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VENTI

BY ROBERT W. HUNNICUTT | PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ANSCHUETZ | March 1, 2021

  MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with non-toxic  shot was more  than 50 years ago. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was  running a test hunt on Bosque del Apache wildlife preserve in  southern New Mexico, and a limited number of hunters were  allowed to try their luck on Canada geese. 

  You had to enter a lottery at 5 a.m., and the lucky winners  were issued five rounds of steel shot ammunition. These were,  if I recall, loaded in Federal paper cases and roll-crimped.  Hunters were then ushered off to blinds, where they’d target  the huge flocks of Canadas until noon.

   I drew a permit, but my father did not, and so I was teamed  up with another father-son  duo. 

  I’m sure the man looked at an underfed teenager armed  with a 1930s single-shot  and didn’t expect much. I missed  four times and was glumly awaiting the long ride home when  a single goose floated in to land. “Get ’im!” the man said, and  I loosed my last shell in the bird’s general direction. 

  Miraculously, one magic steel BB hit the honker exactly in  the elbow, and it crashed to earth, running in circles, squawking  loudly. “Grab him!” I was ordered, and clambered out of  the blind to gave chase.

  It was nip and tuck who would win the ensuing brawl. I  eventually returned victorious, but hardly impressed by the  performance of steel shot. No one else was either, but soon  enough non-toxic  shot eventually was decreed throughout the  land. 

  For a fleeting moment in the 1980s, it was thought the  answer to steel shot’s shortcomings was the 10-gauge.  I  attended a Remington writer event where we were introduced  to the SP-10,  Big Green’s update of the Ithaca Mag-10,  and,  since the seminar was in the fall, we tested them on tower  pheasants. The results were hard, to say the least, on the pen-raised  birds. 

  The 10-gauge  renaissance was not to be. Winchester and  Mossberg shortly came up with the 3.-inch  12 gauge. It  allowed manufacturers to adapt existing 12-gauge  shotguns,  but shooting the guns of the time with the loads of the time  was a truly grim task. 

  I’m not sure the 3.-inch  12 would have succeeded had we  been limited to the first generation of guns like the Mossberg  835 and assorted doubles. What really made it go was the  arrival of the Benelli Super Black Eagle (SBE), a gun that made  shooting the 3.-inch  far more bearable, if not pleasant. 

  The Benelli inertia recoil system made scaling up to the  3.-inch  12 a lot easier than working out a new gas system,  though there are plenty of purists who prefer the more progressive  recoil of a gas gun to the snappier kick of the Benelli. 

  While developments in guns kept coming, those who  refused just to get used to steel shot came up with non-toxic  alternatives that more closely replicated the classic lead loads  of the pre-steel  era. 

  Bismuth shot was originated for those who wanted to shoot  their Parkers and A.H. Fox doubles that would suffer barrel  damage if fired with steel shot. It was followed by tungsten-matrix  ammo that also provided ballistics more like lead.

  These exotic shot materials cost more than steel. Consulting  brownells.com, a box of 20-gauge  Browning BXD steel loads  costs $19.99. A box of Kent Tungsten Matrix 20s cools in  at $32.99. But some savvy  waterfowlers are starting to  make the calculation that,  given today’s bag limits, a  combination of non-steel  ammo and a 20-gauge  can  make sense.

  One could quite logically  question the need for a  20-gauge  Super Black Eagle.  Benelli has, after all, 20-gauge  versions of the Ethos,  the M2, Montefeltro, Ultra  Light and Nova. 

  None of those have exactly  the feature set and looks of  the SBE, and I suspect the  target audience for the new 20-gauge  SBE 3 is existing owners  who want to try small-gauge  waterfowling with a familiar gun. 

  A lot of the visible features of the SBE 3 are related to recoil  reduction, and they are carried forward in the 20-gauge,  even  though kick is comparatively minuscule. 

  The Comfort Tech system is easily identified by the row of  rubber chevrons extending from the heel of the stock to the  base of the pistol grip. These, and the surface of the injection-molded  buttstock itself, flex during firing to absorb recoil.  Benelli has now offered this system for 13 years, and it seems to be durable, though purists may  object to the look of it. 

  “Combtech” is the name of the very thick, soft  rubber cheekpiece that helps keep your face from getting  a whack when you fire. The buttstock has a molded-in  sling  swivel loop (the front sling swivel goes in the face of the  magazine cap), and the pistol grip is generously covered with  molded stippling to give  you a secure grasp in any  weather. 

