Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10016 12 Gauge, $1515
Its always been sound advice to buy the best quality one can afford. But Americans are often conflicted consumers since a red, white and blue trademark doesnt always mean top quality.
Thats because, we suppose, U.S. manufacturers have to cut corners in order to pay decent wages, workmens compensation, life insurance, medical/dental benefits, pensions, and other sundries that dont clutter up the overhead of some off-shore competitors.
One of the affected areas, in terms of quality and durability, has long been the area of semiautomatic shotguns. American designer John Brownings classic Auto-5 was made by FN in Belgium and later by Miroku in Japan a lineage shared by the companys (and sister company Winchesters) subsequent autoloaders. The Mossberg autoloaders that are still made stateside are designed with popular price points in mind, not history. Ithaca Guns USA no longer makes autoloaders; nor do Ruger or Savage, and aside from Remington, American manufacturers import semiautos rather than make one of their own in this country.
In fact, when it comes to truly classic designs, Remingtons 1100 gas gun may be the only American-made autoloader to merit consideration. The 1100s autoloading predecessors the recoil-operated Model 11-48 and the pioneering gas-operated Sportsman 58 and 878 Automaster designs never caught the public fancy for a variety of reasons. And the guns successor, the 11-87, still has sufficient warts almost two decades after its introduction to merit the 1100s continued prominence in the Remington product lineup.
Introduced in 1963, the 1100 still maintains sufficient interest for Remington to evolve the design more with the "Competition" in 2005 and the G-3 (for third generation) in 2006. But were not here to dissect the 1100s tried-and-true physique, which is merely dressed differently in the Competition and G-3. No, the Remington autoloader in todays limelight is the new-for-2006 Model 105Cti.
Billed as lightweight, but with soft-recoil and extraordinary patterning performance, the 105Cti is the first Remington autoloader whose base model wears a four-figure price tag, which puts it into a pretty spiffy neighborhood.
The Italians, on the other hand, are long-term residents of said gated community with Benellis Super Black Eagle II and Berettas 391 versions today arguably representing the royalty in autoloaders.
We tested the Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10016, $1515. The 12-gauge gun featured a back-bored (.735-inch interior diameters compared to the 12-gauge nominal .729) barrel, stepped ventilated ribs, three-shot magazine, cross-bolt safety and a smooth, crisp trigger. It came with classy plastic case befitting a 4-digit retail shotgun, with molded impressions to fit the various gun parts, choke tubes and wrenches.
Initial function testing came on a trap range. To get a feel for the heft, recoil and cycling of each gun, we waited until the range was empty on a low-traffic night, then took advantage of the voice-operated callers to shoot a rapid-fire five-shot volley at each station. The chamber and magazine were emptied as fast as the targets were thrown and guns triggers could be worked.
Wingshooters will be impressed with the balance of the gun and it offered a good-to-excellent between-the-hands weight distribution for autoloaders.
This particular session covered 300 shots, more than a case of Remingtons 2 3/4ths-dram, 1,235-fps Premier STS 1 1/8ths ounce target loads, without a cycling malfunction. We then shot a round of doubles trap, using 1-ounce versions of the same Remington target loads 50 shots, fired in pairs in quick succession. On the second round of doubles trap, however, the Benelli hung up on second shots once. We had to view this malfunction as an aberration, however, since subsequent shooting was faultless.
On the skeet field, in fact, the Benelli was flawless with 1-ounce loads.
None of this was surprising in that the gun is rated for a minimum of 2.75 dram, 1 1/8-ounce loads (maximum 3-dram, 2.25-ouncers). The idea was to test to the point of failure, and we didnt get consistent cycling failures on the Benelli until we dipped into 1-ounce, 1,000-fps skeet handloads.
Subsequent trips to a local pheasant hunting preserve drew praises for the handling characteristics of the guns, and flawless cycling of 2.75-inch, 1.25-ounce field loads.
The Benelli was further field-tested in two early-season goose blinds where it was flawless, and relatively comfortable to shoot, with 3.5-inch, Federal Heavyweight 2-ounce loads.
The gun drew rave reviews for handling, and performed extremely well.
The Benelli SBEII, having no gas piston, has virtually nothing to clean and was as dependable as the day is long.
