When I first got into shooting in a big way, it was with a shotgun in my hands… not because I was initially attracted to shotguns in any remarkable way, but rather out of simple convenience: as a young(er) guy living in a suburb of Vancouver, the nearest rifle range was at least an hour away, while the local trap club was literally just down the road. So, while I initially loved shooting rifles first and foremost, I found myself spending more and more time behind a smoothbore because it was easier trigger time to get. Got an hour free on Sunday morning? Sounds like a great time to shoot some clay. An unexpected Wednesday afternoon off? Yeah, I could shoot for an hour or two. Of course, like so many other clayshooters, those hour or two sessions turned into dawn-to-dusk days. Thousands of Winchester AA hulls were processed across my reloading bench every week as I strove to claim a perfect score on the sporting clays course. And eventually, I ended up getting hooked on Olympic Trap; the same form of trap that is (not shockingly) shot in Olympic competition.
The only downside to shooting Olympic Trap is the cost. If you peruse the shotgun rack at any serious Olympic Trap tournament, you’ll see more shotguns with five-figure price tags than without. If you aren’t shooting a Perazzi or a Beretta DT, someone will ask you why you’re not; they’re that common. Which leads to some serious gun snobbery.
But a young journalist’s budget is far more comfortable with a used Remington 3200 than it is custom Perazzi. And so, while I was never really able to embrace the glorious levels of snobbery I witnessed, I did learn a lot about the justification for buying such guns (and there are very real reasons). The flip side is that it gave me a lot of insight into what makes a cheap shotgun, well, cheap.
And at the time, many of the cheapest shotguns in Canada were coming from Turkey. One thing you learn very fast when you’re shooting 700 or a thousand rounds in a given week is what is, and is not, reliable. And pretty much everything Turkey made back then was definitely not. Some still aren’t.
Since then, it’s become apparent that many Turkish shotgun manufacturers have learned, evolved, and in some cases even innovated and the products that result are quite good. The Retay Masai Mara is one such gun.
The sincerest form of flattery…
So let’s get something out of the way immediately: this is basically a Benelli. In fact, if you squint, it even kind of looks like the inertia-driven Italian guns it emulates. A relatively unique operating system largely pioneered and championed by Benelli, inertia-driven guns use springs, mass, and momentum to operate, and are highly regarded by many shooters due to both their light-shooting nature and cleanliness.
In an inertia-driven gun, a multi-lug rotating bolt is pinned to the carrier and operates on a cam in the bolt carrier, and rotates into locking lugs on the barrel as the bolt is closed to bring the action into battery. Behind the bolt, between the bolt and its carrier, is what’s known as an inertia spring.
When the gun is fired, the inertia spring actually allows the gun to essentially recoil around the bolt carrier, which is momentarily held in place by the momentum of its own mass (an object at rest staying at rest and whatnot). As this happens, the locked bolt moves rearward into the bolt carrier, compressing that inertia spring. Once the energy stored in that now-compressed spring surpasses the energy of the recoil, the spring pushes the bolt and bolt carrier apart, initiating rearward bolt carrier travel as the bolt is still locked to the breech. The carrier goes rearward, the bolt unlocks, extraction and ejection occur, and when the bolt reaches the limit of its rearward travel the whole process begins anew as the action spring presses the bolt home.
The benefit is, as mentioned, twofold: cleanliness and light recoil. The former is a result of the gun not using any of the combustion gases to operate. These guns stay extremely clean and are easier to clean due to their simplicity. Usually all you need to do is wipe off the bolt head and swab the barrel. The latter is a result of some of the recoil energy being absorbed by the inertia spring, and the sort of spring-assisted equilibrium that inertia-operated guns work off of.
… with a side of innovation
While the bolt assembly looks like it’s been lifted from a Super Black Eagle, the Retay Masai Mara does differentiate itself from its inspiration somewhat with one unique feature that I don’t recall having seen on a semi-auto shotgun: a removable trigger. With the gun cocked and the bolt forward, pressing a tiny button on the trigger mechanism releases a latch at the back, allowing the entire assembly to be pulled downward and out of the gun. This obviously makes cleaning the Masai Mara extremely easy, but as the Retay documentation reminds us, is also something of a safety feature. Simply remove the trigger, lock it up somewhere, and you have an inert gun. Honestly, it struck me as a bit of a silly feature before the gun arrived, but once I’d taken the trigger out it really started to make more sense. Legitimately, it will make cleaning and lubricating the trigger a lot easier, and that means it’s something you’re more likely to do regularly… and that, of course, aids reliability.
So, on to the issue I’d taken with most Turkish shotguns in the past: the quality. Honestly, it’s good. Is it as good as a Benelli? No, but Benellis are probably among the best finished semi-auto shotguns on the market, and the Retay is between $700 and $1200 cheaper than the Super Black Eagles it approximates. So no, you won’t find the same exquisite finishes, and superlative machining you’d find with one of those more expensive guns. But it’s well beyond what we’d call serviceable.
