Beretta Silver Pigeon 1-20 bore
This month Michael Yardley looks at the latest version of one of his favourite guns – the Beretta Silver Pigeon 1 in 20 bore.
I have lost count of how many Berettas we have tested in Gunmart, but it’s a lot! Beretta are the oldest gunmakers in the world and they set an industry standard. I have said it before and will say it again, one gun on a desert island, and mine would be a Beretta Silver Pigeon (a 12 because I would have a few rounds of buckshot and slug as well). The 600 series Silver Pigeon which evolved from the 55 and 56 model is simply amazingly good; low in profile, made from first quality materials and just about indestructible. The only problem with Beretta guns has been their rapidly increasing cost as the pound fell against the euro. Well that may have eased a bit now, but Beretta made a special effort to bring out a lower cost gun nevertheless – a modern version of the old 686 because that is what they thought, quite rightly, the market wanted. I have shot the sporting version of the new Silver Pigeon in both 30” and (brilliant) 32” form, but until recently, I had not shot the 20 bore game gun much (which appeared a little later).
A million plus
A vast number of over and under Beretta have been produced to date - a million plus. I would guess, moreover, that the great majority are still in use. How does this new small bore perform in the context of a reputation that is second to none. Am I biased in its favour? To a degree, what other firm produces so many sporting shotguns so consistently? This always makes testing a new Beretta tough. I know it’s going to be pretty good. Nevertheless, some Berettas are significantly better than others and that is as good a cue to start our test as I can think of.
Our test gun is an attractive, scroll engraved, 20 bore game gun with 6mm rib, 30” barrels, and Beretta’s new laser engraving (there is a game scene engraved Silver Pigeon 1 in 12 bore form, but it is a bit more expensive than the test gun). Our gun certainly looks very smart, and the coin finished action is not too bright. The sides of the monobloc are engine turned which looks good when you open the gun as well. I also liked the belly of the gun which includes the inscription at its base ‘686 Silver Pigeon 1’ though the definition of the scroll decoration could have been just a little sharper.
So much for the decoration, what is the quality and mechanical design of the test gun like? Let’s find out. The 30” mobil multichoke tubes are made on Berettas well-proven monobloc system. Joints are first class. Barrels and monobloc are made from a Nickel, Chrome, Molybdenum steel and are hard chrome lined. The gun, as most Berettas, has been proofed at the Beretta factory in their in house branch of the Italian CIP Proof House. The Silver Pigeon 1 is chambered and fleur de lys steel shot friendly proofed for 3” (76mm) cartridges, although I would not want to shoot them in a dainty gun which even with 30” tubes weighs but a whisker over 6lbs (6lbs. 1 ½ oz. to be precise).
Long chambers lead into the bores – both 15.9 - via medium length forcing cones. I have never been a fan of the old tight guns which, like tight chokes, may have been needed in the days when cartridge performance was not as good as it is today. The Beretta forcing cones are not excessively long, by the way - about 1 1/2”. After several years of my own tests I think this is about ideal: longer cones and really open bores can lead to gas escape notably with felt wadded cartridges not benefitting from a plastic obdurator disk.
The barrels on the Beretta are joined by solid ribs and the sighting rib is narrow (about 6mm) and ventilated. I prefer the narrow rib on a game gun (or a gun to be used by someone with reduced arm st`rength). It is not just a question of sight picture. It also helps to keep barrel weight down. The style and timing of game shooting is quite different to clays. Live quarry shooting is a faster business than clays and requires a more lively gun. Barrel weight is a critical consideration in a game gun. I do like a lightweight solid rib (which may in spite of its name be hollowed internally) because it is less easily dented. Maybe Beretta will introduce one – it has been a great success for Guerini.
Detachable barrel are dispensed with on this gun as with other recent models. One of the most useful features of the Beretta design, meantime, and one which makes it a gunsmith’s delight, is that key parts, the hinge pins and conical locking lugs, for example, are replaceable (the factory provides a variety of over-sizes). Until recently Beretta over and unders also had detachable barrel shoulders. As these very rarely, if ever, needed replacement, one can see why the design of the barrels has been slightly modified to eliminate them: the barrel shoulders that mate with a cut out in the rear of the action wall are now part of the main body of the monobloc.
The new Silver Pigeon has the usual low profile Beretta action with trunnion hinging – stud pins near the knuckle engage recesses in the bifurcated lumps to either sides of the monobloc. The proportions of this design in 20 bore are particularly appealing. Lock up, meanwhile, is achieved by conical lugs engaging circular bites positioned just below the centre line of the top barrel. There is a single selective trigger, operating on the inertia principle and I am not giving too much away if I note that it was absolutely reliable. I am not especially fond of the Beretta barrel selector, though, it can be a little fiddly when you have cold hands.
What about the stock? Well, it showed some figure and the dimensions were good. The length of pull was (14 7/8”) including an interchangeable but slightly too sticky ‘rubber’ pad (I tape mine up with black vinyl electrician’s tape which is almost invisible if you take a little care and prevents snagging in the mount). Drop at the front of the comb was nearly 1 1/2” and 2 1/4” to the rear – a little low for me. Although the stock can easily be raised, I find it a bit strange that Beretta make their game guns so low (though I have seen older Beretta game guns with 2 1/2” at heel). Design of the stock otherwise was sound with a well proportioned butt and a schnabel forend. Chequering on both was very nicely laser cut. The semi matt oil or oil like finish was just what most of us want too.
As I pulled this gun from the shelf of the Sportsman Gun Centre at Southern Counties, I was able to shoot it on the excellent ground there. It did not disappoint in any way. On the contrary it was a very enjoyable gun to shoot in light, 30” form. I do prefer the 30” tubes to 28” ones in a 20, it gives you more pointability and more control. And, in a gun weighing just an ounce or so over 6lbs, there is no loss in ‘swingability’ either. Usually in light small bores one is aware of having to ‘drive’ the guns hard to get the best results – typically light guns are quick to start and quick to stop. That was not obviously the case here. This was a very well sorted design and both forgiving and fun to shoot. Any weak points? Not many, and, it is such a good gun for the money, I am not going to put any negative thought of it in your head. If your budget can stretch to something a bit over a grand, then these Silver Pigeons are a great buy.
My thanks to Lyalvale (Express) for the cartridges used in this test and staff of the Sportsman Gun Centre (tel. 01935 83099/01392 354854 www.sportsmanguncentre.co.uk) and Southern Counties Shooting Ground (tel. 01935 83625 www.southerncountiesleisure.com)
|Model||Beretta Silver Pigeon 1|
|Bore||20 (12 available)|
|Barrels||30" (well 29 1/2" to be precise) 28" is an option too|
|Chambers||3" (76mm) with fleurs de lys proof|
|Weight||6lbs 1 ½ oz|
|Contact||GMK (UK Distributor) tel. 01489 579 999 www.gmk.co.uk|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates