Not everyone can afford to drop $800 or more on a shotgun. This means more budget friendly options in the $150 to $300 range are hot ticket items. The Stevens 320 line falls into this category.
But what’s the trade off for such an affordable shotgun? The answer is reliability issues. The 320 line has had numerous problems in terms of durability and reliability. Let’s find out what those are before you consider purchasing it.
5 Problems You Should Know
The Stevens 320 will sometimes double feed, eject a shell when the lifter is up, and sometimes will be able to be pumped without activating the Action Release. Additional issues include extractor breakages and the low durability of the screws and gun.
Most of these are found on the Security model of the Stevens 320. Let’s look at the different styles of 320 and go over the issues that pop up for them.
Models and Issues
To fully understand the limitations and issues of the Stevens 320 we first have to know what it is and where it comes from.
The Stevens line is a subdivision of the company Savage Arms. While Savage is known for their affordable bolt-action rifles, their affordable shotgun line falls directly under the Stevens name.
These budget shotguns are manufactured in China and are derived from the Winchester 1300 “Speed Pump” shotgun. This means that the shotgun has a tendency to self-eject shells when fired.
This is achieved by the motion of the bolt. When at rest, the bolt has some backwards play to it. This makes it easier to pump the shotgun and chamber another round. Individuals without experience with the “Speed Pump” design might misinterpret this as a malfunction.
However if the barrel is not properly seated this play might be enough to cause light strikes or failure to fire situations. This comes down to assembly and barrel fitting for the most part.
While derived from the Winchester 1300, the Stevens 320 line is its own animal. It comes in a wide variety of styles. All of them are pump-action and the major differences outside of color come down to the barrel length, the sights, and the type of stock.
There are two major groups of Steven 320s. The 320 Field Grade and the 320 Security. There is a singular outlier known as the 320 Turkey. The Turkey’s major difference is that it comes with a thumb-through pistol grip stock and is pre-setup for turkey hunts.
The other styles are more uniform in their designs. All of them are in 12 or 20 gauge with a 5+1 capacity. They have dual slide bars for the pump and a rotary bolt in the chamber. Now let’s get to the differences.
320 Field Grade
The 320 Field Grade is along the lines of your standard shotgun. It has a semi-pistol grip stock and synthetic furniture.
The primary style of the Field Grade gun features a 26 or 28 inch long barrel and bead sights. Some variations come pre-drilled and tapped for mounting scopes to your shotgun. Others feature a fiber optic front sight. Some come with chokes, while others do not.
There are 12 and 20 gauge versions of the 320 Field Grade. The Field Grade Compact is different in that it features a 22 inch barrel and is geared toward smaller shooters.
While there are numerous camouflage color options that technically change the style of the Field Grade, these do not change the performance of the gun while the other specialty features do.
The last major iteration of a Field Grade 320 is the Combo version. This 320 comes with a 28 inch barrel and an 18.5 inch Security barrel. This is meant to allow you to easily swap out the barrels for different roles as you see fit.
The Stevens 320 Security has the most functional variations of the 320 line. The major differences come in the grip, the sights, and whether there is a heat shield.
All Security models have an 18.5 inch barrel, clearly designed for more tactical or home defense uses. As such it does not have the wide variety of colors that the Field Grade line has.
There are three stock options for the Security line. A more aggressive semi-pistol grip, a pistol grip, and a thumb-through pistol grip. They make the Security look different but they are all still part of the 320 line.
The next major differences are the sights. The basic style of the Security line features a standard bead sight. The model that features a heat shield also comes with a standard bead sight but also features a one piece rail for mounting red dot sights.
This rail indicates that the bead sight is there as a backup or to make production easier without making an entirely new barrel/sight combination.
The final iteration of the Security sights are a set of ghost ring sights. They feature a rear aperture and a fiber optic front post.
Many reports of malfunctions tend to come from Security models manufactured before 2014 with fewer reports occurring after that date.
Early manufacture dates on Steven 320 shotguns might indicate a higher chance of failures, but this is not a guarantee.
This brings us to the five major problems that the Stevens 320 experiences.
1. Double Feeding
For those who might not know what a double feed is, this malfunction tries to feed multiple shells or rounds into the chamber.
In regards to the Stevens 320 models this occurs when the shell lifter tries to feed a shell into the chamber but is immediately stopped by the next shell in the magazine. Like in this example.
This clearly causes the gun to lock up and requires some effort to unstick. The process involves pushing the shell back into the magazine tube after releasing it from the shell lifter. The tolerances on these parts are off just enough to allow a double feed situation.
While double feeding is not the worst possible malfunction, the double feeding of the shell lifter indicates a significant problem in the tolerances of this particular design.
This comes down to the shell stop and the shell interrupter. During shooting the pin that holds these two parts in place can become loose. This is because the shell stop and interrupter are attached to the trigger assembly and secured by a single screw.
As this screw comes un-done, the timing will change. Which leads to the double feeding issue, among other feeding malfunctions.
In order to fix this problem, remove the trigger assembly. Check to see if there is any side-to-side movement at the interrupter and shell stop. If there is, locate the screw on the left-hand side of the assembly and tighten it if it is loose.
If the screw loosens again or you want to avoid having to check it for a while, remove the screw, clean the hole and screw, and apply blue loctite to the screw. Once it is re-inserted and setup, the screw should be much more secure.
Be sure to take the gun to the range and check to see if any other malfunctions occur over the next 100 or so rounds to ensure it functions properly.
2. Other Feeding issues
If you think that the double feeding issues are the only ones being caused but the shell stop and interrupter there are more problems related to it.
If you are not experiencing a double feed but are still experiencing issues you should check the interrupter and shell stop for the tell tale slop.
Other feeding issues connected to these parts are improper ejection and improper seating.
