versions, three barrel lengths, and three different finishes from which to choose, the Renegauge is by definition a eumatic alternative for a variety of shooting situations.
- Type: Gas-operated autoloader
- Gauge: 12, 3-in. chamber
- Magazine Capacity: 4 rounds
- Barrel: 24, 26 (as tested), 28 in.
- Overall Length: 47.5 in. (26-in. barrel)
- Weight, Empty: 7.85 lbs. (26-in. barrel)
- Stock: Synthetic
- Length of Pull: 14.25 in.
- Finish: Matte black (as tested), Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Mossy Oak Bottomlands, Mossy Oak Obsession
- Sights: Red fiber-optic front
- Safety: Crossbolt
- Trigger: 4.6-lb. pull (as tested)
- MSRP: $1,449 (black); $1,549 (camo)
- Manufacturer: Savage Arms, savagearms.com