Shooting The SAM – Semi Auto Marauder Review, Part One
Shooting The SAM. The Semi Auto Marauder has been a part of the Benjamin Airguns product portfolio for some time. However, it’s been – surprisingly – somewhat of a “sleeper” in the market.
This story is, in fact, the first part of Hard Air Magazine’s review of the SAM.
Shooting The SAM At Extreme Benchrest
The SAM was a sleeper, that is, until it burst into prominence at the 2023 Extreme Benchrest event! There, Benjamin Airguns design engineer Ethan Butterfield won the Pro Class Speed Silhouette competition using a SAM.
In doing so, Ethan became the first person ever to win Speed Silhouette with a semi-auto. He also recorded the fastest time on record to clear the course – just 18.81 seconds to knock down all 20 targets at a variety of ranges. Great shooting Ethan!
In fact, Hard Air Magazine was the first airgun source to break detailed information about the SAM.
We covered it in a series of discussions with Designer John Solpietro and Product Manager Phillip Guadalupe, back in 2020 and while it was still in prototype stage. You can see them here:
Yes, as you would expect, there have been a few design changes since those stories. But the basic concept is still as described.
Basically, the SAM makes use of hammer bounce to cycle the action.
In a conventional bolt- or lever-action PCP, hammer bounce takes place due to the action of air pressure and hammer spring when the gun is fired. This forces the hammer back-and-forth and opens the valve more than once for every shot. Hence wasted air.
In the Benjamin Marauder Semi Auto, the hammer now actually functions as a piston, using otherwise wasted air to force it there against the pressure of the hammer spring.
Simply put, the hammer is now thrown back – instead of bouncing back – and is “caught” by a trigger sear. It then stays back, ready to be released for the next shot.
Because of the hammer’s new functionality, there’s no striker. The new pressure tube has shorter slots in the underside around the trigger to allow for the piston effect. The trigger is completely different, too, given the new method by which it is reset before firing.
For this design, the hammer and bolt are decoupled. They’re “solid” in the bolt action Marauder, by comparison. This enables the Benjamin Marauder Semi Auto to be cocked using the T- handle.
There’s also a “forward assist” button at the rear of the T- handle. This does not need to be generally used. However, it’s useful in case of a pellet failing to load fully, or in the rare event of a jam.
Shooting The SAM – First Impressions
My first impression on picking-up the Semi Automatic Marauder was: “It’s heavy!”
And yes, it is quite heavy. With the Hawke Sidewinder 2-24 x 56 scope mounted, the whole rig weighed-in at 11 Lbs 4 Oz.
Now it’s fair to say that this weight included the sling which I had immediately fitted to the SAM. Back in the UK, I was taught to always shoot fullbore military rifles using a sling. It’s a great way to improve practical accuracy in the field.
Kudos to Benjamin for being among the few companies to fit sling studs to the stocks of many of their air rifles. All Marauders have always had sling studs, as do the Kratos, Akela and Cayden. Likewise the Bulldog and some of the breakbarrels.
With that weight, together with the somewhat “chubby” feel of the walnut buttstock, shooting the SAM reminded me a lot of handling an M1 Garand firearm.
Initial impressions were of good accuracy, however, we’ll come back to that in the regular HAM accuracy testing.
Loading The SAM
At first sight, the SAM magazine looks like a regular Marauder mag.
In fact the SAM magazine can be used with bolt-action Marauders. However existing mags will not function well with the Semi Auto. They WILL cause cycling and possibly accuracy problems. Don’t use them!
This is because there’s a stronger spring inside the SAM mag.
There’s also a change to the magazine cover plate. The familiar kidney-shaped aperture is now replaced with a simple hole.
These changes mean that the new magazine has to be loaded with the first pellet skirt-first. The remaining pellets can then be loaded head first, as usual.
This is similar to the way in which pellet magazines from some other manufacturers work. So it’s not a big deal and the user soon gets used to the slightly different loading technique.
In order to load the mag, the charging handle must be pulled right back to its maximum travel. As the spring is pretty stout, it takes quite a lot of effort to do this!
Product Manager Phillip Guadalupe’s recommended way to do it is to “hang” the gun from the charging handle, then slide the mag into the action.
But – before you do that – Designer John Solpietro has a trick that he recommends to everyone shooting the SAM. It’s not in the SAM’s instructions, but he’s the designer, so we’re going with it…
Put a drop of oil on the head of the exposed pellet before loading the mag into the gun for the first time in each shooting session. To be clear, that’s not every time you load a magazine into the SAM, just once at the beginning of the day.
