Benelli Goes To Africa
ON DAY FIVE of a seven-day African safari, I was making one last try at a trio of what Professional Hunter (PH) Lammie Ferreira called “disco donkeys” in his Afrikaans-accented English. Ferreira had been a police officer before his entry into the hunting industry, serving in the Angola Bush War as a member of the elite Koevoet counter-insurgency force before becoming a homicide detective in the South African Police. He was all Boer and hard not to like.
I had hunted with three different PHs that week, which was a first for me. I enjoyed it because I was able to watch the different styles and skill sets of the various trackers, too. Ferreira’s Bushman tracker, Atti, was one of the most impressive that I’ve ever seen. His sharp eyes had spotted the zebras and we had bailed out of the truck in an attempt to make a stalk in the scrub desert terrain of the Great Karoo. As it turned out, 375 yards was as close as we could manage. Ferreira set up the shooting sticks and gave me the range. It was up to me and the rifle now, and I knew that my gun was up for the task. I snapped off the tang-mounted safety, found the big mare in the scope’s window and exhaled deeply. My wavering reticle transformed into one that merely quivered. The rifle’s 3-pound trigger tripped, and the bullet hit home.
We hear a lot about long shots these days, so 375 yards might not sound like a stretch. Trust me, when you’ve sprinted up a hill and have a few seconds to take a standing, albeit rested, shot on an alert animal, it’s not that easy. Shooting under stress takes confidence; confidence in one’s abilities and confidence in the equipment. After using this rifle for weeks on the range and five straight days in Africa, I knew that it would do the job. The rifle was accurate, reliable and user-friendly. After all, it was a Benelli.
Benelli made its name in the shotgun world, building some of the most reliable and hunter-friendly scatterguns around. I was a little surprised, and a bit confused, in mid-2019 when I got the invite to join Benelli on a week-long safari to South Africa’s Eastern Cape. A few signatures on confidentiality agreements later, and it all made sense. Benelli was entering the bolt-action hunting rifle market. The Lupo, Italian for “wolf,” would be Benelli’s flagship rifle.
When I peeked inside the hard-sided rifle case at my local dealer to confirm the serial number, I saw familiar lines. Under the case’s lid, I saw the distinctive grip angle, two-piece ComforTech 3 stock and angular triggerguard that I’d become accustomed to on shotguns such as the M2. It may have been a rifle, but I was certainly looking at a Benelli.
The heart of the Lupo is the aluminum alloy chassis. Chassis rifles have become extremely popular, as of late, due to the inherent benefit of a sturdy bedding platform. In my experience, the majority of rifle-related accuracy problems can be traced to bedding, so eliminating that variable is a big deal. The problem is that most chassis rifles are big, heavy, bulky and utilitarian. Not the Lupo.
Benelli’s engineers designed the Lupo to incorporate an aluminum chassis that secures both the receiver and forend. This means that the action has a solid anchor point, and the stock is effectively free-floated. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a bolt-action rifle with a two-piece stock having a free-floated forend; this may indeed be the first.
The receiver itself is steel, of course, and it is unique. The Lupo uses a three-lug bolt, which means that it has a short, 60-degree bolt throw. Three-lug designs also tend to shoot well out of the box, which is always a good thing. The bolt handle, inspired by the original Lupo concept drawing, has a distinctive and functional rearward sweep that avoids scope interference when lifted. The bolt body is also scalloped at the rear, allowing the detachable-box magazine to sit as high in the receiver as possible. This results in a rifle with trim lines.
The 22- to 24- inch Crio barrels are of a light taper and come threaded at the muzzle. The initial run of rifles was in .30-’ 06 Springfield, which meant that Benelli used a 1:11-inch twist rate. I’ve built enough rifles in my shop to know that the alignment between a chamber’s throat and the bore is one of the most critical mechanical factors in accuracy. The Lupo’s barrels are cold-hammer- forged (CHF) around a mandrel that forms both the bore and chamber. So long as the tooling is made correctly, the barrel and chamber are perfectly aligned with this process. Another variable has been eliminated.
Shotguns can recoil quite a bit, especially the 3ó-inch duck and turkey guns that are common today. Because of this experience, Benelli’s engineers know a great deal about designing a stock that cuts felt recoil. Stock fit is a big part of recoil management and the Lupo’s polymer stock is fully-configurable by the user. The stock is adjustable for length of pull, drop, cast and even trigger reach. With 36 different positions available using the factory shims, it doesn’t take a custom gunsmith to ensure that the Lupo fits most body types comfortably.
In addition to the configurable fit, the Lupo employs several elements to make shooting it as pleasant as possible. The first is Progressive Comfort, a system that distributes the forces of recoil inside the stock before it can reach your shoulder. The stock was also given a soft Combtech cheek pad that cushions the jaw during recoil, which can be interchanged for varying heights to put your eye behind the scope.
I didn’t do my usual accuracy tests with this rifle, choosing instead to prepare for my upcoming hunt. A few three-shot groups with Hornady’s Outfitter 180-grain GMX load established that the Lupo easily met its sub-MOA guarantee. With this accuracy baseline and confirmed zero, I abandoned the bench and got back into the pre-safari rhythm of using three-legged shooting sticks. Banging my 325-yard steel popper became routine and subsequent range trips only confirmed the rifle’s consistent accuracy.
Before long, it was time to board the long flight to Africa and trust the rifle and its relationship with the Steiner scope wouldn’t be disturbed by baggage handlers. I’ll spare you the suspense: after two days of travel on three airplanes and two trucks, my rifle (and everyone else’s) maintained a perfect zero. I was impressed and relieved.
The trophy list for this safari was impressive: sable, roan, impala and springbok. I’d hunted the smaller antelope more than once, but the sable and roan were two species that I never expected to take in my lifetime. My first few days of hunting were in the coastal high country near Port Elizabeth with PH Mark Hudson, a laid-back local who I hit it off with immediately. Hudson learned quickly that I can be hard on equipment. Each night he would ask, “What did you break today, Keith?” The answer never included the rifle or scope.
I was teamed-up with Marco Vignaroli, the Benelli engineer who led the Lupo’s design effort. After Marco took a bushbuck early on the first morning, it was my turn. Our Toyota Hilux came over a steep rise and we saw a massive old roan bull standing broadside. Brakes squeaking has never sounded so loud but, in an instant, we were rolling backward down the slope and out of the roan’s sight. I didn’t expect him to stick around, but he did. As soon as we had a clear shot over the hill, I took him squarely in the shoulder. The GMX did its job, and the big roan dropped where he’d stood. It was a great start.
An impala, a sable and a springbok later, I was busy chasing zebra across the Karoo. We are now back where this story began, with a strikingly-marked mare across the valley ready to bolt for cover at any moment. My thumb found the safety easily and my finger went to the adjustable trigger. Three pounds later, the shot was sent and Atti saw the mare stumble before she ran for a nearby valley. We sprinted to head her off and I sent a finishing shot into her heart less than 30 seconds later.
I took seven animals in as many days with the Lupo, which would make up several hunting seasons back at home. The game ranged in size from the diminutive springbok to the massive roan, and distances varied greatly. All in all, I came away from this experience with an appreciation for the Lupo that I could not have built on the range alone. The Lupo is functional, intuitive, accurate and built well. I’m proud to have been among the first to take the Lupo into the field, and it exceeded my expectations.
Content courtesy of Outdoor Sportsman's Group