In the new Beretta ES100, Mike Yardley finds more than a hint of input from the semi-auto specialists
Regular readers of this magazine will well know that I am quite a fan of semi-autos. I shoot one, I like to try new ones too. I have also been a Beretta boy for many years. My advocacy of the ‘ol 303 is hardly a secret, and I often use a 391 abroad. But, there are other semi-automatics out there. I like the new Browning Maxus a lot, it’s a great little gas gun at a good price, I also like the Fabarm XLR5 which I do not think has received enough attention in the UK yet. The Remington 1100s are still excellent guns, and there is all sorts of stuff coming out of Turkey now (indeed, the Italians have been selling some of their old machinery to the Turks, and are also buying some parts back for mass market guns).
Anyway, as ever, I am straying. The one other make that really does it for me as far as semi-automatic shotguns are concerned is Benelli. They make fabulous guns based on a rotary bolted, inertia operated mechanism which is quite unlike most Berettas (most of which operate on gas). Benelli guns have proven popular with the military too because of their reliability, and, they are easy to clean (no gas ports). My recent advice, meantime, has often been to buy a Beretta for clays and a Benelli for game. The Benelli seem to recoil a little more to me, but they are fast handling and fast cycling and handy. They well suit a pigeon hide in my experience. The Berettas seem to be just the ticket for clays though, especially in longer barrelled form.
This advice does not come at Beretta’s expense as they now own both companies. All of which leads us in a meandering sort of way to the test gun. It is a Beretta by name, but a Benelli by nature. It is not, however, the Benelli with which we have all become familiar in recent years, but an older pattern Benelli that incorporates the famous inertia operating system in simpler form without the rotary lock-up that is now a primary feature. Benelli used to call this gun the 121. It was an excellent piece of kit, but, it was superseded by their current range of guns.
So, Beretta have taken this old design, of which they still own the rights, and re-made it as a budget model Beretta. First impressions of the ES100 are, frankly, that it looks pretty pedestrian. It is clearly intended as utilitarian. You can have it in any colour you want provided it is black. The stock is synthetic. The shapes aren’t bad, save that the grip which is rather small (and has a horrible Phillips screw visible in the grip cap). The barrel is parkerised or similar and looks pretty, well, dull. The whole gun, aesthetically, is rather uninspiring. But, one should not judge a book just by its cover.
Before getting to the shooting, let us get some other stuff out of the way. This gun is made in Spain (where Beretta also make their chokes). This is a long story, but keeping it simple, it goes back to the dark old days when Generalissimo Franco was in power in that country and lots of import restrictions afflicted foreign firms. The factory, it need hardly be added, is in the Basque region where all the Spanish gun trade – what is left of it at least – is centred.
O.K. time to get technical. The ES 100’s barrel is made from what Beretta call ‘Titania’ steel. It is evidently a high tensile alloy. The gun is chambered and proofed for 3” (76mm) cartridges. The sighting rib is narrow and there is a conventional metal bead at the end (always my preference on a working gun). The chokes are of traditional, shorter, Beretta type (Mobil as the firm calls them). The ES100 is proofed to a high standard – it bears Fleurs de Lys marks and is compatible with steel shot.
Let’s now consider the action. There is no rotary bolt head as noted, but there is a bolt-head in front of the main breech block. You will also find a stiff, short, spring between breech block and bolt-head. As in recent Benellis, it compresses on firing. When it is at full compression, the bolt is unlocked and the breech and bolt assembly move rearwards extracting the fired cartridge. Because this is not a gas operated gun, you will find no extra holes in the barrels, nor a piston or spring mechanism beneath. There is a hinged rat’s tail at the back of the breech block which returns everything back into place by means of a long helical spring contained in a tube to the rear of the action and concealed in the butt.
This brings us conveniently on to the stock. Let’s be kind and keep it quick. The shapes are not too bad save for the grip which was just too small for my hand. There was not much wrong with measurements, in fact, they were better than most. The length of pull with a rubber pad was a sensible 14 3/4” with a pad. The bend of the stock was 1 3/8” as measured at the front of the comb relative to rib axis, and, unusually, 2” at the back. This is substantially less drop than on most Italian guns, and much less than most foreign semi-autos. It was an ideal standard measurement for this gun, though, which also has quite a thin comb.
Well, I have been quite tough on this gun with regard to aesthetics. I like the action though, and I liked the way it shot even better. The ES100 scores very nearly full marks in the shooting department. Felt recoil in this Beretta was less than in most Benellis that I have tested. This may be because the plastic stock is absorbing some recoil vibration. I have certainly noted than some of the softest shooting shotguns have plastic stocks. The gun did not miss a beat as far as functioning was concerned. It was fast handling too. Plain yes, effective – very. If you have puritan tastes like me this gun is well worth considering and it is very competitively priced. It is a pity there is no 30” version. Nevertheless, this would be an ideal tool in a hide or on the marsh. It is not bad at breaking clays either.
|Action type||Old type Benelli inertia semi-automatic|
|Chamber||3” (76mm) with Fleur de Lys proof marks for steel|
|Barrel||28” (no 30” option)|
|Chokes||multi (3 supplied)|
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