Autoloaders have always had clunky triggers simply because the sear has to be moved out of the way while the action cycles. The sear is static in pump and bolt guns, moving only when the shooter manually cycles the gun after the shot. It requires multiple mechanical linkages to move it automatically in an autoloader.
The tested gun sported good-for-autoloaders triggers.
The laws of physics have always defined shooting comfort. There seemed to be no way around it if you wanted less recoil, use a lighter shot charge or a heavier gun. Unfortunately, one limited terminal effectiveness of the load and the other dampened the speed and liveliness of the shotgun.
Gas-operated autoloaders tweaked Sir Isaac Newtons findings somewhat, reducing recoil by prolonging the curve of the recoil event, even when using heavy loads. Despite that still-troubling weight thing since the gas piston technology was heavy they invariably shot softer than recoil-operated semis.
Benelli seems to have leveled that particular playing field, however, largely through the reliable physics of its short-recoil (they call it Inertia-Driven) system surrounded by the ergonomics and energy-absorbing flex of the ComforTech approach.
According to Benelli, the space-age ComforTech stock and attendant big, soft, ergonomic butt pad reduce felt recoil by as much as 48 percent, a significant facet of a light gun without a gas-operation.
ComforTech features a deep, soft gel-foam buttpad, a similarly cushioned comb and stock sidewall cuts fitted with chevrons of the same foam that serve to make turn the entire stock into a recoil pad.
A space-age butt pad is ingeniously designed with a longitudinal peak in the middle that makes it comfortable for both left- and right-handed shooters. Weighing in right at 7 pounds, the SBEII is about a pound lighter than the average autoloader, but ironically, within ounces of the tested Beretta and Remington guns.
The barrel is cryogenically treated (cold tempered to -300 degrees), which changes steel at the molecular level, making it harder and far less porous. The result is reduced harmonics, meaning consistency shot-to-shot, and far easier cleaning. Recoil spring and guide are easily removed from the recoil tube in the stock cleaning.
This gun is a hunter. The length of pull was listed at 14.4 inches in the catalog but measured 14.125-inch on the test gun with the smallest recoil pad. We found that length to be ideal for the hunter wearing a coat, and the trigger guard is enlarged to accommodate gloved fingers. Another concession to the hunter was sling swivel studs molded into the buttstock and the magazine cap.
There is no evaluation of walnut grain or wood-to-metal fit on this gun since it is synthetic-stocked, as are all but one version of the gun. We tested a black and matte version, although camo synthetics are also available. The comb is comfortably narrow, which makes it fit most shooters readily. Shims were included to adjust drop and cast, like the Beretta 391, and two recoil pads allowed adjustments in length of pull.
Stimpling replaces cut checkering in the grip and forend (Benelli calls it AirTouch) and gives good hand purchase, wet or dry.
It was difficult no make that impossible to make one system work for loads of all three 12-gauge chamber dimensions. Hunters were burdened by adjustable gas valves, o-rings and complex mechanisms that were difficult to understand and even harder to keep clean.
The SBEII came the closest to pulling off the trifecta any autoloader weve ever encountered. It handled 2.75-inch, 1 1/8-ounce trap loads just as easily as 3- and 3.5-inch waterfowl and turkey loads. Only when we dipped into subsonic 1-ounce target loads did the remarkable shooter occasionally fail to cycle, and that was probably an unfair test, as we were lowering charge size to the point of failure.
Benelli designers found that the answer was alleviating the gas system (and thus saving weight and bulk) and simplifying the short-recoil system instead of making it more elaborate. The entire bolt and cycling mechanism in the receiver can be removed in one jointed piece. The barrel and top half of the receiver are a single piece, ala the AR-15/M-16 rifle (or the SBEs cousin, the Beretta Pintail), adding rigidity to the simplicity. Dont try to drill and tap the upper receiver/barrel for aftermarket sights, however, since the cold-tempering makes the steel virtually impenetrable.
The trigger broke consistently at nearly 7 pounds, which sounds heavy but was actually preferable for high-volume shooting in hunting fields.
The Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10016, $1515, was Our Pick. The latest version of the evolving Super Black Eagle design is a comfortable, ever-functional hunting gun, with the capacity to shoot 2.75, 3-, and 3.5-inch ammunition.