The improper ejection occurs when a shell is ejected from the magazine when the lifter is up. This means the magazine is feeding the ammunition out but there is nothing to catch it.
While this is not necessarily dangerous in and of itself, it is still a concern to have the gun essentially unload itself at random. This can be dangerous in hunting and self defense scenarios when multiple shells are needed.
The other feeding issue is that the shells are not properly seated in the lifter. This causes the gun to not chamber the next shell properly, sometimes resulting in a failure-to-feed malfunction.
Malfunctions will eventually happen on firearms if they are not properly cleaned. But so many malfunctions related to the basic setup of the 320’s internals is cause for concern.
If the timing can be so easily diverted merely by firing the gun, there are higher likelihoods of other more serious problems with the rest of the system.
3. Ejector breakage
Related to these feeding issues are the ejection issues. While there are problems getting new ammunition from the magazine to the chamber there are also problems with ejecting spent shells.
The ejector is a bent piece of steel with a smaller piece screwed to it. It also features an ejector pin, a spring, and an ejector retainer.
If these parts are damaged, the gun will not eject properly and require you to remove the shell by hand in what will most likely be a stove-pipe malfunction. This ejector design is not as robust as others.
If this concerns you, or you want a stronger and more positive ejection it would be better to look at another shotgun style. If you want to look at how the 320’s ejector can malfunction check out this video.
4. Low durability/Loosening Screws
By now you might have noticed a common theme. Low-durability, higher maintenance for a cheaper firearm, and a number of tolerance issues that keep stacking up.
On top of all this there is a concern over the actual durability of the shotgun itself.
The firing of a gun will wear on it over time. This is just a natural result of controlling an explosion with machinery. The natural effort of metal wearing against metal means that every gun has a certain life expectancy.
Today, most guns will last quite a while if they are properly maintained whether that be from parts replacement to general cleaning.
Shotguns are no different, but they do differ in how much abuse you can put through them with the different types of loads they can accept. The 320 can accept 2 ¾ to 3 inch 12 gauge shells.
This means magnum loads or other specialty loads will more than likely be placed into these guns.
Because of this wide variety of pressures, durability is an important factor. Using hotter loads has been known to cause the non-bead-sight sight options to unscrew in addition to other screws and bolts on the gun becoming loose.
This means you have to go over your gun and make sure every screw is properly tightened or it might come apart or break. This has been seen on the ejector and transfers to the rest of the shotgun.
Additionally pre-2014 models had some problems with the fore-end of the shotgun. The pump of the shotgun could come loose from aggressive use and using hotter loads. This caused the original spot welds to break.
This breakage also led to another problem that we will cover in a bit. However it seems that newer models of the 320 had these spot welds replaced with a stronger connection. If you want to see it in action with a little bit more context check out hickok 45’s video here.
5. Action Release Problem
The final major problem that has been reported deals with the cycling of the gun. Most shotguns have a button to release the action after it is locked back.
This button, called the action release, is very important to the safe use of the gun. If the action is not released, the gun should not be able to function in order to prevent accidental loading or discharges.
However, some Steven 320 models could be racked without hitting the action release. This should not be able to be done and is outside the normal function of the gun.
If your 320 does this you should contact the manufacturer. While this technically falls under the gun’s durability it is a significant enough problem to address it on its own.
Most other durability issues relate to the internals of the gun, but the actual malfunction of the shotgun’s pump is connected to its basic function and safety.
Unlike the spot weld breaks that left the gun unable to be cycled, this malfunction allows the gun to be cycled outside of one of the build in safety mechanisms.
Bypassing a safety mechanism is never a good thing on any firearm that you are expecting to use in some capacity. While the other malfunctions are problematic they occur within the normal function of the gun.
While the malfunctions themselves are not normal they are a result of the timing of the gun coming out of its appropriate cycle.
This bypassing of the action release takes us out of the natural cycle of the gun and into the dangerous territory of misuse. While it can be mitigated with proper safety methods it causes us to not have confidence in our firearm.
If the firearm is compromised in some way we should not be using it. If we decide to use it we will be more hesitant in our actions with it. This additional layer of doubt will lead us to possibly cause more malfunctions since we don’t trust the gun itself.
Pump shotguns have user-induced malfunctions under more ideal circumstances with properly working shotguns. If we add the situation where the gun is not functioning properly we are increasing the risk factor of using that gun.
The Stevens 320 family of shotguns are very affordable and for the average shooter they will fit their needs. However due to the multiple malfunctions that occur with them are they not suitable in any serious role.
This is a problem especially with the Security line of 320s. These are marketed with the self-defense or tactical roles in mind. With the loosening of parts while shooting, especially the ghost ring sights on some models of the 320 Security, this can be a major issue for reliability.
The 320 Security also seems to have the most reports regarding malfunctions or other issues than the normal 320 Field Grade.
While many of these issues crop up around their initial release on the market, later models seem to have some of these issues fixed. This is specifically in regards to the spot welding issues mentioned previously.
However, the feeding and timing issues may still be a problem. If you intend to use the Stevens 320 as a primary hunting gun or a home defense role, you should put several hundred rounds through it in order to test the durability, function, and reliability of the gun.
If it passes the first hundred rounds without incident, that individual gun should be reliable enough for your needs. However you should continue to keep an eye on the various screws and other internal parts just in case.
Any firearm can fail if it is improperly maintained, however failure is more likely to occur on lower end firearms with known issues. This makes maintenance an even higher priority for low end guns.
While many high end guns can be bought and run without issue, budget and market restraints can force us into buying whatever is available at the time.
The Stevens 320 line has a number of feeding issues paired with durability issues. It might be better to purchase a slightly more expensive shotgun but if it is the only one available be sure to thoroughly test it before you put any faith in it.
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