  The SBE 3 in 20 gauge  is provided with the usual  shims and plates for adjusting  cast and drop, which  can be regulated in 5mm  (.2 inch) intervals between  50mm (~2 inches) to 65mm  (~2. inches). I recommend  you put these to use with  testing at the pattern board  before you ever so much as  shoot at a clay target. Proper  buttstock adjustment can  make all the difference in  your shooting results, as you will see shortly. 

  The triggerguard is distinctively angular, with a shape that  gives you plenty of room for a heavily gloved trigger finger.  There’s a dished-out  area at the right front the gives that same  gloved finger good access to the shell drop tab. 

  Benelli shotguns broadly come in two receiver configurations:  one-piece,  all-aluminum;  and two-piece,  with an  aluminum upper and a steel cover. The two-piece  arrangement  is noticeable on the Ethos, where the shiny blued cover  contrasts with the coin-finished  lower. It’s hardly detectable in    the SBE 3, which is finished in matte  black or a selection of camouflage  patterns, including Realtree Max-5,  Gore Optifade Timber, and Mossy  Oak Bottomland. 

  Benelli has spent considerable  effort configuring the receiver bottom  to allow smooth loading. There’s  a visible upward curve in front of  the triggerguard the makes it easy to  slide fresh rounds into the tubular  magazine. If you’ve ever had to load  a Browning Auto-5  in fast firing,  you’ll appreciate the difference. 

  The sort of buyer who will order a  20-gauge  SBE 3 will be fully familiar  with the Benelli operating system,  but we always should keep in mind that the ranks of new gun  owners are growing daily. 

  An industry acquaintance recently told me he took orders  for 19,000 home-defense  pump guns in two days, and some  percentage of those will come to be lifelong shotgun enthusiasts.  For them, here’s a brief primer on inertia operation. The  rest of you can skip forward a few paragraphs. 

  The inertia operating system, once exclusive to Benelli  but now used by other makers, is unusually simple. It uses a  two-lobed  bolt head that locks into the barrel extension. On  firing, the shotgun begins to move rearward. The relatively heavy bolt carrier initially resists this  motion, compressing a heavy spring  between itself and the bolt head. The  compressed spring then throws the  bolt carrier rearward. 

  A pin in the bolt head engages a  curved track in the carrier, rotating  the bolt head out of engagement  with the barrel extension. The bolt  assembly is then free to recoil rearward,  ejecting the empty. 

  A return spring in the buttstock  then pushes forward on the bolt  assembly, which picks up a shell  from the magazine, chambering it as  the bolt head rotates to lock again to  the barrel extension. 

  This system has several advantages. It requires few moving  parts. Because locking is between the barrel extension and bolt  head rather than between the bolt and receiver, aluminum is just  fine for the receiver. This is in contrast to a tilting block system  such as, say, the Remington 1100 that calls for a steel receiver. 

  The system works the same for most (though, as we shall  see, not all) sorts of ammunition, and requires no sort of compensation  or adjustment for lighter or heavier loads. 

  Because there are no moving parts extending between  receiver and forend-like  operating rods, and no piston or  cylinder is required, the forend can be slim and won’t get hot during firing. 

  The disadvantage? A distinctive snappy recoil that doesn’t  bother most people a bit, but some find annoying. The whole  purpose of including the Comfort Tech system is to appease  the latter group.

  The other Benelli feature that requires some explanation for  those looking to step up from something like a Turkish pump  gun is the shell stop system. This is actuated by the chrome  tab with the red dot at the right front of the triggerguard. 

  Assuming you can see the tab, you will notice that the bolt  will not latch open when you retract it. Press the tab and then  retract the bolt. It will lock in conventional fashion. Press the  bolt release at the right front of the receiver and the bolt will  close, pressing the tab out once again. 

  This system controls the ejection of shells from the magazine  and lets you eject a shell without another passing out  of the magazine. This makes it easy to safely cross a fence or  board a boat without having to unload the magazine. You also  can easily eject a shell and replace it with another. Once you  get used to it, this is a handy system, but you also can pretty  much ignore it if you choose. 

  The barrel measured .622 inch in internal diameter, a bit  more than the nominal .615 inch. Benelli barrels and choke  tubes are cryogenically treated by freezing them to -300Åã  F.  This relieves stresses induced during hammer forging and  provides a slick bore surface for reduced cleaning. 

  The barrel is topped by a .22-inch  stepped rib with a .118-inch  diameter LPA red fiber optic. There is no middle bead. 

  The SBE 3 is supplied with improved cylinder, modified  and full choke tubes. These are 3. inches long with a  knurled extended portion that will come in handy for changing  tubes if you’re on a combo duck and quail shoot.

Content courtesy of Outdoor Sportsman's Group

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