For example, the bolt carrier shows signs of having been fitted, with some apparent stoning of its rails. That’s nice, because it means care has been taken to ensure the gun fits together well, but the evidence of the fitting work is rougher than you’d find on other guns; the files obviously being coarser. The bolt itself bears signs of having been tumbled to remove machine marks prior to chrome plating, which again is a nice step to see to ensure a good chromed surface, but tumbling such items can lead to marks on protruding components and so we found one small imperfection on the back of a bolt lug where the corner of the lug obviously tumbled against another hardened thing. But again… for substantially less money, do you really care if there’s a pinhead-sized ding in the back of a bolt lug on your duck gun? We sure don’t, and if you do, we’d remind you that $1200 can buy a lot of Molson products with which to wipe those cares away.
Now the quality of the removable trigger assembly, on the other hand, is above reproach. The shell lifted is nicely shaped to avoid eating your thumb during loading, and the quality of the trigger components is excellent. Retay was smart and ensured everything is properly retained, so you can’t accidentally release a lever and watch a spring sail across the room, and all the various pins holding it all together are either staked in place or held in place with locks. And all the components are very well finished. Honestly, the quality of the stampings and machined parts exceeds that which we’ve come to expect from American shotguns, and it’s absolutely bereft of plastic parts. Even the trigger guard is aluminum, which is something that we wish wasn’t so noteworthy these days!
The barrel features a removable ejector, in case you ever beat the original one into submission, and has a single fiber optic front bead on a low vented rib. The gun comes with a full complement of five chokes. In fact, it’s actually worth mentioning that the Retay Masai Mara actually comes in one of the nicest packages we’ve ever seen, coming in a locking case (with very interesting internal metal hinges), with chokes, choke tool, sling swivels, a reasonably sized bottle of oil, stock adjustment inserts, a snap cap and plenty of excellent documentation. The owner’s manual is 128 pages long and includes both detailed take down instructions and exploded diagrams with parts labelled and numbered.
Once assembled, the gun fits together well, too. It’s one of those guns where everything is “just tight enough” to feel well put together but not forced. Try as we might, we couldn’t get any flex or wiggle from the fore end, and the stock is equally solid. At the back, a nice and thick recoil pad is fitted, and works well. And of course while Retay makes the Masai Mara in various finishes, the one pictured here is obviously their camouflage finish, which is a properly licensed Realtree Max 5. It appears to be your standard hydrographic finish, so its reasonable durable, but we did notice some chips in the finish on sharp edges like those on the rear of the barrel. Of course, being an obvious duck or goose gun, it probably wouldn’t take long before those were the least noticeable imperfections… at least with my luck.
Given how well everything is assembled, the Retay Masai Mara did exactly what you’d expect afield; it approximated the performance of a Benelli in darn near every way. It weighs about the same, it handles about the same, and as far as I can tell it throws pretty much the same patterns. Honestly, if you were dumb enough to carry a gun with your eyes closed, you’d be totally capable of thinking your Retay was a Benelli. If anything, the one difference seemed to be that the Retay Masai Mara shot even softer than the last Benelli I shot… but that’s always a hard phenomenon to measure unless you’re doing it back to back. In any case, the Mara is a seriously soft shooter.
Now, the one downside to the Benelli inertia system is known as the “Benelli click.” This is the sound a Benelli makes when you pull the trigger on one when the bolt hasn’t gone back into battery. Because the only thing pushing the bolt back is the energy contained in the inertia spring, the strength of the action spring is limited; too strong and the inertia spring would not be able to cycle the action completely or hold the action completely closed if the gun is bumped.
Retay claims the Masai Mara is impervious to this. They’re wrong. In about -7, with a lot of wind, and shooting the gun nearly vertical, the combination of gravity and cold, thick gun oil did cause it to click a couple times. Switching oils prevented any additional issues, but it’s something owners should be aware of. Oh, and you’ll want to run these relatively wet; don’t give that bolt any reason to stick instead of slide.
Otherwise, we didn’t have any issues with the gun. The safety is a bit smaller than most modern guns, and with gloves it can be a bit finicky, but that feels like a thoroughly “first world problem.” It loads easily, shoots reliably, and will probably only get better with some wear and break-in.
Overall, with an MSRP of $1200, the Retay Masai Mara is a great way for someone on a budget to get into an inertia-driven gun. They’re quite a treat to shoot, and with the combination of the gun being such a practical package for the price, and the excellent way it’s presented with the locking case, chokes, accessories and documentation it seems like an excellent gun for someone that’s newer to the market. There’s a lot of value in all those various bits and pieces, and when it’s all put together it really does provide a turn-key, field-ready package for hundreds less than its nearest competitor.