John says that this improves feeding and reduces the chances of jamming. Pellgun Oil will do just fine, he says.
Just like bolt-action Marauders, the new magazine blocks the bolt when no pellets remain. However, the gun still goes “bang” when you pull the trigger, even when the magazine is empty!
Here’s the reason. Because the SAM’s hammer and bolt move independently of each other, when no pellets remain in the magazine, the bolt is blocked, yet the hammer still cycles. Hence, air is released and the gun fires, even though there’s no pellet to propel.
Safe Handling With The SAM
Here’s where we really need to STOP AND THINK!
Yes, the SAM has a semi-automatic action. Most of us are familiar with semi-automatic firearms and so think we know intuitively how to handle a SAM safely. BUT THIS IS NOT THE CASE!!!
This an area where we all need to learn additional skills with any semi-auto airgun. Not just the SAM.
As discussed above, the Semi Auto Marauder uses a hammer-bounce assisted blowback action. It functions much like the blowback action of a firearm. However there’s one BIG, IMPORTANT design and operational operational difference.
Airguns have no extractor!
With a semi-auto AR15, for example, you can make the gun safe by setting the safety to safe, dropping the magazine and racking the charging handle so that the extractor removes any round that has already cycled into the breech. Gun clear!
And you can prove this with a chamber flag…
Of course, (almost all) airguns have no cartridge. This means that there’s also no extractor to pull a chambered pellet (or slug) out of the breech. Neither is there a loaded round indicator to tell the shooter there’s still “one up the spout”.
So the Semi Auto Marauder will always remain loaded unless all 10 pellets in a magazine have been previously shot out of the barrel. This is what we need to remember!
In order to prove clear with the Semi Auto Marauder, it’s necessary to remove the magazine. Then shoot the gun in a safe direction to discharge any pellet in the barrel.
The Benjamin Team then use a fat ballpoint pen to hold the bolt back and indicate there’s no magazine in the gun. You can see that here as John Solpietro refills a Semi Auto Armada (same action) with HPA at Extreme Benchrest 2023.
Here’s a close-up, to be clear.
But, remember that just proving there’s no mag in the action does not mean that the gun is safe. Again, it’s VITAL to remember that the SAM will always remain loaded unless all 10 pellets in a magazine have been shot out of the barrel!
We all will need to internalize this and apply an enhanced level of care in gun handling to ensure safety.
Responsibility and 100% safe gun-handling is non-optional when owning a semi-auto air rifle!
Double Feeding With The SAM
So what happens when a part-full magazine is removed from the Semi Auto Marauder, then re-inserted?
The answer is that one pellet will remain in the barrel from the extracted, part-used magazine. To re-load that magazine, the T-handle has to be pulled-back and fly forward.
So, yes, there’s now two pellets in the barrel. You have a double feed.
Phillip explained that double feeds can often be cleared simply by shooting them out. On the rare occasions this doesn’t work, it’s necessary to remove the magazine, de-cock the rifle, set the safety and push out the pellets from the barrel using a clearing rod.
Clearing Jams When Shooting The SAM
Of course some jams will be inevitable from operator error when shooting the SAM, if no other reason. For example, if you are too gentle with the T-handle.
Sometimes a push on the forward assist button can fix that…
However most jams are a result of the magazine not cycling fully. The result is a pellet stuck partially in the magazine, partially in the barrel. Sometimes this can be cleared by use of the T-handle and forward assist. Sometimes not.
If not, you need to pull back hard on the charging handle with one hand, push a cleaning rod down the barrel with your second hand, then wiggle the magazine out of the action with your – er – third hand. Hmmm.
Thinking about this, it was pretty clear to HAM Tester Doug Rogers and I that it would be advantageous to have some method of holding the SAM’s charging handle – and therefore bolt – open for jam clearance.
What you see below is a quick (2 minute) improvisation made from a piece of scrap plastic tube that happened to be on Doug’s workbench.
This “perfectly machined, precision part” fits between the breech and the charging handle, substituting for the third hand that’s otherwise necessary for jam clearance.
Now I’m not saying that this is a perfect solution. However something like this is a way to make jam-clearing easier, should that happen when you’re shooting the SAM.
We’ll continue with a more conventional second part to this SAM review in the near future.
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