U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- It seems to be more and more uncommon to find new firearms designs these days. R&D are expensive, and it’s easier to re-hash an old idea than it is to build a new one from the ground-up. It is in the “newness” that we find possibility and excitement. But is the execution of this new design good enough to compete with the tried and true? Let’s take a look at the Blackwater Sentry-12 tactical shotgun.
Let’s check in with the tech specs as provided by Blackwater before we cover hands-on time with the Sentry-12.
- 18.5″ Smooth Bore Nitride Coated Barrel
- 21″ Fully extruded 6160 Aluminum Upper Receiver
- 17″ of Picatinny at 12 O’clock
- Fully ambidextrous controls (AR similar)
- 12 Gauge, accepting 2- 3/4″ and 3″ shell.
- 2 x 5rds. Magazines included.
- Overall Length 36″
- 6.5 lbs.
- Blackwater Packaging w/ die-cut foam inserts
- 100% Designed, Sourced, and Assembled in the M-F’g USA.
I pulled the Sentry-12 out of the box and spent a little time doing dry-fire and reload drills before disassembling. The above specs make reference to the controls being “AR similar”, and they are. In fact, the entire look and layout of this gun is reminiscent of an AR/ACR mashup. This is one of the very few magazine-fed shotguns that isn’t a conversion of a tube-fed design. This helps keep the weight down as there are no vestigial parts. The design and construction of the Sentry-12 feel very streamlined.
Being a magazine-fed, pump shotgun, there are really only three controls. The AR-style safety, the carriage lock release, and the magazine release. The safety is easy enough to manipulate and is ambidextrous. It’s not a perfect setup, as the low-slung right side of the safety switch has a tendency to hit the top of my hand. Not bad enough to be a major issue, but noticeable during a long-range day. The magazine release is a button located exactly where modern shooters (especially those trained on, you guessed it, AR-platform rifles) will expect to find it. The carriage lock release is a small lever below the magazine release. It was a bit stiff when new, and hasn’t broken in much after a month of use, but it’s trending in the right direction.
Disassembly is incredibly easy. This is how guns should be built in 2020 and beyond! If you like cleaning your guns, or if you really dislike the necessity and want to get it out of the way, the Sentry-12 is sure to please. You just pop out one push pin at the rear of the trigger housing, then swing the housing down and away. The bolt carriage assembly slides right out of the receiver. The barrel can be pulled off after removing the barrel nut with your bare hands, and the barrel can be swapped for another in that time. This allows for longer, shorter or rifled barrels to theoretically be swapped in quickly. With an oily rag and 5 minutes, the Sentry-12 is ready to run again.
Getting to the range, it was time to load up the mags. Both of the included 5-round magazines for the Sentry-12 were easy to load. Both mags exhibited rounds hanging up during loading (but never during firing), which seemed to be a break-in issue as it happened more in the first few loadings than it did a couple boxes later. I bolted on the only red dot optic I had available and got ready to go hot.
“Damn, that’s smooth.” The same refrain went through my mind after every mag went dry. The Sentry-12 is a smooth shooter no doubt. The recoil is handled better here than in my similarly set up Remington 870 and Winchester 1300. The excellent shape of the stock and the comfortable rubber buttpad no doubt lend a hand in mitigating that force. The Sentry-12 does other things well too. The weight and balance of this shotgun are excellent, so transitioning targets and shooting while walking is both easy enough. The slide racks smoothly, needing only a moderate amount of force. The trigger is pretty standard shotgun fare, dropping it into “no news is good news” with its perfectly utilitarian setup.
I’d really like to drop a note in about the length of pull. 12″ is a somewhat shorter distance from the rear of the stock to the trigger, and I think it was a smart decision. The Sentry-12 is around 1.5″-2″ shorter than similar shotguns, and it helps in a number of ways. For we near-dwarves, the benefit is obvious. For anyone shooting in the more modern, aggressive, squared-off stance, this length will feel more comfortable. For anyone shooting with body armor, plate carrier, or heavy clothing to ward off cold/wind/rain, this shorter length of pull is a necessity.
The Sentry-12 extracted-ejected-fed and chambered every round throughout the day. This included 2.75″ and 3″ shells, birdshot, buckshot, and even a couple of slugs. No failures in the feed-fire cycle through the first couple hundred rounds, where more guns may have a hiccup related to break-in. The mags do not drop free, requiring a little manual assistance to clear the magwell. There’s a distinct lack of a “click” when you slam a new mag in, even if it’s locked uptight. I’m still running on the habit of slapping every magazine’s ass like it’s a waitress in a sleazy ’80’s movie anyhow, so it took a novice shooter to point that out to me.
I don’t have any major complaints about how the Sentry-12 runs. Reliable and comfortable in large doses. I do have a couple of items that I feel could improve on the package as it is. As mentioned above, the ambi safety jams the hand a bit. Easy fix with a non-ambi selector, or one with the lever located at the top of the switch. The forend is made of the same plastic material as the rest of the stock, which works well in most respects. It’s tough and light, but it’s also a bit slick. I’d love to see a rubberized version, along the lines of Hogue’s over-molded material. There were a few times when I’d be racking a new round in, and my hand would slip rearwards, even partway past the flared end of the pump grip. The material is just too slippery, especially in cold weather. I’d hate to see it wet! This item is really the only one that negatively affected my shooting time with the Sentry-12 in a tangible manner.
For a first-generation model of a new design, the Sentry-12 is up and running really well.
Knowing how new it is, also means knowing there isn’t an aftermarket, yet. There also aren’t a lot of factory choices, yet. If the Sentry-12 catches on, customization and choices will follow. Blackwater has let me know that more handguard options, buttstock options, and magazine capacity choices will be coming along by the end of the year. Given that I’m writing this in early December, my (few, minor) complaints about the Sentry-12 are about to disappear.
The Sentry-12 has proven a reliable and ergonomic design. With more factory options available soon, you’ll likely find whatever customization options you want. I’m putting the Sentry-12 firmly in the “Buy” category, as one of the few pump shotguns designed from the ground up to be mag-fed. MSRP is $899 and the street price is a couple of bucks lower. Check it out!
About Rex Nanorum
Rex Nanorum is an Alaskan Expatriate living in Oregon with his wife and kids. Growing up on commercial fishing vessels, he found his next adventure with the 2nd Bn, 75th Ranger Regt. After 5 tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, he adventured about the west coast becoming a commercial fisheries and salvage SCUBA diver, rated helicopter pilot instructor (CFII) and personal trainer, before becoming a gear reviewer and writer.”