Turkey is known for a great many things. If we’re blunt, the manufacturing of superlative shotguns is not among those things. Due to their combination of incredibly skilled but cheap labour and access to relatively good steel, Turkey may have a plethora of shotgun manufacturing plants, but the quality of gun produced has typically lagged behind that of both Italian- and American-based manufacturers and is considered by most shooters to be spotty at best. However, they are usually serviceable if not luxurious, and many firearms companies are beginning to grasp the notion that Turkish-made shotguns can provide a basically functional product at a good entry-level price point.
All of this flies in the face of what ATA Arms is accomplishing. A brand unto themselves, and one that’s never tried to hide their Turkish roots, they’ve been making high quality shotguns for themselves and various other brands for over 60 years. Perhaps their most famous product? The relatively successful line of shotguns produced in the ATA factory for none other than Weatherby. As of late, ATA has begun throwing more effort into creating a full-fledged line of their own, and has recently commenced Canadian distribution with Ontario-based O’Dell Engineering Limited. Their promise? To deliver Italian-grade guns at Turkish-level prices. We grabbed ATA’s flagship Venza model to find out if they’ve been successful.
As one-time sporting clays addicts that burned through multiple flats of ammunition on a weekly basis, the Venza was the ATA shotgun we were most looking forward to. The company’s most sporting model and probably the most fetching (at least, of their semi-auto offerings), the Venza is made in six different flavours, two of which are slug-specific and come with either matte finished walnut or synthetic stocks. The remaining four versions are designed around conventional shotshell use, and can be had with either that same walnut or synthetic stock, a hydro-dipped coating atop a synthetic stock for the Camo model (in licensed RealTree camo), or what ATA calls a “Fonex” finished walnut stock; a finish that is applied to real wood but results in a far fancier finish with faux burl and additional grain. Interestingly as well, all the models fitted with either traditional or Fonex-finished walnut can be had in four different colours of anodizing on the receiver; bronze, green, black and grey. The gun pictured here is a Venza Walnut model with a bronze-coloured receiver.
The first impression one gets when handling a Venza is very good, and actually begins before you even lay your hands on the gun, as the Venza comes in one of the nicest gun cases we’ve ever seen. Now, we don’t talk about the boxes guns come in very frequently, but in the case of the Venza (no pun intended) we felt it necessary to make an exception, as the heavyweight suede case would be easily worth hundreds of dollars if purchased separately. The zipper pulls are heavy brass castings with the ATA logo on them, the handles are thick leather affairs, and the internal foam filling has been precisely excised to hold the gun, two barrels (obviously the gun only comes with one), a spare trigger (again, not included), and the included five chokes and case. It’s quite a nice setup and definitely puts the hardshell plastic cases of most other manufacturers to shame.
Removing the gun from the case and looking over it before assembly, were it not for the brand name on the side of the gun, one would be forgiven for thinking they were looking at the latest semi-auto from Beretta or Browning. The parts are all well-formed and well-fitted, with no machine marks or signs of corners having been cut. The brazing of the operating rod onto the collar around the magazine tube is clean and neat, and the parkerized finish of the steel components inside is consistent throughout. Even the molded polymer trigger assembly, easily the cheapest-looking part of the gun (if only because the rest looks decidedly upmarket), would look quite at home on any other shotgun from a more well-known reputable manufacturer. In fact, the fit between the wooden fore-end and the front of the receiver is better than we’ve seen on some Berettas! The only flaw? A slightly inconsistent blued finish atop the barrel, below the vent rib.
But if you’re staring at the pictures and thinking the Venza is a Beretta Xcel knock off, guess again; while it may boast some of the same colourful styling as the modern sporting guns out of Italy these days, it has an operating system that is plenty unique. Although remaining gas-operated at its core, the Venza uses an interesting system of gas metering that also involves a moving barrel, almost like a short recoil-operated gun. Under the fore-end is essentially two gas cylinders; one behind the barrel lug and one in front of it. When firing light loads with lower gas volumes, all the available gas is directed at the gas piston, which in turn pushes the operating rod and cycles the action. While firing heavier loads, such as 3” hunting loads (the Venza has a three inch chamber), the excess gas overcomes the pressure of a very robust spring in the front gas cylinder, and in doing so actually pushes the barrel rearward a short distance. This opens a valve in the front of the gas system and allows the excess pressure to be vented straight forward and out of the cap used to affix the barrel to the receiver.
So in theory this system works to quell recoil from heavy loads by essentially spreading the recoil impulse out over a slightly longer period of time, as the recoil is broken up between a myriad of forces pushing and pulling within the gun as well by the barrel’s movement. From our experience, it definitely does seem to work, as the Venza had slightly less snap to its recoil than other sporting semi-autos we’ve handled. Shooting standard 1-1/8th ounce target loads presented no discomfort and we could have easily shot it all day.
In terms of performance, the gun obviously follows the same fit factors as do most modern semi-automatics, so out of the box it fits the 90th percentile average male just fine if a little short in length of pull. However, the Venza comes with a series of straight and angled shims that can be fitted between the stock and the rear of the receiver to adjust both length of pull and cast. We had little trouble hitting what we were pointing at anyway and didn’t bother using them. Furthermore, the gun cycled everything down to one-ounce light trap loads with 100% reliability.
Loading and firing is, to be blunt, pretty much the same as any other shotgun although there are a couple noteworthy items. The first is that the magazine follower is not the standard plastic puck we’ve come to expect but rather a machined chunk of aluminium that’s been anodized red for high-visibility to let you know if your magazine is empty at a glance. The other is a slightly different carrier lock switch. Most semi-auto’s feature a carrier lock switch that’s positioned at the rear of the loading port, but the Venza features a carrier lock that hangs down by the trigger and is manipulated with either the thumb or the index finger. The safety is located aft of the trigger and is reversible for right- or left-handed operation.
Given how well executed the gun is, it’s no surprise that the Venza is an excellent shotgun. It comes up to the shoulder well, and with a slight drop on the comb and its relatively light weight, can be brought to bear with the speed of an upland bird or skeet shotgun. And thanks to the ribbed receiver top, serrated vent rib, and fiber optic bead, it’s easy to confirm that everything is properly aligned before taking the shot. In short, it handles like a Beretta A400 Xcel or another of our favourite shotguns, the Remington Versamax. And again, just as with the quality of its manufacture, if it weren’t for the markings on the side you could be utterly convinced you were shooting something from Italy or the USA. Of course, while we can’t speak too much to the gun’s reliability having only sampled it for a few hundred rounds, we know this particular gun is a demo piece and has seen plenty before falling into our hands.
Which brings us to the one aspect of the Venza we haven’t brought up, and the one aspect in which the Venza certainly distances itself from the various Berettas, Brownings and Remingtons of the world: The price. As pictured here, with the anodized receiver, the Turkish walnut, the suede case, and the five included chokes the Venza is retailing for right around $950. To put that in perspective, the guns we’ve compared it to, all of which are guns we genuinely feel it compares to, cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands more. In fact, we were so impressed with the Venza that we’ve already set about procuring additional ATA test guns, so look for a review of the CY semi-auto and Etro pump coming soon!