Michael Yardley field tests the Beretta Ultralight
This month we are looking at Beretta Ultralight which is a 28” barrelled over and under that hits the scales at 6 ¼ pounds. It is another gun taken off the crowded shelves of John Kenny’s Colchester Shooting Centre. GMK of Fareham in Hampshire are, of course, the Beretta importers. They are a firm who have been more than helpful in supplying us with guns at Gunmart. They also have an excellent reputation for after sales service. Nevertheless, I like to get test guns from ordinary gun shops whenever possible. It is the best and fairest sort of test when one can take a gun from stock just as it might go to the customer.
The specification of the Ultralight is significantly different to most 68 series Berettas. It is an alloy action gun with a reinforcing strip on the action face. This is the route that several other manufactures have taken (Browning and Yildiz, to name but two). I would, however, guess that Beretta – particular experts in the use of alloy – did it first. I know from my own research in their museum that the company’s experiments with ERGAL (an aluminium alloy used in aircraft manufacture) go back at least to the 1940s. There is an especially interesting alloy action sidelock 20 bore on display. It has much in common with shorter actioned guns that followed post-war. You can see the model 55 and 68 series guns are derived from it. Beretta have developed a particular expertise in alloy actioned semi-automatics too.
As far as first impressions are concerned, the test gun looks smart and modern and comes up to face and shoulder with minimum effort. It does, however, feel a little muzzle heavy. The barrels are a good length for a game gun at 28”. They are made of Beretta's tough tri-alloy steel and built on the monobloc system that Beretta developed from the beginning of the last century. Unusually for a modern Beretta, the barrels are chambered only for 2 ½ and 2 ¾” shells. Steel actioned 68 series Berettas are now chambered for 3” shells routinely. I presume the 2 ¾” chambers relate to the properties of the alloy action. Beretta action alloy is incredibly tough stuff – as proven by the 100,000 rounds or so that have gone through one of my 303s – but it is still not quite as strong as steel.
The barrels have relatively tight bores (both being marked 18.4mm) and bear Italian proof marks (Beretta have a branch of the Italian proof house in their factory in Gardonne). They are internally chromed and well formed inside and out - as one expects from hammer forged tubes. The monobloc jointing passes muster well. The barrels are straight when examined too. This is a
particular bug-bear of mine, too many modern guns – regardless of cost – do not have straight barrels. This is usually down to careless or sloppy manufacture (especially at the critical point when the barrels are joined together – a process involving a great deal of heat and during which distortion can occur).
The barrels on the test gun are equipped with the new longer style of forcing cone. The barrels has a narrow, ventilated, rib and joining ribs are solid, extending back about two thirds of the barrel length. Beneath the forend there are no joining ribs, a weight saving exercise that is becoming increasingly common, though one which – in my opinion – is removing weight from the wrong area to achieve ideal handling.
The gun is equipped with multichokes and these are of the older, fairly short, pattern. Barrels, as noted, are 28” long. I read a lot of ill-informed opinion concerning barrel length. My views are based on long experience and observation. Let’s keep it simple. Long and or heavy barrels can check your swing. Short ones can be wild and inconsistent. You will not go far wrong if you opt for 28" for live quarry shooting, and 30" for busting pitch disks, even 32" tubes have their uses if you have the skill to use them, otherwise they can become a real impediment. We have seen fashion change over the years. There have been crazes for both short and long barrels. But, game shots who use their guns for mixed bag shooting still tend to prefer 28” tubes – because they work. Long barrels can help when wildfowling or on very high pheasants or on long range clays presented at difficult angles. They help – not because of any ballistic advantage, but because the pointing and control characteristics can promote good shooting. For most game shooting at mid-ranges though, 28” barrels are the best compromise of swingability and controllability.
Alloy apart, the action on the Ultralight is familiar. It is the thoroughly well proven low-profile Beretta design – bifurcated lumps and conical locking lugs. It is a classic and a design much respected by gunsmiths. The trigger is recoil operated and there is a barrel selector on the top strap safety (my only quibble is that the selector is a bit small and can be a bit of fiddle when the action gets hot – I prefer double triggers in any game gun for instant choke selection). The trigger blade is reasonably shaped and matt gold-plated. Pulls were adequate, though a little creep was noticeable good. Function of top lever and safety was fine. Action decoration was a little modern for my taste with what appear to be grouse and woodcock trapped in a force field or bale of wire.
The stock of the Ultralight is made from straight grained timber. The length of pull is a little short for ‘Mr Average’ at 14 3/8”. Drop is adequate at 1 7/16” at comb and 2 3/16” at heel. The pistol grip is of the usual not-quite-full-but-not-quite-a-semi pistol Beretta pattern. There is standard
right-hand cast. Stock finish was quite glossy (but not excessively so). The chequering was most unusual - a complex, rounded, herringbone, pattern probably applied by laser. Again, being a traditionalist, I would have preferred the conventional variety (not least because it provides more purchase). I note some very odd chequering patterns are being seen now which, I think, relates to the widespread use of lasers which can cope with complex decorative patterns easily. Whilst I am quibbling, I might also note that I though the black plastic butt plate a bit too much of a contrast with the light wood of the butt. The Beretta butt plate/pad system is clever though, because it allows for changes of length by means of replacements in various lengths without gunsmithing –
only a Phillips screwdriver is required.
Honestly? A little disappointing. This is a Beretta, and I have no doubt that it will last almost indefinitely if well treated. But, I found the gun recoiled quite a lot (yes, I know it’s a lightweight and you can’t beat Newton). The gun move quickly, but not uncontrollably. If I had had longer to play with it, I would probably have put a bit of weight in the stock and a GelTek pad on the end. As it stands, it feels front heavy and stock light. I would never hesitate to recommend a Beretta, but I would guess that most people would be better off with a conventional steel-actioned model. This is a well designed, well executed gun, made from good quality materials. It is good value at £1,000 or so too. But, it is a specialist tool for someone who needs a 12 and who intends to carry it all day for a few shots. It is not really a gun for English conditions in my opinion, but I can see how it would suit continental shooters (who do much more walking than us). It might, however, be exactly what you need.
My thanks to Lyalvale (Express) who supplied the cartridges for the test, Clayhouse Ltd. and John Kenny of the Colchester Shooting Centre.
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